Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial

Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial
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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: The U.S. military confirmed Thursday morning that Iran shot down a Navy drone, increasing already high tensions between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said an Iranian surface-to-air missile system shot down the drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz in an "unprovoked attack." It denied Iranian claims that the drone was over Hormozgan Province in southern Iran.

Centcom identified the aircraft as an RQ-4 Global Hawk that "provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions."

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"This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce, " Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement.

About the attack: Guastella said the drone was operating at a high altitude approximately 34 kilometers away from the Iranian coast.

The Northrup Grumman-made Global Hawk, valued at $130 million, is considered the Navy's most advanced high-altitude drone.

Guastella called the attack "dangerous and escalatory," adding that it "occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians."

The Pentagon also released video showing the smoke trail from the downed drone.

Trump's response: Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that Iran "made a big mistake" by shooting down the drone.

Asked later if he planned to strike Iran, Trump said the public "will soon find out."

But Trump also appeared to give Iran some benefit of the doubt when assigning blame for the incident, saying that "I imagine someone made a mistake."

Iran's claims: "Shooting down of the US spy drone has a clear message and it is the fact that the defenders of this country are ready to give decisive response to any aggression," Major-General Hossein Salami, who commands Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said, according to the state news agency.

He said that Iran's "enemies" have "no choice" but to respect the nation's territorial integrity and interests.

"Iran is not seeking war with any country but its armed forces are ready to defend the country against aggression," Salami added.

Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported that the Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that the drone had "turned off all its identifying equipment in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy," Reuters noted.

The background: Fears of war between the U.S. and Iran have been heightened in recent days after Washington accused Tehran of being behind the bombings of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. The Iranian government denied any involvement in the attacks.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE this week called the oil tanker attacks "minor," but said he would "certainly go [to war] over nuclear weapons."

The Pentagon also announced this week that it would deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East to address "air, naval, and ground-based threats" in the region.

"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," former acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE said. "The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests."

Lawmakers react: Lawmakers emerging from a closed-door briefing on Iran on Thursday warned the threat of U.S. military action is increasing.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) said no decisions on military action were presented at the briefing -- delivered by administration officials to congressional leaders -- but that "it's a very grave situation."

"The provocation on behalf of the Iranians is serious," he said. "I think right now there's strong analysis going on as to exactly what happened and why, and I think we'll know more when the analysis is completed."

"I fear military action because I don't want to get into a war," Engel added. "We'll have to see."

But some lawmakers who have President Trump's ear were blunt about what they think needs to happen.

"Here's what Iran needs to get ready for: Severe pain inside their country," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters. "If they're itching for a fight, they're going to get one. We're a lot closer to that today than we were yesterday, and only god knows what tomorrow brings."

Graham said he spoke with Trump on Thursday morning and has plans to speak with him again in the afternoon.

And earlier today: The Hill broke down how Trump faces skepticism about Iran war authority from both parties. Read about that here.

 

SENATE VOTES TO BLOCK TRUMP'S SAUDI ARMS SALE: The Senate voted to block President Trump's Saudi arms deal on Thursday, paving the way for a veto clash with the White House.

The Senate voted 53-45 on resolutions to block two of the sales, with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance MORE (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeExclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Manufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranPompeo pressed on possible Senate run by Kansas media Jerry Moran: 'I wouldn't be surprised' if Pompeo ran for Senate in Kansas Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals MORE (Kansas), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann Murkowski The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul: Almost every mass shooter 'is sending off signals' Liz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (Ind.) joining Democrats.

They voted 51-45 to block an additional 20 arms sales. Murkowski flipped to vote for the sale, while Lee did not vote.

Details: The 22 arms sales, estimated to be worth more than $8 billion, would provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

But the sales sparked widespread backlash in Congress after Trump used an "emergency" provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to sidestep the 30-day notification to lawmakers about a pending sale.

Lawmakers' argument: Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.), who sponsored the resolution, argued that Congress needed to send a message that U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia or the UAE are "not a blank check."

