Overnight Defense: Watchdog clears defense chief in ethics probe | Pentagon to handle security background checks | Senate to take up Trump's Yemen veto next week

Overnight Defense: Watchdog clears defense chief in ethics probe | Pentagon to handle security background checks | Senate to take up Trump's Yemen veto next week
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Happy Thursday 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 Pentagon's watchdog has cleared acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE of allegations he violated his ethics agreement by favoring his former employer Boeing while serving in government.

"We did not substantiate any of the allegations," the inspector general wrote in the report released Thursday. "We determined that Mr. Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreements and his ethical obligations regarding Boeing and its competitors."

The inspector general's finding clears the way for Shanahan to be nominated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE to take the Defense secretary job permanently.

Pentagon officials' response: Asked for comment on the 43-page report, Shanahan's spokesman reiterated that he has followed his ethics agreement "at all times."

"Secretary Shanahan has at all times complied with his ethics agreement, which screens Boeing matters to another DoD official and ensures no potential for a conflict of interest with Boeing on any matter," Lt. Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement. "Secretary Shanahan remains focused on retooling the military for great power competition, executing the National Defense Strategy, and providing the highest quality care for our service members and their families."

In a separate statement, acting Inspector General Glenn Fine said Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreement. 

"The evidence showed that acting Secretary Shanahan fully complied with his ethical obligations and ethical agreements with regard to Boeing and its competitors," Fine said. 

What the investigation was about: The inspector general opened an investigation into Shanahan, who worked at Boeing for 30 years, in March roughly a week after receiving a complaint from outside watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

CREW's nine-page complaint largely centered on two issues. One was the Pentagon's decision to buy eight Boeing-made F-15Xs for the first time since 2001, a decision Bloomberg reported was made with "some prodding" by Shanahan.

Air Force officials have said their original budget plans did not include the F-15X. The Pentagon has said it was former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE's decision to purchase the planes.

The other main issue raised in CREW's complaint was a Politico report that said Shanahan disparaged Boeing's competitors in private conversations at the Pentagon.

What the IG found: Because the accusations did not identify specific people who heard Shanahan's alleged comments, the inspector general's office interviewed a "wide range" of 33 witnesses, including Mattis, other senior Pentagon officials and those who "regularly dealt with acquisition and budget issues," the report said.

The inspector general, who also reviewed 5,600 pages of unclassified and 1,700 pages of classified documents related to the allegations, concluded in the report that Shanahan did not make the alleged comments.

"While Mr. Shanahan did routinely refer to his prior industry experience in meetings, witnesses interpreted it, and told us, that he was doing it to describe his experience and to improve government management of DoD programs, rather than to promote Boeing or its products," the report said.

Did he bash Lockheed's F-35? On the F-35, the report said, Shanahan did not "repeatedly dump" on the aircraft itself but did comment on the overall program's performance and problems in ways consistent with other top Pentagon officials' comments, the report said.

For example, Mattis told the inspector general that any comments Shanahan made about Lockheed's handling of the F-35 program were him "doing his job as far as I'm concerned."

"I didn't pay him to be a shrinking violet when it came to saving the government money," Mattis said, according to the report.

Shanahan told the inspector general he didn't say the F-35 aircraft was "f---ed up," but acknowledged that he did say as much about the program, according to the report. Shanahan added that he thinks the plane is "awesome," the report said.

Who wanted the F-15X? The inspector general's report said the office was informed of multiple allegations that accused Shanahan of trying to force Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to buy Boeing-made F/A-18s and threatening to cut other Air Force programs if Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein did not buy F-15Xs.

But the report found that there was "no evidence" Shanahan pressured Neller or Goldfein to buy the F/A-18s and F-15Xs, with the push instead coming from

the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, the two service chiefs told the inspector general.

"We also determined that Mr. Shanahan only participated in broad policy discussions and not in specific discussions about quantities and types of aircraft, including the mix of 4th and 5th generation aircraft," the report said. "He did not participate in any discussions relating to the purchase of specific aircraft or Boeing products."

 

PENTAGON TO TAKE OVER BACKGROUND INVESTIGATIONS FOR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order transferring responsibility for conducting background checks from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Defense Department. 

The order says "needed reforms" require that "the primary responsibility for conducting background investigations Government-wide be transferred from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense."

What the order does: Under the order, the department will change the name of the Defense Security Service to the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The DCSA will be the primary agency charged with conducting background checks for the federal government.

The change will take place no later than June 24, the order said. 

"This executive order reflects the administration's commitment to reform the personnel vetting enterprise to ensure a trusted federal workforce and achieve an efficient, effective, and secure operation that meets all government-wide needs for background investigations," the Defense Department said in a statement. 

"Efforts to undertake the transfer of OPM's background investigation function and associated personnel, resources, and facilities to DOD will begin immediately," it added. 

Why the change? The administration's background check procedure came under scrutiny last year after news broke of allegations that then-White House aide Rob Porter abused his ex-wives. White House staff originally said they first heard about the allegations in media reports, but FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that the bureau previously informed the White House of the allegations, which came up during his background check. 

A security clearance for White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Trump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia Trump administration releases new 'public charge' rule making it easier to reject immigrants MORE, who is also Trump's son-in-law, was reportedly rejected twice by analysts then overturned by the president's personnel security office chief.

 

SENATE TO TAKE UP TRUMP'S YEMEN VETO NEXT WEEK: The Senate is set to take up President Trump's veto of legislation cutting off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen next week, though any override attempt is expected to fall short. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE's (R-Ky.) office said Thursday that the chamber would "process the president's veto message on the Yemen resolution by the end of the week." 

The details: The Senate passed the Yemen resolution in a vote of 54-46 last month. Because supporters were using the War Powers Act, they were able to pass the resolution with only a simple majority and avoid the 60-vote filibuster that legislation normally must overcome. 

Trump vetoed the measure earlier this month, the second veto of his presidency. The resolution requires him to withdraw any U.S. troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. 

Because the Senate voted first on the resolution, any override attempt will start in that chamber. Neither the Senate nor the House are expected to have the votes to overcome Trump's veto. 

What could happen now: McConnell did not support the resolution, and his office did not specify Thursday what action the Senate would be taking to "process" the veto message. Overriding Trump's veto would require 67 votes in the Senate.  

Aside from a straight vote on overriding the resolution, there are several procedural tactics Republicans could use to try to deal with Trump's veto message. 

For example, senators could try to send the resolution to committee or table it, according to the Congressional Research Service, effectively pigeonholing the veto message and squashing an override attempt.

A refresher: Saudi Arabia has emerged as a growing divide between Trump and Congress in the wake of the slaying last fall of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was a vocal critic of the Saudi government.

But frustrations on Capitol Hill with the U.S.-Saudi relationship run back years. 

Senators have put a blockade on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And the only override of a veto from former President Obama came when Congress shot down his attempt to block legislation allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

FBI director Christopher Wray will discuss the bureau's role in protecting the United States from today's global threats at 8:15 a.m. at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. 

The National Defense Industrial Association, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, the Air Force Association and the Reserve Officers Association will hold a forum on "Perspectives on Nuclear Modernization" starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

 

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