Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at $92M

Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at $92M
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Happy Thursday 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: The Trump administration is ready to work on its next steps on Iran now that it's out of the nuclear deal.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Graham knocks South Korea over summit with North Shrapnel in Yemen strikes links US-made bombs to 63 civilian deaths: report MORE announced he's creating a group to take that lead on that, something he's calling the "Iran Action Group."

The idea is to coordinate the State Department's post-nuclear deal Iran policy and work with other government agencies and countries.

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"Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran, but we must see major changes in the regime's behavior, both inside and outside its borders," Pompeo said in a brief address at the State Department. "The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation. The Iran Action Group will drive daily progress on these objectives, and I hope do much more."

The group will report directly to Pompeo and be led by Brian Hook, the newly minted special representative for Iran, who as the State Department's director of policy planning had steered ultimately failed efforts to try to renegotiate the nuclear deal before Trump withdrew.

The who and what: The Iran Action Group will "lead the way in growing efforts with nations which share our understanding of the Iranian threat," Pompeo said Thursday.

The group will have a particular emphasis on the issues of nuclear weapons, terrorism and the detention of American citizens, Hook said, though it will work to advance all 12 of the goals Pompeo laid out in a May speech.

Why the timing is raising eyebrows: Thursday's announcement falls on the 65th anniversary of the 1953 Iranian coup, stoking international speculation that the Trump administration is advocating regime change.

Hook pushed back on the suggestion, saying it was "pure coincidence" the action group is being announced on the anniversary of the coup.

Hook would not name specific people working in the group now, but said it is launching with a "core staff of several permanent personnel" with more department experts being detailed to it later.

"This team is committed to a strong global effort to change the Iranian regime's behavior," Hook said.

 

TRUMP ESCALATES FEUD WITH INTEL LEADERS: Trump's decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanRetired admiral resigned from Pentagon advisory committee after writing open letter to Trump Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE has escalated his feud with former intelligence officials, report The Hill's Olivia Beavers and Morgan Chalfant.

The move was widely seen as an effort by Trump to retaliate against one of his most fervent critics and it has triggered concerns about whether others in the national security community will be affected.

The move is one that legal analysts say is unprecedented -- marking the first instance of a president unilaterally intervening in a security clearance case of a former, high-level official.

Experts agree that Trump, as commander in chief, is within his authority to make determinations regarding who has access to classified information.

But Trump's decision triggered a debate on whether he crossed the line given the seemingly partisan nature of his move.

It sparked a maelstrom of criticism from former intelligence officials and Democrats, who accused the president of seeking to silence his political foes.

Brennan criticism: Some Republicans offered support for Trump's move, however. There was also criticism of Brennan, who on social media and in cable television appearances has scorched the president with criticism.

"On one hand, we are venturing into territory where you have an administration exacting retribution on its predecessor -- and that isn't a good precedent to start setting because the favor will surely be returned," said one former official who worked in Trump's White House.

"On the other hand, Brennan has routinely sought to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the current administration and someone engaged in that kind of behavior has no business having access to classified information," the former official said. "Now he gets the same level of access as any other campaign hack."

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas Graham: Mueller is going to be allowed to finish investigation Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections MORE (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement Thursday criticized Brennan for writing in The New York Times that Trump's claims of "no collusion" are "hog wash." Burr contended that Trump was right to revoke his clearance if Brennan's statements are "based on conjecture."

Some Republicans, while criticizing Brennan's highly political comments, also worried Trump was setting a dangerous precedent.

"Unless there was some disclosure of classified information of which I'm unaware, I don't see the grounds for revoking his security clearance," said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Ford: ‘Mr. President, refer to her by her name’ MORE (R-Maine), who called Trump's decision "unwise."

Is it Russia…or maybe a distraction?: The president in an interview with The Wall Street Journal cited Brennan's involvement in the beginnings of the Russia counterintelligence investigation, muddying the waters as to his reasoning.

The White House, meanwhile, is also fighting the growing political fire ignited by former White House aide Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanWoodward book breaks 93-year publishing record Stormy Daniels announces new tell-all book: 'Full Disclosure' Women wield sizable power in ‘Me Too’ midterms MORE, who has been releasing secretly recorded tapes of conversations with other administration officials and making salacious claims about the president as she promotes her new book.

One GOP consultant described Wednesday's announcement as a "nakedly partisan" stunt to distract from Omarosa's disclosures.

"It's a nakedly partisan stunt and it bumped Omarosa off for 20 minutes until Omarosa comes out with her next tape," the source said.

Still, the move, whether perceived as a partisan stunt or to address national security concerns, could play well for the president among his base.

"Not only are you going after your political opponents who have wronged you, but you also are raising a substantive policy question about security clearances and who should have them when they leave the government," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said, calling it smart political messaging.

 

PARADE COST BALLOONS: When administration officials were first asked about the projected cost of Trump's military parade, they estimated it would cost somewhere between $10 million and $30 million.

In July, CNN first reported that as the parade was shaping up, the cost would be close to $12 million.

Now, CNBC reported Thursday the parade is estimated to cost $92 million. That includes about $50 million from the Pentagon and $42 million from interagency partners such as the Department of Homeland Security.

Tanks for the memories: CNBC also reported that the parade, scheduled for Nov. 10, will now include tanks.

Specifically, according to the report, plans call for eight Abrams tanks, as well as other armored vehicles, including Bradleys, Strykers and M113s.

CNBC said an expert analysis has found the 70-ton Abrams tanks won't damage DC streets because of the vehicle's distributed weight and track pads.

By comparison: As you think about the $92 million price tag for the parade, consider this:

One F-35, the most expensive weapons program ever, costs $89 million.

 

SOUTHCOM NOMINEE: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Mattis dismisses reports of his exit: 'I love it here' Publisher says Woodward book sales largest in its history MORE' senior military advisor has been tapped to be the next chief of the U.S. military in South America, Mattis and the Pentagon announced Thursday.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE nominated Navy Vice Adm. Craig Faller to be the next commander of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) and to receive a fourth star, the Pentagon said in a news release.

The statement came shortly after Mattis first made the announcement while addressing members of the Chilean government during a trip there.

In confirmed, Faller would take over command from Adm. Kurt Tidd, who has led the combatant command since 2016.

Faller has been Mattis' senior military advisor since shortly after the secretary took charge in 2017.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Hudson Institute will host an expert panel on "Iraq: Political Parties, Protests and Security" at noon. https://bit.ly/2MkRiO1

 

ICYMI

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