Overnight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants

Overnight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants
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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. And if you don't get our newsletter, CLICK HERE to subscribe.


THE TOPLINE: The Trump administration on Thursday shifted course in its handling of the Jamal Khashoggi case, responding to increased pressure from GOP critics and others calling on the president to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the apparent death of the U.S.-based journalist in Turkey.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE issued his sternest rebuke of Saudi Arabia so far on Thursday afternoon, telling reporters on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews that "it certainly looks" as though the Washington Post columnist was murdered, and he threatened "very severe" consequences for Saudi Arabia if they're found to be responsible.

Changing attitudes: Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced his withdrawal from a high-profile investment summit in Riyadh next week, marking the administration's first public rebuke of the Saudis over the incident. He announced his plans after discussions with Trump and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump admin to discuss sending additional military force to Middle East amid Iran tensions: report Buttigieg: Iran situation 'disturbingly reminiscent' of lead-up to Iraq War Buttigieg: Iran situation 'disturbingly reminiscent' of lead-up to Iraq War MORE, who met with top Saudi and Turkish officials earlier this week.


Pompeo said Thursday that Saudi Arabia would have "a few more days" to complete an investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi, who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and hasn't been seen since. He said he emphasized to the Saudis that the U.S. takes this matter "very seriously."

He also signaled that the administration would not sit back and wait for an open-ended investigation by Saudi officials to stretch on for weeks.

Trump shifting gears: The developments reflect a recognition within the administration that its tolerant stance on Saudi Arabia -- including instances of Trump repeating the denials of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any knowledge of Khashoggi's death -- is no longer tenable.

Until Thursday, Trump and his top aides had been reluctant to criticize the Saudis over Khashoggi's disappearance.

The president said Thursday that it "certainly looks" like Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead while vowing "severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to be responsible.

"It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad," Trump told reporters before departing for a campaign rally in Montana when asked if the U.S.-based journalist was dead.

Trump on Wednesday denied that he is trying to offer cover for the Saudis a day after comparing Saudi Arabia to Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughAnticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Anticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag MORE, telling the Associated Press: "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that."

More criticism from lawmakers: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that it appeared the administration was trying to protect the Saudi royal family from a public relations fallout.

Corker told The Washington Post that the administration had clamped down on intelligence related to Khashoggi's disappearance in an effort to avoid implicating senior Saudi officials.

"I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia," Corker told the Post.


TWO AMERICANS WOUNDED IN ATTACK TARGETTING TOP US COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTANTwo Americans were wounded Thursday in an attack targeting the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that left two Afghan officials dead.

A U.S. service member and a civilian were among the wounded. A coalition contractor, who is not American, was also injured. All three were medically evacuated and are in stable condition, U.S. Forces Afghanistan said in a statement.

What we know so far: The three were injured when a gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire on participants meeting with U.S. Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller at Kandahar palace, killing two top southern provincial officials, according to reports.

Miller, the target of the attack claimed by the Taliban, was not injured.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan called the attack "an Afghan-on-Afghan incident" and said the gunman is dead.

"General Miller is uninjured. We are being told the area is secure," according to the statement.

Who was killed: The attack killed Gen. Abdul Raziq, the region's police chief, and intelligence chief Gen. Abdul Momin, The New York Times reported. Provincial governor Zalmai Wesa was wounded in the shooting.

The Taliban said the attack was directed at Raziq and Miller.

Raziq was a lieutenant general in the Afghan National Police and a controversial official. He had been accused of torturing detainees but also was revered for his opposition to the Taliban.


TRUMP THREATENS MILITARY ACTION IF MEXICO DOESN'T STOP IMMIGRATION 'ONSLAUGHT': Trump on Thursday warned that he may take military action to stop immigrants from crossing the southern border into the U.S. if Mexico does not take action to stop the "onslaught." 

Trump in a series of early-morning tweets also blamed Democrats for the "assault on our country," adding that illegal immigration is "far more important" to him than trade or the recently negotiated trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

And he railed against Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, saying they "have almost no control over their population."

What he said: "In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught -- and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" he said in a follow-up post.

But Pentagon said it hasn't been given any orders: The Pentagon on Thursday said it has not been given a request to send additional troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Beyond the National Guard soldiers currently supporting the Department of Homeland Security on our southern border ... the Department of Defense has not been tasked to provide additional support," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement.

Trump in April directed Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTop nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE to deploy up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and said they will remain there until his proposed wall was built.

About 2,100 guardsmen are currently serving at the border.


WOMAN TO LEAD US ARMY'S LARGEST COMMAND FOR 1ST TIME: Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson is the new commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), becoming the first woman to lead the largest command in the U.S. Army.

Richardson previously served as deputy commanding general of the same command, and she was also the first woman to hold that position, according to CNN. She was named to that position last year and was promoted this week following the departure of Gen. Robert B. Abrams.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, told The Fayetteville Observer that Richardson will serve as the acting commander until a replacement for Abrams is approved.

Milley added that Richardson will likely serve as the commander for an extended period.

"I don't know how long it's going to be to be honest with you," he told her, according to the Fayetteville Observer. "You're going to be in command of this command for a considerable amount of time."

FORSCOM spokesman Colonel Michael Lawhorn told CNN that Richardson is among the candidates being considered as Abrams' long-term replacement.



-- The Hill: Kelly, Bolton get in profanity-laced shouting match: reports

-- The Hill: Mattis meets with Chinese defense minister amid tensions

-- The Hill: Trump rebukes Saudis, but also gives them more time

-- The Hill: Trump says he hasn't visited troops overseas because he's 'very busy'

-- The Hill: France's Macron suspends official visits to Saudi Arabia during Khashoggi controversy

-- The Hill: Saudi Arabia mulls blaming top intel officer over Khashoggi disappearance: report

--The Hill: Putin: US has 'certain responsibility' for missing Saudi journalist

-- The Hill: Syrian-American doctors: Raising money to lobby Trump in person led to policy change

-- The Hill: US to oppose no-fly zone over Korean DMZ: report