Overnight Defense: McSally reveals she was raped by officer during Air Force service | Trump nixes public report on drone deaths | Senators say Saudi crown prince has 'gone full gangster'

Overnight Defense: McSally reveals she was raped by officer during Air Force service | Trump nixes public report on drone deaths | Senators say Saudi crown prince has 'gone full gangster'
© Greg Nash

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: Arizona Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyDemocratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  MORE (R) on Wednesday revealed in an emotional speech she was raped by a superior while serving in the Air Force.

"Like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor," McSally said during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on prevention and response to sexual assault in the military.

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"But unlike so many brave survivors, I didn't report being sexually assaulted. Like so many women and men, I didn't trust the system at the time. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused, and I thought I was strong but felt powerless."

"The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways, and in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer," she said.

She did not name her attacker, nor when and where the assault happened.

She said she stayed silent for many years, but later in her career, "as the military grappled with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor. I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled."

She added that her experience almost led her to quit the service after 18 years.

"Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again," she said.

About McSally: McSally is a former A-10 squadron commander and was the first American woman to fly in combat following the end of a prohibition on female combat pilots.

McSally, 52, was in the Air Force from 1988 to 2010, when she retired as a colonel. When she entered the Air Force Academy in the 1980s, she was part of the ninth class that included women, and said "sexual harassment and assault were prevalent," while the victims "mostly suffered in silence."

She was also one of the first female combat veterans elected to Congress and has been a prominent voice in military issues on Capitol Hill since.

She revealed last year she was sexually abused by a coach during her senior year of high school. She had previously said that she was a victim of sexual harassment in the military, but Wednesday was the first time she talked about being raped.

Broader debate: McSally called for reforms to how the military handles sexual assault but was also emphatic that commanders be kept part of the judicial process in such cases.

Pausing briefly during her speech as she was overcome with emotion, McSally continued, demanding that military commanders "stay at the center of the solution and live up to moral and legal responsibilities that come with being a commander."

"My drive to fight against sexual assault in the ranks is not from the outside looking in and it is deeply personal," she said. "During my 26 years in uniform I witnessed so many weaknesses in the processes involving sexual assault prevention, investigation and adjudication."

Whether to take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other serious crimes away from military commanders has been a contentious debate in past years.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' MORE (D-N.Y.), who is the ranking member of the subcommittee holding Wednesday's hearing, has for years advocated changes that would put the decision to prosecute sexual assault in the hands of independent military prosecutors.

The Pentagon and other opponents of the proposal, though, argue taking the decision away from commanders would undermine the military justice system.

Air Force response: Later Tuesday, the Air Force issued a brief statement on McSally's testimony saying it is "appalled" and "deeply sorry."

"The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an airman," the statement said. "We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks."

 

TRUMP WOULD BE 'VERY DISAPPOINTED' IF NORTH KOREA REBUILDING LAUNCH SITE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE said Wednesday he would be "very disappointed" if reports that North Korea has begun rebuilding a satellite launch site prove to be true.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump did not confirm or deny the reports, which he called "very early." But he suggested it could throw another wrench in his effort to strike a nuclear agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim," the president said. "I don't think I will be, but we'll see what happens."

Trump voiced confidence that he would eventually reach an agreement with Kim, despite the failure of their nuclear summit in Vietnam and subsequent reports on missile activity.

"We'll take a look. It will ultimately get solved," he said.

Background: Those reports on North Korea rebuilding a launch site were based on commercial satellite images released by two think tanks and comments by South Korean officials.

On Tuesday, South Korean lawmakers briefed by their country's intelligence agency said North Korea was restoring part of its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Later that evening, 38 North and Beyond Parallel, prominent North Korea monitors, released satellite images showing the rebuilding work.

The satellite images were taken March 2, two days after Trump walked away from a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without a deal.

But analysts said the work was done sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2 -- so either shortly before the summit or right after.

About Sohae: Kim agreed to dismantle the site at his first summit with Trump last year and began the work shortly thereafter.

