Happy Thursday 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: No Defense Department (DOD) officials listened in on the July call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president that is now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said Thursday. The spokesman added that the department’s general counsel has directed all offices to provide documents related to aid received by Ukraine.
“To my knowledge, no one from the Department of Defense was on that call. I’ve specifically asked [Defense Secretary Mark Esper] that question and he was not on that call,” Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.
A refresher: The July 25 call in question involved Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, seemingly pressuring the Ukraine leader in exchange for U.S. military aid.
The aid was first announced on June 18 but the Trump administration held up the nearly $400 million until Sept. 11.
Trump has acknowledged he delayed the money, citing alternate concerns about corruption or because he believes Europe is not contributing enough to Ukraine, though the Pentagon in a May letter said that Defense Department had certified that the nation had taken action against corruption.
Questions remain on delay: Asked what had triggered the aid’s delay, despite the letter that had given the go-ahead for its release, Hoffman said he could not discuss “conversations between the department and the White House in terms of the timing of notices.”
Hoffman also told reporters that the DOD general counsel’s office has directed that all department offices should provide any pertinent documents and records related to the Ukrainian aid for “cataloging and review.”
He said it was “a fairly standard practice” and that there was interest from Congress and the Pentagon inspector general for a possible investigation.
“Out of an abundance of caution, they’ve taken the steps to have documents be preserved,” he said.
No request to testify, yet: Hoffman added that he’s not aware of Congress reaching out to Esper for requests to testify on the matter.
Pressed by reporters on the DOD’s seeming lack of awareness of the call and whether it was cause for concern, Hoffman stressed that Esper “has a solid working relationship with the president, with [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo], with the national security adviser … that’s not a concern.”
“The secretary has an incredibly busy schedule and is working on a number of different issues at any one time. He doesn’t spend most of his days sitting in on other people’s phone calls,” he added.
And State formally approves Javelin sale: The State Department formally approved a potential $39.2 million sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles and related equipment to Ukraine, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Thursday.
News of the approval broke earlier this week, but Thursday’s announcement represented the formal notification to Congress of the approval.
The sale, which is now subject to a 30-day congressional review period, would include 150 Raytheon-made Javelin missiles and 10 launchers, as well as related equipment and support.
The United States first sold Ukraine 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers in 2018.
PENTAGON CONFIRMS NORTH KOREAN TEST WAS BALLISTIC MISSILE: The most recent North Korean missile test was a short- to medium-range ballistic missile “fired from a sea-based platform,” a top Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.
Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters that North Korea launched the missile from its southern Wonsan Bay, and the missile flew about 280 miles into the Sea of Japan, also called the East Sea.
Ryder said the Pentagon has “no indication that it was launched from a submarine, but rather, a sea-based platform.”
‘Unnecessarily provocative’: Top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said later in the briefing that Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with his Japanese counterpart in a call earlier Thursday.
The two agreed that tests are “unnecessarily provocative and not helpful in an effort to get the North Koreans back on a diplomatic path,” Hoffman said.
The test came a day after the State Department announced that Washington and Pyongyang would hold talks on curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program following a months-long stalemate and multiple missile tests.
MORE THAN 20 SOLDIERS INJURED DURING PARACHUTE TRAINING EXERCISE: More than 20 soldiers were injured, with some requiring hospitalization, after being blown off course during a parachute training exercise Wednesday night.
The incident occurred during a paratrooper training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, Col. Bobby Ginn said during a press conference Thursday. He said 87 jumpers landed in trees next to the intended drop zone.
The injuries: Ginn said 23 paratroopers were sent to Forrest General Hospital for treatment, and four remained at the hospital Thursday afternoon.
One soldier had to undergo surgery for a broken back but is “expected to recover well,” according to a Facebook post from the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.
All of the paratroopers were accounted for on Thursday. The camp “had a few jumpers remaining that were so high in the trees that they required significant recovery support,” according to the Facebook post.
“As I have said before, service as a paratrooper requires a level of toughness that most do not understand. Despite the difficulty of this training jump, the battalion performed well and will recover well to continue our training mission,” Lt. Colonel Matt Meyer shared on the battalion’s Facebook page.
“We have systems and professionals who are trained and ready to address situations like this,” he said.
The exercise included soldiers with the 4th Brigade Combat Infantry Division in Alaska, NBC News reported. It was part of a larger training exercise called “Arctic Anvil 2019,” Ginn said.
He added that the incident is under investigation.
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