Overnight Defense: White House warns Russia against troops in Venezuela | Maduro to let Red Cross deliver aid | Pentagon surveying sites for border wall

Happy Friday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: The White House is warning Russia and other foreign nations against sending troops to Venezuela to help embattled President Nicolás Maduro maintain his grip on power.

"We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement Friday.


"We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region," he added.

Russia's moves: The remarks came after reports that two Russian planes with military advisers and as many as 100 troops landed in Venezuela earlier this week.

Russia has dismissed calls to remove the troops, saying the advisers and supplies were part of a joint cooperation agreement with Venezuela.

Also a warning to Maduro: Bolton also took aim at Maduro and urged members of Venezuela's military to support the interim government declared by opposition party leader Juan Guaidó.

"Maduro will only use this military support to further repress the people of Venezuela; perpetuate the economic crisis that has destroyed Venezuela's economy; and endanger regional stability. We call on the Venezuelan military to uphold its constitutional duty to protect the citizens of Venezuela," Bolton said.

U.S. raising pressure: The U.S. has led nations in recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela's leader.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE during a meeting with Guaidó's wife, Fabiana Rosales, in the Oval Office on Wednesday also warned Russia against getting involved in Venezuela.

"Russia has to get out," Trump said.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoState Department removes NPR reporter from Pompeo trip Overnight Defense: US military jet crashes in Afghanistan | Rocket attack hits US embassy in Baghdad | Bolton bombshell rocks impeachment trial Please stop calling the impeachment proceeding a trial — it's a charade MORE has also delivered that message to his Russian counterpart. Pompeo told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the move "risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support interim President Juan Guaidó," according to the State Department.

What's next? Trump has said all options are on the table for dealing with the crisis in Venezuela.

"Past administrations allowed this to happen," Trump said on Wednesday. "I've inherited a mess between North Korea, and all of the problems we have all over the world, the entire Middle East and Venezuela. These are things that never -- they never should have happened."

"But I'll fix it," he added. "We're fixing it all over the world. That's what we're going to do."

In Venezuela: Maduro's government is attempting to cling to power as the country faces blackouts and shortages of food and medicines, problems he has blamed on the U.S. The New York Times reported Friday that Maduro has decided to allow the Red Cross to deliver aid to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the country.


PENTAGON SURVEYING SITES FOR NEW BORDER WALL SEGMENTS: The Pentagon has begun surveying sites along the southern border to put up new physical barriers, as the administration moves forward with President Trump's border wall.

The new construction will be funded by $1 billion recently transferred by the Pentagon under Trump's national emergency declaration and could begin by late May if the Department of Homeland Security issues environmental waivers, which would expedite construction, according to CNN.

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed to The Hill that teams of experts and engineers are looking at sites in Yuma, Ariz., and the New Mexico portion of the El Paso sector, which also includes Texas.

The current timeline: Each assessment will reportedly take roughly seven days and will likely be followed up in April by contracts being sent to builders and formal engineering surveys, CNN reported.

The Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson did not confirm the timing of the projects.

The construction is part of an additional 57 miles of fencing being placed along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as improvements to roads and other measures in the region. The Pentagon announced its approval of the $1 billion transfer this week and said it will direct the funds toward building an 18-foot-high fencing along the Yuma and El Paso sections of the border.

The fight: Senate Democrats came out swinging against the money transfer this week, writing in a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE that they "have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military." 

Trump has ramped up pressure against Democrats to support his immigration policies, highlighting a rise in border crossings to support his claim that the country is facing a national emergency.



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