Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Intel chief defends handling of whistleblower complaint | Complaint alleged attempt to cover-up Ukraine call | US to send 200 troops to Saudi Arabia | Senate confirms Joint Chiefs No. 2

Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Intel chief defends handling of whistleblower complaint | Complaint alleged attempt to cover-up Ukraine call | US to send 200 troops to Saudi Arabia | Senate confirms Joint Chiefs No. 2
© Greg Nash

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 impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE continues to dominate Washington this week, with the much anticipated whistleblower complaint now out in the open.

Thursday kicked off with the release of the nine-page compliant, which first drew attention to the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that revealed Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to work with his personal attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions Cruz: 'Of course' it's not appropriate to ask China to investigate Bidens MORE, and his attorney general to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary Trump warns Democrats will lose House seats over impeachment MORE's role in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor.

The whistleblower alleged that Trump sought to "solicit interference" from Ukraine in the 2020 election by pressing for an investigation into Biden and that the White House tried to cover up the call. Officials also worried the president used his office for personal political gain.

House Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump on Tuesday, a day before the White House released a readout of the July 25 call. The impeachment furor grew Thursday with the release of the whistleblower account.

What the complaint said: The complaint said "multiple White House officials with direct knowledge" described to the whistleblower the details of the July 25 phone call with Zelensky, including that "the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President's 2020 reelection bid."

"The President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General [William] Barr also appears to be involved as well," the complaint states. 

The Aug. 12 complaint says that over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials had told them of "various facts related to the affair."

While the whistleblower says they were not a direct witness, the whistleblower found the accounts of colleagues to be credible.

The complainant said "multiple White House officials with direct knowledge" described to the whistleblower the details of the Zelensky phone call.

Trump's response: Trump on Thursday accused the White House officials who relayed information to the whistleblower of being "close to a spy."

The president made the claim while speaking at a private event at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York just hours after the whistleblower's complaint was released to the public, according to a recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times confirmed Trump's comments, citing a person briefed on what took place.

Trump dismissed the charges in the complaint, arguing that the whistleblower didn't listen in on the call.

"Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call -- heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell they saw -- they're almost a spy," Trump said, according to the L.A. Times. 

"I want to know who's the person, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy," he continued. "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now."

 

 

The hearing: Shortly after the whistleblower complaint's release, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire's gave testimony before Congress.

During the tense hearing, Maguire contradicted the president, telling Congress that he believes the whistleblower who raised concerns about Trump's interactions with Ukrainian officials did the "right thing" in a "unique and unprecedented" case.

"I think the whistleblower did the right thing," Maguire said to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary A Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) during public testimony, adding that they followed the whistleblower statute every step of the way.

Maguire also expressed his support of the whistleblower, deeming the complaint "credible" and "important" while stating that he does not know the identity of the individual.

Trump has claimed that the whistleblower was a "political hack job."

"I believe this case is unique and unprecedented," Maguire said on Thursday.

He also defended his decision not to share the complaint with the committee, noting that after consulting the Justice Department, it was determined that the conversation between Trump and another foreign leader was protected by executive privilege.

"Authority I do not have the privilege to waive," he added.

Biden's response: Biden's presidential campaign released a blistering statement on Thursday calling Trump "unfit" to lead the nation after revelations that Trump urged the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into Biden and his family.

Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager, called Trump "one of the most divisive, unfit individuals to occupy the Oval Office in our nation's history."

"His willingness to sell out our national interest for his personal gain endangers our security and his attempts to cover it up put the stability of our democracy at risk," Bedingfield said.

Read more:

-- Here are five takeaways from the whistleblower hearing

-- And here are the five most serious charges in the whistleblower's complaint

 -- Read the full complaint here

-- Read about how Democrats see whistleblower report as smoking gun here

-- Meet the Trump-appointed IG at center of whistleblower drama

 

US TO DEPLOY 200 PERSONNEL, MISSILE SYSTEM TO SAUDI ARABIA: The Pentagon announced Thursday that the U.S. will deploy 200 personnel as well as missile defense and radar equipment to Saudi Arabia in response to the attacks earlier this month on its oil facilities, which the Trump administration has blamed on Iran.

The Defense Department will send one Patriot missile system battery, which holds the missiles and launcher, and four Sentinel radars meant to detect any incoming attack, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement on Thursday.

Some 140 of the deployed personnel will be tasked with operating and maintaining the Patriot battery, with the other 60 working on the radar systems.

"This deployment will augment the kingdom's air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure," Hoffman said, adding that the deployment adds to "an already significant presence of U.S. forces in the region."

Additional troops?: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Army officer calls Syria pullback 'a stain on the American conscience' MORE has also approved the possible deployment of additional troops, as well as two more Patriot batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, though no decision has been made to deploy the additional forces, Hoffman said.

The background: Esper last week announced that "all indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack" on the two Saudi oil refineries, which were hit by drones and cruise missiles on Sept. 14, disrupting about 5 percent of the world's supply of oil.

The Trump administration quickly blamed Iran for the attacks, though Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels have taken responsibility and Tehran has denied involvement.

Saudi Arabia as well as its neighbor the United Arab Emirates have since requested international support to deter further attacks, which the administration approved.

Esper said at the time that the U.S. troop deployment will be defensive, primarily focused on air and missile defense, and is meant to "send a clear message that the United States supports our partners in the region."

Other details: The Defense Department has approximately 70,000 personnel scattered around the region, including naval deployments.

