Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: DC Guard chief testifies about hampered Capitol attack response | US contractor dies of heart attack after Iraq rocket attack | Pentagon watchdog finds 'inappropriate conduct' by ex-White House doctor

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: The head of the D.C. National Guard testified Wednesday about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and he detailed several hurdles he faced in getting approval to deploy.

Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. Guard, said senior Pentagon leaders gave him the approval to deploy more than three hours after he received an initial "frantic" call for help from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

"Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many Guardsmen as I could muster," Walker recalled. 

"Immediately after the 1:49pm call with Chief Sund, I alerted the Army Senior Leadership of the request. The approval for Chief Sund's request would eventually come from the Acting Secretary of Defense and be relayed to me by Army Senior Leaders at 5:08pm - 3 hours and 19 minutes later," Walker added.

Why the delay?: Walker testified that top Army officials were concerned about optics, backing up earlier testimony from Sund and D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee.

"The Army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd," Walker said.

Walker specifically recalled that director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt and Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, a deputy chief of staff in the Army, expressed concern about optics.

Neither Piatt nor Flynn, who is the brother of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, were at Wednesday's hearing. But Robert Salesses, acting assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security, said Piatt told him in advance of the hearing "that he didn't say anything about optics."

Walker responded that "there were people in the room with me on that call that heard what they heard."

Hamstrung ahead of time, too: Walker also testified that he would have been able to deploy immediately had it not been for an "unusual" restriction Pentagon officials placed on him ahead of Jan. 6.

At issue was a Jan. 5 memo from then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller that restricted Walker's ability to deploy a so-called Quick Reaction Force and seek approval from higher ups before moving his National Guard forces.

"I had restrictions on me I hadn't had in the past," Walker said.

More takeaways: Get fully caught up on the hearing by reading our five takeaways here.

Threat persists: Even as senators were grappling with the events of Jan. 6, alarming reports came to light that lawmakers are facing another threat Thursday.

Wednesday's revelations of threats to the Capitol and members of Congress prompted House Democratic leaders to wrap up their legislative work for the week on Wednesday night, underscoring the security concerns that remain nearly two months after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The immediate threat is intelligence related to a possible plot by a militia group to attack the Capitol on Thursday. Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe former President Trump will be reinaugurated on March 4, a traditional date for presidential inaugurations until 1933. Capitol Police said they were enhancing their security posture in response to the threat.

ROCKETS FALL IN IRAQ, AGAIN

Less than a week after the U.S. airstrike in Syria meant to deter future rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, rockets struck an airbase in Iraq housing U.S. troops.

At least 10 rockets hit Al Asad air base in Iraq on Wednesday morning, according to the Pentagon.

No U.S. troops were killed or injured. But a U.S. contractor did have a heart attack and die while they were sheltering from the attack, the Pentagon said.

Flashback: Al Asad is the same base that Iran launched missiles at in retaliation for last year's U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

How will US respond?: No group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, and U.S. officials weren't ready yet to blame the Iranian-backed militias it did for other recent attacks.

But the White House raised the possibility it is considering another military response, alluding to last week's airstrike.

"We are following that through right now," President Biden told reporters. "Thank God, no one was killed by the rocket. One individual, a contractor, died of a heart attack. But we're identifying who's responsible and we'll make judgments."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, meanwhile, said the administration is still assessing who is to blame for the attack but indicated that the "calculated, proportionate" U.S. airstrikes last week "will be our model moving forward."

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said if a response is warranted for the latest attack the United States has "shown clearly that we won't shy away from that but we're just not there yet."

"I'm not prepared to speak to potential future responses at this time," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. "If we determine that a response is necessary we'll do that in a manner and time and place of our choosing."

War powers fight heats up: In the wake of last week's airstrike, some senators are reviving a dormant fight over war powers.

Case in point, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Wednesday to repeal two military authorizations, effectively curbing Biden's war powers.

The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF), which both deal with Iraq.

The bill comes as lawmakers have voiced frustration about a lack of consultation with Congress over the United States' strikes last week in Syria, marking the first known military action ordered by Biden. The administration didn't cite either authorization for those actions.

"Last week's airstrikes in Syria show that the Executive Branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers," Kaine said in a statement.

PENTAGON IG FINDS INAPPROPRIATE CONDUCT FROM EX-WHITE HOUSE DOCTOR

The Pentagon's inspector general released its long awaited investigation Wednesday into allegations against former White House doctor and current Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas).

The report found the retired Navy officer abused his subordinates, drank alcohol on the job and overall contributed to a "negative work environment" while serving as the White House physician.

The report did not substantiate some of the allegations Jackson faced - including a charge that he had crashed a government vehicle while drunk - but did result in multiple witnesses testifying that during a 2014 trip Jackson made sexual comments about a female subordinate while heavily intoxicated.

Background: Allegations against Jackson first surfaced after Trump nominated him to be Veteran Affairs secretary in 2018.

Jackson served as White House's top doctor under both former presidents Trump and Obama, but came to national prominence during the Trump administration when he gave Trump a glowing medical evaluation during a White House press briefing.

Jackson withdrew from consideration to be Veterans Affairs secretary after the allegations came to light, but denied any wrongdoing.

Jackson's response: Jackson cast the inspector general investigation as a "political hit job."

"Today, a Department of Defense Inspector General report has resurrected those same false allegations from my years with the Obama Administration because I have refused to turn my back on President Trump," Jackson said in a statement. "Democrats are using this report to repeat and rehash untrue attacks on my integrity, so I want to be clear."

He said he "flat out" rejects "any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty" and "categorically" denied "any implication that I was in any way sexually inappropriate at work, outside of work, or anywhere with any member of my staff or anyone else."

The inspector general gave Jackson the opportunity to comment on the report before it was released, but he declined, according to the report.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Colin Kahl to be under secretary of Defense for policy at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3bXXxRH

Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, will speak at 2:30 p.m. at a virtual event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. https://bit.ly/3qc7OP9

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Joint Chiefs chairman: Military response on Jan. 6 was 'super fast'

-- The Hill: Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance

-- The Hill: Biden admin: International Criminal Court 'unfairly' targeting Israel

-- The Hill: Blinken calls US-China relations biggest challenge of century in major speech

-- The Hill: Opinion: The intelligence community must evolve with the information age

-- The Hill: Opinion: The Iran nuclear deal needs to be fixed and rewritten, not just revived

-- New York Times: Biden secretly limits counterterrorism drone strikes away from war zones

-- Reuters: U.S. bomber flies over Baltic states in show of solidarity: U.S. Air Force

-- Defense One: Militias in Iraq provide security, wield political power, and may be tearing the country apart

Outbrain