THE HEAT IS ON, THE PRESSURE IS OFF: The naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia is a masterstroke on a number of levels. It quiets the Democrats who were threatening to block any action in Congress including appointment of a new FBI director. It also provides the Trump administration a legitimate reason to stop commenting on a matter that is under investigation. The probe will now be headed by Mueller, a man of unquestioned independence and integrity, who importantly has a reputation for not leaking. The investigation will likely go on for months before reaching any conclusion, which could give the Trump administration breathing room to refocus on other priorities. And if President Trump is correct in his assertion that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, Mueller is the man with the credibility to clear the president without the taint of partisan politics.
The appointment of Mueller last night by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also helped restore his own credibility. He’s been taking heat since he wrote the justification for the president’s abrupt firing of James Comey, who was overseeing the FBI’s probe into whether Trump has any ties to Russia. The Justice Department said last night the White House was not informed of the decision to appoint Mueller, who was FBI director for 12 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, until after the order was signed.
NEED TO KNOW MORE ON MUELLER? Jim Antle has a refresher, which you can read here.
TRUMP SAYS “BRING IT” There were no “fake news” tweets from the president last night, instead just an old-fashioned statement welcoming the move. "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity," Trump said in a brief statement that didn’t mention Mueller's name. "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country," he added.
Before the surprise announcement, the president struck a decidedly defiant tone in his commencement address to cadets at the Coast Guard Academy. "Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair," Trump said at the ceremony in New London, Connecticut. "You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve, and that are not always warranted, but you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.
“Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams,” Trump exhorted the grads. “Don't give in, don't back down, and never stop doing what you know is right.”
MULTIPLE PROBES: The now-independent investigation headed by Mueller will not end the congressional efforts to get to the bottom of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, say lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue its own investigation and to the extent any deconfliction is required, we will engage with Director Mueller and our expectation is that he will engage with the Committee as well,” said Sens. Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the chairman and vice chairman, in a joint statement issued last night. Burr and Warner said yesterday they wanted Comey and acting Director Andrew McCabe to testify before the committee. It’s not clear if the now independent investigation would affect their ability to speak publicly.
Members of Congress say they will focus on how Russia tried to influence the 2016 election and what can be done to thwart future efforts, while leaving the investigation of any criminal activity to Mueller. “What is important to note here is that the special counsel has the power and authority to bring criminal action. We certainly don't in the Congress,” said Rep. Jackie Speier on CNN. “So our role is to dig deep, make our findings and conclusions and recommendations. But we are not in a position to bring anyone to justice.” Speier’s California colleague Rep. John Garamendi had the same talking point. “We also have the issue of how do we protect American democracy and that's in a different venue. Much of the information will be the same, but it's not a criminal investigation,” Garamendi said on CNN. “It's an investigation about how we protect our democracy from influence by other nations, by other people that want to do us harm.”
Susan Ferrechio has a helpful look at all the investigations going on now.
FOCUS ON FLYNN: Much of the criminal probe will focus on the actions of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, fired by Trump for misleading Vice President Mike Pence. The New York Times reported last night that Flynn told Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey, and Reuters reports Flynn and other advisers to Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race. Both reports are based on anonymous sources.
Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: Trump welcomes Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House today, and they’re scheduled to speak at one of those joint news conferences where traditionally two reporters from each country will get a question. Depending on who Trump calls on, we may get his first on-camera reaction to the appointment of the special counsel.
NEXT TUESDAY IS BUDGET DAY: Trump's budget request for fiscal year 2018 will be released next Tuesday, his budget director said Wednesday afternoon. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced the timing of the budget roll-out in passing during an address to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.
"It's not for public consumption yet," Mulvaney joked, saying that he wouldn't talk further about the budget. "I have to go home and read 4,000 pages of budget," he said in ending his appearance.
JOEMENTUM: Trump is considering former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president who is now an independent, for FBI director, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Air Force One yesterday. Trump met with with Lieberman later in the day, along with McCabe, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, and Richard McFeely, a former FBI official. The president and the Justice Department are considering at least eight candidates to replace Comey.
RECORDS REQUEST: Senate Judiciary Committee leaders have asked the White House for all records of its interactions with Comey, including "all audio recordings, transcripts, notes, summaries, or memoranda." The letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein was sent just days after Trump said in a tweet that Comey should hope there are no "tapes" of his talks with Trump.
HE WAS JOKING, RIGHT? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told House Speaker Paul Ryan a year ago he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying off Donald Trump, according to a Washington Post report last night. "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy said during a private discussion on Capitol Hill, according to the Post account of a recording that surfaced of the June 15, 2016, conversation. McCarthy was referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who has a reputation for defending Putin and Russia. Ryan interjected, telling them to keep the comment in the “family.”
McCarthy and Ryan's aides initially denied the story, which McCarthy said "no one even remembers it transpiring,” according to CNN. “It was a bad attempt at a joke," McCarthy told reporters. "You don't have a sense of humor anymore? People aren't supposed to be able to laugh?" McCarthy admitted it was poor attempt at humor. "There's a reason why I'm not a comedian."
