Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions

Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions
© Getty

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 Senate Armed Services Committee will proceed with having an open confirmation hearing for Gen. John Hyten, the nominee to be the country's No. 2 general, who has been accused of sexual assault.

Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report MORE (R-Okla.) made the announcement after the panel met with Hyten behind closed doors for three hours on Thursday.

"We will be announcing that this afternoon, the timeline for an open confirmation hearing," Inhofe told reporters. "There will be an open confirmation hearing."


The controversy: Hyten, President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE's nominee to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the current commander of U.S. Strategic Command, was accused by a female officer of making unwanted sexual advances, including kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her, in 2017 when she was one of his aides.

An Air Force investigation cleared Hyten of the allegations, but some senators have questioned how the investigation was carried out.

Hyten's statement: In a brief statement to reporters outside the hearing room Thursday, a spokesman for Hyten said only that the general appreciated the opportunity to be heard.

"Gen. Hyten thanks Chairman Inhofe and the committee members for this opportunity to share his side of the story," U.S. Strategic Command spokesman Cmdr. Bill Clinton said.

Earlier this week: The Armed Services Committee met with Hyten's accuser behind closed doors Tuesday.

Senators have been tight-lipped about the contents of the closed-door meetings. 

Conflicting testimony: Inhofe would not say Thursday what he thought of Hyten's testimony, nor where he currently stands on the nomination.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthJoe Walsh ends GOP primary challenge to Trump Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted K ticket price MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters she found Hyten to be credible, but that she still has questions about the Air Force investigation. She also reiterated that she found his accuser believable.

"It's just a really tragic situation, and it's very emotional. Gen. Hyten is answering questions, so I thank him for doing that," Duckworth said. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions, and maybe neither he nor the accuser can answer, but that has to do with how [the Department of Defense] treated this case."

Duckworth added that members of both sides of the aisle are taking the situation very seriously, both because of the seriousness of the allegations and because of the job Hyten is being considered for.


SENATE TO VOTE MONDAY ON OVERRIDING SAUDI ARMS VETO: The Senate will vote Monday evening to try to override President Trump's vetoes of resolutions blocking his arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Senators locked in the override votes Thursday as they wrapped up their work for the week. Under the deal, senators will vote on the three vetoes on Monday evening starting at 5:30.

The veto override attempts are widely expected to fall short after the initial resolutions of disapproval passed with 51 and 53 votes -- well short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto. 

Trump vetoed the three resolutions of disapproval on Wednesday. 

"This resolution would weaken America's global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners," he wrote in veto messages to Congress released by the White House on Wednesday evening.

The resolutions marked the third, fourth and fifth time Trump was forced to issue a veto this year. Trump also vetoed a resolution earlier this year that would have forced him to withdraw U.S. troops in or affecting Yemen unless they were fighting al Qaeda. 


GRAHAM TALKS WITH TURKEY AT TRUMP'S REQUEST: Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBarr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Graham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone MORE (R-S.C.) called Turkey's foreign minister on Wednesday at President Trump's behest amid ongoing tensions over Ankara's decision to buy a Russian antimissile system, the senator said Thursday.

Graham said he delivered a message to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about a "win-win" situation for Turkey and the United States if Ankara reverses course on the Russian S-400.

"The S-400, that problem can be solved, and the relationship can flourish," Graham said he told the foreign minister. "This can be a win-win. If the S-400 is activated, then the relationship takes a very dark turn."

The lead up: Turkey's acceptance of the Russian system prompted the United States to suspend that nation's participation in the F-35 fighter jet program and has several U.S. lawmakers calling for harsh sanctions against the NATO ally.

Turkey began receiving parts for the S-400 earlier this month, followed days later by the Trump administration officially suspending Turkey from the F-35 program.

U.S. officials are concerned the S-400's powerful radars could be used to gather information on the United States' most advanced fighter jet.

The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act also requires sanctions on those who do business with Russia's defense industry, and lawmakers in both parties have been calling for Trump to impose the mandatory sanctions.

Graham's pitch: "My pitch to Turkey was: Let's stand down on the S-400, let's start free trade agreement negotiations, which would change the Turkish economy, would help the American economy, will give us a much closer economic relationship," Graham said. "The S-400 is a $4 billion purchase. They've had to be removed from the F-35 program, that's a $10 billion loss. If there was a free trade agreement negotiation that resulted in a product it would fundamentally change Turkey's economy. What I'm asking for is cooler heads to prevail." 

Next steps in question: Trump has yet to levy sanctions on Turkey, leaving some lawmakers worried he will waive them. Trump said last week he was still considering whether to impose sanctions.

A meeting at the White House on Tuesday with Republican senators reportedly saw Trump at odds with members over the issue, with Trump opposed to harsh sanctions.

In public, Trump has appeared sympathetic to Turkey's position, placing the blame on the Obama administration for not selling Turkey the U.S.-made Patriot system.