Sohae, as the full name suggests, has been a site to launch satellites into space, as well as test large rocket and missile engines.

Space launches are considered provocative because the rockets use near identical technology to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

 

SAUDI AMBASSADOR PICK'S HEARING: Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia got an earful Wednesday from senators railing about "full gangster" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But retired Gen. John Abizaid still defended the United States continuing to work with the kingdom.

"War in Yemen, the senseless killing of Jamal Khashoggi, rifts in the Gulf alliance, alleged abuses of innocent people to include an American citizen and female activists all present immediate challenges," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Yet in the long run, we need a strong and mature partnership with Saudi Arabia."

Abizaid also said later that "our relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than our relationship with just the crown prince."

Abizaid is respected as the former commander of U.S. Central Command and is expected to be confirmed.

Gangster comments: During the hearing, two Republican senators referred to Prince Mohammed as having "gone full gangster."

First was Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Fla.), who after listing a slew of misdeeds said Prince Mohammed has "gone full gangster."

"He's reckless, he's ruthless, he has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks. [He's] confrontational in his foreign policy approach, and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with with the United States," Rubio said.

Later, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach MORE (R-Wis.) said Rubio gave an apt description of the crown prince.

"We're facing a crown prince who's gone 'full gangster,' " Johnson said. "We find the behavior completely unacceptable."

The Kushner factor: Democrats have also previously expressed concern at the ties Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFinancial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Financial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Kim Kardashian West joins Trump at White House event for ex-prisoners MORE has with the Saudis. Without specifically naming Kushner, committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThere is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (D-N.J.) asked Abizaid if he "will insist on remaining fully informed and briefed" of any administration contact with the Saudis.

"I will insist upon that," Abizaid responded. "I am also an old soldier, and I know my chain of command. My chain of command is the president and through ... the secretary of State."

 

TRUMP NIXES DRONE CASUALTY REPORTING REQUIREMENT: Trump on Wednesday ended an Obama-era requirement that the U.S. government publish an annual report on the number of people killed in drone strikes or other counterterrorism operations outside of war zones.

Trump issued an executive order revoking the requirement, capping months of speculation that he would revoke the disclosure rule.

The order says the director of national intelligence must no longer issue "an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information."

The White House last year chose not to publish the unclassified report detailing the number of strikes carried out against terrorist targets and the number of combatants and civilians killed. The administration was facing a May 1 deadline to issue the next report.

Administration's argument: "This action eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission," a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

Officials pointed to a major defense law passed by Congress last year that requires the administration to submit a civilian casualty report to lawmakers. That measure, however, allows the Defense secretary to classify the report if he decides that its publication would pose a national security threat.

The provision applies to military operations and does not cover drone strikes carried out by the CIA, which oftentimes carries out strikes in areas where U.S. forces are not present.

Criticism: Former Obama administration officials criticized Trump's decision, which they said will deprive the public of the ability to hold the government accountable for civilian deaths.

"This requirement was about more than transparency," Ned Price, an NSC spokesman under Obama, wrote on Twitter. "It allowed, for the first time, the US to counter disinformation from terrorist groups with facts about the effectiveness and precision of our operations. It was an important tool that we're again without."

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Daphne Eviatar, an official with Amnesty International USA, blasted Trump's decision as "unconscionable" and a "complete disregard of fundamental human rights."

"This is a shameful decision that will shroud this administration's actions in even more secrecy with little accountability for its victims," she said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The secretaries and chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will testify about military housing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. https://bit.ly/2VtPbay

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Venezuela at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. Witnesses include special envoy Elliott Abrams. https://bit.ly/2tRJ4kF

The House Armed Services Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- The full committee will hear from Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel and Africa Command commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2H4jEZE

-- A subcommittee will hold a hearing on Transportation Command and Maritime Administration at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2NJKKG9

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- The committee will mark up several bills at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2TBHnpW

-- A subcommittee will hold a hearing on the status of American hostages in Iran with testimony from their family at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2H19GYY

The House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee will have a closed-door hearing with European Command commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/2VFxlS7

 

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