Overnight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa

Overnight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday 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.

Programming note: Overnight Defense will be off Monday for Presidents Day. We will return Tuesday.

 

THE TOPLINE: Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanHouse wants documents on McEntee's security clearances Trump says he wants officials who are 'loyal to our country' Trump allies assembled lists of officials considered disloyal to president: report MORE, who provided damaging testimony during President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE's impeachment, is not being investigated by the Army, the service's top civilian said Friday.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed Overnight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Army secretary: 'There's no investigation' into Vindman MORE's comments come days after Trump suggested the military discipline Vindman for his testimony during the House's impeachment inquiry.

"There's no investigation into him," McCarthy said at the National Press Club.

Background: A week ago, Vindman and his twin brother, who did not testify during the impeachment process, were escorted from the White House, where they had been working as National Security Council staffers.

Then on Tuesday, Trump raised the possibility the Army would "take a look" at Vindman.

"We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. 

Asked specifically if the Pentagon should pursue further action against Vindman, Trump said it would be "up to the military."

"But if you look at what happened, they're going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that," Trump added.

 

SOLEIMANI STRIKE JUSTIFICATION: A day after the Senate voted to restrict President Trump's ability to go to war with Iran, the Trump administration sent Congress its legal justification for the drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee released the two-page memo Friday, with committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February MORE (D-N.Y.) blasting its contents as a "spurious, after-the-fact explanation."

Engel said the explanation "won't do."

"We need answers and testimony, so I look forward to Secretary Pompeo testifying before the committee at an open Feb. 28 hearing on Iran and Iraq policy, including the Soleimani strike and war powers," Engel added, referring to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Former Laura Bush staffer decries Taliban's treatment of women amid peace deal Bipartisan Senate resolution would urge UN to renew Iran arms embargo, travel restrictions MORE.

Trump has previously claimed, without evidence, that Soleimani was plotting an imminent attack on U.S. embassies.

Engel argued the document "directly contradicts" Trump's claim of an imminent attack.

"The administration's explanation in this report makes no mention of any imminent threat and shows that the justification the president offered to the American people was false, plain and simple," Engel said.

Administration's argument: Echoing arguments administration officials have made in public, the memo cites a president's constitutional authority to protect national interests from an attack, as well as the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that was passed to authorize the Iraq War.

The report says Article II of the Constitution gives the president the power to "direct the use of military force to protect the nation from an attack or threat of imminent attack and to protect important national interests."

That applied to Iran, the memo says, because it is "responsible for conducting and directing attacks against United States forces in the region."

The memo also cites the 2002 AUMF, which it said the United States has "long relied upon" for military action "for the purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq." Soleimani was in Baghdad when he was killed.

Friday's memo does not discuss a specific imminent plot, but rather says Trump ordered the strike "in response to an escalating series of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on United States forces and interests in the Middle East region."

What's next: As Engel mentioned in his statement, Pompeo is slated to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of the month, after a couple false starts in January.

The House is also expected to take up the Senate-passed Iran war powers resolution. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Stone judge under pressure over calls for new trial MORE (D-Calif.) has said it will happen after the chamber gets back from next week's recess.

 

NONCOMBAT DEATH IN AFRICA: A U.S. service member was killed in a noncombat incident in the Horn of Africa, U.S. Africa Command said in a statement Friday.

The service member died Thursday in a "non-combat related incident in Djibouti," where the military's largest and only permanent outpost on the continent is located.

The statement did not reveal the identity of the service member pending next of kin notification, per Defense Department policy.

Africa Command also did not provide further details, and the cause of death is under investigation.

Context: Roughly 6,000 U.S. military personnel are currently in Africa, the majority of them based at Camp Lemonnier, a Naval Expeditionary Base in Djibouti. The base is home to Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa.

The size and scope of the U.S. military's mission on the continent may change as Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperSaudi military students resume US flight training: report Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Bipartisan Armed Services leaders tear into Pentagon over use of .8B for border wall MORE has for several months been considering a major reduction of troops from West Africa in order to shift forces and focus to better counter Russian and Chinese aggression.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director

-- Military.com: Navy punishes sailors over 'Make Aircrew Great Again' patches worn at Trump speech

-- Associated Press: Esper defends shifting defense funds for Trump's border wall

-- Defense News: The US Navy's budget looks headed for the congressional shredder