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Overnight Defense: Trump rejects major cut to military health care | Senate report says Trump campaign's Russia contacts posed 'grave' threat

Overnight Defense: Trump rejects major cut to military health care | Senate report says Trump campaign's Russia contacts posed 'grave' threat
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Happy Tuesday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE said he rejected a proposal from the Pentagon to cut military health care by $2.2 billion during the pandemic.

The president tweeted his rebuke hours after Politico reported that Department of Defense officials were suggesting cutting health care over the next five years as part of Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperChinese Communist Party is transnational criminal organization, US must respond Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement MORE’s cost-cutting initiatives.

“A proposal by Pentagon officials to slash Military Healthcare by $2.2 billion dollars has been firmly and totally rejected by me,” Trump tweeted. “We will do nothing to hurt our great Military professionals & heroes as long as I am your President. Thank you!"

What the plan initially was: Under the proposal, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness would need to save $2.2 billion in military health, a number that officials settled on after months of discussions during the cost-cutting review, a defense official told Politico.

Two other senior defense officials told the outlet that the effort was rushed and would impact the 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees and their families who depend on the military health care.

Esper and his deputies reportedly argued that the private health care system can fill in the gap of the budget cuts.

About the military health system: The military health system runs hundreds of facilities worldwide and operates Tricare, which allows members to receive civilian health care outside of the military network.

Pentagon spokesperson Lisa Lawrence told Politico that the system "continually assesses how it can most effectively align its assets in support of the National Defense Strategy."

"The MHS will not waver from its mission to provide a ready medical force and a medically ready force," Lawrence said. "Any potential changes to the health system will only be pursued in a manner that ensures its ability to continue to support the Department’s operational requirements and to maintain our beneficiaries access to quality health care."

 

SENATE REPORT DESCRIBES CLOSER TIES BETWEEN 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN, RUSSIA: A Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday detailed significant ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, particularly with former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump Bruce Ohr retires from DOJ Don't forget: The Trump campaign gave its most sensitive data to a Russian spy MORE.

The fifth volume of the panel's much anticipated report, which is more than 950 pages long, examined "Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities” during the high-profile election race and marks the end to a sprawling investigation that began in January 2017.

Among the probe's newest revelations is that Konstantin V. Kilimnik, an associate of Manafort's, was a "Russian intelligence officer." Manafort's contacts also posed a “grave counterintelligence threat,” according to the report.

Manafort’s man: "Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin KilimnikKonstantin KilimnikPutin is no ordinary threat to America The Hill's Morning Report - Jill Biden urges country to embrace her husband Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report MORE. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer," reads the report.

The Senate committee said it also obtained information that suggested Kilimnik was possibly connected to the Russian intelligence service's 2016 hack and leak operation.

"Manafort worked with Kilimnik starting in 2016 on narratives that sought to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election," the report added.

Manafort was sentenced to a total of 7 1/2 years in prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges and being convicted on charges related to his foreign lobbying efforts that were uncovered in the course of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference and potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

About the Senate probe: The Senate Intelligence Committee said it interviewed more than 200 witnesses and reviewed more than 1 million pages of documents to examine the questions of Russia's efforts to sow discord, the U.S. government's response to Moscow, the intelligence community's handling of the threat and counterintelligence threats.

"No probe into this matter has been more exhaustive," acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement Tuesday.

"At nearly 1,000 pages, Volume 5 stands as the most comprehensive examination of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign to date — a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the panel's vice chairman, added in a statement.

How it compares with the Mueller investigation: The committee's findings are a more in-depth look at the interference than Mueller's investigation, but the findings run parallel to the conclusions of Mueller's probe, which found overwhelming evidence of Russia's efforts to interfere in the election through disinformation and cyber campaigns but a lack of sufficient evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin to impact the outcome of the 2016 election.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Warner, the top Republican and Democrat on the committee, respectively, spearheaded the probe until one day before the committee made its classification announcement of the final volume, when Burr announced that he was temporarily stepping aside as chairman of the Senate panel amid a federal investigation into stock trades that he made at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rubio was tapped to take the chairman role in the interim.

Context: The conclusion of the Senate panel's probe comes as security officials and experts are warning that Russia will likely seek to interfere in the upcoming presidential election — as well as other countries. And the panel says these reports provide guidance on how to protect campaigns and elections heading into 2020.

“Now, as we head towards the 2020 elections, China and Iran have joined Russia in attempts to disrupt our democracy, exacerbate societal divisions, and sow doubts about the legitimacy and integrity of our institutions, our electoral process and our republic," Rubio said. "The Committee’s five reports detail the signs and symptoms of that interference and show us how to protect campaigns, state and local entities, our public discourse, and our democratic institutions."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Manafort shared campaign info with Russian intelligence officer, Senate panel finds

– The Hill: Read: Final Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference

– The Hill: DHS chief denies systemic racism in law enforcement

– The Hill: African Union head raises alarm on possible military coup in Mali

– Military Times: Post Office officials backtrack on service changes that delayed veterans’ prescriptions