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 John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott 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 ThornberryRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide House panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year 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 McCaulChina must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House National security adviser says Trump was not briefed on bounty intelligence, condemns leaks MORE (Texas) and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneySome in Congress want to keep sending our troops to Afghanistan Biggs, Massie call on Trump to remove troops from Afghanistan Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (Wyo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations 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 Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties MORE (Ill.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter Pentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations 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 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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Pelosi on Baltimore's Columbus statue: 'If the community doesn't want the statue, the statue shouldn't be there' MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeIn Russian bounty debate, once again this administration lacks intelligence Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Former Trump intelligence officials say they had trouble briefing him on Russia: report MORE and CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday MORE requesting a full-House briefing, saying that “Congress and the country need answers now.”

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.) 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 robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday 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 RomneyDemocrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads 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 GrahamLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide 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 MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report 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 SchatzCensus workers prepare to go door-knocking in pandemic Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs 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 MORE (D-Hawaii), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools MORE (R-Alaska), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE (D-Calif.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle 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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