The United States offered to sell Turkey the Patriot system in both the Obama and Trump administrations, but Ankara turned down the offers because the United States would not share sensitive technology Turkey wants to be able to build its own weapons.

Views at odds: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements MORE (R-Idaho) said Wednesday that the White House meeting saw a "spirited discussion," but denied he fought with Trump.

"That's all a work in progress," Risch said of sanctions. "Obviously, everybody's discussing that because Turkey can't have the S-400 and F-35, so how do you reconcile that?"

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.), who was not at the meeting Tuesday, told reporters Wednesday that his "understanding is that the president made it pretty clear he would not like to impose the sanctions."

On Thursday, Graham said he doesn't think sanctions need to be imposed until Turkey activates the S-400, which it has not done.


16 MARINES ARRESTED FOR SMUGGLING UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, DRUG OFFENSES: Sixteen Marines were arrested early Thursday morning for "alleged involvement in various illegal activities," including human smuggling and drug-related offenses, according to a U.S. Marine Corps. (USMC) statement. 

"Information gained from a previous human smuggling investigation precipitated the arrests," the release said, adding that the arrests transpired at Camp Pendleton, Calif., during a battalion formation.

"None of the Marines arrested or detained for questioning served in support of the Southwest Border Support mission," the release states.

The release added that eight other Marines "were taken aside to be questioned on their involvement in alleged drug offenses unrelated to today's arrests."

A link to past arrests: Task and Purpose reported that the arrests are linked to the earlier bust of two Marine infantrymen, Lance Cpl. Byron Law and Lance Cpl. David Javier Salazar-Quintero, who on July 3 were arrested along with three undocumented immigrants with whom they were driving. Border Patrol had pulled the two over as they were allegedly attempting to earn cash by driving people from Mexico into the United States, according to a federal court complaint first reported by Quartz.

The Thursday morning arrest of the 16 Marines came after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) found information on Law and Salazar-Quintero's phones, a source familiar with the matter told Task & Purpose.

More details: The 16 Marines also came from the same unit that Law and Salazar-Quintero were assigned to, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, a 1st Marine Division spokeswoman told the news outlet.

"1st Marine Division is committed to justice and the rule of law, and we will continue to fully cooperate with NCIS on this matter," the statement added. "Any Marines found to be in connection with these alleged activities will be questioned and handled accordingly with respect to due process." 


SENATE CONFIRMS MILLEY: The Senate easily confirmed Gen. Mark Milley on Thursday to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, filling a key role at a time of global turmoil.

The Senate voted 89-1 to confirm Milley as the top general in the country. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign MORE (D-Ore.) was the lone "no" vote.

Milley will succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford, whose term as chairman wraps at the end of September.

"I am humbled and honored to be confirmed as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Milley said in a statement Thursday. "Thank you to the president and the Senate for their confidence. I have been privileged to serve as chief of staff of the Army these last four years and look forward to the opportunity to continue working alongside the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Dept. of Defense civilians and families serving our nation's military."

About Milley: Milley has served as chief of staff of the Army since 2015 and will step into the new role as President Trump's top military adviser at a time when U.S.-Iran tensions threaten to boil over into military conflict.

He also represents a steady hand as the Pentagon faces a high number of vacancies.

Timing: Milley's confirmation comes days after Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMulvaney confirms he'd have to take a pay cut to be permanent White House chief of staff Pompeo expects US-Taliban agreement to be signed on Feb. 29 DOD sued for alleged improper incineration of 'forever chemicals' MORE was confirmed and sworn in, helping end a leadership vacuum at the Pentagon after an unprecedented period of more than six months without a Senate-confirmed Defense secretary.

Several other top civilian posts remain unfilled, including deputy Defense secretary, Army secretary and Air Force secretary.

The deputy position is close to being filled, after the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced David Norquist's nomination on Thursday. Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat Everytown plans ad blitz on anniversary of House background check bill Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems MORE (R-Ky.) listed Norquist's nomination as one of the Senate's to-do items before leaving for the August recess next week.

But the fate of Milley's potential vice chairman remains unsettled, even as vice chairman Gen. Paul Selva is set to retire at the end of July.



Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) and Rep. Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupOvernight Defense: Bolton, GOP senators see close ties challenged | Republicans fume over Dem maneuver on Iran bills |Trump criticizes Democrats over war powers vote GOP fumes over Democrats' maneuver for bringing up Iran bills Trump and Pelosi clash over Iran, impeachment MORE (R-Ohio) will discuss reforming the Veterans Affairs Department at 8:15 a.m. at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. 



-- The Hill: Senate panel approves Craft's UN ambassador nomination

-- The Hill: Navy SEALs deployed to Iraq ordered home for allegedly drinking during deployment

-- The Hill: GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language

-- The Hill: US warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

-- Reuters: Turkish military chiefs discuss possible offensive in Syria