WEAPONS BUYING REFORM: The Pentagon may soon see some changes to its sluggish system of buying weapons, if Rep. Mac Thornberry has his way. The mild-mannered Armed Services Committee chairman held a hearing on Wednesday to air some damning findings about the state of defense acquisition. William LaPlante, the former top weapons buyer for the Air Force, said the Pentagon’s “ability to deliver things quickly to the warfighter … is worse than it's ever been.” The hearing set the stage for Thornberry’s planned unveiling today of his newest acquisition reform bill, which will focus on the Pentagon workforce, removing cumbersome legislative requirements and further restructuring of the Defense Department's office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
BOMBERS TO ENGLAND: European allies will get a little more reassurance from the U.S. next month when the Air Force sends some of its bombers over for training. Gen. Robin Rand, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, declined to say what type of bombers would be making the trip to England’s Fairford air base in June, but insisted the reassurance and deterrence mission was routine. The deployment comes a month after the Air Force deployed its F-35 joint strike fighters to Europe for the first time to reassure allies worried about Russian aggression.
FRACKING VS. ICBM CREWS: The fracking boom in America's wide open spaces is causing a headache to more than environmentalists. It has become a challenge for the commuting crews of intercontinental ballistic missile sites, Rand said. Over the past decade, the natural gas extraction business, including its influx of drilling crews and truck traffic, has spread across the same states where the 20th Air Force maintains its nuclear missile sites. "It is a contested area of responsibility. It is contested by fracking," Rand said.
It turns out Air Force crew and maintainers at nuclear missile sites spend hours on the road commuting back and forth to the remote silos. Eight to 10 times per month they may drive over 100 miles to pull a 24-hour shift. The Air Force also routinely transports warheads on U.S. roads, according to the general. "We're in the same area [as fracking operations], so these are out in the middle of nowhere, if you will, on some narrow roads. So it's just a challenge," he said.
ERDOGAN’S “THUGS” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said yesterday there "is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior" after nine people were injured during a protest outside the Turkish embassy in Washington Tuesday. "This is the United States of America," McCain wrote, retweeting a video of the violence. "We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior."
A group of Republican senators demanded an apology from the Turkish government following the brutal attack on peaceful protestors. "Reports indicate that some Turkish officials were involved in assaulting protestors, which violates the most basic rules of diplomacy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution," the lawmakers — Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio — said Wednesday.
The State Department also condemned the attack, which appeared to be carried out by bodyguards for visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday. "We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms."
HACK-A-LAGO: Internet security at Mar-a-Lago and a handful of other Trump properties is alarmingly easy to bypass, according to a report published Wednesday. A joint investigation by ProPublica and Gizmodo found wireless networks and devices, including printers, at these locations that are vulnerable to both spying and hacking.
For instance, the investigators parked a boat equipped with a wireless antenna offshore near Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., and found three Wi-Fi networks with poor encryption. The investigation also found wireless vulnerabilities at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.; Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
CAN’T STOP BRAGGING: During his commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy yesterday, the president at one point went off script, and once again couldn’t stop himself from boasting about how his deal-making skills were reaping huge dividends for the taxpayers. “I won't talk about how much I saved you on the F-35 fighter jet. I won't even talk about it. Or how much we're about to save you on the Gerald Ford, the aircraft carrier,” Trump said in what seemed to be extemporaneous remarks.
Speaking about the newest class of U.S. supercarriers, Trump said, “That had a little bit of an overrun problem before I got here, you know that. Still going to have an overrun problem; we came in when it was finished, but we're going to save some good money. And when we build the new aircraft carriers, they're going to be built under budget and ahead of schedule, just remember that.”
People familiar with the president's thinking say the reason he keeps repeating the widely disputed claim that he personally negotiated price reduction for the latest patch of F-35s that was in the works months before he took office is that he believes it to be true, and the good folks at Lockheed Martin have no incentive to disabuse the president of his firmly-held conviction.
The president made no mention of his previous statements in a Time magazine interview that he wants the Navy to conduct an expensive redesign of the Ford class carriers to retrofit them with steam instead of high-tech electromagnetic catapults, an order the Navy is conveniently ignoring since it’s not actually a formal request.
YOUR PARALIPSIS IS SHOWING: By the way, in insisting he wasn’t going to mention the savings on the F-35, the president was employing a rhetorical device known as “paralipsis.” As my mother would say: “Look it up, you’ll remember it longer.”
ALSO AT THE EVENT: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was caught on a hot mic Wednesday joking to Trump that a ceremonial saber he received as a gift could be used on the press. After posing with the saber, Trump sat down next to Kelly, who leaned in and joked, "You can use that on the press."
"Yeah," Trump replies with a chuckle. Watch the video here.
NEVER SELF-APPOINT: Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke said Wednesday he accepted a position at the Department of Homeland Security, but the DHS public affairs office was unable to confirm his claim. Clarke told local radio host Vicki McKenna he will step into his position as an assistant secretary next month.
"The position mentioned is a secretarial appointment. Such senior positions are announced by the Department when made official by the Secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made," DHS said in a statement.
