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: The Pentagon on Wednesday released new images and video of the weekend raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, adding to the picture of the terrorist’s final moments.
U.S. Central Command (Centcom) chief Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the mission, which he ordered to commence from Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Fla., began around 9 a.m. eastern time Saturday.
Offering new details of the raid, McKenzie spoke as reporters at the Pentagon were shown the videos of the special operations team assaulting al-Baghdadi’s compound and the strikes on the facility afterward.
A video was first shown of the assault force’s arrival at the compound – described as an area not traditionally operated in by U.S. forces and roughly an hour flight from the U.S. staging base in Syria.
Fighters from two locations can be seen gathering to fire on U.S. aircraft. Though the individuals were not assessed to be affiliated with al-Baghdadi, “they demonstrated a hostile intent against U.S. forces and were killed by two airstrikes from supporting helicopters,” McKenzie said as the strike was shown.
Congress gets briefed: The House and Senate were also briefed on the raid by defense and intelligence officials Wednesday.
“We had asked for a briefing on Syria, they wanted to give us a briefing on al-Baghdadi,” she told reporters after the briefing. “We welcomed that, and we congratulate our forces that did that so successfully. We still want the briefing on Syria and Turkey.”
Asked if the briefers at the classified session were unprepared to answer questions on Syria and Turkey, Pelosi said she “can’t go into what happened in there.”
“But again, let’s say on the plus side, the briefing on al-Baghdadi is something that we congratulate our forces for doing so successfully,” she said.
Asked if the broader Syria and Turkey briefing has been scheduled yet, Pelosi said, “They said it will be.”
TODAY’S IMPEACHMENT UPDATE: Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told lawmakers Wednesday he was aware of a “campaign” against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine by President Trump‘s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani over the summer, corroborating parts of the ex-ambassador’s private testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
“My knowledge in the spring and summer of this year about any involvement of Mr. Giuliani was in connection with a campaign against our ambassador to Ukraine,” Sullivan said under questioning from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) during his confirmation hearing to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted as U.S ambassador to Ukraine in late April, told House lawmakers in closed-door testimony earlier this month that Sullivan informed her she was recalled from her position in Ukraine because Trump had lost confidence in her.
Yovanovitch also said that she was told by Sullivan that there had been a “concerted campaign” against her since Summer 2018 but that she had done nothing wrong, according to her written opening statement.
Pressed Wednesday on the details surrounding Yovanovitch’s dismissal, Sullivan repeated that it was because the president had lost confidence in her. He added that he asked why that was the case, and was not given a specific reason.
“My experience has been that when the president loses confidence in an ambassador, no matter what the reason, that the president’s confidence in his ambassador in a capital is the coin of the realm, the most important thing for that ambassador,” Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, in the House: A foreign service officer assigned to the White House says former GOP Rep. Robert Livingston (La.), now a powerful lobbyist, repeatedly urged that Yovanovitch be fired, according to a copy of the officer’s opening statement obtained by The Hill.
The officer, Catherine Croft, is testifying Wednesday behind closed doors to lawmakers on three panels running the House impeachment inquiry.
In her testimony, Croft says that Livingston, who nearly became the Speaker in 1998 after then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) stepped down, repeatedly pressed her to fire Yovanovitch when she worked for the National Security Council.
“During my time at the NSC, I received multiple calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston, who told me that Ambassador Yovanovitch should be fired,” her opening statement says.
“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” Croft’s statement says. “It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch.”
Bolton on tap?: House investigators on Wednesday invited former national security adviser John Bolton to give a voluntary deposition next week as part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, in what could be key testimony on Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.
Democrats are seeking Bolton’s closed-door testimony on Nov. 7, according to a source familiar with the impeachment proceedings, a move that comes following reports that his lawyers are negotiating with three House committees about possibly testifying.
A lawyer for Bolton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether his client intends to testify. And a spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee declined to confirm whether the Bolton hearing is expected to proceed as scheduled.
While Democrats have said for weeks they want to hear from Bolton, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) fixed a spotlight on his possible testimony on Sunday.
“Obviously he has very relevant information and we do want him to come in and testify,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week,” calling Bolton a “very important” witness.
The Intelligence chairman also said he believes the White House will seek to block Bolton from testifying.
Amid the House investigation into Trump’s controversial dealings with Ukraine, Democrats now see the military hawk as a potential star witness — one whose intimate knowledge of the Ukraine affair could expose more evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
Bolton is someone who was involved in some of the most explosive events related to Trump’s contacts with Kiev, but it’s unclear whether the longtime Republican stalwart would defend Trump’s actions or paint the president’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into political rivals as an abuse of power.
MORE SULLIVAN: Though Sullivan’s confirmation hearing largely revolved around the impeachment allegations, he did get asked about another pressing foreign policy issue: the Open Skies Treaty.
Sullivan told senators he has been assured the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty after hearing rumors to the contrary.
“There would need to be substantial evidence to support the national security interest for withdrawal from that treaty, and there would need to be consultations with this committee, with Congress and, in particular, with our NATO allies and the other countries that are members of the treaty,” Sullivan.
At the hearing, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he “has received information that before John Bolton resigned, President Trump may have made a decision to exit the Open Skies Treaty.”
Sullivan told Markey he “heard those same rumors” and, after asking the White House about them, was assured the United States has not withdrawn from the treaty.
“To my knowledge, the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty,” he said. “In fact, the United States this month is chairing the Open Skies Consultative Commission.”
The issue: The fate of the Open Skies Treaty has become a growing concern among Democrats.
The treaty, which has been in effect since 2002, allows the pact’s 34 signatories to fly unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other signatories. The intention is to increase transparency and reduce the risk of military miscalculation.
Prior to his ouster, Bolton urged Trump to sign a document signaling his intent to withdraw from the treaty, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump signed it, the Journal reported, citing two unidentified U.S. officials.
Under the terms of the treaty, a withdrawal requires a formal notice to the other signatories. The notice kicks off a six-month withdrawal period.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be alternate executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank, assistant administration of the U.S. Agency for International Development, ambassador to Laos, ambassador to Kuwait and ambassador to Oman at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2JQ3RxB
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