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Overnight Defense: Army report confirms Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed before her death | Biden cancels military-funded border wall projects

Overnight Defense: Army report confirms Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed before her death | Biden cancels military-funded border wall projects
© U.S. Army

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: A report on last year’s slaying of Spc. Vanessa Guillén confirmed that she was being sexually harassed before her death at Fort Hood, Texas, but not by the man suspected of killing her, according to Army documents released Friday.

Army investigators found that Guillén was “sexually harassed by a superior noncommissioned officer in her unit,” though the person was not named in the report.

The report indicates that Guillén informally reported that she was sexually harassed on two occasions, with her supervisor failing to report the harassment, and other leaders failing to take appropriate action.

But no evidence indicates that the sexual harassment was in any way related to her death.

The background: Guillén was last seen on April 22, 2020, before Spc. Aaron Robinson allegedly hit her in the head with a hammer “multiple times” in an armory room at Fort Hood. Robinson reportedly took her body to the Leon River, roughly 20 miles from the Army base, where he and his girlfriend at the time, Cecily Aguilar, buried Guillén’s remains.

Robinson killed himself on June 30 as police attempted to arrest him.

The fall out: Five current or former leaders at Fort Hood’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment have been fired as a result of the new report, with three of those to receive General Officer Memorandums of Reprimand, according to an Army statement released Friday.

Another eight commissioned and noncommissioned officers had further action referred against them, with one to be fired.

The firings and punishments mark a total 21 personnel to be disciplined as a result of investigations began after Guillén’s disappearance.

“As of today, accountability actions have been initiated against members of Spc. Guillén’s chain of command from junior through senior leaders,” according to the Army statement.

What the report found: Guillén’s family has long asserted that she told them she was being sexually harassed before she disappeared, but did not officially report it.

Up until Friday, the Army has said they haven’t found evidence to support the family’s claim. 

But after the investigation team interviewed 151 witnesses, reviewed more than 6,000 emails, and analyzed more than 11,500 pages of documents, they confirmed that Guillén was harassed beginning in late summer of 2019.

Read the more on the report here.

 

BIDEN CANCELS MILITARY-FUNDED BORDER WALL PROJECTS

President BidenJoe BidenFauci says school should be open 'full blast' five days a week in the fall Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart MORE is canceling projects to build a wall along the southern border using diverted defense funds and will use some funding to counter environmental damage from the wall's construction.

Then-President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE had diverted billions in defense and military construction funds toward building the wall, using emergency powers after Congress refused to fully fund the project directly.

"Consistent with the President’s Proclamation terminating the redirection of funds for border wall, no more money will be diverted from other purposes to building a border wall," a Biden administration official said Friday. "Today, the Department of Defense will begin cancelling all wall projects using the diverted funds, and will take steps to return remaining unobligated military construction funds to their appropriated purpose as permitted by law."

Where the money will go: A Defense Department spokesperson said the funds would be returned to accounts designated for "schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account," but added that the department was reviewing projects to determine priorities.

The administration also said Friday it would use some of the $1.4 billion appropriated for constructing the wall toward repairing environmental damage from its construction, such as flood barriers in the Rio Grande Valley and soil erosion in San Diego.

Earlier: Upon entering office, Biden canceled the state of emergency Trump had declared along the southern border and paused construction on the wall in order to conduct a review, though the 60 day period for the review's completion has long passed.

Lawmaker reaction: Republicans in Congress have accused Biden of illegally halting congressionally approved funds, and the Government Accountability Office is preparing a report on whether the pause was legal under the Impoundment Control Act.

Sen. James Risch (Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, said the move would be a blow to national security.

"This is an ill-advised decision at best," Risch tweeted.

Democrats, on the other hand, welcomed the move.

“President Biden promised to not build one more foot of border wall under his watch, and I welcome this step by his Administration to begin repairing the damage caused by border wall construction," said Rep. Raul Girjalva (D-Az.), who represents a border district.

Read the rest here.

 

BIDEN: MANDATORY COVID-19 VACCINES FOR MILITARY ‘TOUGH CALL’

President Biden has not dismissed requiring all U.S. service members to get a COVID-19 vaccine once the shot is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but says the decision is a “tough call.”

“I don’t know. I’m going to leave that to the military,” Biden told NBC News's Craig Melvin in an interview broadcast Friday.

“I’m not saying I won’t. I think you’re going to see more and more of them getting it. And I think it’s going to be a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military, because you’re in such close proximity with other military personnel.”

The numbers now: Roughly 780,000 service members, or close to one-third of the total force, are partially or fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the latest Department of Defense numbers.

All Pentagon personnel and their beneficiaries are now eligible to receive a vaccine, in line with the rest of the U.S. population, but thousands have chosen to forgo the shot. Because the vaccines were approved under the FDA's emergency-use authorization, military officials can’t mandate the inoculation, and the Pentagon does not track how many military members reject it.

Political concerns?: When asked about the issue later on Friday, national security advisor Jake SullivanJake SullivanHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Blinken speaks with Israeli counterpart amid escalating conflict Biden sent letter to Palestinian president over 'current situations' MORE said a vaccine mandate is “something the Department of Defense is looking at in consultation with the interagency process and [I] don’t have anything to add on that subject today.”

He would not say whether Biden had any political concerns about ordering such a mandate.

Read more of the story here.

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

A House Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on the investigation into the July 2020 AAV mishap investigation and how to avoid preventable training accidents, at 11 a.m. 

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will hear from Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, commander, Combined Force Space Component Command, and deputy commander, Space Operations Command, U.S. Space Force, at 11:30 a.m. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: As US pulls out of Afghanistan, al Qaeda says war 'on all other fronts' to continue: report

-- The Hill: Pentagon briefing question about a stripper and Poland goes viral

-- The Hill: Vermont becomes first state to allow women to enlist for combat in its National Guard

-- The Hill: Mullen now supports removing commanders from sexual assault prosecutions

-- The Hill: Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks

-- The Hill: Biden administration finishes North Korea policy review

-- The Hill: Biden takes quick action on cyber in first 100 days

-- The Washington Post: He mentored decades of Army Rangers. At 94, he’ll receive the Medal of Honor.

-- Military Times: As counterterror missions fade, special operations finds time to fix its own problems