Overnight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border

Overnight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border

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: House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment against President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE, accusing him of abusing his office for personal political gain and all but guaranteeing he becomes just the third president in the nation's history to be impeached.

The historic move, which follows weeks of closed-door and public hearings on Trump's dealings with Ukraine, carries far-reaching implications for a fiercely divided country that's split roughly in half on whether Trump should be removed from office and ensures that the impeachment debate will carry far into an election year.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now MORE (D-Calif.), who had resisted impeachment for most of the year, struck a somber tone when announcing the articles in the Capitol, saying Trump's handling of foreign policy in Kyiv had left Democrats no alternative.  

"On this solemn day, I recall that the first order of business for members of Congress is the solemn act to take an oath to defend the Constitution," she said in the august, wood-paneled Rayburn Room adjacent to the House chamber. 

The charges: Democrats are bringing two charges against Trump, which they say rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors: that he abused the power of his office and that he obstructed Congress in its impeachment inquiry. 

"It is an impeachable offense for a president to use the powers of his office to seek a personal benefit," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMcConnell locks in schedule for start of impeachment trial Pelosi: Trump's impeachment 'cannot be erased' House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate MORE (D-N.Y.) said in introducing the first article. 

"And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry," Nadler continued, pointing to the second article of obstruction of Congress.

The upcoming vote: The Judiciary chairman said his committee would vote on the articles later this week -- likely Thursday, according to several sources -- setting up a vote of the full House as early as next week, before Congress leaves Washington for the winter holidays. Forecasting a nasty battle to come, Trump quickly took to Twitter to attack Democrats' decision

A refresher: Both of the charges are related to the unfolding controversy surrounding Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine's government to conduct a pair of investigations that might have helped him politically: one into Trump's political rivals -- including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE -- and another into the debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the U.S. elections of 2016.

Leading up to the unveiling of the articles, a number of liberal lawmakers had advocated for the inclusion of some reference to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE's investigation into Trump's role in Moscow's election interference, which uncovered 10 potential episodes of obstruction of justice.

But Democratic leaders settled on broader language to capture Mueller's findings without making them a separate article, according to lawmakers familiar with the text. 

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira Cohen2019 in Photos: 35 pictures in politics Gabbard under fire for 'present' vote on impeachment Gabbard votes 'present' on impeaching Trump MORE (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subpanel on the Constitution, said the language will make "a reference to a continuing pattern of behavior."

"None of Mueller matters. What matters is he's committed [the] two highest offenses one can commit: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress," Cohen said. "Nothing else needs to be said; nothing else needs to be done. The Eagle has landed."  

Democrats allege Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and dangled a White House meeting with Ukraine's president to pressure the country's president to publicly announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, who worked on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings.

This, they warned, makes clear that Trump believes he is above the law, and will continue this pattern of misconduct if he remains in office. 

The articles: In the impeachment article on abuse of power, Democrats accuse Trump of carrying out "a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage."

"He thus ignored and injured the interests of the Nation," read the impeachment articles, which were released after the press conference concluded. "President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States."

The second article on obstruction of justice argued that "Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its 'sole Power of Impeachment.' President Trump has abused the powers of the Presidency in a manner offense to, and subversive of, the Constitution."

Republicans' stance: But Republicans, who have largely taken the hardline argument that Trump did nothing wrong, argued that Democrats have failed to provide the evidence to back up their case. Even if he did pressure Ukraine, they say – while noting that he didn't – it wouldn't be an impeachable offense. 

They argue this is a "sham" impeachment inquiry designed by Democrats to remove a president they cannot defeat at the ballot box.

Trump's response: Trump also mounted his own defense, taking to Twitter shortly after the press conference concluded. He denied any claims that he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, blasted the hearing as a "WITCH HUNT" and attacked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial The Memo: Day One shows conflicting narratives on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) as "a totally corrupt politician" who he said will "eventually have to answer for this!"

"Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there 'WAS NO PRESSURE.' Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge!'" the president tweeted. 

Read more from The Hill on this topic:

-- READ: The articles of impeachment against Trump

-- Schumer to Senate colleagues running for White House: Impeachment comes first

-- Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism

-- Trump: Trade deal with Democrats 'the silver lining to impeachment'

-- McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January

-- Trump, White House rip Democrats over impeachment articles

-- GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures

-- Bill Clinton says Congress doing its job on Trump impeachment

-- Pelosi: House would be 'delinquent' if it didn't impeach Trump

 

SAUDI MILITARY FLIGHT STUDENTS GROUNDED IN WAKE OF FLORIDA SHOOTING: Saudi Arabian military aviation students in Florida have been temporarily grounded as U.S. officials investigate last week's shooting by a Saudi military member at a naval air base in Pensacola, Fla. that killed three people.

"A safety stand-down and operational pause commenced Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students at NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field and NAS Mayport, Florida," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Commander Megan Isaac told The Hill.

