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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

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
© Greg Nash

Programming note: Overnight Defense will be taking a break for the Fourth of July holiday. We will return Monday, July 6. Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

Happy Wednesday 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: The House Armed Services Committee is in the midst of its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup.

In a twist, the markup might be somewhat less of a marathon and more of a relay this year. At the beginning of the session, Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithClimate swarming — Biden's 'Plan B' for the planet Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget MORE (D-Wash.) announced that he would break up the markup into two days if it looks like there are still hours of debate left at around midnight.

Last year’s markup went until about 7 a.m. the next morning, and there were cheers in the hearing room Wednesday when Smith insisted he would not do that again this year.

But it’s not clear a second day will even be needed. The committee sped through all the subcommittee portions, getting to the so-called chairman mark portion of the bill just before 3 p.m.

The chairman’s mark is when the most controversial topics come up, so things have slowed down a bit now.

A couple hot-button topics have come up so far. The committee has debated amendments seeking to limit President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE’s ability to withdraw troops from Germany and requiring the Pentagon change the names of Confederate-named property.

Roll call votes were requested for both of those amendments, meaning they won’t be voted on until the panel is done debating all the amendments.

Stay tuned to TheHill.com to see how those and other expected amendments turn out.

Confederate flags: So far, the most notable amendment that has been adopted is one that would ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on all Pentagon property.

The measure was approved Wednesday without debate by voice vote as part of a package of dozens of noncontroversial amendments when the committee considered the readiness subcommittee’s portion of the bill.

The amendment, from Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Fauci to serve as Biden's chief medical adviser Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity House Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names MORE (D-Md.), would ban the public display of the flag, including on bumper stickers and clothing, at all Defense Department property, including bases, workspaces and front porches of military housing.

“Recent, tragic events have underscored how much farther we have to go to heal the racial divisions that have plagued this country since our founding,” Brown said in a statement after the vote. “Prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag — a symbol that for so many represents white supremacy, oppression and terror — in our military is an important step in that reckoning.”

The amendment would create exceptions for museums or other educational displays about the Civil War, state flags that incorporate the Confederate emblem, state-issued license plates and grave sites of Confederate soldiers.

Russia bounties expected to be addressed: Wednesday morning, a pair of House Democrats said they expect to address the intelligence showing Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops — as well as Trump’s handling of the issue.

In a conference call with reporters, Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowGiffords launches national Gun Owners for Safety group to combat the NRA House approves .2T COVID-19 relief bill as White House talks stall Lawmakers grill Pentagon over Trump's Germany drawdown MORE (D-Colo.) said he expects to offer an amendment with House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Trump: Liz Cheney's election remarks sparked by push to bring US troops home Biden's lead over Trump surpasses 6M votes as more ballots are tallied MORE (Wyo.) that would, among other things, require the administration provide Congress information about any bounty program and Russia’s involvement in it.

It would be part of a proposal Crow and Cheney previously introduced to require the administration make several certifications to Congress before further drawing down in Afghanistan.

In the same call, Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonBattle for Pentagon post in Biden Cabinet heats up US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' MORE (D-Mass.) also said he anticipated the bounty issue coming up when the House Armed Services Committee considers the NDAA later Wednesday, but that discussions about exactly how to address it are ongoing.

“This is not the kind of issue that we should have to deal with in the NDAA. This would not be a standard forum for dealing with a case of dereliction of duty by the commander in chief himself,” Moulton said.

“If this does not count as treason, I don't know what does,” he added about Trump’s response to the intelligence.

Veto threat: While you were (optimistically) sleeping Tuesday night, Trump threatened to veto the NDAA if it includes a requirement to strip bases of Confederate names.

“I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth 'Pocahontas' Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!” Trump tweeted late Tuesday.

Trump was referring to an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (D-Mass.), that is in the Senate’s version of the NDAA. The Warren amendment, which was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee in a voice vote, would require the bases be renamed within three years.

PENTAGON REPORT SAYS RUSSIA WORKING TO SPEED US WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN: Russia is working with the Taliban, Afghan government and others with interests in Afghanistan to hasten a U.S. military withdrawal from the country, the Pentagon said in a report released Wednesday.

“Russia very likely continues to support U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts in the hope that reconciliation will prevent a long-term U.S. military presence,” the semiannual report to Congress said.

“As of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a U.S. military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal,” the report added.

The Pentagon has previously accused Russia of supporting the Taliban by providing the insurgents weapons and other materials in the semiannual reports and other statements.

But the latest report is being issued amid the firestorm in Washington over news reports on intelligence that a Russian intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, a newly revealed form of Russian support to the Taliban some lawmakers say represents an egregious escalation.

Gang of 8 briefing: CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint A strong, committed intelligence community is part of America's good fortune Women set to take key roles in Biden administration MORE and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will brief congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight” on the bounty intelligence Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed at a Wednesday press briefing.

The “Gang of Eight” includes the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate as well as the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

McEnany told reporters she was unsure whether anyone other than Haspel and Nakasone would participate in Thursday’s briefing.

Administration officials and Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Pompeo imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over 'intimidation' tactics Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security MORE earlier this week briefed select lawmakers at the White House, but lawmakers have pressed for more information on reports about alleged bounties offered by Russia to Taliban-linked fighters who kill coalition forces in Afghanistan. Democrats have described their briefing as highly insufficient.

On Wednesday, Ratcliffe, who was a Republican congressman until recently being confirmed as Trump’s spy chief, traveled to Capitol Hill to brief members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Thursday’s briefing will include Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.), both of whom have demanded a full briefing from top intelligence officials for all members of Congress.

Trump dismisses ‘hoax’: Trump claimed early Wednesday that reports about suspected Russian bounties on coalition forces in Afghanistan were a “hoax” meant to damage him politically.

“The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted. “The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!”

Trump has used similar terminology to attempt to discredit former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE’s Russia investigation, dismiss his impeachment and criticize House Democrats for scrutinizing his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The president claimed in a subsequent tweet Wednesday morning that intelligence officials did not brief him on the matter “because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level.”

Menendez offers NDAA amendment: Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale Judge whose son was killed by gunman: 'Federal judiciary is under attack' Emergency housing assistance for older adults needed now MORE (N.J.) introduced a proposal on Wednesday to slap sanctions on Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHow Trump's election lawsuits became his worst nightmare Enforcing the Presidential Records Act is essential for preserving our democracy's transparency, history Putin says doctors and teachers will get first COVID-19 vaccines in new immunization campaign MORE over the bounty reports.

The proposal from Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would impose a visa ban and an asset freeze on Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, as well as other Russian officials allegedly involved in the targeting of U.S. troops.

“As more details continue to surface on this despicable Russian campaign, Donald Trump has proven once again that he is incapable of protecting our troops and our country. Congress must again step up and defend our people and institutions from Kremlin aggression,” Menendez said in a statement.

“It would be unconscionable if the Senate let this moment pass. The NDAA should not move forward without consideration of this amendment,” he added. 

Hundreds of amendments are offered to the defense bill every year but only a handful get a vote, meaning Menendez likely faces an uphill battle if he wants to get his proposal included. 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, will speak at an online event hosted by the Brookings Institution at 2 p.m. https://brook.gs/3dRadc2

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole

-- The Hill: Pompeo pushes back on Russian bounty reports

-- The Hill: 1 suspect dead, 1 arrested in disappearance of US soldier

-- Military Times: Increased testing and regional outbreaks are to blame for military’s COVID-19 spike, officials say

-- Washington Post: Use of military contractors shrouds true costs of war. Washington wants it that way, study says.

-- Associated Press: France freezes role in NATO naval force amid Turkey tensions