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Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans

Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans
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Happy Thursday 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: The White House in a surprising move had five of its top security officials discuss their efforts on election security ahead of November's midterms.

"The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority, and we have done that," Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Lawmakers seeking intel on alleged Saudi plot against journalist It’s not just foreign state-owned telecom posing a threat  MORE said in the White House press briefing room. 

The effort was to show the administration is confronting Russian efforts to interfere in the midterm elections following a President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE's widely panned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Who attended and what they said: Coats was joined by national security adviser John Bolton, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him Top Judiciary Dems call for unredacted 'zero tolerance' memo The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, who detailed their agencies' efforts to address the problem.

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"In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States," Coats said.

The show of force comes as the administration is facing doubts over whether it is doing enough to combat Moscow's election interference and how seriously President Trump takes the threat. 

Trump has repeatedly wavered on the question of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and if it continues to attempt to interfere in U.S. elections.

Officials on Thursday went further, saying without a doubt that Moscow meddled in that election and is already engaging in efforts related to the 2018 contests.

"The threat is not going away. Russia attempted to interfere in the last election and continues to do so to this day," Wray said. 

"Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs," Nielsen said. 

They also sought to reassure Americans that the Trump administration is doing everything it can do address the problem. 

"We're throwing everything at it," Coats said.

 

Still no clear picture on Trump-Putin meeting: Coats said Thursday that he's still not able to "fully understand or talk about" what took place in President Trump's private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.

After telling reporters that Trump had specifically directed them to secure U.S. elections against foreign influence campaigns, Coats was asked about the disconnect between his statements and the president's public comments in Finland two weeks ago, when he cast doubt on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. 

"I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki," Coats said, before ceding the podium to national security adviser John Bolton.

Senate Dems aren't happy: Senate Democrats urged the administration to take election security "more seriously" on Thursday.

The Democratic senators said in a joint statement that national security advisor John Bolton sent them a letter that fails to address their concerns about Russian meddling. 

"We implore the administration to take this very real and imminent threat to our elections and our democracy more seriously," said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP senators: Mnuchin should not go to Saudi Arabia Durbin opposes Saudi arms sale over missing journalist Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? MORE (Ill.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review MORE (Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharIs there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas Clusters of polio-like illness in the US not a cause for panic MORE (Minn.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist Senators concerned as Trump official disputes UN climate change warning MORE (Md.). 

Bolton sent Democrats a letter on Thursday touting President Trump's "vast, government-wide effort" to protect the election system, adding that the president "will not tolerate interference." 

 

DEMS WANT INVESTIGATION OF TRUMP AIR FORCE ONE TOURS: A group of Democratic senators is asking Defense Department and Air Force watchdogs to launch an investigation into tours that President Trump has offered of Air Force One.

The letter to the inspectors general, dated Aug. 1 and released Thursday, comes weeks after BuzzFeed News reported that some members of Trump's private clubs in Florida appeared to have been invited for tours of the presidential plane.

What the lawmakers want: In the letter, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPavlich: The left’s identity politics fall apart Graham: It would be 'like, terrible' if a DNA test found I was Iranian Iranian-American group calls on Graham to apologize for 'disgusting' DNA remark MORE (Mass.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports Trump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths MORE (Del.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight Hillary Clinton bursts out laughing about Kavanaugh's 'revenge on behalf of the Clintons' remark MORE (R.I.) raise concerns about the potential overlap between Trump's role as president and his private business interests.

"Previous Presidents have provided friends and even campaign donors tours of Air Force One, but the reports that members of the President's private club may have received such tours are particularly troubling because their relationship to the President arises out of an ongoing business relationship with the President," the senators wrote.

The letter asks the inspectors general for a "review of all individuals who have had access to Air Force One for tours or other nonofficial travel" since Trump took office last year. 

It also asks the internal watchdogs to make a determination as to whether any of the individuals who received tours of the aircraft had business relationships with Trump or his family and whether such relationships played a role in the decision to invite them aboard the plane.

Background: BuzzFeed News obtained an invitation for the Air Force One tours that was sent to some members of Trump's Florida clubs last year. That invitation was cross-checked with redacted records obtained by the news outlet through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Members reached by BuzzFeed neither confirmed nor denied whether they attended the tour of the presidential plane. But two tours were scheduled in February at the Atlantic Aviation FBO at Palm Beach International Airport. 

 

KOREAN WAR REMAINS: A Defense Department scientist said Thursday that the remains returned to the U.S. by North Korea are "consistent" with those of other Americans recovered from the Korean War.

"Everything we saw was consistent with indeed being from the Korean War, and consistent with these remains being good candidates for being missing Americans from the Korean War," said John Byrd, the director of analysis for the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), after a preliminary review.

The lead up: North Korea had agreed to return the remains of Americans killed in the Korean War as part of agreement reached between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump in Singapore in June.

The remains were flown out of North Korea last week. The Associated Press reported that only one military dog tag was included with the 55 boxes that were went.

Officials predict that it could take years to identify the remains.

About 5,300 Americans did not return from the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 until 1953.

And Trump thanks Kim: Trump early Thursday thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for returning presumed war remains, adding that he looks forward to seeing Kim soon.

"Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action," he said. "Also, thank you for your nice letter - l look forward to seeing you soon!"

Trump did not specify whether the letter from Kim was a new message from the North Korean leader.

 

ACTIVE SHOOTER FALSE ALARM: An active shooter situation reported at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base hospital in Dayton, Ohio, on Thursday turned out to be a false alarm, officials said.

Wright-Patterson's official Twitter account posted a statement Thursday afternoon saying that base personnel were undergoing an active shooter scenario when an "unknown individual called 911 believing that there was a real-world incident occurring within the base hospital."

"Upon investigation, it was determined that the incident at the MTF was not an actual active shooter incident," the base said in its statement.

Mistaken tweet: A previous statement from the base's Twitter account stated that personnel had been ordered to shelter in place due to reports of an active shooter at the hospital.

And officials at nearby Wright State University had advised students in a tweet to avoid the area near the military installation as a precaution after initial reports.

Wright-Patterson's public affairs director, Marie Vanover, told the Dayton Daily News that additional details would be made available to the media as the base learns more about the incident.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Decorated soldier discharged from Army over immigration status

-- The Hill: Pence attends ceremony honoring return of presumed Korean War dead

--The Hill: Trump receives new letter from Kim: White House

-- The Hill: Opinion: Seoul wants to make some defense reforms, but we're not there yet