Overnight Defense: Bolton heading to Geneva for Putin summit follow up | Pentagon spokeswoman under investigation | Trump statement on defense bill objects to Russia, Gitmo measures

Overnight Defense: Bolton heading to Geneva for Putin summit follow up | Pentagon spokeswoman under investigation | Trump statement on defense bill objects to Russia, Gitmo measures
© Getty Images

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


THE TOPLINE: National security adviser John Bolton is headed to Geneva to follow up on President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bolton will travel to Switzerland next week to meet with his Russian counterpart, the White House announced Tuesday.

Bolton and his counterpart will discuss a "range of important national security issues," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.


In addition to his stop in Geneva, Bolton will meet next week with officials in Israel and Ukraine, Sanders said.

The timing: The trip is coming just after the United States slapped new sanctions on Russia for the use of a nerve agent on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain earlier this year.

The sanctions, which were announced last week and go into effect about Aug. 22, will restrict the licenses granted for exports of national security goods and technologies to Russia.

A second, harsher round of sanctions will go into effect in 90 days if Russia does not prove it is no longer using chemical weapons.

Talking nukes?: Earlier in the day a Russian official said Moscow was ready to discuss with Washington Russia's newest strategic weapons -- generally a euphemism for nuclear weapons.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country is willing to talk about the weapons, even though they don't fall under the purview of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The United States has accused Russia of violating the landmark 1987 by deploying a banned cruise missile.

Arms control was a topic of Trump and Putin's Helsinki summit, with Putin reportedly pressing Trump for traditional bilateral arms talks. Days later, though, Russia announced a string of new weapons tests.


AFTER THE SIGNING, THE STATEMENT: The White House late Monday put out President Trump's signing statement about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), hours after Trump signed the bill into law.

Such statements, in which presidents lay out their objections to the bills they just signed and assert they can reinterpret or ignore certain parts, have become increasingly common in recent presidencies.

Here's some highlights of the one Trump put out last night:

Foreign policy notifications: There are several provisions requiring advanced notification or certification on an array of foreign policy issues.

Trump said those can only be carried out for "actions for which such advance certification or notification is feasible and consistent with the president's exclusive constitutional authorities as commander-in-chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs."

Those provisions in this category include ones related to limiting funds to implement the Open Skies Treaty and preventing U.S.-Russian military-to-military cooperation.

Another provision prohibits the use of funds to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula.

Another one requires certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking certain steps before the U.S. military can refuel the aircraft they are using in the Yemen civil war.

Guantanamo: Trump has no plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but nonetheless objects to the provisions preventing certain transfers out.

"I reiterate the longstanding position of the executive branch that, under certain circumstances, restrictions on the president's authority to transfer detainees violates constitutional separation-of-powers principles, including the president's constitutional authority as commander-in-chief," the statement said.

Crimea: The provision preventing the United States from recognizing Russia's sovereignty over Crimea was one of several Trump said dictates the official position of the United States despite the fact that is the president's authority.

Executive privilege: Trump said several provision infringe on his executive privilege.

"My administration will treat these provisions consistent with the president's constitutional authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which could impair national security, foreign relations, law enforcement or the performance of the President's constitutional duties," he said.

One of those is the requirement to designate a National Security Council official responsible for the U.S. government's response to malign foreign influence operations and campaigns, a likely reference to Russian interference.

Others seek to force the administration to release more information about the military, including the topline number of deployed troops and the number of civilian casualties by the U.S. military.

Another provision in this bucket requires a legal review of train, advice and assist missions, a provision that was inspired by the deadly ambush in Niger.

Trump also includes in this section a provision requested by Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump nominates ambassador to Turkey MORE that allows sanctions waivers for allies buying Russian arms. The waivers can't be granted until certain criteria are certified to Congress, and follow up reports on the waiver are required.


PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN UNDER INVESTIGATION: Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White is under inspector general investigation for allegedly misusing her staff, CNN reported Tuesday.

CNN cited four unnamed sources familiar with the investigation. The Pentagon's inspector general declined to comment to CNN. White, who is currently in South America with Defense Secretary James Mattis, did not respond to CNN's requests for comment.

Charles Summers, the principal deputy assistant to the secretary for public affairs, told The Hill, "This is an ongoing review about which we cannot comment."

The allegations: White allegedly asked staffers to do personal errands for her, including picking up her dry cleaning, running to the pharmacy to purchase snacks and pantyhose, filling out her mortgage paperwork, driving her to work on snowy days and going to the cafeteria to get her lunch.

White is also alleged to had staffers who complained about her get transferred. At least two reportedly raised concerns with more senior officials about her use of their time. They were soon transferred, and they complained to the inspector general that their transfer was a reprisal, according to CNN.

Pentagon policy: Pentagon ethics rules say officials can't direct subordinates to use official time for anything other than official activities.

According to CNN, some of the staffers volunteered to do personal chores for White because they thought she was busy. But that would still be a violation of the rules.



The Hudson Institute will host an expert panel on "Iran: Protests, Sanctions, and Regime Viability" at noon. https://bit.ly/2BbHSin



-- The Hill: Hundreds gather in Yemen to mourn children killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrike

-- The Hill: Upset China to 'assess the contents' of US defense bill

-- The Hill: Turkey plans boycott of US electronics

-- Washington Post: Taliban assault on Ghazni flouts Afghan and U.S. hopes for truce, peace talks

-- Associated Press: Taliban overrun Afghan army base, kill 17 troops

-- Associated Press: UN report: Up to 30,000 Islamic State members in Iraq, Syria