Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week
Happy Friday 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: Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | ‘We probably weren’t that good at’ nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week James Mattis: Afghanistan papers not ‘revelatory’ Overnight Defense: Watchdog to audit company’s border wall contract | Pentagon to step up vetting of foreign students after Pensacola | Report finds former defense official sexually harassed staffers MORE said Friday he did not consider a bombshell report on the Afghanistan war released this week to be particularly “revelatory,” while defending U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn country.
The Washington Post this week published a series of articles showing that American officials in the Bush and Obama administrations lied about progress in what’s now become an 18-year-long war, painting a far rosier picture that glossed over massive misuse of funds and ill-conceived ideas.
“Well, it is investigative reporting. I think it’s been well done in that sense. But I have a hard time seeing it as all that revelatory,” President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE‘s former Pentagon chief said at a Washington Post event, noting that he had read the series in full.
“The difficulty of Afghanistan was well understood very early on,” he added. “The idea that there was any kind of an effort to hide this perplexes me.”
Background on the report: The articles drew on private interviews, conducted by a government watchdog, with officials from the Bush administration through the Trump presidency that revealed a bleak outlook in private. But in public “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” one official said.
Across 428 interviews, U.S. officials acknowledged confusion and failure in Afghanistan, with one official saying the strategy included “so many priorities and aspirations, it was like no strategy at all.”
The positives, according to Mattis: Mattis, who served as Defense secretary until December 2018, highlighted progress in fighting the Taliban following the U.S. military’s invasion after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The Taliban’s goal is to take over this country and they’ve been stopped in that at great cost to the Afghan people, at great cost to the Afghan army,” he said. “If you read [the articles], you’d almost think it’s a total disaster, and it’s not that at all. It’s been hard as hell but it’s not just one undistinguished defeat after another. They are the ones on the back foot.”
He noted other gains as well, including an increase in the number of educated Afghan women and populations that have received better access to medical care.
“I think when you look at the progress — and there is undeniable progress in education, in public health and other areas — and there has been terrible consequences under violence,” he said.
The negatives: But he acknowledged that defense officials have “also taken our eye off the ball at times,” pointing to the shift to the Iraq War in 2003.
“I was there in 2001, early 2002, and I was one of those pulled out to prepare for the invasion of Iraq,” said Mattis, who later became the head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013.
“We had to try to do something in nation-building, as much as some people condemn it,” in pouring funds into the country, Mattis said. “We probably weren’t that good at it.”
No end in sight: He indicated that he does not see U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan anytime soon.
“We’ll need to keep counterterrorism troops there for some time to keep al Qaeda from regenerating and to keep ISIS down,” Mattis said.
IMPEACHMENT UPDATE: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment Friday that charge President Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors, setting up a historic House vote next week that all but guarantees Trump will be just the third president to be impeached in U.S. history.
The articles, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, were passed out of the committee along strict party lines, with 23 Democrats voting to send the measures to the full House, which is expected to approve them next week. One Democrat, Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | ‘We probably weren’t that good at’ nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Ted Lieu undergoes surgery following chest pain MORE (D-Calif.), was absent after undergoing an unexpected medical procedure earlier in the week.
All 17 panel Republicans, meanwhile, united against both articles, arguing that the charges rested on thin evidence and that Democrats proceeding with their rapid impeachment push will set a dangerous precedent in the years ahead.
Republicans enraged over timing: The votes come two days after the panel began its debate and the morning after Democrats enraged Republicans by abruptly canceling an expected vote that would have taken place very late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
“That was the most egregious violation of trust between a committee chairman and ranking member I think I’ve ever seen,” said Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsImpeachment obliterates tinges of comity in House Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | ‘We probably weren’t that good at’ nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Trump invites Judiciary Republicans to gathering after they missed White House party during impeachment markup MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on Judiciary, who said “there was no discussion” about the change of plans.
“We thought we were going to do votes tonight,” said Collins, who called the impeachment markups a “kangaroo court” and argued that Democrats wanted more television time for the proceedings.
Democrats signaled that they wanted to prevent Republicans from arguing they had approved the articles of impeachment in the dead of night and when no Americans were watching.
“We felt like they wanted us to pass this in the middle of the night, so we felt the American people deserved to see this historic vote. And it should be passed in the daylight and not in the middle of the night,” a Democratic aide said.
Thursday to Friday: The partisan vote came after more than 14 hours of feisty debate on Thursday over a series of Republican amendments seeking to scrub Democrats’ impeachment articles that raised allegations about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.
In comparison to that slog, Friday’s votes were lightening fast: Nadler introduced them, one by one, shortly after 10 a.m., and he gaveled the hearing closed less than 10 minutes later. Almost no one spoke, except to cast their yea or nay vote.
Afterwards, Democrats hailed the development as a case of Congress protecting the country from an inherently corrupt president who had put his personal political interests above those of national security.
“It’ll be remembered as a day that certain people stood up for the Constitution and the founding fathers,” said Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | ‘We probably weren’t that good at’ nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrat suggests Republicans took acting classes based on ability to ‘suspend disbelief’ MORE (D-Tenn.).
Republicans’ response: Republicans were equally as passionate that Trump, rather than doing the abusing, had been abused. They accused the Democrats of rushing the process — before gathering all the facts and hearing from the first-hand players — to fit a pre-conceived conclusion that Trump should be removed.
“America needs to hear from the witnesses,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), referring to the process as “a kangaroo court.”
“They don’t have the right to abuse the process and this was a total abuse of process.”
The White House dismissed Friday’s committee vote, saying Trump looks forward to a “fair” trial in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The Dems’ side: Democrats allege Trump used a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Kyiv as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one into the son of his 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers MORE. They also accused him of obstructing Congress during their subsequent investigation of that episode.
They say such conduct rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors — the grounds for impeachment under the Constitution — and that leaving a lawless president in office threatens the very basis of American democracy.
ANOTHER TOP PENTAGON OFFICIAL LEAVING THIS WEEK: The Pentagon’s top official in charge of personnel and readiness resigned from his post on Friday after a little over a year on the job, making him the second top official this week to say they would step down.
“Today, I accepted the resignation of Jimmy Stewart, who has been performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness,” Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | ‘We probably weren’t that good at’ nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Top Pentagon official announces resignation, second within week Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades MORE said in a statement.
The defense chief did not give a reason as to why Stewart was leaving.
Stewart’s role: Stewart was confirmed as the assistant secretary of Defense for manpower and reserve affairs in October 2018 and also filled the under secretary role since then.
Esper called that role “critical to the National Defense Strategy, in support of our families and readiness” and praised Stewart for leaving retirement to take on the job “after having served 37 years in the Air Force.”
Stewart’s resignation comes a day after the Pentagon confirmed that its top Asia policy official, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver, plans to leave the department after being in the role since January 2018.
— The Hill: Ukraine still has not received $20 million in US aid: report
— The Hill: White House limits number of officials allowed to listen to Trump calls with foreign leaders: report
— The Washington Post: Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption
— Defense News: Ukraine could get new, deadlier missiles, thanks to Congress
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