Overnight Defense: Turkey launches offensive against Syrian Kurds | Trump set for clash with Congress over Kurds | Senators unveil Turkey sanctions bill | Trump says Kurds 'didn't help us' in Normandy | Defense official arrested for leaking to journalists

Overnight Defense: Turkey launches offensive against Syrian Kurds | Trump set for clash with Congress over Kurds | Senators unveil Turkey sanctions bill | Trump says Kurds 'didn't help us' in Normandy | Defense official arrested for leaking to journalists
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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 Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurds has started, triggering an uproar in Washington.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced over Twitter on Wednesday that the Turkish military and a Syrian militia had started its military operation in northern Syria.

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Almost simultaneously, Kurdish forces reported shelling and airstrikes in what they described as "civilian areas."

Later in the day, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that ground troops had entered Syria.

The development brought of a flood of condemnation from U.S. lawmakers, and efforts from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE to defend his decision to pull U.S. troops from northeast Syria.

Trump defends position, distances himself from Turkey: As Trump defended his decision, he criticized the Kurds, who were instrumental in the U.S. fight against ISIS.

Trump dismissed the Kurds by saying they didn't help the United States during World War II and that they were only fighting for their land in Syria during the battle against ISIS.

"The Kurds are fighting for their land," Trump told reporters at the White House during an event in the Roosevelt Room.

"And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they're there to help us with their land and that's a different thing."

Trump also said he's not concerned about ISIS prisoners escaping amid the chaos because they're likely to end up in Europe.

"Well they're going to be escaping to Europe. That's where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes," Trump said.

"But Europe didn't want them from us," he added. "We could've given it to them. They could've had trials they could've had whatever they wanted. But as usual, it's not reciprocal."

Earlier, Trump sought to distance himself from Turkey's actions.

"This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

"From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars--especially those that don't benefit the United States," he added.

The president claimed Turkey had committed to protecting civilians and religious minorities, and that the country would be responsible for imprisoned ISIS fighters and ensuring the terrorist group "does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form."

"We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely," Trump said.

Congress set for showdown: Lawmakers are already weighing how to respond to Trump's decision to move from northeast Syria, setting the stage for a high-profile clash with Trump as soon as Congress returns from a two-week break on Monday.

Lawmakers, scattered across the country for a two-week break, are having behind-the-scenes talks about potential legislative action and publicly weighing ideas ranging from a resolution opposing Trump's actions to sanctions against Turkey to inserting language into a mammoth defense policy bill.

"Multiple committees are looking at possible legislative efforts to put the House on record against the President's outrageous decision," a House Democratic leadership aide told The Hill.

Graham, Van Hollen unveil sanctions bill: Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon GAO finds Trump administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid MORE (D-Md.) announced they reached an agreement on new sanctions against Turkey.

"I am pleased to have reached a bipartisan agreement with Senator @ChrisVanHollen on severe sanctions against Turkey for their invasion of Syria," Graham said in a tweet announcing the deal.

He added that "while the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support. ...Most Members of Congress believe it would be wrong to abandon the Kurds who have been strong allies against ISIS."

The sanctions bill, according to a fact sheet shared by Graham, would sanction any U.S. assets of Turkish leadership, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The bill would also target Turkey's energy sector and military, including sanctions against "any foreign person who sells or provides financial, material, or technological support or knowingly does a transaction with Turkish military."

It would also prohibit U.S military sales to Turkey and restrict the ability for Turkey's leadership to travel to the United States.

More reaction: Earlier in the day, Graham warned that unless Trump reverses course on his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, it "will be the biggest mistake of his presidency."

"I hope he's right. I don't think so. I know that every military person has told him don't do this," Graham said in an appearance on Fox News's "Fox & Friends."

"So if he follows through with this, it'd be the biggest mistake of his presidency," Graham continued.

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial The Hill's 12:30 Report: Senate receives impeachment articles as trial opens MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, pledged congressional action.

"President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences," Cheney said in a statement Wednesday.

