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
© Getty Images

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 CoatsFBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Former Intel chief had 'deep suspicions' that Putin 'had something on Trump': book 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 TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally 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 NielsenDHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, who detailed their agencies' efforts to address the problem.


"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 SchumerChuck SchumerVideo of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks MORE (Ill.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinMcConnell says Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg will get Senate vote Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Intensifying natural disasters do little to move needle on climate efforts MORE (Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill EPA delivers win for ethanol industry angered by waivers to refiners It's time for newspapers to stop endorsing presidential candidates MORE (Minn.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash Senators urge administration to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers 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 WarrenBiden's fiscal program: What is the likely market impact? Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon MORE (Mass.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers Overnight Energy: Study links coronavirus mortality to air pollution exposure | Low-income, minority households pay more for utilities: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE (Del.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLWCF modernization: Restoring the promise Restaurant owner defends calamari as 'bipartisan' after Democratic convention appearance Warren calls on McConnell to bring Senate back to address Postal Service 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.



-- 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