Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon

Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon
© Aaron Schwartz

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: Congressional leaders received a classified briefing on the administration's plans and strategies for Iran on Thursday, but that's unlikely to quiet the worries about the situation.

The congressional leaders emerged tight-lipped amid concerns about new tensions escalating to war.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCalifornia Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry California Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters only that she "asked for a classified briefing for all members, but we've been asking for that for two weeks."

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocratic senator accuses White House of blocking election security legislation Democratic senator accuses White House of blocking election security legislation Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (Va.), meanwhile, said that while sensitive information needs to be safeguarded, "more members need to hear the story."

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But on questions such whether they were satisfied with the briefing or whether alleged threats from Iran are credible, Pelosi, Warner and the briefing's other attendees either declined to comment or did not respond to reporters at all.

Who was at the briefing: Thursday's briefing was given to the so-called Gang of Eight:

Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Congressional Award — a beacon of hope  The case for congressional pay raises McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Jon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Schiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' MORE (D-Calf.), House Intelligence ranking member Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Lawmakers grapple with deepfake threat at hearing MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? MORE (R-N.C.) and Warner.

Plans for next week: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischUN nominee Kelly Craft to face confirmation hearing Wednesday UN nominee Kelly Craft to face confirmation hearing Wednesday Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE (R-Okla.) said Thursday the full Senate is scheduled to be briefed on the issue Tuesday.

A spokesman for Pelosi later confirmed the House will also get an all-members briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The background: On Wednesday, the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, with visa services suspended at both locations.

Details on the decision were murky and officials have not elaborated on the nature of the threat that prompted the evacuation.

That occurred following the administration's decision to deploy more military assets to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats to U.S. personnel from Iran and its proxy forces.

Who else has been demanding info: Top members of a Senate panel with oversight of the State Department are requesting Pompeo also brief senators on the decision to pull nonemergency personnel from Iraq. 

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Trump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE (D-Vt.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, said in the letter to Pompeo that they read about the State Department's decision "with great concern." 

"We ask that you provide a briefing to the Senate as soon as possible on the details of the ordered departure, the specific threat reporting that led to this decision and any potential security requirements that may be necessary for addressing the department's concerns," they wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill. 

 

TRUMP ADDRESSES WAR FEARS: Asked Thursday about whether the United States is going to war with Iran, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE said "I hope not."

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump told acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanUS to send 1K additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions US to send 1K additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments MORE explicitly that he does not want to go to war with Iran.

Pelosi's warning: The House speaker also sounded a warning to those in the Trump administration taking aggressive military steps toward confronting Iran: You can't go to war without Congress.

"The responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "So I hope that the president's advisers recognize they have no authorization to go forward in any way."

Pelosi specifically argued the current authorization for use of military force (AUMF), which was passed to fight terrorists in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, would not extend to a confrontation with Iran. 

"They cannot call the authorization, AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force that was passed in 2001, as any authorization to go forward in the Middle East now," she said.

 

KEY REPUBLICAN 'CONVINCED' IRAN THREATS ARE CREDIBLE: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee says he is "convinced" there is cause for concern around Iran's activities following a pair of briefings on the Gulf nation.

"I am convinced that the information and warnings that we have collected are of greater concern than the normal Iranian harassment activity that we've seen in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding area," Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday.

"I don't think it's business as usual. It is cause for greater concern. ... and a great part of that concern relates to Americans being targeted.

More on the briefings: Thornberry said the briefings he attended – one by U.S. Central Command officials and the other from Joint Chiefs of Staff officials, meetings open to all members of the committee – have left him confident the administration is making the right moves.

"There had to be a strong signal sent to Iran that we would defend ourselves if we are attacked," he said. "I hope everybody can rally around that. Showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do."

He added that the number of planes and ships that the U.S. sends to the region is a decision "best left to the military. But the hope for me and pretty much everyone is that Iran decides it's not worth attacking us ... and that can be a deterrent."

Concern over rhetoric? Asked whether he was concerned that recent comments by President Trump and national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonTensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? MORE may escalate tensions with Iran unnecessarily, Thornberry said his sense is that "Iran is not hanging on every word that's tweeted or said by Bolton or anybody else."

"What they do watch is what we do. So I do think showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do and hopefully deter any sort of attacks from happening."

He added: "If we're attacked, I expect our military forces will be in a position to respond. I hope that's not what happens. ... It shouldn't happen. I hope that the tensions start to diminish."

 

WARREN PLAN TARGETS CORRUPTION AT PENTAGON: Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (D-Mass.) introduced a plan Thursday she says would drastically reduce the influence of corporate lobbyists at the Pentagon.

Warren's plan, called the Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, would ban defense contractors from hiring Pentagon officials and general and flag officers for four years after they leave the Department of Defense (DoD) and force corporations to identify the former DoD officials who work for them.

The policy also prohibits a former employee or executive of a defense contractor who joins the government from working on anything that could "influence their former bosses."

"[T]oday, the coziness between defense lobbyists, Congress, and the Pentagon -- what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex -- tilts countless decisions, big and small, away from legitimate national security interests, and toward the desires of giant corporations that thrive off taxpayer dollars," Warren said in a Medium post.

The proposal: The proposal goes on to recommend banning senior DoD officials from owning or trading any stock of giant defense contractors, prohibiting former senior national security officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and requiring defense contractors to disclose the scope of their activities, including who they meet with at the Pentagon, what they're lobbying about and what unclassified information is shared.

Warren touted the plan as an effective way to cut a mushrooming Pentagon budget, saying it would identify programs that "merely line the pockets of defense contractors " and "make some cuts." 

A refresher: The plan comes amid Democrats' concerns regarding acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who is President Trump's nominee to lead the Pentagon on a permanent basis.

"I opposed Shanahan's prior nomination to work as Trump's #2 at DOD because of his lack of foreign policy experience and my concerns about his ability to separate himself from Boeing's financial interests after a lifetime spent working for the company," Warren wrote. "The truth is that our existing laws are far too weak to effectively limit the undue influence of giant military contractors at the Department of Defense. The response of Congress shouldn't be to confirm Shanahan. It should be to change the rules." 

The Massachusetts Democrat has stagnated near the middle of the crowded primary pack, at times reaching into the upper tier of some national and statewide polls. 

She has sought to differentiate herself by introducing a slew of detailed policy platforms on education, climate change, Puerto Rico's debt and more.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Army Secretary Mark Esper will speak on "The Future of the Army in Great-Power Competition," at 11 a.m. at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse Dems introduce resolutions to block Trump's Saudi arms sales Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote MORE (R-Texas), will speak on "Strengthening U.S. Leadership in an Era of Global Competition," at 12 p.m. at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Sanders introduces petition to prohibit war with Iran without Congress' approval

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-- The Hill: Gator found on runway at Florida Air Force base

-- The Hill: Trump to meet with Swiss president amid tensions between US, Iran

-- The Hill: Trump frustrated with advisers over Iran, wants to speak to leaders in Tehran: report

-- The Hill: Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE: Bolton is a 'malign influence'

-- The Hill: Photos of Iranian missiles sparked US response in Gulf: report

-- The Hill: Pentagon asked for funds to reimburse Taliban expenses: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: How Congress should tackle the Russian national security threat

-- The Hill: Opinion: As tensions mount, we must not forget about the Iranian people