Overnight Defense: Pompeo spars with senators at hearing | Trump, Putin meeting won't happen until next year | Pentagon was caught off guard by White House on Syria

Overnight Defense: Pompeo spars with senators at hearing | Trump, Putin meeting won't happen until next year | Pentagon was caught off guard by White House on Syria
© Anna Moneymaker

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Pompeo rejects ‘good cop, bad cop’ characterization of Russia strategy Pompeo: 'Enormous mistake' for Iran to blame US, allies for attack on military parade MORE was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, fielding questions on President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE's private Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senators are seeking answers on what agreements may have been reached at the controversial meeting and also want information about a prospective second summit between Trump and Putin in Washington.

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The administration has released only vague information about matters that were discussed in a private one-on-one meeting between Putin and Trump, and the White House has said the only firm agreement brokered was to continue to have an open dialogue. But Moscow has spun its own narrative, with the Russian ambassador claiming the two world leaders reached "important verbal agreements" on issues such as arms control.

 

Senators have doubts: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.) kicked off the hearing by warning Pompeo that he would have to answer to senators "filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy."

"It's our hope that you will reduce our level of concern by providing us with clear answers that might help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing and that, to be candid, you know what they are doing," Corker told Pompeo.

And Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap MORE (D-N.J.) used his opening remarks to highlight questions he has about the discussions between Trump and Putin during their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, which he described as a "three-ring circus of a debacle."

 

Pompeo takes hardline on Russia but defends Trump: Pompeo used his opening remarks to take a hard line on Russia, calling Moscow out for its "malign activities" and outlining the "tough actions" the Trump administration has taken to punish the Kremlin.

He cited new sanctions on Russian entities and individuals, as well as the closure of Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S.

Pompeo also defended Trump over criticism of his comments following the meeting with Putin in Helsinki. He emphasized that Trump has accepted the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

 

Sanctions remain unchanged, no agreement on arms control: Pompeo repeatedly dodged questions from Menendez on what was discussed in Trump's private meeting with Putin, but later added that "no commitment" has been made to change U.S. sanctions policy.

He later told Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Wyo.) that there was no agreement reached between the U.S. and Russia on arms control, but that the Trump administration is looking into ways to ensure that Russia is compliant with arms treaties.

The U.S. has accused Russia of not complying with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Moscow has denied. 

 

But questions remain on Syria: Pompeo also said vaguely that Trump asked him to follow-up on the possibility of cooperation on Syria.

"We are working to see in Syria what are the possibilities that can be achieved," Pompeo said. "We are working to see if we cant get Russia to be more cooperative in terms of driving towards a political resolution there that would take down the violence levels and create some opportunity to begin a political resolution." 

 

Pompeo makes announcement prior to meeting: Pompeo also said Wednesday that the United States will never recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea, calling on Moscow to "end its occupation" of the territory.

"In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine's territorial integrity is restored," Pompeo said in a new statement.

Pompeo said Russia violated globally agreed upon principles in 2014 when it invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. 

 

Ahead of meeting, Pompeo discusses Helsinki with Australian network: Trump and Putin discussed Ukraine during their closely watched summit in Helsinki last week, but found little room for agreement, Pompeo told the Australian Broadcast Corporation on Tuesday.

Pompeo said the two leaders talked about the ongoing civil war in Syria and the need to abate the refugee crisis in the region.

But on Ukraine, the top diplomat said, "they didn't find much place to agree."

 

Click here for our recap of Pompeo's hearing.

And to revisit the hearing, check out our live blog.

 

TRUMP WON'T MEET PUTIN UNTIL NEXT YEAR: Trump on Wednesday backed away from his plan to meet Putin in the fall, citing the special counsel investigation into Moscow's interference in the 2016 election. 

National security adviser John Bolton said in a statement the next one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin will be "after the first of the year" and following the conclusion of the Russia probe, which he described as a "witch hunt."

"The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we've agreed that it will be after the first of the year," Bolton said. 

 

But special counsel investigation might not be done: Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE has not indicated he plans to wrap up the investigation by the end of the year. His team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 individuals thus far. 

And Russia seems reluctant: The change of plans comes days after the Kremlin showed reluctance to stage another meeting between Putin and Trump in the fall, an invitation the White House extended on Thursday. 

Putin adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday that the two governments agreed there was a need for another presidential meeting, but said Russia had not begun making plans. 

"There are other options [to meet], which our leaders can look at," he said, according to Reuters. Trump and Putin will both attend the Group of 20 economic summit in Argentina in November. 

 

Background: Trump was widely criticized for his meeting with Putin earlier this month in Helsinki, when he refused to publicly confront the Russian leader for interfering in U.S. elections and said the American government shares blame for tensions between the two countries.

Republican lawmakers urged the president not to go forward with his plans for another meeting and said that Putin would not be invited to the Capitol if he were to meet with Trump in Washington.

 

PENTAGON DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT: Internal Pentagon emails show that the White House did not coordinate with or notify Defense Department officials before it released a statement last year warning that the Syrian government would "pay a heavy price" if it conducted another chemical weapons attack, BuzzFeed News reported.

"We woke up to the statement. [White House] did not coord with us or [Joint Chiefs of Staff] or [State Department] from what I can tell," top Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told Kevin Sweeney, chief of staff to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges MORE, in an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The email was sent immediately after the White House's statement from June 26, 2017, warning Syria after the April 4 chemical attack on its civilians. The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the watchdog group Democracy Forward and shared with BuzzFeed.

 

Surprise at the Pentagon: Sweeny had forwarded White a BuzzFeed article quoting officials as saying they had "no idea" about the Syria announcement, with two question marks.

Mattis and White were on a plane to Germany to attend a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan when the White House released the statement.

"I have nothing," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis -- at the time a Pentagon spokesman -- told reporters in an email. "I suppose we send queries back to the White House." 

"Was there any coord traffic on this?" a Joint Chiefs of Staff employee asked in an email to White and Davis. "This is the first I'm seeing about it. Any [talking points] would be appreciated. I'm getting calls from folks in DC."

"Surprised us all," Davis replied.

 

And officials mislead reporters, public: The emails also highlight that Pentagon and White House officials later deceived the press and public on the coordination between the two buildings.

"DOD knew about the White House statement and provided edits in advance of its release. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false or misinformed," White emailed a Breitbart reporter.

Then-deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the same day that "the military chain of command was also fully aware of the statement as it was being prepared and later released."

The following day, White emailed Pentagon press officers that the Syria statement was "coordinated between the principals."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, will speak at the Air Force Association Breakfast Series at 7:30 a.m.at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senator divorcing from husband GOP senators introduce bill to preserve ObamaCare's pre-existing conditions protections Pence: Trump’s national security will be as 'dominant' in space as it is on Earth MORE will discuss U.S. policy options in post-ISIS Iraq at 8:30 a.m. at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold its eight annual South China Sea conference beginning at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C.  

 

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