Overnight Defense: Trump brushes off Milley's apology for church photo-op | Esper orders review of National Guard role in protest response | Top Pompeo aide agrees to testify in probe on watchdog's ouster

Overnight Defense: Trump brushes off Milley's apology for church photo-op | Esper orders review of National Guard role in protest response | Top Pompeo aide agrees to testify in probe on watchdog's ouster
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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.

THE TOPLINE: 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 is shrugging off Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley’s apology over his role in Trump’s controversial church photo-op last week.

In a portion of an interview with Fox News's Harris Faulkner that aired Friday, Trump said he didn’t think it was significant that Milley, the top general in the U.S. military, apologized.

Trump, who defended the controversial appearance as a “beautiful picture,” did not criticize Milley or Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperCongress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Senate Democrats demand to see copies of Trump's intelligence briefings on Russian bounties Overnight Defense: Top general says military must take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols on installations | Milley vows to 'get to bottom' of Russia bounty intel | Woman to join Green Berets for first time MORE for speaking out following last Monday’s events, shrugging off their statements in the interview, which was conducted Thursday.

“No,” Trump said when asked if he believed the apologies were significant. “If that’s the way they feel, I think that’s fine.” 

Trump also argued he has “good relationships with the military,” alleging it was a “joke” and “depleted” when he took office three-and-a-half years ago.

Background: Milley, dressed in military fatigues, and Esper were among the aides who accompanied Trump to St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House last week for a photo-op that happened minutes after federal law enforcement forcibly cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square.

The events have drawn pointed criticism, including specifically from former military officials. 

During a prerecorded address to the National Defense University’s graduation ceremony Thursday, Milley said he regretted his involvement in Trump’s visit to St. John’s because it compromised the military’s apolitical image.

“I should not have been there,” Milley said. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

“We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation and we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the essence of our republic,” he continued.

ICYMI LAST NIGHT … ESPER ORDERS REVIEW OF GUARD’S PROTEST RESPONSE: In other news of Pentagon leaders trying to clean up last week’s mess, Esper announced late Thursday he’s ordered an “After Action Review” of the National Guard’s controversial role in nationwide protests.

The Pentagon chief named Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Army launches command probe after slaying at Fort Hood | 'MAGA' listed as 'covert white supremacy' in military handout Army announces review of Fort Hood command in the wake of slaying of Vanessa Guillén Army probing how 'MAGA' was listed as 'covert white supremacy' in handout MORE to lead the review, which is due by July 30 and will look at the Guard’s “recent efforts in support of law enforcement to address civil unrest,” specifically in the past two weeks, according to a Defense Department statement.

In the statement, Esper said the Guard “has performed professionally and capably in support of law enforcement in cities across the United States.”

Esper’s order of the review also comes as the Army is conducting an internal investigation into National Guard helicopter pilots who performed low-flying maneuvers to disperse crowds of protesters in Washington, D.C., on June 1.

POMPEO AIDE AGREES TO TESTIFY: A top aide to 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 has agreed to appear before a House committee probing the ouster of the State Department’s independent watchdog, according to a letter sent to Congress and obtained by The Hill.

Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao can appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 22 or June 23, Pompeo informed Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelMany Democrats want John Bolton's testimony, but Pelosi stays mum China must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong Voice of America not extending foreign journalists' visas: report MORE (D-N.Y.) in a letter sent late Thursday. The letter was first reported by the Associated Press on Friday.

Democrats are looking into whether State Department Inspector General Steve Linick’s firing amounted to an act of political retaliation.

In his letter, Pompeo said he was responding to a “nasty insinuation” by Engel that he was aware of the Linick’s probe into alleged misuse of federal resources by the secretary and his wife. Pompeo included a letter from Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun refuting claims that senior officials shared any knowledge of Linick’s investigation with the secretary. 

Pompeo also doubled down on his justification for firing Linick, saying he had “strange and erratic behavior.”

Political shots: Pompeo also took a shot at the 16-term congressman over his upcoming primary on June 23. 

“I hear you’ve been busy in your district, so let me get you up to speed on what’s been happening in your committee,” he wrote, with a footnote referring to a news report that said Engel is “fighting for his political survival.”

Engel responded by saying he is “puzzled why Secretary Pompeo’s letter includes so many errors" but that he's "glad that the department is moving toward what the committees requested weeks ago: allowing Mr. Bulatao to speak on the record about the firing of Inspector General Linick.” 


The Association of the United States Army will host a “Thought Leaders” webinar with retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2UBaA3O

The Atlantic Council will host a virtual fireside chat with the energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Al Mazrouei, at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3dSur61


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-- Washington Post: U.S. military faces a reckoning on how to handle its Confederate symbols without provoking Trump

-- Reuters: Four killed, eight wounded in blast at Kabul mosque during Friday prayers

-- Task and Purpose: Meet the former soldier who gave National Guardsmen in DC an impromptu phalanx lesson in this viral video

-- CNN: Top Pentagon policy nominee has a history of Islamophobic and offensive comments