Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates

Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates
© Greg Nash

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: A top Democratic senator is looking to force the Trump administration to report on human rights violations by Turkey in its offensive in northern Syria.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Graham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Tuesday he will introduce a resolution that would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report on whether Turkey has committed human rights abuses in Syria.

The resolution invokes the Foreign Assistance Act, meaning Menendez could force a vote on it 10 days after it's introduced.

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"Our strongest allies should be those in NATO, those who have made a treaty commitment to mutual defense, those who share our values, those who work in concert with us to face the threat from countries like Russia and Iran with common cause" Menendez said in a floor speech Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, Turkey under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan embodies none of those things," Menendez continued. "Turkey under Erdoğan should not, Turkey under Erdoğan cannot be seen as an ally."

The background: Congress has been fuming since President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE announced last month that he would withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey's long-threatened offensive against Kurdish forces.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces terrorists, but the United States partnered with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, relying on them to do the most dangerous ground fighting.

"Provided with a green light from the Trump administration, President Erdoğan's invasion of Syria to attack our Kurdish partners is an unconscionable act of brutality that has caused death and untold suffering among our Kurdish friends and partners," Menendez said Tuesday.

"There must be a full accounting by Turkey of these atrocities," he added. "That is why I am today introducing an expedited resolution of request for the secretary of State to inform the Senate in 30 days of the extent of Turkey's human rights abuses in Syria."

What it would do: Using the Foreign Assistance Act means the report could be a first step in ending U.S. security assistance to Turkey. Under the law, the administration would have 30 days to give Congress the report, after which Congress can vote to end any aspect of security assistance.

The resolution would also call for an overview of the steps the United States has taken to promote Turkey's respect of human rights in Syria, as well as a determination of whether Turkey's actions have resulted in the release of ISIS fighters or other extremists inside Syria.

 

Meanwhile, in the House: In response to Trump's removal of troops and Turkey's subsequent offensive, the House passed a resolution opposing the withdrawal and a bill that would sanction Turkish officials. The House also last week passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, infuriating the Turkish government.

Menendez's efforts: Menendez on Tuesday called on the Senate to pass the Armenian genocide resolution.

"And as momentum builds following the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution in the House of Representatives, Turkey and its lobbyists are working overtime to block it in the Senate," he said.

"The Armenian genocide happened. It was a monstrous act, and those who deny it are complicit in a terrible lie," he continued. "Genocide is genocide. The Senate should not bow to this pressure, it cannot bow to this pressure. Let's pass this resolution today."

Menendez, who co-sponsored a Turkey sanctions bill with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action Bipartisan senators urge national security adviser to appoint 5G coordinator McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Idaho), also urged the Senate to "deliberate" the sanctions measure. He added that he and Risch are "updating the language to condition sanctions based on Turkey's actions" and that he hopes the committee will mark up the bill "in the coming days."

Timing: Erdoğan is scheduled to visit the White House on Nov. 13. Three unnamed Turkish officials told Reuters that Erdoğan is reconsidering the trip in protest of the House votes on sanctions and the Armenian genocide.

Menendez in his speech urged Trump to cancel the meeting and "side with the bipartisan consensus in the Senate and House that Turkey under Erdoğan is no friend to the United States." 

"Do not ruin our reputation further by fawning over yet another authoritarian leader. You want to repair the damage that's been done? Show our commitment to our allies by inviting the Syrian Kurdish leadership to the Oval Office for a meeting on how we prevent a resurgent of ISIS," Menendez said.

 

TODAY'S IMPEACHMENT UPDATE: A top diplomat appointed by President Trump revised his testimony to lawmakers in the House's impeachment inquiry, saying in the latest version that the president's dealings with Ukraine amounted to a clear quid pro quo.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said Trump withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine in an effort to secure investigations into the 2016 election and the president's political adversaries, according to a transcript released Tuesday by Democrats conducting the impeachment investigation.  

His testimony and that of former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerSondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep Impeachment viewership drops for Day 3 of hearings as 11.4M tune in Five bombshells from explosive Sondland testimony MORE was released Tuesday.

The revision: Sondland, a Republican mega-donor who gave $1 million to Trump's inauguration, was interviewed by lawmakers behind closed doors on Oct. 17 but revised his testimony on Monday, after a string of subsequent witnesses appeared before the three committees leading the impeachment investigation.

In the revision, Sondland said he recalled a Sept. 1 meeting with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the aid was contingent on a public statement from Zelensky regarding launching probes that would benefit Trump politically. 

"After a large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," Sondland said.

Justice Department tries to stall: The Justice Department opened a new front in the legal battle between congressional impeachment investigators and the White House on Tuesday by announcing that Congress must allow government attorneys to accompany executive branch witnesses who testify about President Trump's relations with Ukraine.  

In a newly released memo, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel said "the assistance of agency counsel" is needed because testimony has the potential to disclose information "protected by executive privilege." 

The House Intelligence Committee, which has taken the lead on the impeachment inquiry, has heard from a number of witnesses whose personal lawyers have been allowed to attend depositions. But the Justice Department argued in its memo that the exclusion of government lawyers deprives Trump of his constitutional power to screen privileged information from lawmakers.

The department's new legal posture is the latest development in the fight between Congress and the White House over access to information that House Democrats say is necessary to assess the strength of an impeachment case against Trump.       

What the memo says: The Justice Department's five-page memo argues that congressional subpoenas that ask witnesses to appear without counsel are "legally invalid."   

"The [House Intelligence Committee] could address this separation of powers problem by allowing agency counsel to assist the employee during the deposition," the memo says. "Should the committee not do so, however, a subpoena purporting to require a witness to appear without such assistance would be invalid and not subject to civil or criminal enforcement."

Two White House officials skip: Also on Tuesday, two administration officials did not appear for scheduled testimony in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump, making them the latest White House aides to skip planned depositions.

Wells Griffith, a special assistant to the president and senior director for international energy and environment on the National Security Council, did not appear for his Tuesday morning deposition. Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was absent for his closed-door hearing slated for Tuesday afternoon.

 

WARREN UNVEILS PLAN TO ADDRESS VETERAN SUICIDE RATES, MENTAL HEALTH: White House hopeful Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-Mass.) on Tuesday set a goal of cutting the rate of veteran suicides in half during her first term as part of a sprawling plan to improve their lives. 

"Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that could have been prevented," Warren said on a webpage outlining the plan. "As President, I will set a goal of cutting veteran suicides in half within my first term -- and pursue a suite of concrete policies to make sure we get there."

The details: In order to accomplish this, Warren proposed more research into the causes of suicide, focusing on factors that are military-specific, improving access to health care services and annual mental health exams for service members.

In 2017, 6,139 veterans died from suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs

Warren's plan also called for pay raises for military personnel and prosecuting sexual harassment as a crime under military law, in addition to other proposals. 

The senator is among the front-runners in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Her three brothers all served in the military. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein will speak at an Air Force Association breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club.

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee ranking member Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation MORE (D-Mont.), and member Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number MORE (R-Kan.) will speak at the Washington Post Live discussion on "Veterans in America," at 8:30 a.m. in Washington D.C.

Former Secretary of State James Baker and former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater discuss the lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall at 10:30 a.m. at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 

Director of Naval Reactors Adm. Frank Caldwell and Navy Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. David Goggins will speak at the Naval Submarine League symposium at 12:30 p.m. in Arlington, Va. 

 

 

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