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Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police

Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police
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Happy Monday 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: Washington is facing a bipartisan uproar over reports that the intelligence community concluded months ago that Russia offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Lawmakers, including a chorus of Republicans who are typically reticent to confront President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE, are demanding answers as Trump seeks to deflect blame and responsibility.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats — calling the reported Russian operation “egregious” and “disturbing” — say Trump’s explanations only raise more questions that the administration must answer immediately.

“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me, should have been briefed immediately to the commander-in-chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” said Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

Background: The New York Times first reported Friday that the intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit within the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.

Trump was briefed on the intelligence, and officials had deliberated potential response options but the White House had not authorized any further action, the report said.

The Washington Post then reported Sunday that intelligence assessments concluded the Russian bounties led to the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Other news outlets have since confirmed the Times reporting, with some newspapers citing British government officials, who were briefed by the U.S. last week on the intelligence.

White House responses: Statements by the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have disputed that Trump was briefed but have not addressed the credibility of the intelligence.

Shortly after the Post’s Sunday report, Trump claimed the intelligence was not credible.

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” he tweeted late Sunday night. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Trump, however, stands alone in questioning the accuracy of the intelligence. Later Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there was “no consensus” and “dissenting opinions” within the intelligence community about the credibility of the information, remarks that are markedly different from Trump’s claims.

She did not answer questions about whether elements of the intelligence were included in Trump’s daily presidential briefing. 

Briefing for Republicans, Dems call for more: On Monday, the White House briefed at least seven Republicans: Thornberry, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulBiden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Hillicon Valley: Companies urge action at SolarWinds hearing | Facebook lifts Australian news ban | Biden to take action against Russia in 'weeks' Lawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office MORE (Texas) and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyConservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Senate GOP works to avoid having '22 war with Trump MORE (Wyo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerTaylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Kinzinger gets pro-Trump primary challenger Conservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks MORE (Ill.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHere are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Cuomo job approval drops 6 points amid nursing home controversy: poll House Democrats request documents from DHS intelligence office about Jan. 6 attack MORE (N.Y.), a source familiar with the meeting said. 

Democratic leaders are calling for briefings for the full House and Senate.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE and CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE requesting a full-House briefing, saying that “Congress and the country need answers now.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) released his own statement, making the same request for the two intelligence leaders to immediately brief senators.

Thornberry and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops to stay in DC over concerns of potential violence in March Langevin hopeful new Armed Services panel will shine new spotlight on cybersecurity MORE (D-Wash.) have also demanded a briefing from the Pentagon for their full committee this week, but Thornberry and a Democratic committee spokesperson said they have not received a response from the Defense Department.

“If the reports are true, that the administration knew about this Russian operation and did nothing, they have broken the trust of those who serve and the commitment to their families to ensure their loved one’s safety,” Smith said in a statement Monday. “It is imperative that the House Armed Services Committee receive detailed answers from the Department of Defense.”

The Pentagon “has received the invitation” from Smith and Thornberry and “is working to address the request,” department spokesman Jessica Maxwell said. The department declined to comment on the reports about the intelligence.

NDAA AMENDMENTS TARGET HOT BUTTON ISSUES: The Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill cleared another procedural hurdle Monday, with senators voting 89-4 on a motion to proceed.

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendments are also still rolling in. As mentioned in this space before, hundreds of amendments are filed to the NDAA every year but only a handful normally end up getting a roll-call vote on the floor.  

One amendment from a bipartisan group of senators tries to place limits on Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany unless the administration is able to meet a slew of requirements. 

The proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Utah), would prohibit the administration from reducing the number of active-duty troops in Germany below 34,500 unless the Pentagon can certify to Congress that it is in the national security interest of the United States and would not negatively undermine European alliances or NATO. 

It would also require the Defense secretary to certify that the move would not impact the U.S. military's ability to "execute contingency plans," wouldn't negatively impact ongoing operations, won't impact military families and that the Pentagon has consulted with allies including NATO and Germany.  

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Mehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsTrumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats Pelosi's '9/11-type' commission to investigate Capitol riot could prove dangerous for Democrats Key players to watch in minimum wage fight MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democrats in standoff over minimum wage Democrats plan crackdown on rising drug costs MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks MORE (D-N.H.) are co-sponsoring the proposal.  

In addition to Romney's amendment, Graham filed a separate proposal throwing the Senate's support behind the U.S.-Germany relationship. 

"The presence of United States military forces in Germany is a strong deterrent against Russian aggression in Europe and strengthens the capability of NATO," Graham's resolution reads.

Limiting military equipment for police: Another bipartisan group of senators introduced an NDAA amendment Monday to limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies, a practice that has come under increased scrutiny amid protests against police brutality sparked by George Floyd's death last month.

Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to lift rule putting major financial burden on USPS MORE (D-Hawaii), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWashington Post denounces abuse of reporter Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee MORE (R-Alaska), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTo unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination MORE (D-Calif.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) are offering the measure.

“There is a growing bipartisan consensus that giving local law enforcement military equipment such as bayonets, grenade launchers, armor-piercing bullets, and tear gas is immoral and does nothing to keep people safe,” Schatz said in a statement. 

The bipartisan proposal would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which allows the Defense Department to pass on excess equipment to local agencies, by prohibiting the transfer of equipment including tear gas, armor-piercing firearms and ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers and grenades, combat tracked vehicles, and drones, according to a release from Schatz’s office.

The proposed amendment would not prohibit the transfer of defensive equipment.

The program has been back in the spotlight amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality sparked by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. 

In the House: This week is also a big week for the NDAA in the lower chamber as the House Armed Services Committee prepares to consider its version Wednesday.

In his conference call with reporters Monday, Thornberry predicted an amendment on the Germany issue, but said lawmakers are still in discussion about the exact language.

Thornberry was also asked where he stands on the issue of renaming Confederate-named bases. Thornberry would not explicitly state where he stands on the expected amendment to require the Pentagon do that, citing the fact that the exact language is still being worked out.

But he said bases’ local communities should be given ample say in the matter rather than lawmakers “making rash decisions in the heat of the moment.”

“I think most everybody is willing to move forward in some way,” Thornberry said. “It's a question of how and when and, for me, making sure that all of these folks who care about this, have an interest in this are heard from.”

“I just am always hesitant about Congress having a know-it-all attitude without even talking to the folks who live there,” he added. “The country's eyes have been opened a lot on residual racism and evidence of it over the past several weeks. And in many ways, I think that's a healthy thing. … So I think that's good, we just need to, again, not assume that we know everything in Washington better than the rest of the country.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from outside experts on “COVID-19 and U.S. International Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention and Response” in a virtual hearing at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2BlWAV4

Mark Lewis, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for modernization, will discuss the department’s modernization priorities at noon in a video event hosted by the Hudson Institute. https://bit.ly/2CTpdJG

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