Overnight Defense: GOP senators rip Saudi prince after CIA briefing | Top general says Afghan war at a stalemate | Mattis extends border mission through January | Pompeo gives Russia deadline on nuclear arms treaty

THE TOPLINE: Senators emerged from a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and promising further action.

"There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) said, referencing Trump administration comments that there is no "smoking gun" linking the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi.

Zero question: "You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi," Graham said, using the crown prince's initials.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end The Hill's Morning Report — Trump maintains his innocence amid mounting controversies Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force MORE (R-Tenn.), meanwhile, said there was "zero question" Crown Prince Mohammed he had Khashoggi killed.

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"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through. I have zero question in my mind," said Corker, who is retiring in January.

Haspel unable to sway senators: Haspel briefed senators who lead national security-related committees roughly a week after Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisRussia claims Pentagon ignoring request to discuss nuclear dispute Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Facebook bug exposed photos of up to 6.8M users | Canada warns Trump not to intervene in Huawei case | Tech giant accused of providing cybersecurity to terror groups Canada warns Trump: Huawei extradition shouldn't be ‘politicized’ MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoShowdown at the Security Council? Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Facebook bug exposed photos of up to 6.8M users | Canada warns Trump not to intervene in Huawei case | Tech giant accused of providing cybersecurity to terror groups Canada warns Trump: Huawei extradition shouldn't be ‘politicized’ MORE similarly failed to stall Senate action with a briefing on U.S.-Saudi relations and the Yemen civil war.

Senators were unconvinced by the administration's arguments and angry at Haspel's absence last week. They followed last week's briefing by advancing 63-37 a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen.

But Haspel didn't sway lawmakers in the briefing from wanting to take action targeting the crown prince, as well as the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

More push to action: In an apparent shift, Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming | Trump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff | China agrees to 3-month freeze of auto tariffs | Dem to seek Deutsche Bank records of Trump's personal finances The Hill's Morning Report — Trump maintains his innocence amid mounting controversies Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming MORE (R-Ala.), who voted against the resolution last week, wouldn't rule out supporting it after speaking with Haspel.

"All evidence points to that all this leads back to the crown prince," Shelby said, adding that Khashoggi's death was "reprehensible conduct."

Khashoggi's death has ratcheted up tensions with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, where many already described the relationship as at a low point. Senators say Haspel, who focused her talk on Khashoggi and not Yemen, didn't change minds in the room but gave a more sober assessment compared with the Mattis-Pompeo briefing last week.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill Megyn Kelly on Mika Brzezinski's comment controversy: 'I hope she's forgiven' McConnell sets Monday test vote on criminal justice bill MORE (D-Ill.) predicted after the briefing that "the sentiment to continue this effort is stronger now than ever."

Corker acknowledged after the briefing with Haspel that "temperatures are up" among senators.

What happens next: The Senate could take a vote on proceeding to the Yemen resolution next week. Leadership and supporters of the resolution in talks to try to get a deal to avoid a freewheeling floor vote, where senators will be able to force a vote on any amendment.

The resolution -- spearheaded by Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi MORE (D-Conn.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll Gillibrand says she's worried about top options in Dem 2020 poll being white men Trump will likely win reelection in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war MORE (R-Utah) -- would require Trump to remove any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days.

Graham said he plans to introduce a separate resolution that would get the Senate on record blaming Crown Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi's death.

He also said he will continue pushing legislation he co-sponsored with Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.) as an amendment to the Yemen resolution. 

Here are more The Hill stories on Saudi Arabia:

-- Schumer: Haspel should brief full Senate on Khashoggi killing

-- Activists put up 'Khashoggi Way' sign on DC street outside Saudi Embassy 

-- GOP senator: Saudi crown prince 'really was the original El Chapo'

-- McConnell: 'Complete fracture' with Saudi Arabia not in U.S. interest

 

AFGHANISTAN WAR AT STALEMATE, TOP GENERAL SAYS: Fighting in Afghanistan is at a stalemate and the country would likely fall to the Taliban if the U.S. were to pull troops from the conflict now, the officer nominated to head U.S. forces in the Middle East told the Senate on Tuesday.

"I believe that the operational military situation is largely stalemated," Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McKenzie, speaking at his confirmation hearing to become the next head of U.S. Central Command, warned against withdrawing U.S. troops from the 17-year war as Afghan security forces are not yet able to defending their nation.

"If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country," McKenzie said.

Background: The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it removed the Taliban from power.

During that time, more than 2,400 U.S. forces have died in the conflict, including 12 this year.

Afghanistan has been in conflict since the late 1970s when U.S.-backed Afghan guerrillas repelled the Soviet Union from the country in a nine-year war.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Monday called for the international community to help end the war in Afghanistan as nearly 40 years of conflict "is enough." 

