Overnight Defense: Graham clashed with Pentagon chief over Syria | Talk grows that Trump will fire Coats | Coast Guard officer accused of domestic terrorism plot

Happy Wednesday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan's trip abroad last week -- his debut on the world stage -- was seen as something of a test for whether he can do the job full time.

Leading senators, though, are apparently giving Shanahan a failing grade, according to several reports that emerged Wednesday.

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What lost lawmakers' confidence was reportedly a briefing Shanahan gave them on Syria while at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin was the first to report on the briefing, which saw a testy exchange between Shanahan and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit MORE (R-S.C.), who led the main congressional delegation to the conference.

What happened: Graham conveyed the conversation about the troop withdrawal to Rogin.

"Are you telling our allies that we are going to go to zero by April 30?" Graham asked Shanahan.

"Yes, that's been our direction" from the president, Shanahan replied.

"That's the dumbest f---ing idea I've ever heard," Graham shot back.

Graham then listed off several consequences he fears, including a return of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Turkish attack on the Kurds and growing Iranian influence.

"That could very well happen," Shanahan said.

"Well, if the policy is going to be that we are leaving by April 30, I am now your adversary, not your friend," Graham responded.

So is Shanahan the man?: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE has repeatedly expressed confidence in Shanahan since he became acting secretary, saying Shanahan could be there "for a long time."

Last week, Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton MORE (R-Okla.), who as Senate Armed Services Committee chairman is a gatekeeper of Pentagon nominations, suggested to reporters that he didn't think Shanahan would get the nod.

But Inhofe later walked back those and other comments about Shanahan, which he said were misinterpreted as an attack.

"I'd be happy to have him as the secretary of Defense and would work with him very well. I think we've accomplished that," Inhofe told Defense News at the Munich Security Conference.

 

COATS ON THE LINE: As the top Pentagon job continues to be filled in an acting capacity, talk is growing of another potential opening in the administration.

The official on the line now is Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy Experts are studying mannerisms of 2020 candidates to help offset threat of 'deepfake' videos Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report MORE.

Some close to the White House are saying they believe Trump may soon oust Coats, a move likely to draw ire from Capitol Hill and raise new concerns about the administration's national security apparatus.

The talk: Longtime Trump confidant Christopher Ruddy this week raised the possibility the president could remove Coats from his post, asserting in a CNN interview that there is "general disappointment" with him at the White House, and that he overstepped his bounds by trying to "make policy and not inform policy."

A former Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hill, "There is a growing sense in the administration that Coats's days are numbered."

When asked by a reporter Wednesday if he had any plans to replace Coats, Trump said, "I haven't even thought about it."

The background: Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray made headlines last month with their congressional testimony on global threats, in particular because their statements appeared to conflict with Trump's policy agenda.

The U.S. intelligence community's threat assessment, which was released on the day of their Senate testimony, found that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons, that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still remained a significant threat in Syria and that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize -- conclusions that aren't aligned with Trump's foreign policy remarks.

Trump initially lashed out at the intelligence chiefs over their testimony, tweeting that he would be proven right and that they "should go back to school!" He later revised those comments after an Oval Office meeting with Coats and Haspel, insisting they said the media misconstrued their testimony.

This is not the first time questions have been raised about Coats's future in the administration. Trump was reportedly furious over the director's reaction to a second proposed meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin following July's summit in Helsinki.

 

COAST GUARD OFFICER ARRESTED, ACCUSED OF DOMESTIC TERRORISM PLOT: A lieutenant in the Coast Guard has been arrested after investigators found a stockpile of weapons and hit list of top Democrats.

The arrest of Christopher Paul Hasson on gun and drug charges happened last week but was first noted Wednesday by researchers at George Washington University after a detention memo was filed Tuesday.

He is due in court Thursday in Maryland.

Case details: Hasson called for "focused violence" to "establish a white homeland," according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. He also dreamed of ways to "kill almost every last person on earth," according to the record, as reported by the Post.

When he was arrested, federal agents found 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

His spreadsheet of targets included House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump denies 'tantrum' in meeting with Pelosi: 'It is all such a lie!' MORE (D-Calif.); "JOEY," who prosecutors say is MSNBC host and former Rep. Joe Scarborough; "cortez," allegedly Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez makes endorsement for Queens district attorney Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech Markey releases infrastructure suggestions that align with Green New Deal goals MORE (D-N.Y.); and "Sen blumen jew" presumably Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Hasson also had an internet search history that included the phrases "best place in dc to see congress people" and "are supreme court justices protected."

Military record: Hasson has been working at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington since 2016, according to court documents.

He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993 and in the Army National Guard for about two years in the mid-90s.

 

POMPEO, TRUMP SAY ISIS BRIDE CAN'T COME BACK TO US: An Alabama woman who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cannot come back to the United States, Trump and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Pentagon to present White House with plans to deploy up to 10K troops to Middle East: report Senate panel rejects requiring Congress sign off before Iran strike MORE said Wednesday.

"I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!" Trump tweeted.

The tweet came after Pompeo released a statement saying Muthana does not qualify for citizenship and so has no legal basis to return to the country.

"Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States. We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria," Pompeo said.

Who is Hoda Muthana?: Muthana has been making the rounds in the media over the last few days after being captured by Kurdish forces in Syria, giving interviews to several news outlets. She is asking to be allowed to return to the United States.

"I hope they excuse me because of how young and ignorant I was. Now I'm changed. Now I'm a mother and I have none of the ideology and hopefully everyone will see it when I come back," she said in an interview with ABC News. "I hope America doesn't think I'm a threat to them and I hope they can accept me."

In 2014, Muthana left Alabama, telling her family she was going to Atlanta for a school trip. In reality, she traveled to Turkey from Atlanta and then crossed the border into Syria.

She eventually became an online recruiter for ISIS. She was married to three different ISIS fighters, two of whom died fighting, and had a child with one.

Is she or isn't she?: Muthana says she applied for and received an American passport in 2014 and that she was born in the United States.

Pompeo's statement didn't elaborate on why the administration is saying she is not a citizen. But the New York Times reported it may hinge on a technicality.

Muthana's father was a Yemeni diplomat, and children of diplomats born in the United States are not granted birthright citizenship.

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But a lawyer for her family told the Times her father was discharged from his position a month before she was born, meaning she should have birthright citizenship.

The Trump administration has brought several captured ISIS members who are American citizens back to the United States for prosecution. But that has been more complicated when there's a lack of admissible evidence, as with the high-profile case of the man held for more than a year by the U.S. military before being sent to Bahrain.

If the administration feels it does not have enough evidence on Muthana to use in federal court, claiming she is not a citizen could be a way to absolve itself of responsibility for her.

 

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