Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19

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.

TOPLINE: The Pentagon’s former top watchdog, whom President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE replaced last month, has resigned from the inspector general’s office, officials announced on Tuesday.

Glenn Fine submitted his resignation Tuesday morning as the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general, saying in a statement that he believes “the time has come for me to step down and allow others to perform this vital role” after several years at the Department of Defense (DOD) and Justice Department.

“It has been an honor to serve in the inspector general community, both as the inspector general of the Department of Justice and the DoD acting inspector general and principal deputy inspector general performing the duties of the DoD inspector general,” Fine said in a statement.

“The role of inspectors general is a strength of our system of government,” he continued. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way.  They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

Earlier: Fine had been serving as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general since 2016, after coming to the watchdog’s office in 2015. He also served as the Justice Department’s inspector general from 2000 to 2011.

In April, Trump named a new acting inspector general, as well as nominated someone to take on the job permanently. The move meant Fine reverted to his previous position as the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general.

The move also kicked Fine off a panel of inspectors general charged with overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. A week before Trump’s move, Fine was named to chair the panel, called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Lawmaker response: Fine's departure led to an outcry among Democratic lawmakers Tuesday, with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeting that "every day, we are seeing more examples of how President Trump—enabled by Senate Republicans—has been abusing this pandemic to eliminate honest, independent public servants and inspectors general who are willing to speak truth to power."

House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence New York candidates left on hold as primary results trickle in MORE (D-N.Y.) said in her own statement on Fine's resignation that there "can be no doubt that this is a direct result of President Trump’s actions."

"It is a shame that our nation is losing such a dedicated public servant who has given so much to this country," Maloney added.

A larger purge? Trump’s replacement of Fine has been seen as a part of a larger purge of inspectors general across the federal government. The president has fired or replaced four other inspectors general in recent months.

Most recently, Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick at Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Amazon backtracks, says email asking employees to delete TikTok was sent in error Amazon asks employees to delete TikTok from mobile devices: report MORE's request, a move that has come under intense scrutiny after reports emerged that Linick was investigating Pompeo.

 

TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN BACK STATESIDE BY ELECTION DAY? Top military officials this week are reportedly set to present President Trump with several options for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, including a plan that would bring forces back stateside before the presidential election in November.

The New York Times reported that the defense leaders also plan to propose and press for a slower draw down, as a sped-up timeline would jeopardize the peace deal the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.

That deal, which committed the U.S. military to drawing down from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 troops in the country by mid-July, also lays out a full U.S. withdrawal within 14 months after its signing if the Taliban honors its counterterrorism commitments.

The issue with a fast plan: Pentagon officials, who have long said any further withdrawal beyond the 8,600 would be “conditions based,” worry that a plan that would pull troops by November would not incentivize the Taliban to reduce attacks, which were high in the first three months of the year.

No target date, Trump says: “We’re not acting as soldiers, we’re acting as police. We’re there 19 years and, yeah, I think that’s enough," Trump told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the report.

"We’re having very positive talks. We want to bring our soldiers back home. We want to bring them back home. And we’re not only talking about there, we’re talking about other countries also."

Trump added that he had no target date for a total withdrawal, "but as soon as reasonable.”

Pentagon: ‘Conditions-based’ still policy: Asked about the report on Tuesday, top Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said it is still the department’s policy to have a conditions-based withdrawal but would not comment on any upcoming meeting between Trump and senior defense officials.

“I would not share with you what potential options that we would be discussing with the president,” Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.

“I think it’s been clear for some time that the U.S. has been looking at different options in how we are going to continue with our presence in Afghanistan.”

The background: Trump has long pressed for an end to the Afghanistan War, but the process has been complicated by continued Taliban attacks and the inability to guarantee that the country won’t once again become a hotbed for terrorist activity against the United States once U.S. troops leave.

In the days after the peace deal was signed, for example, the Taliban announced it would no longer adhere to the reduction in violence and picked up attacks against Afghan forces.

Trying to get ahead of surprises: Trump in the past has surprised the Pentagon with sudden directives, including the unexpected December 2018 order to remove troops from Syria. That move prompted the resignation of former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet Budowsky: Biden-Duckworth would be America's team Trump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report MORE and forced the president to walk back his plans.

Trump then in October 2019 ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria – where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies – subsequently allowing Turkey to attack the vulnerable population that had helped the U.S. military defeat ISIS in the country.

 

THIRD SERVICE MEMBER KILLED BY CORONAVIRUS: A third U.S. service member has died from the coronavirus, according to Pentagon figures released Tuesday.

The death was included in the Pentagon’s coronavirus fact sheet issued each business day, which includes aggregate numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a briefing later Tuesday the service member was an Army reservist from Wisconsin, adding he does not believe the soldier "was on any COVID-related orders."

The others affected: The unidentified soldier joins Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. and Army Capt. Douglas Linn Hickock as service members killed by COVID-19.

Thacker, a 41-year-old aviation ordnanceman, was one of more than 1,000 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt who contracted the virus. He remains the only fatality from the Roosevelt outbreak, which erupted into a political firestorm after the ship’s former commander wrote a letter pleading for help with the outbreak.

Hickock, the first service member to die from the virus, was a New Jersey National Guardsman and a physician’s assistant.

The current numbers: In total, the Pentagon reported 35 coronavirus deaths connected to the department as of Tuesday morning. The total includes two more civilian deaths since the last report Friday, bringing the total number of Pentagon civilians killed to 18.

A total of 6,118 service members have had the virus, according to the figures, including 165 who have been hospitalized and 3,460 who have recovered.

Pentagon-wide, there have been 9,173 coronavirus cases, according to the fact sheet.

 

FROM THIS WEEKEND – OPEN SKIES WITHDRAWAL THROWS NUCLEAR TREATY INTO QUESTION: President Trump’s move this week to withdraw from an international pact meant to prevent accidental war has added to concerns about the fate of a separate arms control treaty with Russia.

The Trump administration says formal talks with Moscow on extending the New START agreement, which places limits on deployed nuclear warheads, will start imminently. But after Trump announced Thursday he is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, arms control advocates raised fresh doubt about the future of New START, which is set to expire in February.

Trump has shown deep skepticism toward international agreements — and those negotiated under the Obama administration in particular — but the administration insists it hasn’t given up on arms control.

Asked during an interview on Fox News if the White House would also pull out of New START, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said, “I don't think so.”

But the person Trump has tapped to negotiate an extension or replacement has made no guarantees, saying at a think tank event this past week he’s “not going to speculate” on whether the treaty will be extended “at this very early stage” and arguing the United States could win an arms race if need be.

 

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Atlantic Council will hold a webcast on “Drone attacks against critical infrastructure in the Middle East,” with former Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long, at 9 a.m.

Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command; and Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, will speak during a George Washington Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conference call at 2 p.m.

The National Security Institute will hold a conversation on the national security implications of pandemics, climate change, and the erosion of faith in public institutions, with former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump's actions on China speak louder than Bolton's words GOP votes to give Graham broad subpoena power in Obama-era probe Graham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over MORE at 5 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

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– The Hill: Pentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire
 
– The Hill: Trump admin has looked at conducting first US nuclear test since '90s citing threat from Russia, China: report
 
– The Hill: Key House lawmakers reach deal on surveillance law amendment
 
– The Hill: Postponed Russian World War II victory parade now set for June