The Pentagon is also looking to other countries "to contribute assets in an international effort to reinforce Saudi Arabia's defense," Hoffman said. 

No other nations have yet committed to sending support to the kingdom, though on Monday U.S. allies Britain, Germany and France joined in blaming Iran, saying there is "no other plausible explanation."

 

PENTAGON STUDY FINDS RISING SUICIDE RATES IN MILITARY: Suicide rates in the military were higher in 2018 compared to the previous five years despite efforts to prevent such deaths, according to an annual Pentagon report released Thursday.

A total of 541 active duty, National Guard and Reserve troops committed suicide last year, the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report found.

The numbers: The figure included 187 Army troops, 79 Navy sailors, 77 Marines and 63 Airmen, as well as 118 Army National Guard and 17 Air National Guard members.

Suicide rates among active-duty troops increased across all military services from 2013 and 2018, rising from 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members to 24.8, according to the report.

The rate did, however, remained steady for Reserve and Guard members in the same timeframe.

Those most at risk: Enlisted men younger than 30 are the population of greatest concern to the military and account for about 60 percent of all suicide deaths in 2018, the Pentagon's Defense Suicide Prevention Office Director Karen Orvis told reporters at the Pentagon.

This year's report also indicates that suicide rates for active component and Reserve members are comparable to U.S. population rates -- after accounting for age and sex -- but rates for Guard members are higher than the U.S. population after similar adjustments.

The rates for Guard members are about 30.6 deaths per 100,000 service members, and the rates for Reserve troops are 22.9 per 100,000.

The response: The military suicide rates, while mostly comparable to broader civilian rates, are "hardly comforting and our numbers are not moving in the right direction," said the Pentagon's Office of Force Resiliency Director Elizabeth Van Winkle, who spoke alongside Orvis.

Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Intel chief defends handling of whistleblower complaint | Complaint alleged attempt to cover-up Ukraine call | US to send 200 troops to Saudi Arabia | Senate confirms Joint Chiefs No. 2 Pentagon study finds rising suicide rates in military MORE and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville called the report "disheartening and disappointing."

"Suicide is devastating to Families and units, and tears at the fabric of our institution," the two said in a joint statement. "We will continue to take a hard look at the challenges we face with suicide to ensure the proper resources are in place to protect those at risk."

Timing: The report comes as three Navy sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush died by suicide in the last week, with two deaths on the same day.

The deaths bring the total number of crew member suicide deaths to five in the last two years.

The report notes that the Navy had a "statistically significant" increase in suicide rates in the past five years, which Orvis said was a 6 percent average annual increase of deaths year-over-year.

 

SENATE CONFIRMS TOP PENTAGON LEADERS: The Senate has confirmed Gen. John Hyten to be the No. 2 general in the country, capping off months of controversy over sexual assault allegations against him.

The Senate voted 75-22 to confirm Hyten as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Iowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race MORE (Iowa) was the lone Republican to vote against Hyten, while 23 Democrats voted in favor of Hyten.

"To me, there's no doubt that Gen. Hyten is the right man for the second highest ranking military officer," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about GOP senators attack whistleblower's credibility MORE (R-Okla.) said Thursday.

The controversy, the hold up: While the committee "takes allegations of sexual assault very seriously and has for many years," Inhofe added, "we can't stop a nomination from going forward on unproven allegations, especially ones we examined with the utmost of care and close scrutiny and determined not to have merit."

The nomination of Hyten, who has served as U.S. Strategic Command chief since 2016, was held up for months as the Senate Armed Services Committee examined sexual assault allegations against him.

Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser accused Hyten of making several unwanted sexual advances, including by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her, in 2017 when she was one of his aides. The most serious incident, she alleges, involved him ejaculating on her.

Hyten denies the allegations, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in July that "these allegations are false" and "nothing happened, ever."

An Air Force investigation, a summary of which was released in August, did not find corroborating evidence to charge Hyten.

Spletstoser has maintained her accusations against Hyten.

Army secretary also confirmed: The Senate also on Thursday confirmed Ryan McCarthy as the top civilian leading the Army.

The Senate confirmed McCarthy as Army secretary in an afternoon voice vote.

McCarthy, who has served as Army under secretary since 2017, will fill the role formerly held by Mark Esper until he became Defense secretary in July.

McCarthy's confirmation comes a week after his nomination was advanced by the Senate Armed Services Committee and two weeks after his confirmation hearing.

The Senate has prioritized filling Pentagon vacancies the last couple months after the department spent most of the year without Senate-confirmed leaders.

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ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command head Gen. John Raymond, will speak at an Air Force Association breakfast on standing up the new command at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US concludes Syria used chemical weapons in May attack

-- The Hill: Acting DNI Maguire describes 'cyber war' as greatest threat to the country

-- The Hill: Voters evenly split on whether Trump's Ukraine actions amount to 'impeachable offense'

-- The Hill: NY Times: Whistleblower is a CIA officer

-- The Hill: Pompeo: State Department's Ukraine actions 'entirely appropriate'

-- The Hill: Trump moves to restrict senior Iranian officials from entering US

-- The Hill: Scottish airport highlighted Trump resort in pitch to US military: report

-- The Hill: Ukrainian prosecutor tied to Trump scandal says Hunter Biden 'did not violate anything'

-- The Hill: Saudi crown prince says he is responsible for Khashoggi killing 'because it happened under my watch'

-- The Hill: Opinion: Will US, Iranian miscalculation bring war