Overnight Defense: Pompeo predicts Russia will be election threat for decades | Defends support for Saudis in Yemen | ISIS leader appears in first video in five years | Trump, Erdogan discuss F-35 dispute

Overnight Defense: Pompeo predicts Russia will be election threat for decades | Defends support for Saudis in Yemen | ISIS leader appears in first video in five years | Trump, Erdogan discuss F-35 dispute
© Kevin Dietsch for The Hill

Happy Monday 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: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoJudge rules American-born woman who joined ISIS not a US citizen Human rights: Help or hindrance to toppling dictators? The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing MORE engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on global hotspots at an event Monday hosted by The Hill.

Coming on the heels of his one-year anniversary as America's top diplomat, Pompeo was asked about everything from Russian election interference to negotiations with North Korea to the crisis in Venezuela.

Here are some of the highlights:

On Russia: Pompeo said he expects Russia will try to interfere in U.S. elections for decades to come, describing Moscow as having long presented a threat to American elections -- not just in 2016.


Pompeo told The Hill's editor-in-chief Bob Cusack that "of course" the Russians continue to represent a threat to U.S. elections. But he dismissed the notion that the threat is somehow new or more severe following Moscow's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election as detailed in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE's report.

"It goes without saying they were a threat to our elections in 1974, they interfered in our elections in the '80s," Pompeo said.

"The fact that this town seemed shocked by the fact the Russians don't care for us -- in that case the Soviet Union -- I find stunning," Pompeo said, adding that books have recounted the Russian threat "over an extended period of time."

"We should expect in 2050 the Russians will still be at it still," Pompeo said at the event.

On Yemen: Pompeo defended U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's civil war as the Senate prepares to take a vote on President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE's veto of a resolution to end that support.

"Airplanes flying through King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh are at risk, and the United States has an obligation to protect our citizens," Pompeo said, referencing rebel missile attacks that have hit the airport.

"So the support we're providing to the Saudis as they attempt to engage these dangerous missiles systems is in America's best interest."

Pompeo placed blame solely on Iran, saying the war is "Iranian led" and that Tehran has "chosen to direct" the Houthis not to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah as agreed to last year.

Iran is known to provide weapons to the Houthis, but experts debate the extent of control it has over the rebels.

"The people who were happiest when that resolution passed were Qasem Soleimani and the ayatollah," Pompeo said, referring to the commander of Iran's Quds Force. "There's no doubt about that. When they see the United States shrink away from this challenge that puts United States citizens at risk, they think they've achieved a victory."

On Venezuela: Pompeo said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's inner circle is looking for an exit strategy, a sign that the embattled regime's days may be numbered.

"We see leaders inside of Maduro's inner circle now trying to figure out what the golden ticket looks like. 'What does it look like if I leave?'" Pompeo said. "When they start asking those questions, surely some of them will decide there are better times ahead not supporting that thug."

Pompeo said he hoped China would follow suit in recognizing Guaidó. He also had a warning for Maduro's other allies, like Cuba, Iran and Russia.

"You've seen the efforts we've made to try and convince the Cubans, who have hundreds of intelligence officers, thousands of people working with the Maduro regime, to convince them that's not the right foreign policy, that Maduro is going to leave. And when [he] leaves, they're going to be in a far better place if they choose a better path," Pompeo said.

On North Korea: Pompeo reiterated the administration's talking point that progress was made in Hanoi because the United States and North Korea now have a "deeper understanding" of each other's positions.

But he said he didn't know whether there would be another meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnHuman rights: Help or hindrance to toppling dictators? North Korea says US offered to resume nuclear talks in December North Korea issues warning over US-South Korea drills MORE by this summer when asked about comments earlier this month that he was "confident" there will be a third summit.

Pompeo also denied -- as have Trump and national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump files to dismiss lawsuit from Bolton aide on impeachment testimony Scarborough: Trump is either 'an agent of Russia' or 'a useful idiot' Are Democrats building a collapsible impeachment? MORE -- that the United States paid North Korea $2 million in medical bills for Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after being returned from detention in North Korea in a comatose state. On Sunday, Bolton confirmed the United States signed an agreement to pay, as first reported by The Washington Post, but said the bill was never paid.

"I think President Trump made clear at no time in his administration have we paid for any hostage to be released, and we have no intention of doing so," Pompeo said.

On Iran: Pompeo brushed off concerns about roiling the global oil market by ending sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, citing Friday's dip in price for global benchmark Brent crude.

He vowed the United States would make sure markets are "adequately supplied" and said he was "confident" China losing its waiver wouldn't affect trade negotiations with Beijing.


REPORT SAYS MATTIS IGNORED TRUMP ORDERS: Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy MORE declined to carry out orders from President Trump or otherwise limited his options in various attempts to prevent tensions with North Korea, Iran and Syria from escalating, The New Yorker reported Monday, the latest report of Trump's own officials trying to check his worst instincts.

