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 TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' 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 DuckworthAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Advocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction 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 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 WarrenWarren warns another 'economic crash' is coming The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Biden's lead narrows in early voting states: poll 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 InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase 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 KingAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees 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 HironoDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress 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 Joint chiefs nominee: Trump's transgender policy about 'standards' 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 SpeierSenators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA 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 BrooksAl Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (Ind.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour 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 HurdJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE (Texas), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoStudent loan borrowers are defaulting yearly — how can we fix it? 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 House approves amendment to reverse transgender military ban MORE (N.Y.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (N.Y.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems 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 MORE (N.Y.), Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversOvernight 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 House approves amendment to reverse transgender military ban Fed chief: Facebook crypto project poses 'serious concerns' for economy, consumers MORE (Ohio), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonAl Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (Mich.) and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenOvernight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' 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 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 BrooksOvernight 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 Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question House sends Trump border aid bill after Pelosi caves to pressure from moderates 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