Overnight Defense

CORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report

Happy Thursday 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: The coronavirus pandemic kept the Pentagon from gathering data for an annual report on unwanted sexual contact at the military academies, officials said Thursday.

Defense officials had planned to do in-person surveys for this year's report in early 2020, but then the pandemic struck, forcing superintendents to send cadets and midshipmen home in mid-March.

The in-person survey is meant to provide a greater understanding of the prevelence of sexual assault and climate at the academies.

The little data available for this year's report found that there were 88 reports of sexual assault by academy women and men during the 2019-20 school year, compared with 122 reports in 2018-19.

The next in-person survey isn't expected to take place until next year.

The last survey: While the congressionally mandated Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies comes out every year, the in-person survey is every other year.

So, the last in-person survey was conducted in 2018 for the 2019 report.

That survey found that 747 students reported unwanted sexual contact in the 2017-18 academic year, up from 507 in 2015-16, a 47 percent jump. The report's definition of unwanted sexual contact included anything from unwanted touching and groping to rape.

The 2019 report also found that 15.8 percent of female students and 2.4 percent of male students reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact, with more than 50 percent of women reporting they were sexually harassed in the 2017-18 school year.

Army leaders react: Following the report's release on Thursday, acting Army Secretary John Whitley and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville released a joint statement decrying the "corrosive behaviors" of some students, adding that they expect cadets "to demonstrate the character required to serve honorably as caring leaders."

"The Army is fully committed to preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault. These corrosive behaviors harm our people, destroy readiness and undermine the trust of the American people and the parents who send us their sons and daughters," the two officials said.

Whitley and McConville said West Point has "increased staffing for prevention programs and taken steps to better protect the confidentiality of cadets who are victims of sexual violence," and implemented several programs "to ensure a safe environment, predicated on dignity and respect, where our rising leaders can reach their full potential."

 

BIDEN, SAUDI KING SPEAK

President Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman on Thursday ahead of the anticipated release of a U.S. intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that is expected to implicate the king's son, the Saudi crown prince.

The White House readout of the call made no mention of Khashoggi, but said the two leaders "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law."

"The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible," the readout stated. "The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest."

The waiting game: The United States is expected as early as Thursday night to release an unclassified report outlining the circumstances of Khashoggi's death. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident who lived in Virginia, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 where he was attacked, killed and dismembered.

The expected declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) concludes Prince Mohammed approved and likely ordered Khashoggi murdered, according to a Reuters report.

The U.S. was reportedly waiting to release the report until after Biden had a chance to speak with the Saudi king.

An ODNI spokesperson responded to a request for comment from The Hill on Thursday saying "we have no update to offer on timing, content, or process matters related to the release."

Next steps: The release of the report could just be the first step to hold the Saudis accountable for Khashoggi's death.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday press briefing that there are "a range of actions that are on the table" to hold the Saudis accountable, but that Biden would first have to speak to King Salman.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters that the department is likely to "speak to steps to promote accountability going forward for this horrific crime" following the release of the report.

 

INHOFE MEETS WITH POLICY NOMINEE

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke with President Biden's nominee to lead the Pentagon's policy shop Wednesday, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Word of the confab comes after Inhofe expressed "serious concerns" earlier this week about Colin Kahl's nomination to be under secretary of Defense for policy.

"Sen. Inhofe and Dr. Kahl had a thorough conversation yesterday," a spokesperson for Inhofe said in a statement. "Sen. Inhofe pressed him on his past policy positions that raised concern-especially on the Iran Deal and on Israel-in a constructive manner. Sen. Inhofe reiterated that he has a record of working well with people he disagrees with and looks forward to learning more about Dr. Kahl through the nomination process."

Next up: Kahl's confirmation hearing before the committee, which is expected next week.

Recall the committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said Wednesday the hearing will be a "critical" opportunity for Kahl to explain his policy positions.

With a 50-50 party split in the Senate, there's little room for error if Republicans decide to oppose Kahl en mass.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten will provide pre-recorded remarks at the Air Force Association's virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium that will be available on demand and acting Air Force Secretary John P. Roth will speak at the conference at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3kB8bC1

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper will speak at the Brooking Institution's "The Middle East and the new US administration" virtual conference at 1 p.m. https://brook.gs/2O2XFXG

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pentagon, FEMA open mass vaccination sites in Texas and New York

-- The Hill: CIA formed task force to address suspected microwave attacks

-- The Hill: Capitol Police head cites Biden speech threat for keeping security high

-- The Hill: Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence

-- The Hill: Opinion: Human rights are a worthy but tricky foundation for foreign policy

-- Associated Press: Ties with Saudis at stake as US releases findings on killing

-- Associated Press: Defense head Austin weighs warship needs in Pacific, Mideast

-- New York Times: Afghan government backs repatriation of Guantánamo detainee

 

Updated at 7:22 p.m.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information in the headline.

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