Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker

Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker
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THE TOPLINE: The Army colonel leveling sexual assault allegations against the nominee to be the U.S. military's No. 2 officer said she's willing to testify under oath to senators on the details of the alleged incidents.

The woman told The Washington Post that she is prepared to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, preferably in a closed-door session, on her allegations against U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten.

The committee is handling the confirmation process for Hyten, whom President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE in April nominated to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lawmakers involved: Defense officials on Wednesday briefed several committee members on an Air Force investigation that cleared Hyten of the allegations -- the incidents contained in which were said to have taken place between 2017 and the start of 2018. They publicly surfaced after the accuser sent letters to lawmakers directly.

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The allegations are likely to complicate Hyten's confirmation, as senators are now questioning the military's handling of the claims.

Committee member Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Democrat introduces bill to protect military families from deportation Nuclear command nominee sidesteps questions on arms control treaties Senate Dems ask Trump Organization for information on dealings with Turkey MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters that she is taking the woman's allegations "very seriously."

"They are deeply concerning to me. I would like the rest of the committee members to hear from her," she said Thursday.

What the accuser said: The Army colonel who has accused Hyten said the military justice system that handled her case was flawed and that the military should take further action regarding the alleged incidents.

The woman -- who began working for Hyten in November 2016 but was relieved of her duties in 2018 -- claims that he made "abusive sexual contact" with her more than six times, including in a hotel room during the Reagan National Defense Forum in California in December 2017. 

The officer also told The Associated Press that Hyten tried to kiss, hug and rub up against her while she was one of his aides, and that she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop.

After she rejected his advances he tried to ruin her military career, she told the AP. She told the Post that she was in the military for 28 years and did two tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq, said that she didn't speak to anyone about the incidents at the time due to fear of retaliation.

What the investigation found: The Air Force Office of Special Investigations then opened a "comprehensive investigation" on Hyten, who was cleared after "there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct," Pentagon spokesperson Col. DeDe Halfhill said in a statement to The Hill.  

A senior Air Force official told the AP that investigators went through 10,000 pages of documents and interviewed more than 50 people but did not find evidence to support the allegations.

The official added that the investigation also found no evidence that the woman was lying.

A possible derailment: The allegations -- though largely dismissed -- could complicate Hyten's confirmation.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race MORE (D-Mass.) and Duckworth on June 25 sent a letter to acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper that noted "serious concerns and questions" about the Pentagon's handling of the investigation into Hyten.

Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Overnight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony GOP senator: House Democrats using Space Force as leverage in border wall fight MORE (R-Okla.) told Defense One that he is waiting for feedback from committee members before deciding whether the panel will look into the allegations on its own. 

Hyten's confirmation hearing has not been scheduled, and the current vice chairman, Gen. Paul Selva, is set to retire on July 31.

 

JOINT CHIEFS NOMINEE SAYS EARLY AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAWAL WOULD BE 'MISTAKE': Trump's pick to be the top uniformed U.S. military official on Thursday said that pulling troops from Afghanistan prematurely would be a "strategic mistake."

"I think it is slow, it's painful, it's hard, I've spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan, but I also think it's necessary," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee about the 18-year-old Afghanistan War.

Asked by Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing MORE (I-Maine) when the U.S. should say "enough is enough" and withdraw from the ongoing war, Milley replied that the conflict should end "when our interests are met and I think that'll be met through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban."

"I think we're seeing some progress," he added.

More time needed: Milley, who is nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing outgoing chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, said during his confirmation hearing that the continued U.S. presence is needed for successful negotiations with the Taliban.

"I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake," he said.

He added that the U.S. military should keep a "modest amount of capability" in Iraq and Syria for stability following the defeat of the Islamic State caliphate.

The background: The Trump administration in December wanted to quickly pull large numbers of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle balked at the idea.

Trump backed off the plan to allow more time for negotiations, as government officials are currently involved in talks with the Taliban to broker a peace deal, with the seventh round of negotiations ending earlier this week.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with Taliban officials to form a "roadmap for peace," which would include a joint call to end civilian casualties and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country pending a Taliban promise to not let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism.

No 'stupid decisions': Milley also told lawmakers that he will give his best military advice to Trump and would "absolutely not" be intimidated into making "stupid decisions."

"I'll give my best military advice, it'll be candid, it'll be honest, it will be rigorous and it will be thorough and that's what I'll do every single time," he said.

Milley added that he and other military leaders are "not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions," and will give the best military advise "regardless of consequences to ourselves."

On the military's transgender policy: Milley also said Thursday that Trump's policy banning most transgender people from serving in the military is a matter of "standards."

