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 TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations 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 Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades Building back better by investing in workers and communities LIVE COVERAGE: Senators press military leaders on Afghanistan 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 WarrenDemocrats narrow scope of IRS proposal amid GOP attacks Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter FDA proposes rule to offer over-the-counter hearing aids 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 InhofeTop Senate Armed Service Republican wants DOD to suspend vaccine mandate Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Senators slam Pentagon officials 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 KingSenate appears poised to advance first Native American to lead National Park Service Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act GOP tries to take filibuster pressure off Manchin, Sinema 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 HironoDemocrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan 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 SpeierDemocrats want to bolster working women, but face tortuous choices Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrate 75th anniversary, longest-married presidential couple Military braces for sea change on justice reform 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 BrooksThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Bold leadership is necessary to curb violence against youth Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act MORE (Ind.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickLaws should unite, not divide Army veteran unveils challenge to Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania House race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthGOP gambles with Pelosi in opposing Jan. 6 commission The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump campaign tweet of Biden clip as manipulated media | Democrats demand in-person election security briefings resume | Proposed rules to protect power grid raise concerns MORE (Ind.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (Texas), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoLawmakers advocate for establishment of standalone House and Senate cyber panels Hillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Facebook experiences widespread outage Lawmakers introduce bill to identify and protect critical groups from cyber threats MORE (N.Y.), Tom ReedTom ReedDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (N.Y.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell Lawmakers laud diversity gains in Congress Majority of Americans express dissatisfaction with democracy, and gerrymanderers race to the bottom MORE (N.Y.), Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversTrump asks if Rand Paul has 'learned lesson' on endorsements Five takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE (Ohio), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote MORE (Mich.) and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world 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 BrooksDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments 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