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Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq

Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq
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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: President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE has a new firestorm on his hands after explosive excerpts from veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s new book were published Wednesday.

Perhaps most consequential are quotes from Trump himself to Woodward where he said in February the coronavirus is deadlier than the flu and in March admitted he has downplayed the pandemic. The White House denied Trump deliberately misled the public on the threat posed by the virus despite his comments to Woodward, who released audio of the interviews.

But there were also shocking revelations related to defense in the excerpts of “Rage” published by the Washington Post, CNN and others Wednesday.

Trump vs. the generals: The book reportedly has new details about the animosity between Trump and military leaders.

According to excerpts, the book says Trump lashed out at generals in a conversation with White House economic adviser Peter Navarro.

“Not to mention my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” Trump told Navarro, according to Woodward. 

This of course comes on the heels of the controversy over Trump reportedly calling U.S. troops killed in War World I “suckers” and “losers.”

There’s no love lost on the other side, according to the book.

The book reports that former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWhat to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick MORE told then-Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsSenate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security New federal cybersecurity lead says 'rumor control' site will remain up through January Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE that Trump was “dangerous” and “unfit.”

Mattis reportedly warned Coats that “there may come a time when we have to take collective action” against Trump.

In a separate conversation, Mattis said, “The president has no moral compass,” to which Coats responded, “True. To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”

Secret new nuke?: Trump also bragged about a supposedly secret nuclear weapons system in an interview with Woodward, according to the excerpts.

“I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about,” Trump told Woodward.

“We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before,” Trump added, referring to Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIncoming national security adviser calls for immediate release of Kremlin critic Navalny Kremlin critic Navalny detained in Moscow upon return to Russia Navalny planning return to Russia on Sunday MORE and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “There’s nobody — what we have is incredible.”

Woodward’s book says unnamed sources later confirmed a new weapons system but would not provide any further details and were surprised that Trump had disclosed it, the Post reported.

The Pentagon said it does not have a comment "on a book that hasn’t published yet."

Some nuclear experts suggested Trump may have been referring to the controversial submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead, the existence of which is known, although details remain classified.

TOP REPUBLICAN ‘DISMAYED’ BY TRUMP ATTACKS ON MILITARY BRASS: Even as the firestorm over the Woodward book emerges, the controversy started last week over Trump’s relationship with the military continues.

On Wednesday, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee weighed in, saying it is wrong for Trump to question the motivation of U.S. military leaders.

Asked at an event hosted by Defense News on Wednesday whether it was right for Trump to suggest Pentagon officials send troops to war because they are beholden to the defense industry, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas) said flatly, “no.”

“As a matter of fact, I've been a little dismayed at what's happened in the past few days,” continued Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

“I know the president says things for effect a lot, but to have a commander in chief question the motivations of military leaders and basically say they're in it for themselves is wrong, and it gives our adversaries an opening. Even if you think it, you shouldn't say it.”

While there can be valid disagreements with military leaders’ judgment, Thornberry said, “their patriotism is, to me, without question.”

Context: At issue are comments Trump made Monday stating that Pentagon leaders don’t support him because they answer to defense contractors.

“I'm not saying the military is in love with me; the soldiers are,” Trump said at a news conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

And those comments of course came after days of controversy after The Atlantic first reported Trump made disparaging comments about fallen service members.

Support for journalists: On Wednesday, Thornberry also defended Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, who corroborated parts of The Atlantic report. Trump called for her firing over the weekend.

“Jennifer Griffin is as professional and her integrity is as impeccable as anybody I've ever worked with,” Thornberry said.

“So if she says, ‘Somebody told me this,’ you can count on it. Somebody told her that. She is reporting what she has discovered. Again, that doesn't go to the underlying, if that person told her the truth. But what she does, the way she does it, what she says is impeccable.”

IRAQ DRAWDOWN CONFIRMED: The United States will withdraw more than 2,000 troops from Iraq this month, the top U.S. general in the region said Wednesday.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom), announced the reduction from roughly 5,200 troops to 3,000 troops during a visit to Iraq.

“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” McKenzie said, according to excerpts released by Centcom.

“The U.S. decision is a clear demonstration of our continued commitment to the ultimate goal, which is an Iraqi security force that is capable of preventing an ISIS resurgence and of securing Iraq’s sovereignty without external assistance,” McKenzie added. “The journey has been difficult, the sacrifice has been great, but the progress has been significant.”

Political considerations: The announcement comes weeks before the U.S. presidential election, and President Trump has campaigned in part on a claim that he is ending so-called endless wars.

The Trump administration had teased the Iraq announcement to reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday night, with a senior administration official also promising more news about Afghanistan in the coming days.

Asked about the planned Iraq withdrawal on Fox News on Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump is following through on his promise to end “endless wars.” 

“When he says, ‘I’m going to end endless wars,’ it is not a slogan like it’s been for Democrats and past presidents. It is an actual truth. It’s what he wants to do, when you look across the world, he’s defeated the ISIS caliphate,” McEnany said Wednesday morning.  

“He met with the Iraqi prime minister and this was a deliverable from that meeting, the drawdown of U.S. troops. And we believe Iraqi forces are trained and equipped to handle the security of their country,” she continued. 

Iran considerations: Washington and Baghdad have been negotiating the U.S. troop presence in Iraq for months after opposition to U.S. forces grew in that country amid a tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran playing out on Iraqi soil.

The Iraqi anger spiked at the beginning of the year after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was at the Baghdad airport.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan: McKenzie also gave a small number of reporters some more details about plans in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military will be at about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan by early November, McKenzie said, according to Voice of America.

Trump and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Biden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One US meets troops reduction goal in Afghanistan, Iraq MORE have both previously said they expect to be below 5,000 by Election Day.

The U.S. military dropped down to about 8,600 troops earlier this summer in line with the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February.

The deal calls for a full withdrawal by May 2021 if the Taliban upholds its commitment to break with al Qaeda. But McKenzie reiterated Wednesday that the insurgents still have not shown they will do that, according to VOA.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist and other officials speak at the second day of the Defense News Conference starting at 8:25 a.m. https://bit.ly/2Fj78G4

Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, will speak at an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/32eIXBN

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison will participate in a Washington Post Live event at 10 a.m. wapo.st/kbhutchison

National Security Action, a left-leaning national security advocacy group, will host a virtual forum to “take on Trump's failed approach and champion a progressive vision for 2021 and beyond” at 10:30 a.m. Speakers include former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks | Democrats eye action on range of climate bills | Biden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Biden rolls out group of deputy secretary nominees On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE; former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro; former national security adviser Susan Rice; Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP What to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing Biden selects Gensler for SEC chair, Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB MORE (D-Mass.) and others. https://bit.ly/3ig6pEe

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on “Protecting Democracy During COVID-19 in Europe and Eurasia and the Democratic Awakening in Belarus” with testimony from outside experts at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3heUZ2h

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump pushes back on reported cancellation of Navy contracts with Catholic priests

-- The Hill: White House asks for flexibility in Space Force funding in stopgap spending measure

-- The Hill: Opinion: When 'Buy American' and common sense collide

-- Associated Press: Afghan officials: Kabul bomb targets VP, kills 10 civilians

-- Washington Post: He saved scores of lives on D-Day. Lawmakers say he was passed over for the Medal of Honor because he was Black.