Reuters, which first reported the news, said that it would affect over 300 Saudi students across the three bases.

Lt. Commander Isaac also told The Hill that classroom training for the affected Saudi students will resume sometime this week.

Background: While the FBI thinks the suspected gunman, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, acted alone in the attack, the shooting has raised questions about the U.S. military's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Currently, there are around 850 Saudi military students in the country for training. 

A review: Since the shooting, U.S. lawmakers have called for a review of the vetting process for allowing foreign military personnel to train in the country.

"I'm extremely concerned by the reports that this shooter was a foreign national training on a U.S. military base in Florida," Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a statement Friday. " I'm calling for a full review of the U.S. military programs to train foreign nationals on American soil."

 

PENTAGON IG TO PROBE 'USE OF MILITARY PERSONNEL ALONG THE SOUTHERN BORDER': The Defense Department's inspector general on Tuesday announced that it is conducting an evaluation into the use of military personnel on the U.S. border with Mexico.

The inspector general's office said in a memo that the probe will investigate the use of service members in support of security operations at the border; the training provided to military personnel, including that regarding contact with civilians; coordination and interaction with Homeland Security personnel; and the amount of funding dedicated to supporting the Defense Department's deployment to the border.

The memo, sent to several top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa MORE and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, requested each party provide a point of contact to the inspector general for its probe by Friday. 

Timing: The message to the military leaders comes after 34 House Democrats in September sent a letter to Defense Department acting Inspector General Glenn Fine demanding an investigation into the service members' presence at the border. 

"The Trump Administration's troop deployment at the border is nothing short of alarming and raises serious legal questions that the administration has repeatedly failed to answer," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who led the effort, said in a statement at the time. 

"The military should have no role in enforcing domestic law, and this troop deployment is another scare tactic by President Trump to create a crisis and traumatize asylum-seeking children and their families. The Trump Administration needs to answer these fundamental legal questions and halt their efforts to further militarize our border communities."

Troops necessary?: The military's presence at the border has been a focus of intense scrutiny by congressional Democrats who accuse President Trump of politicizing the Pentagon to help further his hard-line immigration policies, including the now-scrapped "zero tolerance" policy that produced a spike in family separations.

Troop levels at the border, both among active-duty military and the National Guard, have fluctuated since the deployments began in the fall of 2018. A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to NBC News, which was the first to report on the memo, that there are currently 6,500 service members at the border, though that number is expected to drop after a troop transition.

 

DEM CHAIR PUSHES BACK ON DEFENSE BILL CRITICISM: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.) on Tuesday defended the compromise defense policy bill against criticism from progressives that Democrats gave up too much in negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

“This is the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country, with Donald Trump as president and Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Senators take oath for impeachment trial MORE as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Smith said Tuesday in response to a question from The Hill. “I will rest on that sentence.”

Smith was speaking at a news conference touting the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)’s inclusion of a new policy granting all federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Aides have said Democrats secured the parental leave policy as part of a deal to agree to create President Trump’s long-sought Space Force.

Smith on Tuesday also pushed back on the idea that parental leave was secured with Space Force, saying “it’s a big overstatement to say one thing was traded for another.”

"That's simply not the way it works," he said. "There are 1,377 provisions in this bill. We attempted to strike a balance between the interests of everybody."

The criticism: Top Democrats have been touting the parental leave policy as a major win in the final version of the NDAA that resulted from months of negotiations with the Senate and the White House.

But several other Democratic priorities that were in the version of the NDAA that passed the House in July were stripped from the final bill.

Among the language that was jettisoned from the compromise bill: blocking Trump from using Pentagon funding on his border wall, reversing Trump’s transgender military ban, blocking Trump from taking military action against Iran, ending all U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, more broadly regulating cancer-linked “forever chemicals” called PFAS, blocking the deployment of the low-yield nuclear warhead and banning new transfers to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Progressives immediately balked at the compromise bill.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on "U.S. Policy in Syria and the Broader Region," at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Sanders holds four-point lead on Biden in new California poll MORE (D-Minn.), will speak at the Council on Foreign Relations on the future of U.S. foreign policy at 12:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C.

Assistant Air Force Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper will participate in an Atlantic Council discussion on a new report, "Aviation Cybersecurity: Scoping the Challenges,"  4 at 4 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War

-- The Hill: Defense bill includes fix for military families' survivor benefits

-- The Hill: Lawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space Force deal

-- The Hill: South Korea: North tested rocket engine

-- The Hill: Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics'

-- The Hill: Pompeo says he told Russia 'interference in our domestic affairs' is 'unacceptable'

-- The Hill: Bipartisan lawmakers condemn Iran, dispute State Department on number of protesters killed

-- The Hill: Bolton rips Trump administration's move to block UN meeting on North Korea

-- The Hill: Opinion: Where was American counterintelligence?