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: President Trump fumed Wednesday about House Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry into him.
The anger was on full display when he grew testy with a reporter who was pressing him about what he was seeking from Ukraine in relation to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, demanding that the reporter ask a question to Finnish President Sauli Niinisö at a joint press conference.
“Listen, are you ready? We have the president of Finland, ask him a question,” Trump shot back to Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason. “Did you hear me? Ask him a question.”
The exchange came toward the end of a combative press conference that was unusually heated even by Trump standards.
The press conference followed a day in which Trump tweeted that Democrats are wasting their time on “bullshit” and ratcheted up his attacks on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) by describing him as a “low-life” who is inferior to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“There is an expression, he can’t carry his blank-strap,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, an apparent reference to the phrase that usually ends with “jockstrap.”
House presses on: Trump lashing out followed a morning in which Schiff appeared at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s (D-Calif.) weekly press conference and three House Democratic chairmen threatened to subpoena the White House for Ukraine documents.
“Over the past several weeks, the Committees tried several times to obtain voluntary compliance with our requests for documents, but the White House has refused to engage with–or even respond to–the Committees,” reads a memo from House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is leading the impeachment inquiry with Schiff and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).
“The White House’s flagrant disregard of multiple voluntary requests for documents –combined with stark and urgent warnings from the Inspector General about the gravity of these allegations — have left us with no choice but to issue this subpoena,” it added, saying the subpoena would be issued Friday unless the White House complies with document requests.
At the press conference, Schiff said efforts by the Trump administration to “stonewall” the inquiry will be taken as evidence of obstruction of justice.
“We are concerned that the White House will attempt to stonewall our investigation,” Schiff said during a joint press conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Any action like that, that forces us to litigate, or have to consider litigation, will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice.”
IG briefs committee staff: Later on Capitol Hill, the State Department’s inspector general briefed staff from several House and Senate committees on what Democrats are saying covered “conspiracy theories” tied to Ukraine, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former Vice President Biden.
“It’s essentially a packet of propaganda, and disinformation and spreading conspiracy theories. Those conspiracy theories have been widely debunked and discredited,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters after an hour-long briefing with State Department inspector general Steve Linick.
The closed-door briefing was part of a hastily assembled meeting requested by the State Department watchdog.
Ahead of the meeting, there had been speculation that it could be tied to a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, which is at the forefront of the impeachment probe.
Instead, Democrats say the packet of documents handed over by the State Department watchdog mentions Biden, Yovanovitch and CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that investigated breaches at the DNC in the lead up to the 2016 election.
“They appear to contain long-debunked theories and false statements about the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), whose staff attended the briefing.
“These documents provide further evidence of a concerted, external effort to conduct a disinformation campaign against a career U.S ambassador, who has been the subject of baseless attacks, including by the President himself,” he added.
It’s unclear where the documents came from, though Democrats quickly made clear after the briefing that they suspect Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, was involved.
A Democratic source familiar with the briefing said that the material appeared to come from the White House.
“Those folders contained notes from interviews that took place at Rudy Giuliani’s NYC office with various Ukrainians about debunked conspiracies related to Ukraine. This was just another attempt by the White House to peddle Rudy Giuliana conspiracy theories,” the source added.
Pompeo confirms he was on call: Pompeo confirmed Wednesday he was on the call between Trump and Ukraine’s president that’s at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
“I was on the phone call,” he said at a press conference in Rome.
News reports had previously said he on the call, but Wednesday was the first time Pompeo himself acknowledged it.
Pompeo also continued to tangle with House Democrats over their demand for testimony from five current and former State Department officials, arguing Wednesday that Democrats’ conditions “deeply violate fundamental principles of separation of powers.”
“So the response that I’ve provided to them was one that acknowledged that we will of course do our constitutional duty to cooperate with this co-equal branch, but we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system, and we won’t tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees,” Pompeo said. “That’s unacceptable and it’s not something that I’m going to permit to happen.”
MISSILES TESTS HERE AND THERE: Just a day after announcing the resumption of working-level nuclear talks with the United States, North Korea was back to testing missiles.
On Wednesday morning North Korea time, or Tuesday night Washington time, North Korea launched a missile from near Wonsan that landed into the Sea of Japan.
The Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday evening the missile was a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and released photos that appeared to show the missile launched from a submerged barge.
South Korea said the missile reached a height of 910 kilometers, or 570 miles, and traveled a distance of 450 kilometers, or 280 miles.
That’s a lofted trajectory, meaning it flew higher than normal. If flown on a standard trajectory, the missile would have a maximum range of about 1,900 kilometers, or 1,200 miles, David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote online. That would make it a medium-range missile, he said.
Working-level nuclear talks are supposed to resume this weekend for the first time since they stalled after Trump and Kim Jong Un‘s February summit.
Test of our own: Hours later, the U.S. Air Force conducted its own missile test.
The test was not in response to any world events, a news release stressed, but the timing was still uncanny. Launch calendars are scheduled three to five years in advance and planning for specific launches start six months to a year in advance.
The U.S. test was of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday, Air Force Global Strike Command said in the release.
The Minuteman III was launched with reentry vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 1:13 a.m. local time, according to the release. The reentry vehicle traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Marine Corps. Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak at 9 a.m. at the Heritage Foundation. https://herit.ag/2n0ahRZ
— The Hill: Top Foreign Relations Democrat calls on Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters
— The Hill: Trump sanctions chief leaving administration: report
— Associated Press: US impeachment drama ensnares Ukraine at a crucial moment
— Reuters: Iran’s Rouhani says French plan for talks broadly is acceptable
— Yahoo News: Trump tweeted ‘billions of dollars’ would be saved on military contracts. Then the Pentagon fired the official doing that.