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Overnight Defense: Nearly 500 former national security officials formally back Biden | 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds

Overnight Defense: Nearly 500 former national security officials formally back Biden | 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds
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Happy Thursday 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: bipartisan group of 489 former national security officials have endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE.

The group, National Security Leaders for Biden, said that 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 “has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office” and “cannot rise to meet challenges large or small.”

“Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us," the group wrote in a letter released Thursday.

Who signed the letter: Those who signed the letter include 22 retired four-star generals and numerous high-profile Republicans such as former Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

The Republican officials — several of whom were part of the 70 former national security officials who signed on to a separate endorsement of Biden last month — have served under Trump as well as former Republican Presidents George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Reagan.

What they argue: They say Trump has little empathy, shrugs off responsibility and has allowed climate change and North Korea’s nuclear program to continue unabated.

Trump has also “ceded influence to a Russian adversary who puts bounties on the heads of American military personnel,” they write, referring to allegations that Trump selectively chose to ignore intelligence reports about Russian bounties placed on U.S. service members in the Middle East.

The bounty information was reportedly included in at least one of the president's written briefings in February, though the president has dismissed the reports.

Boosting Biden: The group said on Thursday that they believe Biden “has the character, principles, wisdom, and leadership necessary to address a world on fire.”

Biden “has learned hard lessons and grown as a leader who can take positive action to unite and heal our country. It is unthinkable that he would ever utter the phrase ‘I don’t take responsibility at all,’ ” the group writes.

The group was referring to comments made by Trump in a recorded interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward, in which the president deflected blame for his administration’s sluggish ability to test Americans for the coronavirus.

Earlier...: The letter comes after an article in The Atlantic, which reported that Trump canceled a 2018 trip to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris, questioning whether it was necessary to visit a cemetery “filled with losers.”

Trump has denied the report.

40 GROUPS CALL ON HOUSE PANEL TO INVESTIGATE PENTAGON’S USE OF COVID FUNDS: A coalition of 40 organizations from across the political spectrum is calling for a congressional investigation into how the Pentagon used $1 billion in coronavirus relief funds.

In a letter to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the groups also urged lawmakers to consider passing a new bill to suspend the Department of Defense's (DOD) authority to use the funding.

“We believe the Pentagon’s decision-making with these funds, as recently reported, violates congressional intent at minimum, and represents a significant breach of trust with the taxpayers who fund the military’s budget and its emergency spending,” the organizations wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill ahead of its public release.

The letter was organized by progressive group Win Without War, the right-leaning National Taxpayers Union and the Project on Government Oversight.

What they said: “We believe that the select subcommittee should investigate when, how, and why the Pentagon decided that it could use these specific CARES Act funds in contravention of Congressional intent,” the letter said. “Any findings should be shared with the public to the maximum extent practicable. We would also ask that the select subcommittee consider recommending a rescission of DoD’s budget authority for this $1 billion fund in order to ensure Congress’s constitutional spending authority is not being violated.” 

Why this comes now: A subcommittee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, which comes after a Washington Post report Tuesday detailed how the Pentagon has used most of a $1 billion fund allocated by the CARES Act on defense contractors rather than medical supplies.

The DOD awarded contracts for jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms, among other military equipment, which critics argue is in contravention of the CARES Act stipulation that the funds be used to “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.”

The Pentagon’s response: The Pentagon has defended itself, arguing the money was never intended to be restricted to medical supplies, that it kept Congress fully informed of its plans and that helping the defense industrial bases through the pandemic is an appropriate response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“As indicated by recent reporting, there appears to be a misunderstanding by some about what the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES” Act) did and did not do with respect to the Department of Defense,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a seven-paragraph statement Wednesday.

“The CARES Act did not limit — nor did it intend to limit in its language — the use of Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III to only medical resources,” he added. “As part of the efforts to mitigate economic damage, the act allowed monies to be spent to support individuals and industries that had been impacted by COVID. This is exactly what DOD has done.”

Renewed outrage: While the Post report provided new details on the exact contracts the Pentagon has awarded, the department notified Congress in late May it planned to use $688 million of the funding to shore up the defense industrial base. Several news outlets, including the Post itself, reported on the notification at the time.

Ellen Lord, under secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, also testified before the House Armed Services Committee in June on plans to use funding on the defense industrial base (DIB).

Those disclosures prompted the House Appropriations Committee in July to write in a report accompanying the annual defense spending bill that “the committee’s expectation was that the department would address the need for PPE [personal protective equipment] industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB.”

Nonetheless, the Post report set off a new wave of outrage. On Tuesday, two House Democrats called for a congressional investigation into the issue.

“For the administration to choose to use funds Congress made available to fight COVID-19 on the wish lists of defense contractors, instead of first protecting troops and the general public from the spread of the coronavirus, is unconscionable and should be investigated fully and prosecuted if warranted,” Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Barrett touts independence to sidestep confirmation questions Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wis.) and Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Democrats accuse tech companies of deceitful tactics in campaign against Calif. ballot measure Congress fiddles while the US burns, floods, and ails MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to several committee chairs Tuesday. 

ON TAP

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonTrump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Overnight Defense: Congress recommends nuclear arms treaty be extended | Dems warn Turkey | Military's eighth COVID death identified Bipartisan congressional task force recommends extending nuclear treaty with Russia MORE (D-Mass.), and; Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) will speak at a Brookings Institution webinar on “The Future of Defense Task Force's Final Report: Reviewing the Nation's Defense Assets and Capabilities,” at 10 a.m. https://www.brookings.edu/events/the-future-of-defense-task-forces-final-report-reviewing-the-nations-defense-assets-and-capabilities/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20092420_09/24/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

Approximately 70 World War II aircraft will fly over the Washington Mall in historically sequenced warbird formations representing the major World War II battles beginning at 

11:30 a.m. https://ww2flyover.org/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20092420_09%2F24%2F2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Democrats accuse VA head of misusing resources to stump for Trump, vulnerable GOP senators MORE (D-Calif.), retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, and Jen Silvan, chief program officer at the Wounded Warrior Project, will speak at a Brookings Institution webinar on “The Policy Needs of America's Veterans,” at 2 p.m. https://www.brookings.edu/events/the-policy-needs-of-americas-veterans/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20092420_09/24/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Trump nominates former Nunes aide to serve as intel community inspector general

– The Hill: FBI director warns that Chinese hackers are still targeting US COVID-19 research

– The Hill: Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials

– The Hill: South Korea says missing official was killed by North Korean troops

– Stars and Stripes: Gen. Milley: Military services working to remove all identifying information from promotions processes

– The Associated Press: Charges dismissed against man accused of mailing explosives to military, government facilities