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Overnight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week
Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and 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: President Trump on Friday railed against coverage of his administration's approach to Iran, calling the use of anonymous sources "bullshit."
The comments came during a tangent in remarks to the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C.
He disputed that he is at odds with some of his top advisers on the issue of Iran before mocking the way some of the reports use unnamed administration officials.
"Do you ever notice they never write the names of people anymore?" Trump said. "Everything is 'a source says.' There is no source. The person doesn't exist. The person's not alive. It's bullshit, OK? It's bullshit."
Trump also went off on Twitter about the issue.
"The Fake News Media is hurting our Country with its fraudulent and highly inaccurate coverage of Iran. It is scattershot, poorly sourced (made up), and DANGEROUS. At least Iran doesn't know what to think, which at this point may very well be a good thing!" he wrote.
"With all of the Fake and Made Up News out there, Iran can have no idea what is actually going on!" he added in a second tweet.
These sources do exist: News outlets often quote government officials who are granted anonymity to speak candidly without fear of retribution.
The administration also often holds official background briefings on the condition that reporters do not name the official giving the briefing.
As for Iran: Several reports this week have suggested tension between Trump and his top advisers as the confrontation with Iran heats up.
In particular, reports have suggested national security adviser John Bolton is spoiling for war against Trump's wishes.
Trump has dismissed reports of infighting in the past only for it to turn out to be true; recall former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
And remember that this week he also dismissed as "fake news" a New York Times report on planning to send 120,000 to the Middle East in the event of conflict with Iran, before immediately saying he would "absolutely" do that.
"Now, would I do that? Absolutely," Trump said Tuesday. "But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that."
GRASSLEY BLOCKING TURKEY AMBASSADOR: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is blocking quick action on President Trump's pick to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey over a fight with the State Department on a law intended to help victims of terrorist attacks sue in U.S. courts.
In statements included in the Congressional Record, Grassley placed a hold on David Satterfield's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, citing his role in trying to negotiate changes to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, a bill sponsored by the Iowa Republican.
Grassley said the State Department did not raise concerns about the legislation before it passed. He added that Satterfield, in leading the department's negotiations, won't support changes that include language to "tangibly benefit victims."
"Rather, my bill seemed an annoyance to State's priorities and Ambassador Satterfield on several occasions vocalized his concern about the law's impact on the Palestinian Authority, who have been found liable in U.S. courts for supporting terrorist attacks against Americans," Grassley said.
He went on to say that he was "tired of our State Department putting the interests of alleged sponsors of terrorism over those of our own citizens. The State Department should work in good faith with Congress and victims by unambiguously demonstrating its support for restoring jurisdiction over sponsors of terrorism."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could break Grassley's hold by filing cloture on Satterfield, whose nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month.
The issue: Grassley's bill, which was signed into law late last year, allows groups, namely the Palestinian Authority, to be sued in federal court if they accept U.S. foreign aid. Palestinian officials said in response to the legislation that they would stop accepting U.S. aid, including $60 million in security assistance.
The Washington Post reported in January, shortly before the law went into effect, that the State Department and Trump administration officials were trying to negotiate changes to the law that "maintain security cooperation on one hand and also justice to the families of the victims of terror."
The State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about Grassley's hold or the negotiations on changes to the law. An official told the Post that they continued "to work through the potential impact of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act."
Timing: The slowed confirmation of a U.S. diplomat for Turkey comes at a critical time in U.S.-Turkish relations.
The United States continues to work to persuade Ankara to back out of a deal to buy a Russian missile defense system, with threats of sanctions and withholding F-35s jets if Turkey doesn't back down.
Washington also continues to negotiate with Turkey about the possibility of setting a safe near in Syria as U.S. troops withdraw.
IT'S TIME: The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin marking up its version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday night.
All but the personnel subcommittee's markup happen behind closed doors, and senators are typically tight-lipped about the contents of the bill until a summary is released after it's approved.
But there will be a few issues to watch as the week unfolds:
Will the bill authorize $750 billion as the administration requested, despite the lack of a broader budget agreement that would lift defense spending caps? How much will be in the cap-immune war fund?
Will the skeptical committee take any steps forward on President Trump's Space Force proposal?
How will the bill handle nuclear issues, as we asked earlier this week?
What about all the global hotspots that have caused so much alarm lately, including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea?
We'll be sure to fill in answers to those questions and more as the week proceeds with subcommittee markups Monday and Tuesday, and the full committee markup Wednesday and, if needed, Thursday.
In the House: Meanwhile, after advancing the defense appropriations bill out of the subcommittee this week, the full House Appropriations Committee is set to consider the bill next week.
The committee will consider the $690.2 billion fiscal year 2020 defense spending bill at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Expect lots of border debate, since the bill seeks to limit the administration's ability to dip into Pentagon coffers to build the wall.
CONSERVATIVES PRESS WHITE HOUSE TO END AMAZON CONTRACT TALKS: A coalition of five conservative groups sent a letter to the White House on Friday asking the Trump administration to abandon negotiations with Amazon over a lucrative $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract, according to The Hill's Jonathan Easley.
In a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) acting Director Russell Vought, the conservatives argued that the criteria for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud computing contract had "severely restricted the number of potential providers."
Who is on board: The letter was signed by the presidents of the American Conservative Union, the Institute for Liberty, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, the organization Limited Government and Citizens Against Government Waste.
More on the controversy: The groups argued that the bidding process for the Pentagon contract was set up in a way that "predetermines" that the contract goes to a company with Level 6 cloud security requirements to host secret and top-secret data.
Critics of the procurement process maintain that such requirements are unnecessary and that Amazon is likely the only vendor that can fulfill them.
Republican lawmakers have asked the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate the bidding process, saying that it appeared to be "tailored to one specific contractor."
Reaction: A spokesperson for Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
Senate Armed Services Committee has three closed-door NDAA markups scheduled:
-- The Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support at 4 p.m.
-- The Subcommittee on Airland at 5 p.m.
-- The Subcommittee on Strategic Forces at 5:30 p.m.
-- The Hill: Gabbard: US must not go to war with Iran
-- The Hill: Congressional leaders to launch budget talks with White House
-- The Hill: US ambassador to Germany ruffles State Department with budget stand
-- The Hill: Trump associate gave US government Osama bin Laden's phone number, judge says
-- The Hill: Iranian official: Trump 'holding a gun' while pursuing talks
-- The Hill: Democrats agree to humanitarian aid for border as part of disaster package
-- Defense News: US special ops command at odds with Air Force over need for light-attack aircraft
-- Reuters: Defiant Iran says it can 'easily' hit U.S. ships, works to counter sanctions