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: President Trump said Tuesday that French President Emmanuel Macron‘s comments about NATO experiencing “brain death” were “very insulting” and “nasty.”
“NATO serves a great purpose,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in London on the sidelines of a meeting of alliance leaders. “I think that’s very insulting.”
Trump said he was “very surprised” by the comments and called them “very disrespectful.”
“It’s a tough statement. When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement essentially to 28 countries,” Trump said.
Trump also said that Macron’s statement was “very dangerous.”
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said.
What Macron said: Macron told The Economist in a recent interview that what the world is “currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO” and that the alliance needed to “wake up” and begin thinking of itself as a geopolitical power. Macron also warned of waning support for the alliance on the part of the United States.
Macron’s statements prompted scrutiny from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she did not share his view and called the statement “drastic.”
Trump’s stance: The president himself has been openly critical of NATO, arguing that the U.S. contributes a disproportionate amount to fund the group and protects other countries that pay less.
On Monday, he touted an increase in member nations’ defense spending during his administration, apparently taking credit for the increase.
“In the 3 decades before my election, NATO spending declined by two-thirds, and only 3 other NATO members were meeting their financial obligations. Since I took office, the number of NATO allies fulfilling their obligations more than DOUBLED, and NATO spending increased by $130B!” Trump tweeted.
More insults: Trump on Tuesday also knocked France’s economy and said Macron’s statement about NATO was a “tough” one to make “when you have such difficulty in France.”
“You have a very high unemployment rate in France. France is not doing well economically at all. They’re starting to tax other people’s products, so therefore we go and tax them, which is taking place right now on technology and we’re doing their wines and everything else,” Trump said.
“You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful.”
On Monday, the White House proposed tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in French goods in response to France’s digital services tax, saying an investigation found that the tax discriminated against U.S. companies.
Meeting with Macron: Trump and Macron later had a tense meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of a NATO summit, with Trump at one point telling the French leader he could send him some “ISIS fighters” if he wanted them.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said with a slight smile at the meeting, which was carried live on cable news. “You can take every one you want.”
“Let’s be serious,” Macron replied sternly, reasoning that most ISIS fighters came from Syria, Iraq and Iran and disputing Trump’s common refrain that the terrorist group had been defeated.
Trump has complained that European countries have been unwilling to accept ISIS fighters the U.S. had captured.
The French president insisted that the number of European ISIS fighters was a “tiny” part of the overall problem of addressing destabilization in the region. He was also adamant that the terrorist group had not entirely been defeated, a break with a common declaration from Trump.
“I think [the] No. 1 priority, because it’s not finished, is it to get rid of ISIS,” Macron said.
Read more from The Hill on Trump at the NATO meeting:
— Trump says US will host next year’s G-7 summit at Camp David
— Trump says Canada ‘slightly delinquent’ at NATO meeting
— Trump clarifies US support for Iranian protesters after confusion over previous comment
IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY REPORT IS OUT: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday unveiled the much-awaited findings of their weeks-long impeachment investigation, laying out in blow-by-blow detail the basis for their allegations that Trump abused the power of his office.
The 300-page report does not recommend specific articles of impeachment — leaving those decisions to the Judiciary Committee — but it paints a damning portrait of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and all but asserts that those actions warrant his removal from office.
Most of the narrative outlined in the report was previously known, revealed during weeks of interviews with more than a dozen administration officials with a window into Trump’s dealings with Kyiv.
But the sweeping summary also uncovers some tantalizing new details surrounding the Ukrainian affair, including extensive phone communications between some of the key players in the saga.
What’s in the report: Most dramatically, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released the call records of his committee’s own ranking member, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who emerged through the process as one of the president’s closest allies. Schiff, who has had a frosty relationship with Nunes since the start of a separate investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, said during a press conference that “it’s “deeply concerning” if members of Congress may have also been “complicit” in digging up dirt on the president’s political rival.
The call records, obtained under subpoena from AT&T, also included the time and duration (but not the content) of calls placed between Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer; Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born business associate of Giuliani’s; and John Solomon, a conservative columnist, formerly with The Hill, who published a series of articles pushing debunked theories about U.S.-Ukraine relations. In addition were calls between Giuliani and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which was responsible for withholding the military aid to Ukraine which became central to the impeachment inquiry.
