Defense & National Security — Biden works to clean up Russia flop

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It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

The Biden administration is trying to clean up comments the president made Wednesday suggesting that Russia would face lesser consequences for a "minor" attack against Ukraine.

More on the fallout from his comments, plus the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol asking Ivanka Trump for an interview and North Korea considering resuming its tests of nuclear weapons.

For The Hill, I'm Jordan Williams. Write me with tips at jwilliams@thehill.com.

Let's get to it.

Biden looks to clean up Russia comments

P. Biden holds a press conference
P. Biden holds a press conference

President Biden on Thursday sought to clear up his remarks from a day earlier when he appeared to distinguish between a Russian invasion of Ukraine and a "minor incursion."

"I've been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion," Biden said at the outset of an event on infrastructure.

"Let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price," Biden continued, noting there was also the potential for a cyberattack or para-military action by Russia that would require a coordinated response from the U.S. and its allies.

"The Ukrainian foreign minister said this morning that he's confident of our support and resolve and he has a right to be," he added.

What happened yesterday? During his solo press conference on Wednesday, the president said the Kremlin would face lesser consequences for a "minor" attack against Ukraine.

"It depends on what he does as to what extent we're going to be able to get total unity on the NATO front," the president said, referring to the allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

"I think what you're going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not to do," Biden said.

Biden later sought to clarify that he was suggesting any response would require unity among NATO allies, but White House aides have spent the hours since Biden made the comments trying to tamp down concerns about whether Biden was giving Putin a green light for some sort of lesser action toward Ukraine.

Odd timing: Biden's press conference remarks prompted confusion and criticism among experts and pushback from Republicans. The confusion came at an inopportune time for the Biden administration, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken preparing to meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva later this week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday called Biden's comments "bizarre."

"President Biden needs to clean up his remarks he needs to clearly state American resolve and clearly demonstrate American leadership," the senator said.

"No minor incursions:" In an apparent response to Biden's comments, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said "there are no minor incursions and small nations."

"We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations," Zelensky wrote on Twitter. "Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power."

Read our coverage of Biden's comments

US allows allies to send weapons to Ukraine

The U.S. is allowing three NATO allies to send American-made weapons to Ukraine amid growing fears of an imminent Russian invasion.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the agency has authorized third party transfers for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send "U.S. origin equipment from their inventories for use by Ukraine."

"The United States and its allies and partners are standing together to expedite security assistance to Ukraine," the spokesperson said. "We are in close touch with our Ukrainian partners and our NATO Allies on this and are utilizing all available security cooperation tools to help Ukraine bolster its defenses in the face of growing Russian aggression."

The transfers from the three Baltic countries are authorized under third-party transfers, which require the recipients of weapons of U.S. origin to obtain written consent from the State Department before transfer, according to the agency's website.

According to Politico, which cited an administration official, the requests from the countries were received in recent weeks, the last of which being approved Wednesday - a day after being received.

The spokesperson didn't elaborate on what specific weapons were approved for transfer. But The Wall Street Journal reported that the countries will be allowed to send Javelin antitank weapons and Stinger air-defense systems.

Read more here.

NORTH KOREA CONSIDERING RESTARTING NUCLEAR MISSILE TESTS

North Korea said Wednesday that it was considering resuming nuclear and missile tests, citing a "hostile" United States, according to the country's Korean Central News Agency.

The country had self-imposed a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missiles according to a report from Reuters.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un led a meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) "to discuss and decide immediate work and important policy issues of the Party and the state."

A 'hostile' US policy: The latter half of the meeting focused on North Korea's relationship with the U.S, which has become increasingly tense amid several North Korean missile tests that have occurred recently. The politburo's meeting focused on developing "countermeasures against the U.S. for the future."

North Korea also accused the U.S. of "recklessly faulting for no reason the DPRK's legitimate exercise of sovereignty."

The meeting report stated that "hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked any more despite our sincere efforts for maintaining the general tide for relaxation of tension in the Korean peninsula since the DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore."

