Defense & National Security — Former Trump counsel preps for House appearance

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Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone is gearing up to be the star witness against former President Trump ahead of Thursday’s hearing of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

We’ll recap Cipollone and his role in the Trump White House. Plus, we’ll talk about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threat to “freeze” Finland and Sweden’s NATO memberships.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Cipollone gears up for Jan. 6 testimony

Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel who fiercely defended former President Trump in his first impeachment trial, is gearing up to be the star witness against the former president as the House Jan. 6 committee winds down its public hearings with a detailed look at Trump’s three hours of inaction as the Capitol riot unfolded.

Cipollone has been a reluctant participant in the investigation, rebuffing initial requests for an under-oath interview with the House select committee, which was able to secure his eleventh-hour cooperation only via subpoena.

Cipollone’s deposition: His marathon deposition on July 8 has proven a gold mine for the panel, providing confirmation for some of the core allegations to emerge from the yearlong probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and Trump’s role in provoking it.

  • Not only did Cipollone tell investigators that Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud were fallacious, but also that the president’s legal team told him repeatedly that the election was lost and he should concede defeat.

  • Cipollone also verified a White House visit on Dec. 18, 2020, from several prominent figures in the “Stop the Steal” movement who sought to convince Trump to have the Pentagon seize voting machines in battleground states.

Growing frustrations: In 2019 and 2020, when Cipollone fought to defend Trump from charges that he’d abused his powers in dealings with Ukraine, Democrats in Congress railed against the reserved White House counsel, not least for his argument that the administration had no obligation to cooperate with the congressional investigation.

  • More than two years later, the Jan. 6 committee had been similarly frustrated with Cipollone’s refusal to participate under oath. In its public pleas for Cipollone’s cooperation, investigators stressed that they saw him as one of the few voices in the White House that day pushing for Trump to take some kind of action. 

  • “Our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right — they tried to stop a number of President Trump’s plans for Jan. 6,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the committee, said during a hearing last month. “But we think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally.”

Cipollone on Jan. 6: Cipollone was one of the few to speak directly with Trump on the day of the riot, allowing him to fill gaps left by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who turned over his text messages but refused to sit down for a deposition with the panel’s investigators, even under subpoena.

Cipollone told the committee that he pushed back on White House plans to seize voting machines during the Dec. 18, 2020, meeting.

“That’s a terrible idea for the country,” he said. “I don’t understand why we even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea for the country.”

Who else could be featured? Other witnesses who may be featured in the next hearing include Ivanka Trump, who is said to have spoken with her father at least twice on Jan. 6, according to earlier testimony.

Sarah Matthews, a former White House deputy press secretary, is also reportedly in negotiations with the committee to appear publicly.

Read the full story here.

Erdoğan: Turkey can ‘freeze’ NATO bids

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday threatened to “freeze” Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids if the Nordic countries fail to keep promises on counterterrorism measures agreed to last month.

All 30 NATO member-states must individually ratify Finland and Sweden’s ascension to the alliance. Erdoğan’s objections raise the prospect of Ankara delaying NATO’s expansion as the alliance seeks to project unity against Russia’s war in Ukraine.

An outlier among support: Turkey has been the minority outlier in overwhelming support among the 30-member alliance for Finland and Sweden to quickly ascend to NATO, focusing criticisms against the Nordic countries over the presence of people said to be affiliated with Kurdish militia groups that Turkey condemns as terrorist organizations.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said that the U.S. will work with Sweden, Finland and Turkey “that this accession process and ratification process around the world is as swift and efficient as it can possibly be.”

  • Price said the Biden administration wants to see Finland and Sweden ascend “as soon as possible.”

What Erdogan said: The Turkish president, in televised remarks on Monday, accused Sweden of “not showing a good image,” multiple media reported.

“I would like to remind once again that if these countries do not take the necessary steps to fulfill our conditions, we will freeze the (accession) process,” Erdoğan said, according to The Associated Press. “Our stance on this issue is very clear. The rest is up to them.”

Why Turkey lifted its opposition: Erdoğan agreed last month to lift Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO after the three countries signed a trilateral memorandum in Madrid, that in part called for Helsinki and Stockholm to “address” Turkey’s pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects in those countries, among other measures.

Read more here.

Feds under pressure to up Ukraine’s rocket firepower

The Biden administration is under pressure to stream more offensive and defensive rocket systems into Ukraine as the former Soviet country faces a critical tipping point on the battlefield with Russia.

As Ukrainian forces battle with Kremlin troops for control of the eastern Donbas region and seek to end the war this year — a goal which requires more air and missile defenses, early warning systems, ammunition and other equipment — defense officials and experts alike say a faster influx of such lethal aid can more quickly bring a close to the conflict.

The extent to whether that is realistic, however, is up for debate.

The U.S. and its European allies and partners, have attempted to keep pace with Ukraine’s pleas for more weapons, with the former alone giving $7.3 billion in lethal aid to Kyiv as of this week.

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Association of Defense Communities will host its “ADC Connect” series at 8 a.m.

  • The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “Supporting Underserved Communities In Emergency Management” at 9 a.m.

  • The Institute for Defense Government and Advancement will begin the VA Healthcare Conference at 9 a.m.

  • The Intelligence and National Security Alliance will host “Coffee and Conversation with David Cattler” at 9 a.m.

  • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Readiness Program Update” at 9:30 a.m.

  • The House Intelligence Committee will hold a markup at 10 a.m.

  • The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a business meeting and markup at 10 a.m.

  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing “Addressing Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Threats to the Homeland” at 10 a.m.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “Are China’s Military Logistics Better Than the Russian Military’s?” at 10:30 a.m.

  • The Aspen Institute will kick off the 13th Annual Aspen Security Forum at 7 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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