Happy Tuesday 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 group of House Democrats is “strongly” urging Defense Secretary Mark Esper not to redirect another $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding to build President Trump’s southern border wall.
“We write to express our continued and deepening concern regarding reports that the administration is once more planning to divert billions of dollars of military funds to the construction of additional fencing and other barriers on the southwest border,” the 31 Democrats wrote to Esper in a letter obtained by The Hill ahead of its public release.
“There is clearly no requirement for the use of military resources to construct a border wall,” they added in the five-page letter.
The letter is the latest from Democrats in Congress following reports last week saying Trump would again tap Pentagon funding for the wall after lawmakers allocated less than he requested for his signature project.
As first reported by The Washington Post, Trump plans to take $3.5 billion from the Pentagon’s counterdrug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding.
Last week: Pentagon officials told reporters last week they had received a request from the Department of Homeland Security for about 270 miles of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, but said they could not yet provide a dollar figure.
The additional $7.2 billion expected to be taken this year comes after Trump tapped $2.5 billion in Pentagon counterdrug funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds last year.
What the letter said: In their letter, the Democrats said a “significant portion” of what was taken last year has yet to be used, including $1.8 billion in military construction funds.
If another $7.2 billion is taken, bringing the total to $13.3 billion, they added, that would equal “more than the full unit acquisition cost of a Ford class aircraft carrier, the entire research and development cost for the Columbia class of submarines, or the $10.6 billion to purchase 98 F-35s in FY2020.”
The Democrats also highlighted testimony from defense officials to the House Armed Services Committee that they were “not aware of any terrorist threat” on the southern border and that most of the U.S. military forces deployed there are “engineers and cops.”
They added that they are “confounded” at how the Pentagon can be considering diverting resources to the border given the challenges the United States faces across the globe.
“These actions come as we continue to face diverse, complex and pressing security threats around the globe while trying to modernize our military and restore readiness,” they wrote in the letter, sent to the Pentagon on Friday night. “The lack of a strategy for the Middle East has led us to significantly heightened tensions with Iran, China and Russia continue to attempt to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model, North Korea remains an agitator in the Pacific, and we continue to support our allies and partners in the fight against terrorism.”
The demands: Should money be transferred to the border, the lawmakers asked Esper for an official form justifying each project, a detailed explanation for how each project directly supports the military and the specific dates the department plans to obligate funds, award contracts and start and finish construction.
The lawmakers also asked for a full list of military installations that will be affected by the funding transfers, the effect the transfers have on the volume and seizure of drugs at the border, how much money transferred in 2019 has been spent as of Jan. 1 and the spending plan for funds transferred in 2019.
IMPEACHMENT LATEST: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Tuesday launched the Democrats’ impeachment arguments on the Senate floor with an appeal to the senators charged with weighing the case to remove President Trump: Give us a fair trial.
Schiff, in a blue speckled tie, ticked through the impeachment trial rules as he called on Republican senators to allow Democrats to call in witnesses for testimony and receive new documents as evidence, warning that a fair trial is needed in order for senators to faithfully make a decision on whether to convict or acquit Trump.
“The most important question is the question you must answer today: Will the president and the American people get a fair trial?” Schiff said.
“I submit that this is an even more important question than how you vote on guilt or innocence, because whether we have a fair trial will determine whether you have a basis to render a fair and impartial verdict,” he continued. “It is foundational — the structure upon which every other decision you make must rest.”
Why the comments matter: The comments highlight a central controversy surrounding Trump’s impeachment as the process has shifted from the House, where Democrats hold the majority, to the GOP-controlled Senate.
House Democrats impeached Trump in December after a months-long investigation into his dealings with Ukraine, but new evidence related to the episode has emerged since then.
Democrats contend that the newly obtained evidence is material to the case and should therefore be considered.
“A trial with no evidence is not a trial at all; it’s a cover-up,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said shortly before the trial started on Tuesday.