The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee unanimously decided during the meeting to prepare for "a long-term confrontation with the U.S. imperialism."

The elephant in the room: The news comes amid increased pressure on the Biden administration to take action on an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has flexed its military muscle with missile launches.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized Pyongyang's weapons tests as "profoundly destabilizing," adding that the U.S. is working with regional partners including South Korea and Japan to come up with a response.

However, President Biden made no mention of the tensions in his lengthy press conference on Wednesday where he tackled a range of issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, student loans, his legislative agenda and the threat of Russian invasion at the Ukraine border.

Read the full story here.

Committee asks Ivanka Trump for interview

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol is asking Ivanka Trump - former President Trump's daughter and former White House adviser - to sit down with them, marking the first official request to meet with of a member of the Trump family.

The president's daughter was one of the officials with the greatest access to the president at the time, likely leaving her with wide-ranging knowledge of the activities in the White House surrounding Jan. 6.

If she chose to cooperate her testimony could be damaging for her father, with the committee concluding its letter with instruction from Trump White House counsel Don McGahn to preserve records like text messages.

What does the panel want? The request notes that Ivanka Trump spent considerable time with her father in the days leading up to Jan. 6, including witnessing a conversation between him and then-Vice President Mike Pence ahead of Congress' certification of the election.

The eight-page letter largely asks Ivanka Trump to reconstruct her activities on the day of the riot and provide insight into actions taken - or not taken - by the White House that day.

"The Select Committee wishes to discuss the part of the conversation you observed between President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the morning of January 6th. Similarly, the Select Committee would like to discuss any other conversations you may have witnessed or participated in regarding the president's plan to obstruct or impede the counting of electoral votes," the committee wrote in the letter to Trump.

More Hannity texts revealed: The letter to Ivanka Trump also further explores messages sent by Hannity, releasing texts he sent to then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany offering his advice for a press strategy following the riot.

The committee released only partial excerpts of their conversation, including two of what they describe as a five-point plan.

"1- No more stolen election talk," Hannity reportedly texted McEnany, who sat down with committee investigators last week.

"2- Yes, impeachment and the 25th amendment are real and many people will quit..."

McEnany reportedly responded "Love that. Thank you. That is the playbook. I will help reinforce...," though it is unclear what else she may have said.

In another partial exchange relayed by the committee, Hannity said it was "key" to keep Trump away from certain people, writing "No more crazy people," to which McEnany responded "Yes, 100%."

Read the full story here.

A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI

Second suspect charged in assassination

Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Haiti guard carry the casket of slain President Jovenel Moïse before his funeral
Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Haiti guard carry the casket of slain President Jovenel Moïse before his funeral

On Thursday, a man suspected in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is being charged in U.S. federal court.

Haitian-Chilean citizen Rodolphe Jaar is charged with "conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap," according to a press release from the Justice Department.

Jaar is appearing in Miami on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren Louisin of the Southern District of Florida.

About Jaar: After six months on the run, Jaar was detained in the Dominican Republic and taken into U.S. custody on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

Court documents unsealed on Wednesday showed that Jaar, along with "approximately 20 Colombian citizens and a number of dual Haitian-American citizens," conspired to kidnap or kill Moïse, per the Justice Department.

For his part in the scheme, Jaar is accused of providing weapons to the Colombian co-conspirators, several of whom stayed at a residence controlled by Jaar, according to the department. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted on the charges he is facing.

U.S. emerges as lead investigator: The U.S. has increasingly taken the lead in investigating the murder of Moïse, who was shot in his bedroom on July 7, according to the Times.

Though Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry promised to seek justice for the former president's murder, none of the over 40 suspects detained in Haiti have been formally charged, newspaper noted.

Another suspect, Mario Antonio Palacios, was arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents and charged in Miami earlier this month in connection to the assassination.

Read the full story here.

ON TAP TOMORROW

A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI

WHAT WE'RE READING

That's it for today! Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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