"The president thinks out loud. Do you treat it like an order? Or do you treat it as part of a longer conversation? We treated it as part of a longer conversation," a former senior national security official told The New Yorker. "We prevented a lot of bad things from happening."

Examples: In 2017, following a series of North Korean ballistic-missile tests, Trump ordered the Pentagon to begin removing the spouses and children of military personnel from South Korea, where the U.S. military has a base. An administration official told the magazine that "Mattis just ignored" the order.

In another instance in the fall 2017, as White House officials were planning a private meeting at Camp David to develop military options for a possible conflict with North Korea, Mattis allegedly stopped the gathering from happening. He ignored a request from then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster to send officers and planners, according to a former senior administration official.

The accounts, included in a profile of national security adviser John Bolton, reveal that the former Marine Corps general routinely sought to downplay any potential conflicts across the globe.

Don't forget: Mattis resigned from his Pentagon position last December, one day after Trump announced that he would withdraw troops from Syria, a decision that Mattis opposed.


BAGHDADI'S BACK: It's been nearly five years since the public has seen his face, but now, a month after ISIS' territorial defeat, the terrorist group released a new video of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The video was released by ISIS media outlet al-Furqan and shows al-Baghdadi in good health speaking with three men whose faces are blurred, according to multiple reports.

In the video, al-Baghdadi acknowledges the end of the battle of Baghouz, Syria, which marked ISIS's territorial defeat, and vows the fight is not over.

Sri Lanka attacks: ISIS took credit for the Sri Lanka church bombings on Easter Sunday that killed at least 253 people.

In an audio-only portion of the video, al-Baghdadi refers to the Sri Lanka bombings and says they were revenge for Baghouz, according to SITE Intelligence Group director Rita Katz.

Background: The last time al-Baghdadi had been seen was his 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, in which he announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate.

ISIS has released audio recording of him since then, most recently in August. But rumors of al-Baghdadi's death have emerged periodically.

For example, in June 2017, Russia claimed to have killed al-Baghdadi in airstrikes on a meeting of ISIS leaders outside Raqqa, Syria. The claim was met with much skepticism at the time but led to widespread speculation about his whereabouts.


A STRATEGIC GAME OF CHICKEN: The U.S. spat with Turkey over its plan to purchase a Russian defense system has been threatening to boil over for a few weeks now.

Over the weekend, The Hill's Ellen Mitchell took a look at the dispute:

Turkey is insisting on plans to go forward with the purchase, even as the Trump administration threatens to cut off sales of the American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Ankara if it does so.

The administration has also threatened to impose sanctions on its NATO ally if it goes through with the Moscow deal. Washington wants Ankara to instead buy the U.S.-developed Patriot air and missile defense system, but talks have yet to yield a concrete agreement.

It's not clear which side will blink first in a fight that has enormous diplomatic stakes for all three countries, to say nothing of the millions of dollars in potential sales for U.S. defense contractors. Turkey plans to eventually buy at least 100 of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Lightning II fighters.

In Congress: Several congressional staffers told The Hill they expect more than one amendment to be offered during debate over the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

"There is widespread and bipartisan understanding that the F-35 and S-400 cannot coexist," House Foreign Affairs Committee member Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHonoring service before self House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ill.), told The Hill.

"I don't really think there is any room for debate or maneuver, and this shouldn't be a surprise to the Turks," he said. "I think most see buying an air defense from our main adversary as a red line for our newest and best fighter."

Trump, Erdogan call: On Monday, Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about the issue over the phone, according to statements from both presidents' offices.

The Turkish statement said Erdogan "brought forward the proposal to form a working group concerning the procurement of the S-400 defense systems from the Russian Federation."

Turkish officials have proposed a working group to Trump administration officials before but they dismissed the offer.

The White House statement on the call said the two discussed the S-400 issue but did not mention the working group proposal.

Trump and Erdogan also discussed Syria and trade, and Erdogan offered condolences for the attack on a synagogue in San Diego County this weekend, according to both statements.



The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Adm. Bill Moran to be chief of naval operations and Gen. David Berger to be Marine Corps commandant at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2GOYbCB

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on justice for Kosovo's wartime victims at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2J4G3qa

Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will testify before the House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel at 11 a.m. at the House, room 140. https://bit.ly/2UNTlJu

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on the global terrorism landscape at 1:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2VxRsVP

Another Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2200. https://bit.ly/2IP4w3e

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the "Feres Doctrine" at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2XNQCSm

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark GreenMark GreenHonoring service before self To fight Mexican drug cartels, we must designate them Foreign Terrorist Organizations Bannon returns from exile to wage impeachment battle for Trump MORE will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee subpanel on foreign operations at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 138. https://bit.ly/2GRZfpy

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie will testify before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Veterans Affairs at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 124. https://bit.ly/2GRZfpy



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