Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen

Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen
© Getty Images

Happy Wednesday 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. And if you don't get our newsletter, CLICK HERE to subscribe.

 

THE TOPLINE: Anger over the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist has erupted on Capitol Hill, with senators from both parties putting pressure on the Trump administration by raising the specter of punitive measures against Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act Limited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday became the first lawmaker to call for specific congressional action in connection with the mysterious disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who has been missing since visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2. Paul promised to force a vote blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia if it is shown that the country was involved in foul play.

The international incident is putting a strain on U.S.-Saudi ties, as calls persist for the Trump administration to leverage its close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The background: Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia's rulers, has not been seen since last week, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

Turkish officials have claimed Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate and dismembered. The Saudis have called the allegations "baseless," holding that he left the consulate alive the same day he arrived.

 

 

 

 

Senators force Trump to investigate: President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times George Conway: Why take Trump's word over prosecutors' if he 'lies about virtually everything' Federal judge says lawsuit over Trump travel ban waivers will proceed MORE will be required to investigate the disappearance of Khashoggi after a letter from senators that invoked sanctions legislation.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Senate passes resolution naming crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump MORE (R-Tenn.), committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.) and Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyShutdown would affect 800K federal workers, Senate Dems say Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown Senators dumbfounded by Trump vow to shut down government MORE (D-Vt.), who lead the Appropriations Committee subpanel responsible for the State Department, sent a letter Wednesday to Trump requesting he initiate an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The Magnitsky law requires that the president conduct an investigation after a request from the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee into whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression.

Corker says everything points to Saudi involvement: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that "everything" indicates Saudi involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he reviewed U.S. intelligence on the issue Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Asked if that intelligence proves Turkey's claims, Corker said, "Everything right now points to Saudi Arabia."

"They've got a lot of explaining to do," he added.

Corker also said he plans to reveal some sort of Senate action later Wednesday, but would not elaborate on what it is before its release.

Trump says he's spoken with Saudi officials about it: President Trump said Wednesday he's spoken with Saudi officials about the disappearance of Khashoggi but did not provide additional information about the reporter's status.

Trump did not specify further, only saying that those in Saudi Arabia he spoke with were at "the highest level" and that they spoke "more than once."

"It's a very sad situation, it's a very bad situation," Trump told reporters during a briefing in the Oval Office on Hurricane Michael.

"We cannot let this happen -- to reporters, to anybody," he added.

Mattis says Pentagon is monitoring situation: Mattis told reporters Tuesday that the Defense Department is "intellectually" monitoring the situation, but that the counterterrorism mission remains front and center in the region.

"We're monitoring this very closely, this situation very closely and we're working closely with U.S. State Department... We're reviewing what's going on. Obviously we have [military to military] relations that have to do with the protection of the Saudi people."

Here are more stories from The Hill on the disappearance of the Saudi journalist:

-- Pence open to sending FBI team to Turkey to investigate missing Washington Post journalist

-- 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist

-- Fiancée of missing Saudi journalist appeals to Trump for help

-- NYT: Turkish officials say Saudi leadership ordered killing of journalist

-- Washington Post on missing Saudi journalist: 'We demand to know the truth'

 

SENATORS DEMAND ANSWERS ON TRUMP SUPPORT FOR SAUDIS IN YEMEN: A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday questioned the Trump administration on its certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to protect civilians in the Yemeni civil war and are complying with U.S. laws on arms sales.

"While we appreciate your timely submission, after reviewing the unclassified and classified components and receiving updates from our staffs regarding the administration's September 20 briefing, we find it difficult to reconcile known facts with at least two of your certifications," the senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoMegyn Kelly on Mika Brzezinski's comment controversy: 'I hope she's forgiven' Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension MORE.

Who's behind the letter: The letter was organized by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems aim to punt vote on ObamaCare taxes Overnight Defense: Nauert tapped for UN envoy | Trump teases changes to Joint Chiefs of Staff | Trump knocks Tillerson as 'dumb as a rock' | Scathing report details Air Force failures before Texas shooting New Hampshire's secretary of state narrowly holds seat MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts MORE (R-Ind.). It was co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House Dems follow Senate action with resolution to overturn IRS donor disclosure guidance Senate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure MORE (R-Maine), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (D-Del.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Year Ahead: Push for privacy bill gains new momentum Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe Overnight Defense: Senate rebukes Trump with Yemen vote | Mattis, Pompeo briefing fails to quell Senate concerns with Saudis | Graham demands CIA briefing on Khashoggi | Pentagon identifies three troops killed in Afghanistan MORE (R-Kan.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi MORE (D-Conn.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit Dem senator accuses Trump of aiding 'cover up' over Khashoggi MORE (D-Ore.).

