Overnight Defense: Biden nets military family endorsements | Final debate features North Korea exchange | Judge refuses to dismiss sexual assault case against top general
Happy Friday 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: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden can count hundreds of military family members among his supporters.
In an open letter released Friday, more than 300 spouses, parents, siblings and children of service members endorsed Biden as a “man of integrity with a lifelong record of public service and leadership.”
“Joe and Jill Biden are a military family,” the endorsers wrote. “They are intimately familiar with the fear, anxiety and pride that come with sending a loved one into harm’s way. But they are more than a military family. They have been staunch advocates for service members, veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
President Trump’s actions, by contrast, have “convinced us that he does not value the lives of those who serve,” the letter said.
Endorsements battle: The new letter comes as Biden racks up national security-related endorsements.
Earlier this week, nearly 300 more former national security officials added their names to an endorsement letter that already had nearly 500 signatures, including dozens of retired four-star officers and several officials who served under Trump.
The Trump campaign, for its part, has released an endorsement letter from 235 retired officers.
Who signed: Among the more high-profile signatories on Friday’s letter are Annie McChrystal, whose husband, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, endorsed Biden earlier this month; Joyce Raezer, former executive director of the National Military Family Association; former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who previously endorsed Biden, and his wife Dorothy McAuliffe; and Kathy Roth-Douquet, co-founder of Blue Star Families.
Mary Winnefeld, wife of former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, and Rosemary Williams, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for military community and family policy in the Obama administration, are also among the signatories.
Also on the letter are Suzie Schwartz, wife of former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norty Schwartz, and Mary Jo Myers, wife of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, both of whom signed a previous letter endorsing Biden.
“There is no doubt in my mind or conflict in my heart that we are at a crossroads in history and that the current administration has not served the nation well in bringing us together as Americans,” said Julie Luckey, senior adviser to Military Families for Biden and wife of retired Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, who served as chief of the Army Reserve until June and signed a previous letter endorsing Biden.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Thursday night’s presidential debate, the second and final of the 2020 general election, had a dearth of defense and foreign policy discussion, despite a whole section that was supposed to be dedicated to national security.
The national security portion was mostly dominated by President Trump’s accusations about Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
But North Korea made an appearance at the tail end of the section.
During that exchange, Biden called out Trump for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying former President Obama refused to “legitimize” the dictator.
Trump was defending his North Korea policy, as he often does, by touting his relationship with Kim.
“They tried to meet with him, he wouldn’t do it,” he said of Kim and the Obama administration. “He didn’t like Obama, he didn’t like him, he wouldn’t do it. OK? They tried. He wouldn’t do it. You know what? North Korea, we’re not in a war, we have a good relationship.”
Biden shot back that “we had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded the rest of Europe.”
“Come on,” the Democratic nominee continued. “The reason he would not meet with President Obama is because President Obama said we’re going to talk about denuclearization. We’re not going to legitimize you. We’re going to continue to push stronger and stronger sanctions on you. That’s why he wouldn’t meet with us.”
The former vice president said he would meet with Kim under the condition that “he would agree that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity.”
SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE AGAINST HYTEN CAN PROCEED: A federal judge has ruled the lawsuit against vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten over allegations of sexual assault can proceed.
Hyten, who has denied the accusations against him from retired Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, had filed a motion to dismiss the case.
In the motion, he argued the alleged assault was “incident to military service.” The argument is part of the Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from being sued in civil court.
Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, though, said in his Thursday ruling that “it is not conceivable that his [Hyten’s] military duties would require him to sexually assault plaintiff, or that such an assault would advance any conceivable military objective.”
Background: During Hyten’s confirmation process last year to become vice chairman, Spletstoser accused him of making several unwanted sexual advances, including by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her, in 2017 when she was one of his aides. The most serious incident, she alleged, involved him ejaculating on her.
Hyten has flatly denied the accusations, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that “these allegations are false” and “nothing happened, ever.”
An Air Force investigation did not find corroborating evidence to charge Hyten.
But Spletstoser has maintained her accusations against Hyten and sued him late last year.
Why it matters: Aside from meaning Spletstoser can continue pressing her case, Thursday’s ruling could be a blow to the Feres Doctrine going forward.
The doctrine has generally prevented troops from suing their superior officers.
ISRAEL APPEARS TO DROP OBJECTION TO F-35 SALE: Israel signaled Friday it would not oppose the United States selling F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In a joint statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz did not specifically mention the F-35, but they said Israel would not oppose the United States selling the UAE “certain weapons systems” after Washington agreed to unspecified upgrades for Israel’s military.
“The prime minister and the defense minister both agree that since the U.S. is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” they said.
Friday’s statement comes after Gantz met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the Pentagon on Thursday.
During the visit, Gantz reached “understandings” with the United States that “will allow the procurement of advanced weapon systems that will significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities, maintain its security and its military advantage in the region as well as its qualitative military edge in the coming decades,” according to the statement.
Asked Friday about F-35 sales to the UAE, President Trump told reporters “that process is moving along.”
Related: Friday’s statement also came as Trump was announcing the opening of relations between Israel and Sudan, building upon the historic breakthroughs of the Israel-UAE deal and a normalization deal between Israel and Bahrain.
“HUGE win today for the United States and for peace in the world. Sudan has agreed to a peace and normalization agreement with Israel!” the president wrote on Twitter. “With the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that’s THREE Arab countries to have done so in only a matter of weeks. More will follow!”
Trump also held a joint phone call from the Oval Office with Netanyahu and Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Sudan’s Chairman of the Sovereignty Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
While in the Oval Office, Trump also said he expects Saudi Arabia to open diplomatic ties with Israel soon.
“So we have many countries, as you know, getting ready, and we also have — I’m sure you’ll see Saudi Arabia there very soon,” the president said in remarks to the press.
“I really believe that will happen too, and very good relations with Saudi Arabia and so you’ll see something very special.”
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
Will Roper, assistantsSecretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, will host an online AFWERX “Ask Me Anything” event at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3ohMkAZ
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