Overnight Defense: Duncan Hunter refusing to step down from committees | Trump awards Medal of Honor to widow of airman | Pentagon names pick for Mideast commander

Overnight Defense: Duncan Hunter refusing to step down from committees | Trump awards Medal of Honor to widow of airman | Pentagon names pick for Mideast commander
© Greg Nash

THE TOPLINE: House Armed Services Committee member and Marine Corps veteran Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 MORE (R-Calif.) is refusing to step down from his committee assignments following charges that he used at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

Hunter is defying Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden MORE (R-Wis.) by refusing to relinquish his committee assignments, prompting House Republicans to move forward with a plan to forcibly remove him from those posts, a House GOP source close to the process told The Hill on Wednesday.

Ryan said on Tuesday that Hunter would be removed from those positions 


"The charges against Rep. Hunter are deeply serious," Ryan said in a statement on Tuesday. "Now that he has been indicted, Rep. Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter."

In addition to the Armed Services Committee, Hunter is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Education and the Workforce Committee.

The indictment: Hunter and his wife Margaret were indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in California on charges of misusing at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and falsifying campaign records.

The indictment claims Hunter routinely dipped into his campaign coffers like a personal bank account, allegedly misusing campaign funds to pay for family vacations, dental work, rounds of golf, birthday gifts, sporting events, school tuition and hefty bar tabs.

The 47-page indictment claims that in one instance, Hunter bought clothes at a golf course and misrepresented them as golf balls for wounded warriors. It also accuses Hunter of using campaign funds to stay at the Liaison Hotel in Washington, D.C., with "individual 14," who Hunter also allegedly took on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe using campaign dollars.

Hunter pushes back: Hunter continues to adamantly deny charges that he misused campaign funds, claiming that he is the victim of a Department of Justice (DOJ) "witch hunt."

Hunter accused top law enforcement officials of having a "political agenda" and slammed the media coverage of his indictment. The statement echoes the words of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE, who has repeatedly called the DOJ's Russia probe a "rigged witch hunt" and has dismissed the investigation as "fake news."

"The fact is that there is a culture operating within our Justice Department that is politically motivated. We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case," Hunter said in a lengthy statement on Wednesday issued through his campaign.

 And here's more stories on the unfolding saga from The Hill:

-- Hunter's hometown paper demands his resignation in blistering editorial: 'Corrupt to the point of caricature'

-- 10 ways Duncan Hunter allegedly misused campaign funds

-- Hunter rips 'new' DOJ: 'We're excited about going to trial'


TRUMP AWARDS POSTHUMOUS MEDAL OF HONOR: President Trump on Wednesday awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to the widow of an Air Force technical sergeant who died on a rescue mission in Afghanistan.

Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman was honored Wednesday for charging into enemy fire and securing enemy positions during a 2002 mission that went awry. Trump presented the nation's highest military honor to Chapman's widow, Valerie Nessel, during a ceremony at the White House.

What he did to earn the medal: Chapman and other troops pressed through deep snow and a hail of enemy gunfire in search of team members who were stranded when a helicopter crash-landed near the peak of Takur Ghar, a 10,000-foot mountain in Afghanistan.

Trump said Chapman was the first to clear an enemy bunker and exposed himself to gunfire to secure a second bunker. He was shot and lost consciousness.

"Even though he was mortally wounded, he regained consciousness and he fought on," Trump said. "And he really fought. We have proof of that fight. He really fought. 

"Through his extraordinary sacrifice, John helped save more than 20 American service members," Trump added.

Who was there: Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Robert Wilkie attended Wednesday's ceremony, as did Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanGOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ark.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyGOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report GOP senators: Trump should not declare border emergency during State of the Union MORE (D-Pa.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.), as well as Reps. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzHouse passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency Parkland parents create anti-gun violence Valentine’s Day candies: ‘Don’t shoot,’ ‘he’s gone’ House conservatives blast border deal, push Trump to use executive power MORE (R-Fla.) and John Larson John Barry LarsonDems offer smaller step toward ‘Medicare for all' Lobbying world A bill to boost Social Security will finally get a full and fair hearing MORE (D-Conn.).


TRUMP TAPS NEW MIDDLE EAST COMMANDER: Trump has officially tapped Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie to become the next chief of U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

McKenzie, currently the director of the Joint Staff, was also nominated to receive a fourth star, according to the news release.

McKenzie's nomination was one of several imminent nominations first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Who he replaces and what he'll do: If confirmed, McKenzie would take over for Gen. Joseph Votel, who has led Central Command (Centcom) since March 2016 and is expected to step down in the spring as part of a regular rotation.

Centcom, which has its headquarters in Florida, oversees the Middle East and parts of South Asia, with its area of responsibility stretching from Egypt to Pakistan.

It is among the most prominent commands in the military, overseeing U.S. military operations in the active battlefields of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

His background: McKenzie has served as Joint Staff director since July 2017. The high-profile role is typically seen as a stepping stone to more senior commands.

His public profile, in particular, has grown in recent months as he has appeared in the Pentagon briefing room alongside chief spokeswoman Dana White for semi-regular briefings.



The Hudson Institute will host a discussion on "Afghanistan: 17 Years On," at 2 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 



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-- Stars and Stripes: Nicholson: 'Strategy is working' in Afghanistan

-- Reuters: Turkey accuses U.S. of waging 'economic war' in pastor dispute

-- Defense News: What Duncan Hunter's indictment means for defense issues