What this means: The Democrats claimed the call records reveal further coordination between the president and his associates, who worked together to oust the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine and then subsequently pressure Kyiv for investigations.
“The evidence is clear that President Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election,” three House Democrat chairs said in a statement.
“These investigations were designed to benefit his 2020 presidential reelection campaign.”
REED SCOLDS MILITARY LEADERS ON TRUMP’S INTERVENTION IN WAR CRIMES CASES: The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday told the leaders of each military service that Trump’s decision to grant clemency to U.S. service members accused of war crimes was a “serious disservice” to troops.
At an unrelated hearing on privatized military housing, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) took the opportunity to address Trump’s intervention in the war crimes cases with a witness panel that included Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
“The president has the power to pardon, but he has a responsibility to use that power wisely, not recklessly,” Reed told the witnesses.
“Some have claimed that these cases were distractions and that the president’s intervention has somehow improved the morale of our military,” Reed added. “On the contrary, President Trump’s disregard for our military justice system risks undermining the confidence of our service members in the rule of law and their chain of command — especially those who were courageous enough to bring allegations of war crimes to light and testify against their teammates.”
What happened: Last month, Trump restored the rank of Navy Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter but acquitted of murder. Trump later ordered the Navy to allow Gallagher to keep his status as a SEAL after news broke the Navy was reviewing his Trident pin.
Gallagher’s case led to the firing of former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, whom Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused of going behind his back to broker a deal with Trump on Gallagher’s SEAL status.
Last month, Trump also pardoned Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering his men to fire on three Afghans, and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, who had been awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to murdering an Afghan man.
Reed’s warning: In his comments Tuesday, Reed warned that failure to hold U.S. personnel to “appropriate standards of conduct” increases the likelihood they “will face similar abuses on the battlefield” and makes it less likely “we will be able to hold our enemies accountable.”
Reed also invoked the late Sen. John McCain, using a quote from a 2011 op-ed the Arizona Republican wrote against torture.
“There is no one with more credibility on these issues than the late Sen. John McCain who stated: ‘This is a moral debate. It is about who we are. I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos, and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us,'” Reed said.
NAVY ORDERS $22B IN NUCLEAR SUBMARINES: The U.S. Navy will spend about $22 billion to purchase nine new nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines as it seeks to maintain superiority over China’s growing Navy, according to a service release Tuesday.
“These next generation submarines provide our forces with a distinct national security advantage. They are an unmatched tool for deterrence,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who has held the position for just days following the ouster of his predecessor, Richard Spencer, added that the commission affirmed the U.S. commitment to naval dominance.
“Our submarine force is fundamental to the power and reach of our integrated naval force,” he said. “Today’s announcement affirms our commitment to the future strength of our nation, undersea and around the world.”
The details: The commission for the new ships will be fulfilled by General Dynamics Electric Boat and subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Industries at a shipyard in Rhode Island employing thousands of workers.
The first ships are expected to be completed in 2025. The Navy currently operates 18 Virginia-class submarines, which the service views as a replacement for the older Los Angeles-class ships.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
John Hill, Defense Department principal director for space policy, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command and Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier, director of the Air Force Space Force Planning Task Force will speak at the Defense Strategies Institute Space Resiliency Summit beginning at 8:45 a.m. in Alexandria, Va.
A Senate Armed Service subcommittee will hear from defense officials on U.S. Navy ship and submarine maintenance at 10 a.m. at Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 106.
Another Senate Armed Service subcommittee will hear from government officials on servicemember, family and veteran suicides and prevention at 3 p.m. in Dirksen 222.
The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on “U.S. Strategic Interests in Ukraine,” with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.), at 11:30 a.m. in the U.S. Capitol, room CVC-268.
— The Hill: Former Ukraine official says country knew of military aid freeze in July
— The Hill: Bipartisan lawmakers introduce amendment affirming US commitment to military aid to Israel
— The Hill: House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops ‘a needless wedge’
— The Hill: Trump resurrects ‘Rocket Man’ nickname for North Korean leader
— The Hill: US citizen on FBI Most Wanted list faces new terrorism charges
— The Hill: Senate panel to vote on Turkey sanctions next week
— The Hill: North Korea: US will choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants
— The Hill: Opinion: Why NATO is worth preserving for US, Europe — and even Russia