Today's D Brief: 2024 funding deal?; Scrutiny for SecDef; Sailor-spy sentenced; China’s aerial messages; And a bit more.
The Pentagon says it will conduct a month-long review of the notification process for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's recent hospitalization, which officials announced Friday after Austin had been in the ICU at Walter Reed for much of the week without notifying White House and congressional leaders.
The review was ordered Monday by Kelly Magsamen, Austin's chief of staff, and will be carried out by the Defense Department’s Director of Administration and Management Jennifer Walsh. “The purpose of such review is to better understand the facts surrounding these events and to recommend appropriate processes going forward,” Magsamen wrote in her memo (PDF).
She also ordered a series of email notifications for any future transfers or delegations of authority similar to what Austin executed with his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, during his hospitalization last week. That list includes “the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Combatant Commanders, the Service Secretaries, the Service Chiefs of Staff, the White House Situation Room,” and others.
For what it’s worth: Magsamen was reportedly sick with the flu last week (CNN, CBS, ABC News), which contributed to Austin’s notification delay, including to President Joe Biden, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder.
The view from Capitol Hill: “This lack of disclosure must never happen again,” said Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, on Monday. “[Austin] is taking responsibility for the situation, but this was a serious incident and there needs to be transparency and accountability from the Department,” he added in his statement.
“I am quickly losing faith in Sec Austin’s ability to lead [the Pentagon] in this turbulent time,” Alabama GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on social media Monday evening. “We must hear from Sec Austin & DoD on this lack of transparency,” said Rogers, who in 2021 sought to overturn U.S. election results.
“Lloyd Austin is the person who needs to resign, or his chief of staff, or both of them,” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, Reed’s colleague in the SASC, said on Fox Monday.
Montana GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale said he will introduce articles of impeachment against Austin sometime Tuesday. Rosendale, another election denier, made the promise Monday on a conservative talk radio show, “The Vince Coglianese Show.”
And from the 2024 campaign trail, former president Donald Trump said Sunday that he thinks Austin should be fired for “dereliction of duty” and “improper professional conduct.” (By the way, Trump, who is being prosecuted for trying to overturn the 2020 election, has a court appearance today.)
Another thing: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith is back in the hospital this week, the service announced Monday—the same day he “underwent successful open heart surgery,” according to an official statement. Smith scheduled the procedure to “repair a bicuspid aortic valve in his heart, which was the cause of his cardiac arrest on Oct. 29,” the Corps said Monday evening.
“He is in good condition and continues to recover at the hospital among family members and his doctors,” according to the statement. It’s unclear how long his rehabilitation may take; but in the meantime, the service will be led by Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney, who was sworn in five days after Smith suffered his heart attack in late October, one month after complaining of exhaustion while serving as both commandant and assistant commandant of the Corps due to promotional holds by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1916, and after nearly eight consecutive months of fighting, the Battle of Gallipoli came to an end when the last invading Allied troops (consisting of British, French, Australians and New Zealanders) departed the peninsula, giving the Ottomans a historic victory.
New from Capitol Hill: House and Senate leaders say they’ve reached a deal for nearly $1.6 trillion in federal spending. And if passed, it could avert a possible government shutdown in 10 days. The agreement between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., includes $886 billion for defense spending (as agreed upon in December), and cuts billions in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service.
The deal is far from sealed. Far-right Republicans vowing to vote against it include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who said Monday that the agreement “does nothing to secure the border, stop the invasion, or stop the weaponized government targeting Biden’s political enemies and innocent Americans.”
An American sailor was sentenced to 27 months in jail for passing military secrets to China for two years beginning in 2021, the Justice Department announced Monday.
His name is Wenheng Zhao, age 26. And as a U.S. Navy petty officer second class, he received nearly $15,000 in at least 14 separate bribe payments from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for “sensitive, non-public information regarding U.S. Navy operational security, military trainings and exercises, and critical infrastructure,” the Department of Justice said.
Information he passed to the Chinese included “plans for a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific theatre, operational orders and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.” He also sent the information over “sophisticated encrypted communication” and destroyed evidence while trying to conceal “his relationship with the intelligence officer,” according to U.S. officials in California.
New: Beijing says it recently detained a person allegedly spying in China for the Brits. Their name is Huang Moumou, and they served as “head of an overseas consulting agency,” according to China’s Ministry of State Security.
Huang’s relationship with British intelligence goes back to at least 2015, China alleges. “Since then, MI6 instructed Huang to enter China multiple times, instructing him to use his public identity as a cover to collect China-related intelligence for British espionage and to identify personnel for MI6 to incite rebellion,” the MSS says. “MI6 also provided professional intelligence training to Huang Moumou in the UK and other places, and was equipped with special spy equipment for intelligence cross-linking,” Chinese officials allege.
From the region:
- “China satellite launch triggers air raid alert in Taiwan ahead of election,” the BBC reported Tuesday;
- “Experts See a Message in Chinese Balloons Flying Over Taiwan,” the New York Times reported last week from Taiwan;
- And “China to sanction 5 US manufacturers over arms sales to Taiwan,” Reuters reported over the weekend.
Today in Washington: The Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development and Emerging Capabilities Michael Horowitz is scheduled to discuss artificial intelligence this morning at 11:30 a.m. ET in an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Details and livestream, here.
And later this afternoon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti is set to speak at the Surface Navy Association's 36th National Symposium, at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Va. That’s expected at 4 p.m. ET. In-person attendance only. Details, here.
Lastly today, and in an unfortunate follow up, the first U.S. attempt to land on the moon in 50 years is now in jeopardy as “a critical loss of fuel” has imperiled the space mission, which launched Monday from the coast of Florida.
What’s going on: Private firm Astrobotic Technology out of Pittsburgh sent its Peregrine lander to the moon on Monday, with a projected arrival of late February. But seven hours after launch, a “disturbance” was observed in a section of the lander’s thermal insulation, and “a failure in the propulsion system” was also discovered, the Associated Press reports. Company officials estimated the lander now only has about two days’ worth of power.
All is not lost—for NASA anyway. “A second lander from a Houston company [Intuitive Machines] is due to launch next month” thanks to Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX, AP notes. Read on, here.