Shaheen and Young authored the provision of the annual defense policy bill that required Pompeo to make the certification on Saudi and Emirati behavior in Yemen's civil war.

If Pompeo did not make the certification, U.S. refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft would have had to stop.

At issue: U.S. lawmakers have increasingly expressed concern about the Yemeni civil war, which has been raging since 2015 and has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. Those deaths have been largely blamed on airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition.

While lawmaker concern has been boiling over for months, the most recent letter comes as anger at the Saudis is reaching a fever pitch after the disappearance of a journalist and prominent Saudi critic.

Last month, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act, Pompeo certified that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to end the war, alleviate Yemen's humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

 

US SOLD $56B IN WEAPONS TO OTHER COUNTRIES IN FISCAL 2018: American defense companies sold $55.6 billion in weapons to foreign nations in fiscal 2018, a 33 percent jump from the year prior, according to the agency in charge of selling armaments to other countries.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the amount includes $47.7 billion from foreign military sales, $3.5 billion from the State Department's foreign military financing program and $4.4 billion under the Defense Department.

Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, head of the DSCA, said Tuesday that he's "very optimistic that this positive trajectory will continue."

"Our partners know a good thing when they see one," he told an audience at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

How it compares to years past: The 2018 amount -- based on sales agreed to between the U.S. and another country -- is well above the nearly $42 billion in weapons sold in 2017 and the $33.6 billion in foreign sales in 2016.

What is behind the jump? Hooper attributed the jump to the Trump administration's push for foreign sale policy reforms "to better align conventional arms transfers with national security and economic interests."

Among those reforms is the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, updated in April, which makes it easier to sell weapons to other countries.

"These policy changes advance U.S. national security and foreign policy because they make FMS more attractive in a very competitive market," Hooper said in a DSCA statement

 

SPONSORED CONTENT — THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

UAE-led operations have degraded Al Qaeda’s ability to plot attacks against the US and other global targets. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is now at its weakest since 2012. Learn more.

 

WHO WILL REPLACE Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley: I used Trump’s ‘unpredictable’ behavior to my advantage at UN Haley: Russia making it ‘impossible’ to have relationship with US Haley: ‘We need to have a serious, hard talk with the Saudis’ MORETrump said that former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell is on his shortlist of possible names to replace Nikki Haley, who on Tuesday resigned as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump has five people on his short list, he told reporters in his office aboard the presidential aircraft.

"Dina would love it," he said. 

Powell left the Trump administration at the beginning of the year after serving as a deputy national security adviser, where she focused on Middle East policy.

Trump said Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, is not on the short list but he is willing to consider him for the post. Grenell is well-liked among Trump allies and White House staffers. 

"He is doing so well in a position that is so important," Trump said. "Rick is doing so well that I wouldn't want to move him. I'd personally rather keep Rick where he is."

What's the plan? Haley says she will remain on until a replacement is named or the end of the year. Trump declined to offer further details of his plans.

The president said the day prior that he intends to name a replacement for Haley in two to three weeks.

Trump sings her praises: The president offered kind word for Haley on Wednesday, telling reporters that she will go on to make "a lot of money" following her departure at the end of the year.

Trump reportedly made the comments during a public briefing on preparedness for Hurricane Michael, which made landfall Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.

The president told reporters that he hopes Haley will return to serve in his administration in the future, according to The Associated Press, saying that she is "going to make a lot of money" in the meantime.

The background: Nikki's surprising departure shocked those around her and deprives Trump's foreign policy team of one of its most well-known and outspoken figures.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and rising Republican star, was a forceful voice in pushing Trump's agenda at the U.N. but has also been unafraid to break with the president at key moments.

Mattis weighed in on the departure: Speaking to reporters outside the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Trump administration asks Supreme Court to temporarily allow transgender military ban Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump MORE praised Haley's tenure.

"Ambassador Haley has been a wonderful representative for our country and she has been just a tremendous asset to those of us here in the Department of Defense," Mattis said.

"We have a very close working relationship. We saw ourselves on many occasions collaborating together on how we would deal with certain issues alongside the Secretary of State. She's done yeoman's work up there and I would just tell you that she may be moving on, but she's not losing our respect one bit. She's been a good, good teammate."

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Chinese intel officer extradited to US to face economic espionage charges

-- The Hill: National security leaders warn of Chinese efforts to sway American opinion

-- The Hill: Security firm uncovers new cyber group targeting government, military sectors in espionage campaign

--The Hill: South Korea mulls lifting sanctions against North: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Cat-and-mouse game in South China Sea carries new risks

-- The Hill: Opinion: The art of war meets the art of the deal

-- Defense News: 'You're on your own': US sealift can't count on US Navy escorts in the next big war

-- Defense One: Curtailing Korean exercises comes at a price, Says USMC Commandant