Overnight Defense: Trump doesn't like Russia-Ukraine crisis 'either way' | Haley, Pompeo criticize Russian actions | Sanders to force Yemen vote this week | Top Dem questions Trump on border troops

Overnight Defense: Trump doesn't like Russia-Ukraine crisis 'either way' | Haley, Pompeo criticize Russian actions | Sanders to force Yemen vote this week | Top Dem questions Trump on border troops
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday 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 United States and the international community responded Monday to Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait the day before.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE pledged the United States would work with Europe to respond to the escalating tension. But he did not specifically call out Russia, saying the United States does not approve of the situation "either way."


"We do not like what's happening either way. We don't like what's happening, and hopefully it'll get straightened out," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a campaign trip to Mississippi.

"I know Europe is not, they are not thrilled," Trump continued. "They're working on it too. We're all working on it together."

What happened: On Sunday, Russia fired on some Ukrainian navy ships as they tried to transit the strait.

Two ships were hit and several crewmembers were injured. The two ships and a tugboat were then seized by Russia.

The strait links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea, passing by the Crimean peninsula. Russia claims Crimea as its own after a 2014 annexation that the international community considers illegal.

Russia and Ukraine technically share the Sea of Avoz under a 2003 treaty. But Russia has asserted more control over the sea since its Crimea annexation, and tensions have been simmering there for months.

Russia's side: Russia blamed Ukraine for the incident, saying it violated Russia's territorial integrity.

"Russia has repeatedly warned the Kiev regime and its Western patrons about the danger of inflating artificial hysteria in connection with the Sea of ​​Azov and the Kerch Strait," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. "Clearly, this is a well-thought-out provocation that took place in a predetermined place and form and is aimed at creating another hotbed of tension in that region and a pretext for stepping up sanctions against Russia."

Ukraine's response: Ukraine's parliament voted Monday to impose martial law in parts of the country.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the move as necessary to fight "growing aggression" from Moscow and because of intelligence on "a highly serious threat of a ground operation against Ukraine." He did not elaborate on the intelligence.

The parliament overwhelming approved Poroshenko's proposal to impose martial law for 30 days starting Wednesday on 10 regions bordering Russia, Belarus and Moldova's pro-Moscow breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester.

International response: Both the United Nations and NATO held emergency meetings Monday in response to the incident.

At the U.N. Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTrump UN nominee: Climate change poses 'real risks' Trump UN nominee: Climate change poses 'real risks' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept MORE condemned Russia's actions as "dangerous" and "arrogant," and expressed America's support for Kiev.

"We strongly support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters. We express our deep concern over the incident, which represent a dangerous escalation and violation of international law," Haley said.

In Brussels, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed to hold an "extraordinary meeting" of the NATO-Ukraine Commission after a phone call with the Ukrainian president.

After the meeting, Stoltenberg demanded Russia free the ships and their sailors.

"There is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel, so we call on Russia to release immediately the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized yesterday," Stoltenberg told reporters.

Other administration response: In addition to the comments by Trump and Haley, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIs America headed toward war? Is America headed toward war? Polar bear spotted hundreds of miles south of normal hunting grounds MORE slammed Russia for its "aggressive" behavior.

"The United States condemns this aggressive Russian action. We call on Russia to return to Ukraine its vessels and detained crew members, and to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters," Pompeo said in a statement Monday evening.

Lawmaker response: U.S. lawmakers across the political spectrum condemned Russia's actions.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.) urged Trump to commit additional military assistance to Ukraine.

"Once again, the Kremlin has shown that it only respects a strong adversary that is willing to stand up to bullies," Menendez said in a statement. "At this precarious time, the U.S. cannot afford a weak performance by President Trump at the G20, like we saw in Helsinki."

"Mr. President, this is your opportunity to finally show American leadership in defense of our principles and our close allies across Europe," Menendez added.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE (R-Okla.) did not call out Trump in his statement, but did say the United States needs to do more if Russian President Vladimir Putin "continues his Black Sea bullying."

"The United States, with our European allies, must take action to reinforce our commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and restoration of its territorial integrity," Inhofe said. "If Putin continues his Black Sea bullying, the United States and Europe must consider imposing additional sanctions on Russia, inserting a greater U.S. and NATO presence in the Black Sea region and increasing military assistance for Ukraine, as called for in the FY 2018 [defense policy bill]."

Will they meet?: Trump and Putin were previously scheduled to meet at the G-20 summit in Argentina this weekend.

On Monday, the Kremlin said that meeting is still on, despite the Ukrainian crisis.

"This meeting is being prepared," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked if the tensions with Ukraine would impact the planned meeting, according to Russia's state-owned TASS news agency.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the meeting is still expected to take place.


