Happy Monday 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 left for Monday for London, where he’ll be participating in a meeting with NATO leaders marking the 70th anniversary of the alliance.
The meeting comes at a time of tension in the alliance – French President Emmanuel Macron made waves last month when he said NATO is in a state of “brain death.”
Meanwhile, allies are at odds with fellow ally Turkey over its incursion in Syria and purchase of Russian missiles.
Trump heads into the meeting with a symbolic victory for himself. It was revealed last week the United States would reduce its share of paying for NATO’s administrative costs from 22 percent to 16 percent. The relatively small pot of money is separate from the goal of each country spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product, a target Trump frequently complains others are not meeting.
The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels have a look at five things to watch for at Trump’s NATO meetings.
BACK AT HOME, IMPEACHMENT: Trump’s overseas trip is liable to be overshadowed by what’s going on back home: The impeachment inquiry is entering its next phase this week.
First up, the House Intelligence Committee on Monday is reviewing its investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The committee is expected to adopt the report.
Then, the inquiry moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which has its first hearing in the matter scheduled for Wednesday.
The White House said Sunday night it would not participate in Wednesday’s hearing, but did not rule out taking part in future hearings.
The administration in a five-page letter to the committee ripped the process as “highly partisan” and accused the panel’s Democratic chairman of providing little information about Wednesday’s hearing.
“We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Nadler responded Monday with a statement saying the White House’s refusal to participate in the hearing is a sign that Trump has something “to hide.”
“The American people deserve transparency,” Nadler said in the statement.
“If the President thinks the call was ‘perfect’ and there is nothing to hide then he would turn over the thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress, allow witnesses to testify instead of blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims, and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power,” he added.
Who will be there: The Judiciary Committee Monday unveiled the witness panel for the hearing featuring four constitutional scholars.
Titled “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” Wednesday’s hearing will feature testimony from four law professors: Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law; Pamela Karlan, a professor of public interest law at Stanford Law School; Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law; and Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School.
Turley is also an opinion contributor for The Hill.
GOP defense: House Republicans are expected to argue Trump did not intend for his dealings with Ukraine to benefit him politically, but rather that the president made “entirely prudent” decisions driven by a “reasonable skepticism” about corruption in the country.
In a draft GOP impeachment report reviewed by The Hill, Republicans claim there is no evidence to back up Democrats’ allegations that Trump sought to use a White House visit and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid as leverage to get Kyiv to open two investigations that would benefit him politically.
In the 123-page draft that echoes the president’s arguments in his own defense, Republicans don’t give an inch in admitting wrongdoing and attack the impeachment inquiry led by Democrats, describing it as a partisan campaign to shake up the political system.
“Understood in this proper context, the President’s initial hesitation to meet with President Zelensky or to provide U.S. taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine without thoughtful review is entirely prudent,” the draft impeachment report reads.
Trump, Pompeo slam hearing during NATO meeting: Trump and his allies are blasting House Democrats for holding the first Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment at the same time the president will be in London meeting with other NATO members.
Administration officials have accused Democrats of deliberately attempting to distract Trump from his work overseas by hosting a hearing Wednesday with constitutional law experts on impeachable offenses.
“The do nothing Democrats decided when I’m going to NATO … that was the exact time — this is one of the most important journeys that we make as president,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he departed for London on Monday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, told “Fox & Friends” that he felt the decision to hold a hearing while Trump is abroad went against precedent.
“I regret that they’ve chosen to hold these hearings at the same time that the president and our entire national security team will be traveling to Europe to London to work on these matters,” Pompeo said. “It’s very unfortunate.”
Zelensky speaks: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview published Monday that he didn’t view his conversations with Trump as a quid pro quo — but criticized blocking U.S. security aid for his country at a time when it is at war with Russia.
“I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” Zelensky said in an interview with Time published Monday.
“I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war,” he said. “If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”
CHINA BANS US PORT VISITS TO HONG KONG: China responded Monday to the U.S. passage of a bill supporting protesters in Hong Kong by suspending U.S. Navy visits to Hong Kong, as well as announcing sanctions on several nongovernmental organizations.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the government would suspend reviewing requests for U.S. military ships and aircraft to visit Hong Kong. She also announced sanctions on the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and others.
“We urge the U.S. to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and China’s sovereignty,” she said.
China previously rejected scheduled U.S. port visits to Hong Kong in August.
Background: Last week, Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act despite protests from officials in Beijing, who complain that the legislation meddles in their domestic matters.
The legislation imposes sanctions on individuals who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong and blocks them from entering the United States.
It would also require the State Department to provide an annual report to lawmakers on whether Hong Kong remains “sufficiently autonomous” from China.
Trump’s signature came after questions about whether he would veto it over concerns about his trade negotiations with China. The bill passed both chambers of Congress with large, veto-proof majorities.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The secretaries and chiefs for each branch of the military will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on privatized housing at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/382gQ9B
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. policy toward Russia with testimony from State Department officials at 9:45 a.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2Ye0wyi
— The Hill: Congress braces for chaotic December
— The Hill: Trump administration releases $105M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay
— The Hill: Graham, Van Hollen warn Pompeo that ‘patience’ on Turkey sanctions ‘has long expired’
— The Hill: Opinion: The ‘Ukraine did it’ conspiracy theory is dangerous: Here’s why
— Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. troop drawdowns in Afghanistan ‘not necessarily’ tied to Taliban deal, Defense Secretary Esper says
— Bloomberg: General Dynamics wins $22.2 billion for Virginia-class subs
— The New York Times: With brutal crackdown, Iran is convulsed by worst unrest in 40 years