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Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress

Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress
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Happy Tuesday 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: First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJohn Kelly was always doomed to fail as chief of staff Trump to help impoverished nations educate their children Internet gambling addiction is a looming crisis MORE's office has released a blistering statement about the top deputy to national security adviser John Bolton, saying Mira Ricardel "no longer deserves the honor" of serving the White House.

The eruption came after a report by The Wall Street Journal that Trump has chosen to oust Ricardel from her position at the first lady's request.

"It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," Melania Trump's communication director Stephanie Grisham said in a statement directed toward Ricardel.

The issue: The first lady's staff clashed with Ricardel during a trip to Africa last month over plane seating.

Ricardel also denied requests from Melania Trump's staff to use National Security Council (NSC) resources, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. The staff also reportedly told the president that they suspect Ricardel is behind unflattering stories about the first lady and her team.

Melania Trump and her staff also discussed the issue with the commander in chief during the administration's trip to Paris earlier this week. Trump told his wife that he would remove Ricardel, White House officials said. 

The NSC has declined to comment.

Other tensions: Ricardel -- one of Bolton's first senior-level hires after he became head of the NSC in April -- has also tussled with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump attends Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Mattis: Investigation into killing of Khashoggi is ongoing MORE and his staff over Pentagon appointments and policy coordination, according to those familiar with the clashes. 

Prior to the 2016 election, Ricardel was named head of Pentagon appointments on Trump's transition team. At the time, she reportedly stopped Mattis from hiring certain officials over concerns about their party affiliation or their earlier support for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE.

It was "not a secret that when [Ricardel] was the head of personnel there was some disagreement about who should come in," an administration official told The Hill last month.

Questions have also been raised over the level of coordination across government agencies to implement Trump's agenda.

Ricardel's primary duties at the NSC involve interagency policy coordination between the council and the State Department and Pentagon, among other agencies, on major policy issues.

"There are people across the interagency with varying degrees of frustration about the current coordination process ... given some of the issues that have lingered -- cyber, Syria, Iran -- big issues out there that require NSC leadership to coordinate," the administration official said.

Bolton's woes: Should Ricardel be asked to leave the White House, Bolton will have lost another ally. Bolton's longtime friend Fred Fleitz last month left his role as chief of staff and executive secretary for the NSC after serving only six months.

So far, Bolton has resisted White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who has pushed for Bolton to replace Ricardel and has been looking for ways to force her out for weeks, officials told the Journal. Kelly reportedly cited the first lady's concerns to Bolton two weeks ago.

Kelly, Nielsen also may be on way out: White House chief of staff John Kelly could soon be departing from the Trump administration following conflicts with first lady Melania Trump and other officials, NBC News reported Tuesday. 

Kelly and Trump have reportedly clashed over the first lady's staffing requests and her travel arrangements.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenInternet gambling addiction is a looming crisis John Kelly to leave White House at year's end López Obrador sworn in as Mexico's president MORE is also reportedly on the way out.

Trump has reportedly been frustrated with Nielsen's efforts on immigration as the administration deals with a wave of new arrests along the border.

The news comes as Trump appears poised to make high-level staff changes in his administration as he gears up for his reelection campaign in 2020. 

 

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BOLTON: SAUDI CROWN PRINCE NOT IMPLICATED IN RECORDING OF KHASHOGGI KILLING: National security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday said that an audio recording of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing does not appear to implicate Saudi Arabia's crown prince.

Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Bolton said that while he hasn't heard the recording, "that's not the conclusion that I think the people who heard it have come to," according to The Wall Street Journal.

What's on the tape: Bolton's comments come after The New York Times reported Monday night that audio shared with the United States by Turkey includes a member of the kill team telling someone on the phone to "tell your boss," adding words to the effect of "the deed was done."

Citing three unnamed people familiar with the recording, the Times reported that American intelligence officials believe the "boss" in question is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The person who made the phone call was Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a former bodyguard for Crown Prince Mohammed, according to the Times.

What we know so far: Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist who often criticized the Saudi government, was killed on Oct. 2 when he went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

Turkish officials have said Khashoggi was strangled almost immediately upon entering the consulate and that his body was then dismembered and disposed of.

The Saudis have denied Crown Prince Mohammed's involvement in the plan to kill Khashoggi. But regional experts and Western officials are doubtful such an operation would have been carried out without the approval of Saudi Arabia's day-to-day leader.

The incident has drawn new scrutiny to the relationship between the U.S. and the kingdom.

Trump taps retired general as new ambassador to Saudi Arabia: Trump has announced his intention to nominate retired Gen. John O. Abizaid to serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a key posting that comes amid heightened tensions between the longtime allies.

Abizaid, who currently serves as a visiting fellow at Stanford University, is a former head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and is well-versed in the politics of the Middle East. He retired from the military in 2007.

 

MATTIS TO VISIT BORDER TROOPS ON WEDNESDAY: Defense Secretary James Mattis will visit the thousands of U.S. troops deployed at the southern border Wednesday.

In brief comments to reporters on Tuesday ahead of meeting with Qatar's defense minister, Mattis said he would visit the U.S.-Mexico border the following day.

A Pentagon statement later added that Mattis will travel Wednesday to McAllen, Texas, to "meet with service members currently deployed in support of the southwest border mission."