Going forward: The Trump administration has moved to push the Taliban to peace talks in an attempt to bring about an end to the violence, with U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad leading the charge.

Appointed in September, Khalilzad has moved quickly to reach out to as many top Taliban figures as possible in an attempt to start peace discussions before President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE orders a troop pullout without an end to the conflict.

Khalilzad met Tuesday with Pakistani officials and will also travel to Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to try to wrangle support.

But talks have floundered, with the Taliban currently holding control of nearly half of the country, while routinely carrying out attacks on government officials and local security forces.

Lawmakers frustrated: Lawmakers made clear their frustration with the pace of the diplomatic and military efforts to bring an end to the fighting, questioning McKenzie on everything from the lack of progress in the conflict, to growing Taliban control in Afghanistan. 

"We've been at it for 17 years; 17 years is a long time," said Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington Bipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says Overnight Defense: GOP senators rip Saudi prince after CIA briefing | Top general says Afghan war at a stalemate | Mattis extends border mission through January | Pompeo gives Russia deadline on nuclear arms treaty MORE (D-Mich.). "What are we doing differently when it comes to the Afghan security forces that we haven't done for 17 years?"

More pressure needed: McKenzie also said that the Taliban are "in a stalemate" and it's "critical to maintain unrelenting pressure" on the group to bring them to peace talks.

"We believe that it is important to convince the Taliban that, even as we are in a statement, so they are in a stalemate, and they will be unable to find a path to victory on the battlefield," he said.

 

POMPEO: US TO LEAVE NUKE TREATY IN 60 DAYS UNLESS RUSSIA COMPLIES: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the United States would suspend its obligations under a decades-old nuclear arms pact in 60 days if Russia does not come back into full compliance with the treaty.

Pompeo made the announcement following meetings with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, describing Russia's violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as part of a broader pattern of "lawlessness" by Moscow on the global stage. 

"In light of these facts, the United States today declares it has found Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations as a remedy effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance," Pompeo told reporters on Tuesday. 

Trump's warnings: President Trump signaled earlier this fall that he planned to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty, citing Russian violations of the agreement. U.S. officials have publicly accused Moscow of violating the treaty since the days of the Obama administration, but Russia has denied the accusations. 

NATO concludes: In a separate statement, the NATO foreign ministers formally concluded Russia to be in material breach of the treaty with its development of new ground-based missile systems and urged Moscow to come back into compliance under the terms.  

"Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security. We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty," the NATO foreign ministers said. 

The background: The nuclear arms pact was signed by then-President Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and banned the deployment of intermediate-range conventional and nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles.

Trump announced in late October that he planned to withdraw from the nuclear arms pact, a decision that has received mixed reviews. While experts and current and former officials broadly agree that Moscow is in violation of the accord, some have worried whether the decision to withdraw from it could spur an arms race. Some U.S. lawmakers have also criticized Trump for not properly consulting Congress in the decision.

Trump has pledged to "build up" the U.S. nuclear arsenal to pressure Russia, China and other nations to come to the table on future agreements.

 

TROOPS TO STAY AT BORDER AT LEAST UNTIL JANUARY: Secretary of Defense James Mattis has approved the extension of the deployment of active duty troops to the southern U.S. border through Jan. 31, a spokesperson for the Pentagon told The Hill Tuesday.

"The Secretary of Defense has approved an extension of the ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) response to migrant caravan arrivals. DoD support to DHS is authorized until Jan. 31, 2019," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson did not say how many of the 5,600 troops currently deployed to the border would stay. 

Plans for a rotation: Two U.S. officials told ABC News last week that an extension could use a rotational deployment, shifting different units through the border support mission. 

A portion of the troops currently deployed to the border were expected to be relieved on Dec. 15, when the mission was originally set to end.

The relief would allow those troops to go home for the holidays.

The military deployed to the southern border cannot legally act in a law enforcement capacity but provides logistical support to the border guards stationed at heavily trafficked areas. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The House Armed Services Committee has postponed a scheduled hearing on artificial intelligence in lieu of funeral ceremonies for former President George H.W. Bush. The Senate Armed Services Committee has also postponed a hearing with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran.

Here is the schedule of memorial events for Wednesday:

8:45 a.m. ET: End of public viewing at the Capitol.

10 a.m. ET: Departure ceremony from the Capitol.

11 a.m. ET: Funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

1:15 p.m. ET: Departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews as Bush's remains are flown back to Houston.

5:30 p.m. ET: Arrival ceremony at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston.

6:45 p.m. ET: Arrival ceremony at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston.

7:45 p.m. ET: Bush lies in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church until 7 a.m. ET Thursday.

 

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