John M. Donnelly

Trump undercuts military messages on brain injuries
President describes injuries from Iranian strikes as ‘headaches’

President Donald Trump’s comment Wednesday that U.S. troops suffering concussion-like symptoms had “not very serious” injuries clashed with a yearslong, hard-fought U.S. military campaign to spread the message that a brain injury is not something to be minimized.

Trump was referring to at least 11 cases of troops in Iraq reporting symptoms that officials said may or may not turn out to be so-called traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs.

Pentagon to talk Space Force plans, uniforms with Trump
Officials expected to brief president on plans for starting up newly authorized military service branch

Defense Department brass are expected Wednesday afternoon to brief President Donald Trump on their plans for standing up a new military branch called the Space Force, and a Pentagon official said they may even present several logo options for the new armed service.

The White House meeting is expected to include Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, who is on his second day of the job as the first-ever chief of space operations, the top officer in the sixth U.S. military service.

Congress OKs covering Taliban travel expenses, with conditions
Pentagon policy bill includes exemption from laws that bar aid to terrorist groups

Congress is allowing the Pentagon to spend up to $15 million this year for logistical support for peace talks in Afghanistan, and lawmakers have tried hard to ensure the money does not effectively benefit the Taliban.

But the Pentagon, in requesting the money earlier this year, said it is "likely" some of the funds will at least indirectly help the Taliban, and the authors of the new defense authorization measure had to explicitly exempt the proposed spending from laws that bar aid to terrorist groups.

Congress to Pentagon: Find and fix racially offensive forms
Defense Department had expressed reluctance to review thousands of documents

The defense authorization bill that President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law soon would require the Defense Department to report to Congress on efforts to rid official military documents of “racially or ethnically insensitive” terms.

CQ Roll Call reported earlier this year on several previously undisclosed examples of outdated and offensive language on official Defense Department forms — and the pain these terms have caused military personnel and their families.

Lawmakers contradict Trump on purpose of country's missile defenses
Two defense bills the president plans to soon sign seek to clarify U.S. antimissile policy

The national defense authorization act the Senate sent to President Donald Trump this week rebuts his claims about the function of America’s strategic antimissile system.

And the fiscal 2020 NDAA — like a corresponding spending bill the Senate is poised to approve Thursday — pushes back on some Pentagon plans for space-based missile defenses.

Appropriators hit Air Force's 'disturbing' diversion of funds
Service officials moved $1.3 billion from pilot training accounts without telling Congress

In what appropriators are calling a “disturbing” development, lawmakers say the Air Force has diverted over the last two fiscal years nearly $1.3 billion from funds to train pilots overseas without telling Congress.

The Air Force’s decision to tap the training funding, which is about a quarter of the money in those accounts, for other purposes follows years of military complaints about lacking adequate and predictable resources to properly train pilots and other personnel.

Thornberry calls for US action to deter Iran aggression
Attacks on Western targets in Mideast likely, says House Armed Services’ top Republican

Iran is likely to attack more Western targets in the Middle East soon, and the United States will need to respond, Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Thursday.

“I expect Iran will take further provocative actions in the coming weeks,” Thornberry said on a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” program set to air Friday night.

Democrats ‘got completely rolled’ in NDAA talks, critics say
Litany of progressive provisions fails to make conference committee report

The final defense authorization measure for the current fiscal year represents a victory for Republicans.

That’s the word from a large number of angry Democrats in Congress, their supporters and, more discreetly, from many Republicans.

Final defense authorization authorizes epic spending and puts guardrails on Trump
Agreement creates new branch of military with Space Force within Air Force

A House-Senate conference committee has filed a $735.2 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2020 that creates a new branch of the military and erects guardrails to keep the president from straying too far afield in foreign policy.

According to a bipartisan summary of the bill by the House and Senate Armed Services committees made public Monday night, the measure would authorize $658.4 billion in so-called base budgets, mainly at the Defense and Energy departments, plus an additional $71.5 billion for overseas campaigns and $5.3 billion for disaster relief.

Congress frets over program to streamline Pentagon procurement
Some worry that companies won’t spend own money on research, may not compete for important programs

Four years ago, Section 804 of the defense authorization law freed certain Pentagon programs from the usual acquisition rules, from documenting why a program is needed to how much Pentagon experts who do not work for the same armed service think it will cost.

But now virtually every congressional panel, including both authorizers and appropriators, has expressed in legislation or in reports some degree of concern about how these programs to develop new missiles, satellites, helicopters and combat vehicles are being implemented.

Republicans abandon tradition of whistleblower protection at impeachment hearing
Efforts to out the Ukraine whistleblower could have a chilling effect, put U.S. security at risk, experts say

On Oct. 8, Alan Souza, the lead Republican lawyer on the House Intelligence Committee, wrote an email to Mark Zaid, the lawyer representing the person who first anonymously disclosed concerns that President Donald Trump was pressuring Ukraine for his own political gain.