The background: The Pentagon has deployed about 7,000 soldiers and Marines to Texas, California and Arizona to support Customs and Border Protection operations on the border. About 2,800 troops are in Texas.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE ordered the deployment ahead of the midterm elections as he focused on a caravan of about 4,000 asylum-seekers that is traversing through Mexico to the U.S. border.

Trump has said the deployment could grow as high as 15,000 military personnel, more than the Pentagon's official count for the number deployed to Afghanistan.

Trump cast the caravan as an "invasion" that the military would stop from entering the country.

The pushback: Because the military is barred in most cases from enforcing U.S. laws on U.S. soil, including immigration laws, tasks the deployed troops have done so far include putting up barbed wire and erecting tents for customs officers.

Critics called the deployment a political stunt meant to invigorate Trump's base ahead of the midterms.

A day after the elections, the Pentagon announced it was no longer using the name "Operation Faithful Patriot" for the mission.

Costs still unknown: The Pentagon has yet to release a cost estimate of the deployment. One study projected a cost between $42 million and $110 million.

On Tuesday, Mattis pledged to update reporters on costs "as they become known."

"Obviously the units executing the border mission have got to report them right up here," he said. "We are capturing the costs."

 

RECORD NUMBER OF FEMALE VETERANS TO SERVE IN NEXT CONGRESS: The incoming 116th Congress includes a record number of female veterans, even as the overall number of former service members is on the decline.

Six female veterans will hold office on Capitol Hill after a record number were on the ballot for Election Day. In total, 93 veterans are slated to serve as lawmakers when the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

The midterm elections saw more than 170 veterans on the ballot, according to the University of San Francisco and Veterans Campaign, a group that prepares veterans for careers in politics.

Of the veterans running for the House, a dozen were women, marking the highest number ever, according to Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn. 

By the numbers: Sixteen former service members -- including three women -- won their races and will serve their first terms starting in January, the most new veterans since 2010.

In 2016, 14 new veterans were elected, and a dozen won in both 2014 and 2012, according to Lynn.

"This was the year of women candidates," Lynn told The Hill. "Women candidates, fair or unfair, are often questioned about whether they're tough enough for the job, whereas male candidates aren't."

With military service, he said, no one questions whether they're tough enough.

"It never even comes up," Lynn said.

Who won: The new female veteran House members are former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), former Air Force Capt. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Navy veteran Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who beat out another veteran, Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorVirginia New Members 2019 Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress MORE (R-Va.), a former Navy SEAL.

The party breakdown of veterans is still heavily tilted toward the GOP, with 68 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

Notable wins in the House include Republican Dan Crenshaw (Texas), a former Navy SEAL who served three tours of duty and lost his right eye in an improvised explosive device explosion in Afghanistan, and Democrat Jason Crow, an Army veteran from Colorado who unseated longtime Republican Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGardner gets first Dem challenger for 2020 Senate race The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE, himself an Army and Marine Corps veteran.

But overall numbers still on the decline: But despite the number of new wins, the total number of veterans in Congress is on the decline. More than 70 percent of lawmakers in the 1970s had served in the military. For the 115th Congress, that number was down to 19 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Vietnam War marked the first generation of veterans who were less likely to get involved with politics compared to peers who did not serve, a development that played out in Congress, Lynn said.

The total number of veterans in Congress also took a hit as several incumbents were not reelected.

One of those lawmakers was Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane Russell5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Oklahoma New Members 2019 Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress MORE (R-Okla.), a former Army Ranger and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMaine’s 2nd District outcome proves value of ranked choice voting Arizona airport says Trump campaign owes K from October rally The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 MORE (R), a former Air Force colonel, lost her Senate bid in Arizona to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D).

The Senate is at risk of losing Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Rick Scott delays Senate swearing-in ceremony Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (D-Fla.), who served in the U.S. Army Reserve in the Vietnam War. Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee, is in a tight reelection race that's headed to an automatic recount.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, will speak at an Air Force Association breakfast at 7:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va. 

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedYemen resolution picks up crucial support in Senate Senate to get briefing on Saudi Arabia that could determine sanctions Dem senator: Trump's Saudi statement 'stunning window' into his 'autocratic tendencies' MORE will speak on the Report on War Costs Since 9/11 at 10 a.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 236.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Defense Department's cybersecurity acquisition and practices from the private sector at 3 p.m. in Russell 222.  

The House Armed Services Committee will hear from Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rapuano on "Interagency Cyber Cooperation: Roles, Responsibilities and Authorities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security," at 3 p.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: VA under pressure to deliver Trump reforms

-- The Hill: Dems aim to balance oversight, bipartisanship on VA committee

-- The Hill: CIA considered use of anti-anxiety drug in terror suspect interrogations: report

-- The Hill: Trump: NY Times report on North Korean missile bases inaccurate

-- The Hill: Perry: We shouldn't let Russia use energy as a weapon

-- The Hill: Opioid crisis poses challenge for vets

-- The Hill: US mulls asking for delay in Afghan elections to help jolt Taliban talks: report

-- The Hill: Pentagon cyber official warns U.S. companies against 'hacking back'

-- The Hill: Pompeo accuses Newsweek of 'helping' Iran 'spread lies'

-- The Hill: Merkel calls for creation of 'real, true European army'

-- The Hill: Pence talks trade, North Korea on trip to Japan

-- The Hill: Opinion: Terror-crime 'poisonous brew' requires a calibrated response

-- The Hill: Opinion: The alarming path to war between North Korea and America