Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale

Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale
© The White House

THE TOPLINE: U.S. Central Command (Centcom) released video overnight it said backed up the Trump administration's claim that Iran is responsible for Thursday's attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

But the debate about what happened is still raging. Here's the latest...

Centcom's evidence: Late Thursday, Centcom released pictures and video it says shows the Iranians removing a naval mine from one of the tankers.

The two photos show the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous at different angles with a hole in the hull, as well as an object protruding from the hull. The hole is labeled "damage," while the object is labeled "likely mine."

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The video, meanwhile, shows a small boat approaching the Courageous and then those aboard the boat removing the object from the side of tanker. Centcom described the video as showing an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gashti Class patrol boat "removing the unexploded limpet mine."

Trump cites video: In an interview on "Fox and Friends" on Friday morning, Trump cited the video in blaming Iran for the attack, suggesting Iran was trying to cover up its involvement.

"Iran did do it, and you know they did it because you saw the boat," Trump said. "I guess one of the mines didn't explode, and it has probably got essentially Iran written all over it, and you saw the boat at night trying to take the mine off and successfully took the mine off the boat and that was exposed and that was their boat, that was them and they didn't want the evidence left behind."

Iran pushes back: Iran pushed back after the video was released, saying it proved nothing.

"These accusations are alarming," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Friday, adding that blaming Iran for Thursday's attacks was "the simplest and the most convenient way for Pompeo and other U.S. officials."

Germany skeptical, too: U.S. ally Germany also was not convinced by the video.

"The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Oslo.

And the operator: The operator of the Courageous also contradicted the idea that a limpet mine caused the damage to the tanker.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Kokuka Sangyo Co. president Yutaka Katada said those aboard the ship reported seeing "flying objects" just before the attack.

He said he believes those objects could have been bullets.

"I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship," he said.

 

DEFENSE BILL WATCH: If you thought National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) action would take a pause after this week's House Armed Services Committee markup, you were wrong.

The action moves back to the Senate next week, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility California governor predicts 'xenophobic' GOP will likely be third party in 15 years This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday evening filing a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed. In other words, the first procedural vote on the bill will be one day next week, with consideration of the bill expected to extend into the following week.

The full bill text and report were released this week. If you need some weekend reading, the 998-page bill is here and the 643-page report is here.

In the House: Meanwhile, the House is expected to debate and vote on amendments to the defense spending bill next week.

The fiscal 2020 defense appropriations bill was folded into the minibus the House began debate on this week, but the chamber hasn't gotten to the defense amendments yet.

Several interesting defense amendments are expected to be debated on the floor, including preventing the Pentagon from using funds to implement the transgender ban. All the amendments that the Rules Committee made in order for floor debate are here.

 

TOP NUCLEAR OFFICIAL QUIETLY LEFT PENTAGON IN APRIL: The Pentagon's top civilian in charge of nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs left the post to little fanfare in early April, adding to a growing number of Pentagon departures since late last year.

Assistant Secretary Guy Roberts resigned effective April 2, according to a Defense official who asked to remain anonymous.

Roberts resigned a day before he had been scheduled to go before a House Armed Services Committee subpanel to testify on the Department of Defense (DOD) strategy, policy and programs for countering weapons of mass destruction. Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian Hassell appeared instead for the April 3 hearing, and no reason was given at the time for the change.

Foreign Policy on Thursday was the first to report on the resignation.

The details: Roberts was in charge of the Pentagon office meant to "sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear deterrent," including missiles, submarines, and bomber aircraft, and "develop capabilities to detect, protect against and respond to" weapons of mass destruction threats. He was also responsible for ensuring "DOD compliance with nuclear, chemical, and biological treaties and agreements," according to the department's description of the office.

Roberts, who entered the position on Nov. 30, 2017, was still listed on the website as the assistant secretary as of Friday.

Why this matters: The position faces heightened attention with the Trump administration announcing in February that it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a decades-old arms control pact between the United States and Russia, as well as a signaled desire to expand arms control pacts to include other countries, like China.

Congress is also currently debating nuclear issues, with the House Armed Services Committee earlier this week moving forward a bill that cuts millions from U.S. nuclear programs and blocks the deployment of the new submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead.

Timing: Roberts's departure adds to an already high amount of turnover at the Pentagon, which has been led by acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon MORE since the beginning of January, making him the department's longest acting secretary in its history.

Owen West, assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, is stepping down June 22, citing a desire for more time with his family, Task & Purpose reported earlier this week.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson left at the end of May to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Other senior DOD leaders who have recently left their positions include Robert Daigle, the director of DOD's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, who packed up in May to rejoin the private sector, as well as the Navy's assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment, Phyllis Bayer, who in March submitted her resignation to "pursue other opportunities."

Mattis announced his resignation in December following Trump's surprise announcement that the administration would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, and Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, a top Mattis ally, left shortly thereafter.

 

PELOSI: CONGRESS WILL BLOCK TRUMP'S ARMS SALE TO SAUDI ARABIA: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Judd Gregg: An Irish friend and wisdom Juan Williams: Warren on the rise MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday vowed that President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE would have a fight on his hands as he presses to realize a sweeping arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at a forum in New York, the Speaker said the House would soon vote to block the transfer of weapons to Riyadh, which the administration says is vital to protecting U.S. interests in the region amid escalating tensions with Iran.

"There will be a vote to remove any authority to make those sales to Saudi Arabia," Pelosi said Thursday night during an interview with Fareed Zakaria hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. "This is something that we will fight, and we'll have bipartisan support to fight."

Context: The comments came a day after Senate opponents of the deal secured the 51 votes needed to block the transfer in the upper chamber, after four Republican lawmakers went against the president on the measure. But it's unlikely that either chamber could find the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, as was the case last month when the Senate failed to override Trump's veto of increased military assistance to Yemen.

The State Department last month invoked an emergency provision under the Arms Export Control Act to push through 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and other countries. The tactic allows the administration to sidestep Congress in finalizing a deal, worth roughly $8 billion, that includes Patriot missiles, drones, precision-guided bombs and other military support.

The opposition: In the House, Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuDemocrats call for restraint, oversight as Trump reportedly calls back Iranian strike Report: Iranian officials say Trump warned them attack was imminent Trump approved Iranian strike before pulling back: report MORE (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Wednesday to block the entirety of Trump's wish list of 22 arms sales. Another slimmer measure, targeting precision-guided bombs, was introduced by Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups Judiciary Democrat says small firms fear retaliation from big tech in antitrust probe Hope Hicks: Trump campaign felt 'relief' after WikiLeaks released damaging info about Hillary Clinton MORE (D-R.I.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Va.) and Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiUS must do more if justice is to prevail for slain journalist Progressives seize on impeachment in 2020 primaries Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-N.J.).

Opponents of the deal are wary of granting any new assistance to Saudi Arabia in light of Riyadh's involvement in the civil war in Yemen, which has killed countless thousands of civilians and created a dire humanitarian crisis. They're also loath to help the same Saudi leaders who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of a vocal critic of their reign, Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

Questions posed: Pelosi, noting that Trump's first trip abroad as president was to Saudi Arabia, wondered what's driving the president's desire to strengthen ties with Riyadh, even as he's sought to punish more traditional allies with tariffs. She's also warning that Trump's arms deal "includes nuclear technology that he is transferring to Saudi Arabia."

"Follow the money. What's going on here?" she said. "And there's a question of who is financially benefiting from the nuclear part of the sales to Saudi Arabia. ... The case against Saudi Arabia -- in terms of Yemen, in terms of Khashoggi, in terms of so much -- that they should not be receiving these weapons sales is very strongly bipartisan in the Congress."



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