In the email, Souza assured Zaid that the panel “always maintains the confidentiality of the whistleblower,” according to a reference to the email in a Nov. 6 letter to the committee from Zaid’s law firm that is reproduced on its website.

Pentagon report: US pullout from Syria strengthens terrorists
ISIS regrouping, readying new attacks despite death of leader, according to assessment

The sudden departure of most U.S. troops from northeastern Syria in early October has strengthened the Islamic State terrorist group in that country, despite the U.S. military’s recent killing of the group’s leader, according to a new Pentagon assessment. 

ISIS is reconstituting its forces and readying new plans for terrorist attacks in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal and Turkey’s subsequent invasion of Syria, and other forces in the area are unlikely to prioritize counterterrorism as the U.S. military did, according to an intelligence report summarized in a Pentagon audit published Tuesday. 

‘Skinny’ defense bill omits key element: Military construction
Backup plan lacks details that could affect controversial border wall funding plan

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman earlier this week filed a stripped-down defense authorization bill that he said contained the U.S. military’s must-pass provisions — a backup plan in case House and Senate conferees cannot agree on a full authorization measure in the next few weeks.

But the so-called skinny bill is missing one essential element: a detailed list of authorized military construction projects.

Ukrainian lives hung in balance as Trump held up aid
Critical weapons, training held hostage by monthslong freeze on funds

On June 6, Russian-allied forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region fired a volley of artillery shells on Ukrainian soldiers based in a rural area, even though Moscow had signed a ceasefire agreement the day before. 

Two young Ukrainian soldiers — 28-year-old Dmytro Pryhlo and 23-year-old Maksym Oleksiuk — were killed in their dugout by that shelling in the settlement of Novoluhanske, Ukrainian commanders said at the time. Eight other Ukrainian soldiers suffered concussions and other injuries.

Lopsided cease-fire ‘deal’ emboldens Turkey, harms U.S. allies
Temporary, nonbinding, requiring nothing: ‘We got what we wanted,’ foreign minister says

ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence had reached an agreement with Turkey’s president for a halt to hostilities in northern Syria.

“This is a great day for civilization,” Trump wrote. “People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years.”

How a Trump whistleblower claim spun (out of control)
Trump’s suggestion that whistleblowers should or must only disclose what they directly witness is incorrect, experts say

ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump and his supporters have sought to undermine a whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry in many ways, not least by saying the person had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing.

But the president’s argument is off base. And how it came to be part of the public debate illustrates how a reasonable-sounding talking point can be completely inaccurate. It also shows how, in the Trump era, facts are not only misstated or distorted but can harden after much retelling into fantastically conspiratorial tales that are believed in the nether regions of cyberspace.

Faulty $5 part causing nearly $1 billion nuclear arms overrun
Issue highlights risks to highly classified weapons programs that increasingly use components from commercial marketplace

A flawed electrical component used on two types of new nuclear weapons — a part valued at only about $5 — will require at least $725 million in fixes, lawmakers and Trump administration officials said Wednesday.

Tests in April revealed a glitch in the inexpensive capacitor used in both the B61-12 gravity bomb program and another initiative to build modified versions of W88 submarine-launched warheads.

Ukraine controversy may scare off would-be whistleblowers
Future complaints could either go the Edward Snowden route or remain under wraps

Whoever blew the whistle about what President Donald Trump told the leader of Ukraine in a July phone call did so in the legally correct way, yet the allegation has been impeded and the intelligence official’s character and motivations publicly impugned by the president himself.

There are other officials working right now at places like the CIA and the National Security Agency who are ready to disclose problems that Congress needs to know about. But instead of going through official channels, experts say, these officials may be more likely to either give the information to a reporter or just shut up about it.

New national security adviser faces personality test with Trump’s inner circle
Robert O’Brien is largely a blank slate on policy, which could help him manage internal disagreements

Internal debates during President Donald Trump’s first two and a half years in office have been marked by acrimony, tension and high-stakes negotiations. So perhaps it was no surprise that Trump named as his fourth national security adviser the State Department’s lead hostage negotiator, Robert C. O’Brien.

No president has had so many national security advisers in his first term. However long O’Brien lasts in the job, his tenure will be defined less by his policy views and more by how he manages disagreements within Trump’s inner circle.

Senate panel wants probe into nuclear weapons glitches
Panel is concerned that problems might reflect fundamental oversight shortcomings that have broader implications

The Senate Appropriations Committee wants to order the Energy Department to launch an investigation into technical problems that have recently plagued U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

The committee’s mandate is buried deep inside the report accompanying the $48.9 billion Energy-Water spending bill that the committee approved on Sept. 12.