Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Ex-Navy secretary slams Trump in new op-ed | Impeachment tests Pompeo’s ties with Trump | Mexican president rules out US ‘intervention’ against cartels


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First a programming note: We’ll be off the rest of the week for the Thanksgiving holiday, but back on Monday with all the latest defense news.


THE TOPLINE: Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Wednesday admonished President Trump for repeatedly involving himself in an internal review of a Navy SEAL whose case led to internal controversy and Spencer’s ouster over the weekend.

Spencer penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he laid out multiple instances where Trump attempted to intervene in a military review of Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused and later acquitted of several war crimes.

“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote. “It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”

Spencer called it “highly irregular” for senior military officials to be involved in personnel matters. But he described how Trump “involved himself in the case almost from the start.”

The former secretary wrote that the president called him twice to request Gallagher be released from confinement in the Navy brig while he awaited trial. Trump later asked Spencer to have Gallagher transferred.

The ex-secretary attributed Trump’s intense interest in the case to its prominence in the media.

Background: Gallagher was convicted earlier this year of one charge of posing with an ISIS captive’s body. He was acquitted on more serious charges related to an incident where he allegedly shot at several civilians during a 2017 deployment and killed the ISIS captive, who was already injured, with a hunting knife.

Earlier this month, Spencer wrote to Trump asking him not to get involved in the review of whether Gallagher would retain his rank and status as a member of the SEAL force, according to the op-ed. But he said White House counsel Pat Cipollone later called to say Trump would order Gallagher’s rank be restored.

A week later, Trump tweeted that Gallagher would keep his trident pin and subsequently retain his status as a SEAL.

Spencer acknowledged that he sought to find a workaround with the White House without consulting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a decision that ultimately contributed to his ouster from the administration.

“That was, I see in retrospect, a mistake for which I am solely responsible,” Spencer wrote.

Trump on offense: Trump invoked the controversy during a rally Tuesday in Florida, portraying those opposed to his pardon of Gallagher and grant of clemency for two others involved in war crimes cases as members of the “deep state.”

“I will always stick up for our great fighters,” he said. “People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what, doesn’t matter to me whatsoever.”


NEW TEST FOR TRUMP, POMPEO RELATIONSHIP:  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on rocky terrain with President Trump and members of the State Department following critical testimony by diplomatic officials in the public impeachment hearings led by House Democrats.

Career foreign service officers and Trump appointees came forward last week to lay out in great detail how the president and his allies carried out a smear campaign against the now-former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and how the administration’s policy toward the country raised concerns among veteran diplomats.

Why this is a problem for Pompeo: The witnesses testified about their frustrations with the lack of a public defense from Pompeo when State Department employees were under attack or sidelined, and Trump has expressed frustration with officials underneath Pompeo who provided the bulk of damaging testimony about the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Those tensions have led to questions about Pompeo’s standing with Trump and spurred speculation that he may use a long-talked-about Senate campaign in his home state of Kansas as an off-ramp from the administration.

“I think that this has all done serious damage to the relationship between president and Secretary Pompeo, for all the reasons you can imagine. I don’t know if it’s recoverable or not,” said a former State Department official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

A marked change: The fragile relationship is a stark contrast to just two months ago, when Pompeo solidified his status as one of the president’s closest advisers following the ouster of national security adviser John Bolton. Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, has been part of Trump’s Cabinet since early in the administration when he served as CIA director.

His transition to secretary of State was hailed by those in the department seeking a clean slate after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hollowed out its ranks.

More from The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant on Pompeo’s new test.


MEXICO’S PRESIDENT SAYS ‘NO INTERVENTION’ AGAINST CARTELS: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday he’s not open to intervention but only “cooperation” with the U.S. on fighting drug cartels, a day after President Trump said he was prepared to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

Trump’s remarks from an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly sent shockwaves through the political establishment in Mexico, where the prospect of American forces operating on Mexican territory is a political third rail.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard issued a statement shortly after the interview, saying “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that it has contacted U.S. authorities to understand the meaning and scope of the remarks.”

Mexico’s top diplomat immediately requested a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the issue, according to the statement.

López Obrador, speaking at his daily morning press conference Wednesday, refused to go into detail on the potential terrorist designation, saying he would rather “send a hug to Americans” on Thanksgiving eve.

“Just to say cooperation yes, interventionism no,” said López Obrador.

What Trump had said: President Trump said in an interview broadcast Tuesday that he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorists.

Asked by former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in an interview whether he would designate Mexican cartels as terror groups and target them, Trump replied, “I don’t want to say what I’m going to do, but they will be designated.”

O’Reilly later asked Trump again whether he would designate them as terror groups.

“Absolutely,” the president replied. “I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we’re well into that process.”

The Hill’s Rafael Bernal has more here.



The Hill: Trump says he stood up to the ‘deep state’ by intervening in war crime cases

The Hill: DHS issues draft order requiring agencies to bolster cybersecurity

The Hill: Pompeo suggests US has ‘duty’ to investigate debunked theory on Ukraine election interference

The Hill: Bolton: US national security priorities ‘under attack from within’

The Hill: Iranian supreme leader calls recent protests a US-backed ‘conspiracy’

Tags Donald Trump John Bolton Mark Esper Mike Pompeo Rex Tillerson

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