Overnight Defense: State approves $39M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks

Overnight Defense: State approves $39M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks
© Stefani Reynolds

Happy Tuesday 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 State Department has informally notified Congress that it approved a potential $39 million sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill.

The approval was first reported by Bloomberg, which said a formal announcement could come later Tuesday. The aide told The Hill a formal announcement should come "soon."

The sale covers 150 Javelin missiles and 10 missile launchers, the aide said.

Timing: The approval of the sale comes as House Democrats pursue an impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, in part over his handling of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

The Javelins are separate from almost $400 million in monetary aid that was held up earlier this year, but they have still come under scrutiny after they were mentioned in the July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that's at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Where that inquiry stands: Democrats are probing whether Trump pressured Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Romney: Republicans don't criticize Trump because they fear it will help Warren MORE, who is leading Trump in several 2020 polls, and his son, as alleged in a whistleblower complaint.

Among the questions is whether Trump held up military aid to Ukraine, which is battling Russian-backed separatists, as leverage.

About $400 million in aid for Ukraine approved by Congress was held up over the summer before being released Sept. 11.

Trump has acknowledged holding up the money, but has alternately said he did so because of concerns about corruption or because he believes Europe is not contributing enough to Ukraine.

The United States first sold Ukraine more than 200 Javelin missiles and related equipment in 2018.

Mentioned in the call: In the July call, Zelensky told Trump his country was almost ready to buy more Javelins, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House last week.

Immediately after Zelensky mentioned the Javelins, according to the rough transcript, Trump said, "I would like you to do us a favor though" and asked Zelensky to look into CrowdStrike, a U.S.-based internet security company that initially examined the breach of the Democratic National Committee's servers in 2016.

On the call, Trump also asked Zelensky to work with his personal attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiHurd: No Ukrainian officials have told State Department 'they felt like their arms were being twisted' House Democrat pledges 'there will be open hearings' in impeachment inquiry Combatting fake news on social media will take a village MORE, and Attorney General William Bar to investigate Biden's role in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor, according to the transcript. 

Pompeo won't give testimony: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring White House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week MORE said Tuesday that five current and former State Department officials would not show up for depositions scheduled by House Democrats in connection with their impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo asserted that the committee's demand for testimony from five current and former State Department officials beginning this week raised "significant legal and procedural concerns" and questioned the committee's authority to compel an appearance by officials for a deposition through the letters sent last week, according to a letter that the secretary of State released on his Twitter feed. 

"Based on the profound legal and procedural deficiencies ... the Committee's requested dates for depositions are not feasible," Pompeo wrote, adding that the State Department "will be in further contact with the committee in the near future as we obtain further clarity on these matters." 

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump lashes out at Pelosi as she visits Jordan to discuss Syria Trump's insult-comic act enters danger zone  White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours MORE (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Cher offers to pay legal fees for security guard fired for repeating racial slur Baltimore mayor looks to rename downtown courthouse after Cummings MORE (D-Md.), said in a letter to Pompeo last week that the depositions would be conducted jointly by their three committees.

The depositions requested by the committees last week had been scheduled for Oct. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10.

Witness intimidation?: In a joint statement issued later Tuesday, the three chairmen raised the possibility that Pompeo was engaging in witness intimidation, citing reports from the day prior that the top diplomat participated in the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint.

The Democrats said that would make him a "fact witness" in the impeachment inquiry and that his actions could constitute obstruction of Congress.

"Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress -- including State Department employees -- is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistleblower complaint," Engel, Schiff and Cummings said in a joint statement.

But hold on... House officials says ex-Ukraine envoy will testify: Kurt Volker, President Trump's former special envoy for Ukraine, has confirmed he will appear at a deposition before Congress this Thursday, a House official said.

The House Intelligence Committee official also said that Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will appear for a deposition on Oct. 11. She was previously scheduled to appear this Wednesday.

Legal experts say Pompeo would have little power to prevent the former officials from testifying now that they are private citizens.

It’s unclear whether the other officials will ultimately agree to testify.

Trump wants whistleblower: The president on Tuesday reiterated his desire to meet with and question the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's interactions with the leader of Ukraine ignited the impeachment inquiry.

The president, who in recent days attacked the whistleblower as a "fraud" and attempted to undermine their credibility, questioned why he doesn't have the right to interview the anonymous individual.

"Why aren't we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him," Trump tweeted. "This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all (as confirmed by Ukrainian Pres.). It is just another Democrat Hoax!"