Democrats are also hoping to hear new testimony from officials who refused to cooperate in the House investigation. One in particular — John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser — has had a change of heart and is now offering to testify if the Senate subpoenas him for testimony.
Both sides are dug in: Schiff’s appeal to allow the new information underlines the political nature of the impeachment trial, as both sides are dug in surrounding the ultimate verdict — widely expected to be an acquittal — and are vying to convince voters of their contrasting judgments about the propriety of Trump’s actions over Kyiv. Amid that fight, Democrats clearly see the new evidence and testimony as damaging to Trump’s defense — and beneficial to their public relations campaign.
“Right now, a great many — perhaps even most — Americans do not believe there will be a fair trial. They don’t believe the Senate will be impartial. They believe the result is pre-cooked,” Schiff said. “Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s prove them wrong.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed back on the need for witnesses, arguing that the House should not have rushed through their impeachment process if they wanted to incorporate new evidence.
Schiff’s argument: In their calls for a fair trial, Democrats have said that witnesses are not only a key component in Senate proceedings, but they are necessary after the White House worked to block key witnesses with first-hand accounts from testifying for the House inquiry.
Schiff on Tuesday took advantage of the multimedia system installed in the Senate chamber for the trial, using videos of the president’s own speeches and interviews — along with other powerpoint slides — to emphasize his points.
In one clip from a Trump rally, the president tells the audience that the impeachment effort must be invalid because under Article II of the Constitution, “I have the right to do whatever I want.”
Schiff also warned that the White House must not control the levers of what information is made public. Doing so, he warned, would allow the Trump White House to mislead the public by withholding key evidence in selective document dumps.
Fight over Ukraine documents: Senate Republicans on Tuesday rejected an opening effort by Democrats to compel the Trump administration to hand over documents related to the delayed Ukraine aid.
Democrats offered two amendments to the rules resolution that would have required the administration to turn over documents. Both were tabled, effectively blocking the requests, in back-to-back 53-47 votes.
The documents, according to Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), would relate to conversations and documents between President Trump, top administration officials and Ukraine on the delayed funding, which was eventually released in September.
“No one can argue that these documents are not directly related … People should understand that the documents can shed as much light on why the aid was cut off, who did it,” Schumer told reporters at a press conference ahead of the vote.
No two-day window: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in the face of strong criticism from Democrats, backed off his proposed requirement that House impeachment managers and President Trump’s lawyers each fit their opening arguments into two-day windows.
McConnell amended his organizing resolution for Trump’s impeachment trial at the last minute to give each side three days to make their opening arguments, which can last for up to 24 hours, the same amount of time given to the prosecution and defense during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Clinton.
The GOP leader made another significant amendment to his resolution by allowing the House impeachment inquiry to be entered into the Senate’s official trial record — subject to hearsay objections — something McConnell declined to greenlight in his initial proposal.
The resolution also allows each side to choose how many people may make those arguments.
More from the first day of Trump’s trial:
For a full recap of the day’s events, click here: Impeachment trial begins with furor over rules.
The Air Force Association will hold a discussion with Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, deputy commander, Combined Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, U.S. Central Command at 9:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va.
The Institute for Policy Studies will hold a discussion on “The Iran Crisis and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy,” at 3:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
— The Hill: Iran confirms missiles that hit Ukrainian airliner were Russian-made
— The Hill: Lawmakers push back at Pentagon’s possible Africa drawdown
— The Hill: Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner
— The Hill: New aircraft carrier to be named after first black American who received Navy Cross for valor
— The Hill: Feds seek 25-year sentence for Coast Guard officer accused of targeting lawmakers, justices
— The Hill: Space Force unveils service uniforms with camouflage design
— The Hill: Opinion: Trump’s 355-ship pledge complicates the Navy’s budget dilemma
— The Hill: Opinion: Iran is increasingly using missiles in its military operations — that’s a problem