USA Today: Donald Trump's leak of classified information involved bombs and new batteries
Washington Post: Trump pledges to build Coast Guard icebreakers, but it’s unclear how different his plan is from Obama’s
Reuters: U.S. cyber bill would shift power away from spy agency
War on the Rocks: Iran is holding presidential elections: Here are four things to know
New York Times: Iran nuclear deal will remain for now, White House signals
Foreign Policy: The dangerous lives of undercover ISIS informants
USNI News: The Attack on USS Stark at 30
DoD Buzz: Navy will lean on drone ships, modularity to expand fleet size
Wall Street Journal: Islamic State launches deadly attack on Afghan TV station
Defense Tech: Lockheed pilots to fly 2 F-35As at Paris air show
Task and Purpose: How did President Trump do at his first service academy commencement?
Stars and Stripes: Experts: Pentagon must look for more powerful rifles and ammo to replace the M4
Defense One: White House vows to audit the Pentagon, which would be a first
THURSDAY | MAY 18
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Marshall Plan at 70 with H.E. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s federal minister for foreign affairs. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G50. Defense Department nominations for principal deputy under secretary for intelligence; assistant secretary for international security affairs; assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security; and Army general counsel. armed-services.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. Dirksen 419. Nomination of William Francis Hagerty IV to be ambassador to Japan. Foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. Pentagon Center Courtyard. DOD Lab Day, showcasing more than 80 exhibits of innovative technical solutions developed by the Defense Laboratory Enterprise - a network of 63 defense laboratories, warfare centers, and engineering centers - throughout the United States. Exhibits are open to members of Congress and congressional staff, STEM-participating high schools, Pentagon employees, media and special guests.
10:30 a.m. 1667 K St. NW. Katherine Blakeley previews the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request. csbaonline.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Defense analyst Jesse Sloman on amphibious warfare in a contested environment. armedservices.house.gov
2 p.m. House Capitol Visitors Center 210. Critical canine contributions to the Department of Homeland Security mission. homeland.house.gov
6:30 p.m. 1250 South Hayes St. Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, receives the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award. ndia.org
FRIDAY | MAY 19
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Maj. Gen. Michael Fortney, vice commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, discusses strategic deterrence. mitchellaerospacepower.org
9 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Fiscal Year 2018 priorities and posture of the national security space enterprise with Gen. John Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command. armedservices.house.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Defense innovation in a change-resistant ecosystem. csis.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Paul A. Rahe, an historian of political philosophy, examines how ancient Sparta stood firm against a great empire. heritage.org
1 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Why should the United States care about Ukraine? csis.org
MONDAY | MAY 22
11 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Rep. Mac Thornberry on military readiness, modernization, and innovation. brookings.edu
TUESDAY | MAY 23
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A full day conference on civil-military relations in policy, politics and public with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Worldwide threats with Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. armed-services.senate.gov
11:30 a.m. 800 16th St. NW. A dialogue with Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan. cabc.co
2:30 p.m. Senate Visitors Center 217. Closed hearing on Navy readiness challenges, emerging threats, and the 355-ship force objective. armed-services.senate.gov
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Budget request for U.S. Cyber Command with Adm. Mike Rogers. armed-services.senate.gov
4:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Debate on the modernization of nuclear missiles with retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command. csis.org
WEDNESDAY | MAY 24
1800 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Breakfast keynote by Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs. navyleague.org
9:30 a.m. Russell 232-A. Industry perspectives from Brian Cuccias of Huntington Ingalls, John Casey of General Dynamics, and Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council Of America, on options and considerations for achieving a 355-ship Navy. armed-services.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. Rayburn 2154. Oversight of the FBI’s independence. oversight.house.gov
10 a.m. House 140. Testimony from Gen. Joseph Lengyel, commander of the National Guard Bureau, and the chiefs of the reserve military forces. appropriations.house.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Russian military of 2035. csis.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Border insecurity with the rise of MS-13 and other transnational criminal organizations. hsgac.senate.gov
11 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Examining the strategic implications of Trump’s first budget. stimson.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The threats and challenges of the South Caucasus region for the Trump administration. heritage.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Navy fiscal 2018 budget request for seapower and projection forces. armedservices.house.gov
2 p.m. Hart 216. The Kremlin's gas games in Europe and the implications for policy makers, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen G-50. Department of Energy atomic defense activities and programs with Frank Klotz, under secretary for nuclear security. armed-services.senate.gov
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Ground force modernization budget request with Army and Marine Corps officials. armedservices.house.gov
THURSDAY | MAY 25
8 a.m. Rayburn 2212. Air Force fiscal 2018 budget request for seapower and projection forces. armedservices.house.gov
8 a.m. 300 First St. SE. A discussion about nuclear modernization and strategic stability with Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff. mitchellaerospacepower.org
8 a.m. 7940 Jones Branch Dr. OPNAV N4 Supply Chain Risk workshop. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Report launch on why Africa matters to U.S. national security. atlanticcouncil.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Countering Coercion in Maritime Asia with Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations. csis.org
9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Rep. Adam Kinzinger about the way forward in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. wilsoncenter.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Posture of the Army with Gen. Mark Milley. armed-service.senate.gov