Overnight Defense: Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities l Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war

Overnight Defense: Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities l Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war
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Happy Friday 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.

 

THE TOPLINE: A new union survey found that nearly 80 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees thought racism was a problem at the VA, with more than half reporting that they have seen racial discrimination against veterans while working there.

In a nationwide survey released Friday, 78 percent of workers reported that racism is a moderate to serious problem at the VA, according to data collected by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal union that represents hundreds of thousands of VA employees.

The data, taken from about 1,500 VA staff members, also found that 76 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced racially-charged actions while working at the U.S. government’s second-largest organization. Another 55 percent said they had witnessed racial discrimination against veterans while on the job.

“It’s shocking that in 2020, not only are we still having to contend with racism at an agency of the federal government, but that it’s getting worse” AFGE National President Everett Kelley told reporters on Friday. “These survey results are shocking and unacceptable and must be addressed.”

The VA’s response: The VA on Friday pushed back on the survey, calling AFGE “one of the least credible authorities in this country regarding harassment, abuse and unfair treatment,” and the survey a “desperate attempt” by the union to deflect attention from a lawsuit against it and its former president J. David Cox. Cox, who was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting employees at AFGE, resigned in February but has denied the allegations.

“VA does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form,” VA spokesperson Christina Noel said in a statement to The Hill.

Noel added that the VA over the last two years “has boosted its rating from 17th to 6th among large federal agencies” in a “best places to work” survey.

Context: The review comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody, which incited ongoing nationwide protests over racial injustice.

Employee accounts: VA employees, meanwhile, detailed racism at department facilities that they say have occurred for years.

At the Kansas City VA Medical Center, for example, Navy veteran Charmayne Brown said she endured racial slurs and sexually suggestive language from superiors and was repeatedly passed up for promotions, facing backlash when she spoke out.

Brown has filed 18 complaints against the facility and is one of 50 employees - joined by the local American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP - who are demanding high-level VA officials intervene and Congress hold a hearing to look into the matter.

 

TRUMP ADVISORS WERE WARY OF TALKING MILITARY OPTIONS OVER FEAR OF STARTING WAR: President Trump’s advisers were wary to talk to him about military options over fears he’d accidentally start a war, CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported Thursday.

Sciutto, CNN’s chief national security correspondent, said multiple former administration officials told him that as tensions rose with North Korea and Iran, Trump’s advisers told foreign officials that they did not know what the president would choose to do next. 

These interviews are highlighted in his book “The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World,” which is set to be published Aug. 11.

The North Korea concern: Senior members of the administration were concerned after Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “little rocket man” in 2017 and Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard.” They had feared the name-calling would evolve into the president ordering military action against North Korea, CNN reported. 

Joseph Yun, who served as Trump's special representative for North Korea policy until 2018, said military advisers were reluctant to give the president all of the options out of fear he would order an attack. He said the White House was frustrated with the limited options, but the Department of Defense under former Secretary James Mattis stood its ground.

"We used to only think of Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnFormer GOP lawmakers on endorsing Biden: Trump is no Republican, 'lacks basic self-control' North Korean leader Kim apologizes over killing of South Korean official Pelosi knocks Trump over refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power MORE as unpredictable. Now we had Trump as unpredictable," Yun told Sciutto. "And I would communicate that."

The White House’s response: A senior White House official told CNN that with North Korea, "it was the President who at every turn has encouraged diplomacy over escalation. He took the historic step of meeting with [Kim Jong Un] in person to encourage de-escalation."

The Iran concern: In 2019, senior Pentagon officials told U.S. partners and Iranian leaders that they didn’t know how Trump would respond when the White House was considering action against Iran for attacks in the Persian Gulf.

"It was possible he could make a decision that would lead to an escalation of the conflict, and that escalation could lead to war, so they needed to relay that to Iran so they realized not even his staff knew what would happen if they attacked another oil facility, for instance,” Mick Mulroy, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East until 2019, told CNN.

Before that, in September 2019, Pentagon officials told Sciutto they were surprised when Trump requested retaliation through a National Security Council (NSC) official when some mortar shells hit the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad without causing damage or casualties. 

A former U.S. official told CNN that the NSC official called them on a Sunday requesting military options that day.

Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly muted the line during a call with the White House and asked, “Is this a joke?”

“‘He said, 'Is this a joke? They really want us to propose direct military action into Iran, against Iran, based on this?'" the former official told the network. "And I said, 'No, we've been dealing with this all morning. Have they spent any time in Iraq?' This is a constant thing."

The order that did go through: The president did instruct a military attack that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani earlier this year, which Tehran responded to by launching a strike against a U.S. base in Iraq, injuring several. 

Senior officials were worried if the U.S. attacked within Iran, war would break out.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: US sent texts to Russians, Iranians offering reward for info on election interference
 
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– The Washington Post: Senators question Pentagon nominee about whether firm trained Saudi journalist’s killers
 
– CNBC: SpaceX and ULA win billions in Pentagon rocket contracts, beating out Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman