Today's D Brief: SecDefs avow military neutrality; Trump pushes to alter election results; Iran’s enriching; NDAA veto overriden; And a bit more.
All 10 former SecDefs agree: The military should never be involved in America’s election disputes. That’s the consensus among all living former leaders of the Pentagon, which includes:
- Donald Rumsfeld
- Dick Cheney
- William Perry
- William Cohen
- Robert Gates
- Leon Panetta
- Chuck Hagel
- Ashton Carter
- James Mattis
- Mark Esper
“The time for questioning the results has passed,” the 10 defense secretaries say in an op-ed published by the Washington Post on Sunday. “[T]he time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.”
Using the military to try and resolve election disputes “would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” the SecDefs write. “Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”
Whose idea was this? Cheney, said Perry on Twitter. To better appreciate the former secretaries’ argument, consider the following…
President Trump unsuccessfully pushed Georgia’s Secretary of State to overturn election results in an hourlong phone conversation on Saturday. The Washington Post published a transcript of the leaked recording Sunday; and on the off-chance you haven’t heard it already on network or cable news, you can listen in full here.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump told Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”
For the record: That very specific number comes from President-elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia — a margin of victory certified thanks to three recounts, as the BBC reported after the last one on Dec. 7.
By the way: Was it a crime? The New York Times explores the question, here. Two other takes include the following:
- “If any other person did this – someone else with power to leverage over an election official – there is no doubt in my mind that at the very least a criminal investigation would be opened right away,” Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis told Reuters, and said he can’t imagine charges will be brought against Trump. However…
- “It’s a [Georgia state] crime to solicit election fraud, and asking the secretary to change the votes is a textbook definition of election fraud,” said David Worley, the only Democrat on Georgia’s five-person state election board, to the Washington Post. But it’s unclear at this point whether Raffensperger’s office will pursue Worley’s request for a formal investigation into the Saturday phone call.
The bigger picture: Control of the Senate and the future of Biden’s policy agenda are both at stake this week with runoff elections for Georgia’s two state senators set for Tuesday. That’s why both Biden and Trump are in Georgia today drumming up support for their senate candidates.
What to expect from here: If Tuesday’s vote in Georgia is close, “the results could remain unclear for days as ballots are counted, and legal challenges could prolong the process,” Reuters reports, and reminds us that “Biden’s 12,000-vote victory took more than a week to confirm, and two recounts pushed the state’s final certification into December.” More here. Or read the Associated Press’s Tuesday preview, here.
From Defense One
Senate Joins House in Overriding Trump’s NDAA Veto // Courtney Bublé: Congress’ rejection of the veto—the first in Trump’s presidency—comes during his final days in office.
House Votes to Override Trump’s Defense Authorization Veto // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: On Tuesday, the Senate could overturn a veto for the first time in Trump's presidency.
Trump Signs Omnibus and COVID Relief Bill, Averting a Shutdown // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: After days of bluster and veto threats, the president signed the $1.4 trillion bill into law.
Trump Vetoes Defense Authorization Bill // Kevin Baron: For the Confederacy, conservative speech, and the desire to bring troops home, Trump rejected the $700 billion NDAA at the last minute before Washington breaks for Christmas.
For Pentagon, Biden Picks Two Obama-era Policy Veterans to Help Austin // Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber: After passing on Flournoy, Biden taps Kathleen Hicks and Colin Kahl to be Austin's deputy defense secretary and undersecretary for policy.
Lockheed Martin Executive in Charge of F-35, F-22, Skunk Works Dies // Marcus Weisgerber: Michele Evans, who was executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, had taken two medical leaves since 2019.
The SolarWinds Hack Doesn’t Demand a Violent Response // Elisabeth Braw: Major retaliation is more likely to spur escalation than improve deterrence.
Trump Could Still Start a Last-Ditch War With Iran // Tom Nichols, The Atlantic: A final grand distraction before the president is forced to relinquish his office is a real danger that deserves serious attention.
Split Up NSA and CYBERCOM // Javed Ali and Adam Maruyama: And have the signals-intelligence agency report directly to the Director of National Intelligence.
Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us // Ed Yong, The Atlantic: As vaccines roll out, the U.S. will face a choice about what to learn and what to forget.
Happy new year, and welcome to this January 4 edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1920, William Egan Colby was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Before his 25th birthday, he would command a Jedburgh team of special operators in Nazi-occupied France. Almost 30 years later, he would become America’s 10th director of the CIA. His somewhat unexpected death in 1996 helped drive his son to produce a 2011 documentary film about his life called “The Man Nobody Knew.”