Trump claimed the author of the complaint "has all second hand information" and that "almost everything" the whistleblower recounted about the president's call with Ukraine was wrong.

But neither of those things is true.

The whistleblower's account of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky aligns with a rough White House transcript that shows Trump urged Zelensky to "look into" Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and asked him to investigate a company with ties to the 2016 election.

Intel chief pressured to protect whistleblower: Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' US ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out MORE (D-Va.) is calling on acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireSecond intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report Overnight Defense: State approves M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk MORE and other officials to publicly pledge to protect the whistleblower.

"It is incumbent upon the Acting Director of National Intelligence and other intelligence leaders to publicly pledge that they will protect and stand by this whistleblower, and any other individual within the intelligence community who steps forward to lawfully report illegal or unethical behavior within the federal government, anonymously or otherwise," Warner said in a statement on Tuesday.

Warner, who serves as the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added that Trump's public comments about the White House working to identify the whistleblower were "deeply disturbing."

"The president's comments about 'spies and treason' and 'what we used to do in the old days' are downright dangerous and will do serious damage to our national security long after this news cycle is over," Warner said.

  

US COMMANDER DISCUSSES IRAN WITH SAUDI COUNTERPART: U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said its commander, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, visited Riyadh to discuss Iran with his Saudi counterpart, Vice Admiral Fahad bin Abdullah Al-Ghofaily, over the weekend.

The U.S. has blamed Iran for a Sept. 14 drone attack on two Saudi oil facilities, with Tehran denying responsibility. Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen have taken credit for the bombing, which initially knocked out about 5 percent of the global oil supply.

Saudi Arabia is one of several U.S. allies to take the U.S. up on a call to form a naval coalition to protect oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz from what the U.S. calls Iranian aggression.

What they discussed: In a statement, the command said Malloy and Ghofaily discussed the Royal Saudi Naval Forces's (RSNF) part in defending against "Iranian aggression" in the region.

"Engaging and operating closely with regional counterparts is essential to maintain deterrence," Malloy said in a statement.

"Saudi Arabia has been a key ally in promoting regional security, and Vice Admiral Gofaily's leadership and partnership is key as we coordinate defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as all regional partners and those nations across the globe who rely on maritime commerce in and out of the Middle East," Malloy added.

"This visit was an opportunity to discuss our mutual efforts going forward to coordinate defense against provocation and attack."

Iran and Saudi Arabia's rivalry has also played out in the ongoing Yemen conflict, where the Saudis have led a bombing campaign against the Iran-backed rebels.

 

US, NORTH KOREA TO HOLD TALKS AMID MONTH-LONG STALEMATE: The U.S. and North Korea will hold talks soon amid a months-long stalemate in nuclear negotiations. 

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told The Hill in a statement that "U.S. and DPRK officials plan to meet within the next week."

"I do not have further details to share on the meeting," Ortagus added. 

The two countries agreed to begin working-level talks on Oct. 5 after preliminary contact on Oct. 4, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing North Korean state news agency KCNA. 

"The delegates of the DPRK side are ready to enter into the DPRK-U.S. working-level negotiations," Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui was quoted as saying by KCNA, using North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

Limited progress: Trump and Kim had agreed to restart talks when they met in June at the border between North and South Korea, according to Reuters. The leaders failed to reach an agreement at a summit in February.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in September that the Trump administration was ready to "immediately" resume negotiations with Pyongyang. 

News of the talks comes a day after North Korea blamed the stalled negotiations on U.S. "political and military provocations." 

In recent months, Pyongyang has also launched short-range ballistic missiles and decried U.S. participation in military drills with South Korea. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Defense Writers Group breakfast will hold a conversation with U.S. Transportation Command head Army Gen. Steve Lyons at 8 a.m. at the Fairmont in Washington, D.C. 

The Washington Post will host a Live Cybersecurity Summit, with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Trump denies knowledge of Barr meeting in Italy, says it would be appropriate We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats MORE; Anne Neuberger, director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency; Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center; and Associate Deputy Attorney General Sujit Raman, beginning at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: South Korea showcases new US-made fighter jets

-- The Hill: Kennedy announces bill banning family members of U.S. officials from profiting in Ukraine

-- The Hill: Over 1,000 people attend funeral for veteran with no immediate family

-- The Hill: China showcases latest missiles in military parade

-- The Hill: Alleged US spy gets death sentence in Iran: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: After 70 years, Chinese Communism threatens the world more than ever