YEMEN VOTE, BRIEFING COMING THIS WEEK: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Sanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Democrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll MORE (I-Vt.) is planning to force a vote this week on ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's military campaign in Yemen.

Sanders, in an email to supporters, said "this week I will go to the floor of the United States Senate" to force a vote on his resolution.

"Despite Trump's venal support for the Saudi regime, I am confident that we now stand an excellent chance to win this vote which I plan on bringing back to the Senate floor this week," Sanders added in the email.

A spokesman confirmed that Sanders will vote this week and is in talks with leadership to lock down a Wednesday or Thursday vote.

Sanders previously said he would introduce a War Powers resolution after Thanksgiving, but Monday's news specifies that means this week.

But first…: Before senators vote on Sanders's resolution, they will get the chance to question Pompeo and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE that they've been clamoring for.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSanders says Juneteenth should be a national holiday Sanders says Juneteenth should be a national holiday GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, confirmed Mattis and Pompeo are expected to brief the full Senate on the U.S.-Saudi relationship on Wednesday.

The briefing could give the administration a last-ditch chance to quell growing frustration with Saudi Arabia and undercut Sanders's resolution.

Aid groups plead with US: Before the vote and the briefing were confirmed, five humanitarian organizations released an unusually stark statement Monday imploring the United States to end military support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the war.

If the United States does not, the groups warned, it could bear responsibility for the starvation of 14 million people.

"We are pleading with the United States to back up its recent call for a cessation of hostilities with genuine diplomatic pressure, and to halt all military support for the Saudi/UAE coalition in Yemen in order to save millions of lives," the groups said in a joint statement.

"It pains us to write these words, but we cannot escape the truth: if it does not cease its military support for the Saudi/UAE coalition, the United States, too, will bear responsibility for what may be the largest famine in decades."

The statement was signed by the heads of the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, CARE US, Save the Children USA and Norwegian Refugee Council, USA.

The International Rescue Committee separately released the results of a YouGov survey Monday showing that 75 percent of respondents who expressed an opinion oppose U.S. support to the Saudi and UAE coalition and that 82 percent want Congress to vote to end or decrease arms sales to the Saudis.


TOP DEM WANTS ANSWERS ON BORDER DEPLOYMENT: The man who is on track to be the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is questioning Trump on the legality of expanding authorities for U.S. troops at the southern border.

In a letter to Trump released Monday, current committee ranking member Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight 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 House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.) said Trump's decision to allow troops to use force, conduct crowd control and search and temporarily detain people "is yet another unnecessary step towards the militarization of the southern border."

"Furthermore, the activities described in the memorandum may be a violation of existing federal laws, such as the Posse Comitatus Act (18 USC 1385) or limitations on troops' participation [in] certain law enforcement activities (10 USC 275)," Smith wrote.

Posse Comitatus is an 1878 law that prohibits the use of the military for domestic law enforcement in most cases.

The issue: If you started your Thanksgiving festivities early, you might have missed Wednesday's news that the White House signed a memo allowing U.S. military personnel to "perform those military protective activities that the Secretary of Defense determines are reasonably necessary to ensure the protection of federal personnel, including a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention, and cursory search."

"Department of Defense personnel shall not, without further direction from the President, conduct traditional civilian law enforcement activities, such as arrest, search, and seizure in connection with the enforcement of the laws," the memo adds.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon last week, Mattis insisted troops are not authorized to engage in law enforcement activities.

"The one point I want to make again is we are not doing law enforcement," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. "We do not have arrest authority. Now the governors could give their [National Guard] troops arrest authority. I don't think they've done that. But there is no arrest authority under Posse Comitatus for the U.S. federal troops. You know, that can be done, but it has to be done in accordance with the law, and that has not been done nor has it been anticipated."

What Smith wants: In addition to legality, Smith in his letter raised concerns about the White House's lack of communication with Congress on the military operation on the border.

"Congress has frequently heard about decisions made or actions taken through the press rather than hearing directly from your administration," he wrote. "This includes this most recent memorandum issued the week of Thanksgiving."

Smith asked Trump for a detailed justification for the memo, an assessment of the capability of border patrol that warrants the use of active-duty military personnel in the activities described in the memo and a legal opinion on how the activities authorized by the memo comply with the law.

He also asked for a list of equipment and weapons military personnel are allowed to carry, details of training military personnel will have, the cost of the mission, what specific mission each unit deployed to the border has and what facilities the military would use to temporarily detain asylum seekers.



The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the final report from the National Defense Strategy Commission with testimony from the commission's chairmen at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2Ozp4eB

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on Navy shipbuilding programs with testimony from Navy officers at 2:30 p.m. at the Russell Senate Office Building, room 220. https://bit.ly/2QTRnWZ

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on multilateral economic institutions with testimony from officials with the Treasury and State department at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2OYbEch



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