Iranian forces seized a South Korean oil tanker in the Hormuz Strait, alleging unspecified “oil pollution.” The vessel “had been traveling from a petrochemicals facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates,” AP reports from Dubai.
The incident happened just days "ahead of an expected visit by South Korea’s deputy foreign minister to Tehran," Reuters reports. "Iranian foreign ministry said on Monday that the visit would happen in coming days and would discuss Iran’s demand that South Korea release $7 billion in funds frozen in South Korean banks because of U.S. sanctions."
Iran also just announced it’s enriching uranium at a higher percentage at its underground facility in Fordo. The Wall Street Journal calls this new effort “a significant breach of the 2015 nuclear deal that slashes the time it would take for Tehran to produce the grade of fuel needed for a nuclear weapon.”
Why that matters: “Iran’s decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting its nuclear facilities, tensions that only abated with the 2015 atomic deal,” AP writes. “A resumption of 20% enrichment could see that brinksmanship return as that level of purity is only a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.”
Big picture for the region: Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
That’s partly why the U.S. military has flown three recent B-52 bomber missions near Iran over the past several weeks (Nov. 21 and Dec. 10), and most recently on Dec. 30.
Related: Nimitz to stay in the region. On Sunday, SecDef Chris Miller announced that he had reversed his recent decision to pull the carrier out, a move that reportedly would have gone against the recommendations of top U.S. military leaders responsible for the region, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The reversal came as Iranian officials “have increased their fiery messaging against the United States,” the New York Times reported. “United States intelligence agencies have assessed for months that Iran is seeking to target senior American military officers and civilian leaders to avenge the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in an American drone strike one year ago.”
FWIW: Naval War College prof Tom Nichols argues that Trump may yet launch action against Iran as a distraction from his attempts to overturn the election. Read that, here.
Congress overrode Trump’s NDAA veto. Senate lawmakers voted 81-13 on New Year's Day to override President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act just days after the House did the same in a 322-87 vote in that chamber. It was the first time Congress has voted to override Trump’s veto of legislation. More from Govexec’s Courtney Bublé, here.
Rewind: Trump listed his reasons for the veto in a Dec. 23 statement. The first three were: it didn’t tackle an unrelated item relating to social-media companies, it paved the way to rename U.S. military bases that honor Confederate leaders, and it limited his ability to divert money from Congressionally directed military construction efforts.
More than 351,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to the latest metrics from Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. military has lost 180 personnel so far to the virus, and that includes 14 service members and 41 contractors. More from the Defense Department, here.
The vaccine rollout is going more slowly than promised. CBS News: “The Trump administration has fallen far behind on its initial pledge to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020, with under 3 million people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations out of the 14 million doses that have shipped.”
Why? CBS reports “Local health providers responsible for the last mile of the vaccine's delivery are short-staffed and exhausted by the ongoing battle against the pandemic, and limited resources, prioritization plans and mistakes have also hampered the nationwide vaccination effort.” Read on, here.
One idea: Prioritize giving people a first dose, thereby increasing their resistance somewhat, instead of reserving supplies for a second dose that would raise it to around 95%. Read that argument from Robert M. Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, and Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. The NYT has a bit of a roundup on the debate, here.
Meanwhile, the UK is already trying something like it. STAT News: British officials “will stretch out the interval between the administration of the two doses required for Covid-19 vaccines already in use — potentially to as long as three months, instead of the recommended three or four weeks. And they have said they will permit the first dose and second dose for any one person to be from different vaccine manufacturers, if the matching vaccine is not available.” Read that, here.
Germany and Denmark may be next, Reuters reports.
And finally today: A cop in the UK is something like a walking facial recognition machine. The BBC reported in late December that Andy Pope has now ID’d more than 2,000 suspected robbers and criminals “and has even been able to single out wanted people wearing face coverings.”
About this guy: “Pope joined the force in 2012 and is one of only 20 members of the Association of Super Recognisers, a body representing those with excellent memory capabilities and which wants the skill to be recognised as a branch of forensic science.”
Said Pope of his talents: “If you look at a picture enough times, there is usually something that sticks in the mind as distinctive. Maybe I can’t pinpoint what that something is at the time, but when I see the person in the flesh, it triggers that recognition.” More here.