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 PelosiMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Conservatives push Trump tariff relief over payroll tax cuts Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence 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 WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges 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 McCarthyOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calf.), House Intelligence ranking member Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE (R-N.C.) and Warner.

Plans for next week: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTrump moves forward with billion F-16 sale to Taiwan Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Overnight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to 'fully pursue' once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea's Kim as 'friend' 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 GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules 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 TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE said "I hope not."

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump told 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 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 ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract 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 BoltonSchumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord Why President Trump must keep speaking out on Hong Kong Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan 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 WarrenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court 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 McCaulTrump moves forward with billion F-16 sale to Taiwan Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China 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

-- The Hill: SEAL Team 6 member to take plea deal over role in Green Beret's death

-- 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 PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health 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