"This decision aids America's adversaries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and paves the way for a resurgence of ISIS," she added. "This action imperils American security and that of our allies. Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision."

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Bring on the brokered convention MORE (R-Utah) bemoaned the "tragic loss of life among friends shamefully betrayed."

"We can only hope the President's decision does not lead to even greater loss of life and a resurgence of ISIS," Romney added.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Graham on impeachment trial: 'End this crap as quickly as possible' MORE (R-Ky.), meanwhile, was defending Trump and knocking Graham and Cheney as a "War Caucus."

"I know this @realDonaldTrump is the first President in my lifetime to understand what is our national interest and what is not. He is stopping the endless wars and we will be stronger as a result. The Cheney/Graham Neocon War Caucus has cost us too much fighting endless wars," Paul tweeted.

 

LATEST IMPEACHMENT DRAMA: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger pens op-ed in defense of Biden: 'I stuttered once, too. I dare you to mock me' MORE on Wednesday for the first time said Trump should be impeached.

"Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts," Biden told a crowd of supporters in Rochester, N.H. "To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached."

"That's not only because of what he's done. The answer to whether he has committed acts sufficient toward impeachment is obvious," he continued.

"We see it in Trump's own words. We see it in the texts from State Department officials that have been made public. We see it in his pulling much of the United States government into his corrupt schemes, individuals within the government, his appointees," Biden said. "We have to remember that impeachment isn't only about what the president has done. It's about the threat the president poses to the nation."

Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, has until now held back on directly calling for impeachment, though he has supported an inquiry into Trump.

Trump responded to Biden minutes after the remarks, calling him "pathetic."

"So pathetic to see Sleepy Joe Biden, who with his son, Hunter, and to the detriment of the American Taxpayer, has ripped off at least two countries for millions of dollars, calling for my impeachment - and I did nothing wrong. Joe's Failing Campaign gave him no other choice!" Trump said in a tweet.

Trump says he'd cooperate if rules "are fair": Trump also said Wednesday he might be willing to cooperate with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, but only if they hold a formal vote to outlines rules for the investigation and if those rules "are fair."

Trump was asked twice during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House if he would cooperate with Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry.

"We would if they give us our rights. It depends," Trump said initially, indicating that he would not be inclined to cooperate with the probe if Democrats "say you can't have lawyers, you can't ask questions, you can't have anybody present, all of these crazy things."

Asked again to clarify his position, Trump reiterated that he would collaborate with Democrats "if the rules are fair."

White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Tuesday night sent a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.) and three committee leaders stating that the administration would not cooperate with any of their requests related to the impeachment inquiry.

 

DEFENSE OFFICIAL ARREST FOR LEAKING TO JOURNALIST: The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the arrest of a Defense Intelligence Agency official for allegedly leaking classified information to journalists, including one with whom he was apparently in a relationship.

Law enforcement officials arrested 30-year-old Henry Kyle Frese of Virginia as he arrived at work Tuesday morning and charged him with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

According to charging documents filed with a federal court in Virginia, the information that Frese allegedly leaked involved a foreign country's weapons system. The Justice Department would not identify the journalists, the outlets they worked for or the country that the leaked documents concerned.

Context: John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, said during a call with reporters Wednesday that the arrest was part of the agency's effort to step up its crackdown on government employees leaking classified information.

"Leaks of classified information cause undeniable damage to our national security," Demers said.

Demers, though, demurred when a reporter asked how the leak of information about another country damaged U.S. national security.

Demers said Frese was the sixth person to be charged with leaking to the media or the public over the past two years.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Syrian Kurdish official calls out US 'betrayal' in Washington Post op-ed

-- The Hill: UN declares US strikes in Afghanistan unlawful

-- The Hill: Pompeo insists US didn't give Turkey 'green light' to invade
-- The Hill: UN Security Council to meet after Turkey launches Syria offensive

-- The Hill: Opinion: A confused US plan in Syria hurts our friends -- again

-- The Hill: Opinion: Strong US-Taiwanese ties needed to counter rising Chinese influence in the Pacific