SPONSORED:

Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners

Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners
© Bonnie Cash

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: Back in January, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller told Vanity Fair he “cannot wait” to testify before Congress about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

He got his chance Wednesday at a House Oversight Committee hearing, vociferously defending the Pentagon’s response against criticism of slow rolling the deployment of the National Guard as rioters breached the Capitol.

“I stand by every decision I made on January 6 and the following days,” he said.

And, as we reported Tuesday based on his written testimony, Miller also invoked the 1970 Kent State massacre and the public’s fears of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE staging a coup in arguing the military should only be called upon as a last resort.

Dems vs. Miller: Democrats frequently clashed with Miller throughout the hearing.

In one particularly notable case, Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOvernight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a 'normal tourist visit' GOP's Gosar defends Jan. 6 rioter, says she was 'executed' MORE (D-Mass.) called Miller “ridiculous” after Miller appeared to walk back previous comments blaming Trump for the attack.

Arguing that “we are getting more information by the day, by the minute, about what happened,” Miller said it now “seems clear that there was some sort of conspiracy where there were organized assault elements that intended to assault the Capitol that day.”

Later in the exchange, when Lynch accused Miller of reversing his stance, Miller replied, “that’s ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.

“Thank you for your thoughts,” Miller responded.

GOP downplays violence: While this is a defense newsletter, we would be remiss if we didn’t note that the main takeaway from the hearing was less Miller’s testimony and more that Republican after Republican repeatedly sought to downplay the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In one example, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) likened the mobs overwhelming Capitol Police and vandalizing Capitol offices to a “normal tourist visit” and said calling the attack an insurrection “is a bold-faced lie.”

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” the freshman lawmaker said. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you’d think it was a normal tourist visit.”

As a reminder, 400 people have been charged with crimes related to the attack, five people died from events associated with it and two police officers who were there died by suicide afterward.

AUSTIN OFFERS ISRAEL ‘IRONCLAD SUPPORT’

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Austin says he's 'concerned' about Iranian ships in Atlantic Pentagon chief: Military has already started 'over-the-horizon' operations in Afghanistan MORE on Wednesday called his Israeli counterpart to stress the United States’s “ironclad support” for Jerusalem’s right to defend itself in the midst of a military conflict with Hamas, the Pentagon said.

Austin also told Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin Gantz "he strongly condemned the launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorists groups that targeted Israeli civilians,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

The Pentagon chief “reiterated the importance of all involved parties to take steps to restore calm.”

Biden, Netanyahu also confer: Later in the day, President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE had his own conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE.

“I had a conversation for a while with the prime minister of Israel and, I think, my hope is that we’ll see this coming to conclusion sooner than later,” the president said during remarks to the press about the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president said his national security and defense staff have been in “constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East, including the Israelis, but also the Egyptians, Saudis and Emiratis. 

And Blinken too: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenPelosi signals no further action against Omar US drops sanctions on Iranian officials as nuclear talks stall Senior Chinese diplomat talks with Blinken amid debate over competitiveness bill MORE on Wednesday also spoke to Netanyahu, expressing U.S. support for Israel’s defense but noting the “ongoing violence in Jerusalem” and the need for both Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and security.

The administration has dispatched its senior official for Israeli and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, to Israel to engage with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on efforts to deescalate the conflict.

LAWMAKERS PRESS PENTAGON OFFICIALS ON AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAWAL

In another notable hearing Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee held its first Afghanistan-specific hearing since Biden announced the withdrawal last month.

The hearing provided little in the way of new information, but it afforded lawmakers the opportunity to press Pentagon officials on plans.

One concern that lawmakers in both parties raised was the need to do more to help Afghans who have helped U.S. troops secure Special Immigrants Visas (SIV).

Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowPelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Finding hope in the hard unfinished work of building and revitalizing our democracy Colorado Democrat: Fear of Trump, desire for power 'overriding' patriotism in some Republicans MORE (D-Colo.), an Army Ranger veteran, recounted the story of one Afghan whose SIV was denied, saying, “on Jan. 27 of this year, Mohammed was driving to work with his 10-year-old son when a Taliban vehicle stopped in front of him, assassins jumped out and gunned him down in front of his son.”

“Mohammed is dead. A couple weeks later, his eldest son received this death threat from the Taliban. He and others like him will soon die unless we act,” Crow said.

Rep. Michael WaltzMichael WaltzOvernight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief to press for Manchin's support on Colin Kahl | House Dems seek to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police 140 lawmakers call for Biden administration to take 'comprehensive' approach to Iran MORE (R-Fla.), an Army veteran, also said one of his interpreters "was executed along with members of his family simply for having documentation that he needed to get the SIV visa."

Acting assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific affairs David Helvey replied only that the Pentagon is "working with our interagency partners to look at the different tools and the resources and the mechanisms to support those folks that have supported us.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Several defense officials and lawmakers, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithCongress must stop the march toward war with China Pelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Democrats plot next move after GOP sinks Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Wash.), Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn Cheney House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Cheney compares Trump claims to Chinese Communist Party: 'It's very dangerous' Stefanik pregnant with her first child MORE (R-Wyo.), Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten and the chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Army, will speak at Day 2 of the virtual McAleese 12th Annual "FY2022 Defense Programs" Conference starting at 8:45 a.m. https://bit.ly/3hiMret

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Christine Wormuth to be Army secretary at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3y7cXgU

The House Appropriation Committee’s military construction subcommittee will hold a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps quality of life with testimony from officials from both services at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3oap3Bf

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump appointee endorses Christine Wormuth as Army secretary

-- The Hill: Sanders vows tougher oversight of defense contractors as Budget Committee chairman

-- The Hill: Pentagon removing Chinese tech giant from blacklist after court loss

-- The Hill: US military: Afghanistan withdrawal up to 12 percent complete

-- The Hill: Opinion: The bold new direction for missile defense is worthy of support

-- The Hill: Opinion: Why the US should meddle in Europe to stop autocratizing NATO allies

-- Stars and Stripes: Display of ‘thin blue line’ flag violated DOD policy, Ramstein Air Base says

-- Bloomberg: White House weighs evacuating Afghans as time runs out

-- Defense One: Space Force aims to take on an Air Force surveillance mission