"For months upon months, this administration has failed to demonstrate how equipping the Saudis with more weapons would improve the Saudis' respect for human rights in Yemen or advance America's own values and national security interests," Menendez said.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran MORE (D-Conn.) added that if lawmakers didn't try to block the sale they were effectively allowing this administration and future administrations to ignore Congress on arms sales.

"If we don't take a positive vote here, we are giving away this priority potentially forever, because you know, this emergency in the Middle East is not a new emergency," he added.

The attempt: Under the AECA, lawmakers can block an arms sale with only a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes normally needed to pass legislation in the Senate.

House Democrats have pledged they will also pass resolutions blocking the sale.

Neither chamber is expected to be able to muster the two-thirds votes necessary to override all-but-guaranteed vetoes from Trump in response.

Unprecedented: But Thursday's votes are an unprecedented move, reflecting growing frustration on Capitol Hill about the U.S.-Saudi relationship and coming after two votes fell short in recent years to block arms deals with Saudi Arabia. One, in 2016, garnered support from only 27 senators. The other, in June 2017, had the backing of 47.

Since then, U.S.-Saudi relations have soured further amid growing concerns about Saudi Arabia's involvement in the years-long Yemen civil war and the death of Washington Post contributor and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Congress passed a separate resolution earlier this year forcing Trump to remove troops in or affecting Yemen unless they were fighting al Qaeda; Trump vetoed the resolution.

In addition to the arms sale votes on Thursday, Menendez announced that he had reached a deal with Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran GOP senators say Trump deserves compatible national security adviser after Bolton firing Trump moves forward with billion F-16 sale to Taiwan MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to hold a committee vote on legislation limiting which countries a president can use the "emergency" provision to sell arms to and a broader Saudi bill being worked on by Risch.

The administration's stance: The administration has hit back at criticism from Congress over its tactics on the arms deal, arguing that a heightened threat from Iran is its justification in invoking the emergency.

"These sales and the associated emergency certification are intended to address the military need of our partners in the face of an urgent regional threat posed by Iran; promote the vitality of our bilateral relationships by reassuring our partners; and preserve strategic advantage against near-peer competitors," R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

They've been backed up by most Republicans including Risch and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban MORE (R-Ky.), both of whom made the case for rejecting the resolutions ahead of Thursday's votes.

 

WITNESS DROPS BOMBSHELL CONFESSION AT TRIAL FOR NAVY SEAL CHARGED WITH MURDER: A witness testifying Thursday at the murder trial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher admitted he killed a teenage Iraqi militant, one of the crimes for which Gallagher was on trial.

The Associated Press reported that Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott claimed credit for the killing after being granted immunity by a judge in exchange for testimony for the prosecution. Prosecutors reportedly accused Scott of lying in order to protect Gallagher.

"So you can stand up there and you can lie about how you killed the ISIS prisoner so Chief Gallagher does not have to go to jail," prosecutor Lt. Brian John asked Scott during the trial, according to the AP. "You don't want Chief Gallagher to go to jail, do you?"

"He's got a wife and family," Scott reportedly responded. "I don't think he should be spending his life in prison."

What he said: Scott testified Thursday that he asphyxiated the Iraqi militant as an act of mercy after Gallagher, who was treating the militant for injuries sustained in an airstrike, became enraged, stabbing the young man below the collarbone and then walked away without finishing treatment.

The allegations: Gallagher was also accused by a former Navy SEAL during the trial of shooting at civilians out of malice and referring to his captive as "just an ISIS dirtbag."

Defense attorneys have reportedly argued that the soldiers have fabricated the allegations against Gallagher to prevent him from being promoted, due to his reputation as a demanding platoon leader.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Border Patrol chief 'extremely offended' by Ocasio-Cortez's concentration camp comments

-- The Hill: Putin warns war between US and Iran would be 'catastrophe'

-- The Hill: Trump shows off Air Force One model in Oval Office

-- The Hill: Trump officials brief Congress on Iran as tensions escalate

-- The Hill: Ex-Marine asks Trump for help with Russian spying charges

-- The Hill: Opinion: Gulf war would be 'Iran against the world' -- but still not easy to win

-- The Hill: Opinion: President Trump was right on Iran