"In my view, we're a standards-based military," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing. "We're concerned about the deployability and effectiveness of any of the service members."

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoRand Paul blocks Senate resolution backing protection for whistleblowers Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (D-Hawaii) asked Milley, who is nominated to be the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, whether he would still impose the controversial ban if the president hadn't already done so.

"If you meet the medical, the behavior health, the conduct standards and the physical standards, etc., then it's my view that you should be welcomed in and allowed," Milley replied.

"I don't believe there's anything inherent in anyone's identity to prevent them from serving in the military. It's about standards, not an identity," he added.

 

HOUSE APPROVES AMENDMENT TO REVERSE TRANSGENDER BAN: The House on Thursday approved an amendment to the annual defense policy bill aimed at reversing President Trump's policy banning most transgender people from serving in the military.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would enshrine in law that any person who meets gender-neutral occupational standards can serve in the military regardless of race, color, national origin, religion or sex, including gender identity or sexual orientation.

"Over the last three years, 14,000 transgender service members have served openly and successfully," said Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the amendment. "All five service chiefs affirmed they do not hamper lethality or cohesion. Malice and ignorance cannot stop us giving medical care to those brave enough to serve. We know what transgender service members bring to the fight; let them bring it."

The vote: The amendment passed 242-187, largely along party lines. Ten Republicans voted with all Democrats in support of the bill: Republican Reps. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksOregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden won't seek reelection Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House MORE (Ind.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani's work in Ukraine MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthOvernight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (Ind.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdRepublicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Intelligence panel Republican: 'How we treat this whistleblower will impact whistleblowers in the future' MORE (Texas), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoProgressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law MORE (N.Y.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer MORE (N.Y.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP lawmaker: Schiff should be first witness Republicans call to testify in impeachment inquiry Singer Brandi Carlile drops out of Fortune event over Kirstjen Nielsen's appearance GOP lawmakers offer new election security measure MORE (N.Y.), Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversWaters clashes with Trump officials over 'disastrous' housing plans Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more GOP ratchets up 2020 attacks as impeachment storm grows MORE (Ohio), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonShimkus says he's reconsidering retirement Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement Trump urges GOP to fight for him MORE (Mich.) and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race The GOP should follow the example of Rep. Greg Walden Shimkus announces he will stick with plan to retire after reconsidering MORE (Ore.).

The big picture: The measure is one of several amendments Democrats have been touting to progressives as they seek to wrangle the votes to pass the NDAA without Republican support.

Progressives are concerned about the bill's $733 billion price tag but have indicated they could support the bill if certain amendments pass, particularly ones that would constrain Trump's war powers. Votes on those amendments are expected later Thursday and Friday.

Democratic leaders have expressed confidence they have the votes to pass the NDAA, but members of the Progressive Caucus have said they remain undecided on the legislation pending the outcome of amendment votes.

  

IRANIAN BOATS ATTEMPT TO SEIZE BRITISH OIL TANKER: Boats believed to belong to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tried and failed to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, according to reports. 

U.S. officials with knowledge of the incident told CNN the British Heritage tanker was approached by five armed Iranian boats while sailing out of the Persian Gulf and crossing the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranians told the tanker to change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, CNN reports. 

An overhead U.S. aircraft recorded video of the incident, according to CNN.

What the British are saying: The United Kingdom said in a statement that the British naval vessel HMS Montrose had been accompanying the commercial ship, British Heritage, through the narrow strait.

"HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away," the statement said, per the AP.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region."

Context: The attempt follows a warning issued from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier in the day that the U.K. will see "consequences" after U.K. Royal Marines and Gibraltar officials reportedly seized an Iranian oil tanker allegedly bound for Syria. 

"You [Britain] are the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences later," Rouhani said, according to a Reuters report

CNN reports U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday the U.S. and its allies were working to put together a coalition to create a system enforcing freedom of navigation in the region. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksTrump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP Jeff Sessions calling Alabama lawmakers about 2020 Senate bid MORE (R-Ala.), will speak on "Missile Defense: A Review and Assessment," at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Senate panel eyes Tuesday hearing for Defense secretary nominee

-- The Hill: White House nominates Navy Vice Adm. Mike Gilday as next naval chief: WSJ

-- The Hill: Biden slams Trump, issues contrast to 'America First' foreign policy

-- The Hill: Trump, Netanyahu discuss increased sanctions on Iran

-- The Hill: GOP senator: US should 'reevaluate' long-term relationship with Saudis

-- The Hill: Trump's strategy is turning Europe against Iran

-- Defense News: Milley throws support behind nuclear modernization, Space Force