Overnight Defense: Pelosi confers with top general on preventing Trump nuclear strike | Biden fills out his national security team

Overnight Defense: Pelosi confers with top general on preventing Trump nuclear strike | Biden fills out his national security team
© Greg Nash

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: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOklahoma man who videotaped himself with his feet on desk in Pelosi's office during Capitol riot released on bond House formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot With another caravan heading North, a closer look at our asylum law MORE (D-Calif.) spoke with the nation's top general about options for preventing President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE from launching a nuclear weapon during his final days in office, she said Friday.

In a letter to colleagues reflecting on the week when pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol, Pelosi outlined a call with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Biden lifting Trump's transgender military ban The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel MORE that she described as aimed at “preventing an unhinged president from using the nuclear codes.”

“This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” she wrote. “The situation of this unhinged president could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.”

Milley’s response: Pelosi’s letter gave no indication on what Milley’s response or advice was.

Milley's spokesperson, Col. Dave Butler, said in a brief statement that Pelosi initiated the call and that the general "answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”

What prompted the call: On Wednesday, rioters incited by Trump stormed the Capitol while Congress was meeting to certify Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE’s victory in the presidential election. Lawmakers were forced to shelter in undisclosed locations while police officers struggled to regain control of the building, and five people, including a Capitol Police officer, have died as a result of the mayhem.

The reaction since: The assault on democracy has led to increased calls for Trump’s removal from office before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, either through the 25th Amendment or impeachment.

House Democrats are slated to hold a conference call Friday afternoon to discuss the way forward, and they appear to be racing toward impeachment.

An uphill battle: Removing Trump through the 25th Amendment would require Vice President Pence and a majority of Cabinet officials to declare he is unable to fulfill his duties as president, and Pence is reportedly opposed to the idea.

Among the concerns fueling calls for Trump’s removal are what he could do with his authorities as commander in chief in the next two weeks, including his most destructive power — launching a nuclear weapon.


BIDEN FILLS OUT HIS NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM: President-elect Joe Biden on Friday announced nearly two dozen appointments to his incoming National Security Council (NSC), filling out his staff with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.

The appointees are largely veterans of the Obama administration, with many having served previously in the White House, in the Obama NSC and alongside other top nominees for senior posts in the Biden administration.

“The National Security Council plays a critical role in keeping our nation safe and secure. These crisis-tested, deeply experienced public servants will work tirelessly to protect the American people and restore America’s leadership in the world,” Biden said in a statement.

“They will ensure that the needs of working Americans are front and center in our national security policymaking, and our country will be better for it.”

A restructuring: Each presidential administration is unique in how it structures its NSC, which is in theory a staff to support the president but has grown in size and importance until it is comparable to other top departments and agencies. 

The 21 people announced on Friday signal Biden’s intention to restructure and expand the council, with a senior adviser to the transition team telling The Washington Post its priorities will be reflected in new senior positions on global health, democracy and human rights, and cybersecurity and emerging technology. 

Who was included: This includes the appointment of Elizabeth Cameron as senior director for global health security and biodefense. Cameron, who has a Ph.D. in biology, was a co-author of the “pandemic playbook” from the Obama administration that was reportedly ignored by the Trump administration with the outbreak of COVID-19.

Shanthi Kalathil, whose work has focused on emerging threats to democracy, is being appointed coordinator for democracy and human rights

The newly created senior director for technology and national security position will be filmed by Tarun Chhabra, who most recently was a senior fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.

Other names: Other senior appointments include Jon Finer, a former State Department official, to be principal deputy national security adviser under Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden talks NATO, climate change in first presidential call with France's Macron Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick White House: It will be 'a bit of time' before Biden's first foreign trip MORE, whom Biden is appointing national security adviser. 

Ella Lipin will serve as senior adviser to Finer. Lipin most recently served as national security and foreign policy adviser to Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoTo protect our parks, hit pause on leasing Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Why are millions still flowing into the presidential inauguration? MORE (D-Nev.). Previously she served at the Pentagon during the Obama administration and with a particular focus on Egypt. 

Ariana Berengaut is being appointed as senior adviser to Sullivan. She most recently served on the Biden transition’s NSC review agency team and held the COVID-19 policy portfolio during the campaign. 

Biden’s picks to lead the council's communications department include Emily Horne as NSC spokesperson and senior director for press. She most recently was vice president of communications at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and was a volunteer on the transition team leading communications for several national security Cabinet nominees. 

Carlyn Reichel will be senior director for speechwriting and strategic initiatives. She was director of speech writing and foreign policy director on Biden's campaign. 

National security leaders for specific regions include Andrea Kendall-Taylor to be senior director for Russia and Central Asia. Kendall-Taylor served as a deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was a senior analyst at the CIA. 

Read more on the appointments here.



— The Hill: Two Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots
— The Hill: Democratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security
— The Hill: House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats support impeaching Trump
— The Hill: US diplomats urge State Department to denounce Trump role in Capitol riot
— The Hill: Capitol Police rejected offer for help from National Guard days before deadly riot: report
— Stars and Stripes: Wilkie won’t resign as VA secretary after Capitol riot

— The Washington Post: Pentagon placed limits on D.C. Guard ahead of pro-Trump protests due to narrow mission