Daily on Defense: Esper calls Trump’s Milley criticism ‘despicable,’ crunch time for CR, is Black Sea commander really dead?

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BY JAMIE MCINTYRE

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'IT'S A LEGITIMATE FEAR': Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, fired by former President Donald Trump shortly after the 2020 election, is condemning Trump's Truth Social rant against Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, in which Trump accused Milley of a "treasonous act" and suggested death might be the appropriate punishment.

"It's very dangerous. It's wrong. It's disgusting. It's despicable," Esper said in an interview last night on CNN. "It should be condemned from folks on the Right, the Left, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and liberals alike."

According to a profile in the Atlantic, Milley has told friends that he believes if Trump returns to the White House, "He'll start throwing people in jail, and I'd be on the top of the list."

"I think it's a legitimate fear," Esper said, based on his experience in his final month at the Pentagon, where egged on by loyalists, Trump wanted to recall retired Gens. Stanley McChrystal and William McRaven to active duty so they could be court-martialed for criticizing Trump. "So, is it possible that a new loyalist sitting around Trump in the Oval Office will say, 'Let's call up Milley'? Yes, it's quite likely, Esper told CNN's Kaitlan Collins. "The president's also said that a second term would be about retribution, right? So, I think these are all legitimate concerns."

"It's hard for me to believe I'm saying that as well. I wish I didn't have to say that," Esper said. "But if I didn't have the experience in the Oval Office, with President Trump seriously wanting to call back to active duty McChrystal and McRaven to court-martial them, I would be less certain. But unfortunately, it is what it is."

HOW STRONG IS THE CASE AGAINST GEN. MARK MILLEY?

'THE ACCUSATION … IS SIMPLY WRONG': Trump's treason allegation is based on an account in the 2021 book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which recounts a call between Milley and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Li Zuocheng, in which Milley is alleged to have said, "Gen. Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise. It's not going to be a bolt out of the blue."

"This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!" Trump posted. "A war between China and the United States could have been the result of this treasonous act."

Esper disputed the idea that Milley was going rogue or betraying his country. "The Chinese were scared, alarmed, uncertain about what was happening in Washington. So, I wanted to send a message to them that everything was OK."

"He was acting on my directive to reach out to his Chinese counterpart," Esper said, adding he had done the same thing with his Chinese counterpart a week earlier. "Because look, at the end of the day, nobody wants some type of accidental conflict to happen."

"The accusation that Milley called the Chinese on his own is simply wrong," Esper said. "And the good news is the Chinese came back and said, 'Thank you very much. We've been very concerned. We appreciate what's going on.'"

AND THEN THERE'S PAUL GOSAR: Trump's harangue against Milley, in which he called the four-star general a "woke train wreck," pales in comparison to the invective-laced rant by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who suggested in his newsletter that Milley deserved to be "hung" for allegedly delaying the dispatch of National Guard troops in response to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots.

"Even after approval was given, General Milley, the homosexual-promoting-BLM-activist Chairman of the military joint chiefs, delayed," Gosar wrote Sunday. "Of course, we now know that the deviant Milley was coordinating with Nancy Pelosi to hurt President Trump, and treasonously working behind Trump's back. In a better society, quislings like the strange sodomy-promoting General Milley would be hung."

"This type of talk should be condemned, once and for all," Esper said on CNN. "Milley's tenure was extraordinary. He did a great job. He has served honorably. And he deserves our praise and thanks. And he does not deserve what he's receiving."

The Washington, D.C., National Guard is controlled by the secretary of the Army, not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN MARK MILLEY HANGS UP HIS UNIFORM

Good Tuesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Conrad Hoyt. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre

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HAPPENING TODAY: IT'S CRUNCH TIME: The House meets this afternoon and is expected to vote tonight on a package of bills to fund parts of the government, including the Pentagon, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is still trying to find 218 Republican votes to pass a short-term continuing resolution, or "CR," to avert a government shutdown in four days.

Meanwhile, the Senate meets at 3 p.m. to consider a motion to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration through a House-generated bill that could be used as a vehicle to send a bipartisan CR over to the House for a vote. But — and this is a big but — McCarthy would have to allow a vote on the floor, which would likely result in hard-liners removing him as speaker.

"They have had bipartisan agreement, it appeared, in the Senate about doing their own continuing resolution and sending it over. It has its parliamentary challenges," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on MSNBC. "And now they said, because Rand Paul (R-KY) might object, they can't do that. One — 99 senators are not enough.'

"A discharge petition is an option," Pelosi said, referring to a parliamentary maneuver that would bypass the speaker. "However, in order for it to even be considered, you have to have a 30-day period where it rests there. And, in 30 days, the government would be shut down."

"We don't know how it ends, but I give it a 50-50 shot on whether or not we have a government shutdown," said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) on Fox. "It's always going to be blamed on the Republicans, but if you are watching and you're paying attention to what the federal government and Congress has done over the last 20 or 30 years, you would know that this problem was created by both sides of the aisle."

HOW THE HOUSE COULD USE DISCHARGE PETITION TO AVERT GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

MONEY FOR UKRAINE A MAJOR STICKING POINT: While there is bipartisan support in the Senate to include additional funding for military assistance to Ukraine in any stopgap measures, there appears to be no clear path to pass Ukraine funding in the fractious House.

"I've been saying the same thing since the beginning, check the date. Congress should be focused on AMERICA, not Ukraine!" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted on X yesterday. "I will VOTE NO on the rule to advance a BLANK CHECK to Ukraine. How many Republicans will join me & how many will vote to fund Biden's proxy war?"

The Pentagon still has some drawdown authority to send weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, but without the $24 billion in supplemental appropriations requested by the Biden administration, Ukraine will begin to run low on critical battlefield needs.

"We've got a little bit more funding to go, so I think we'll be OK for the next few weeks or so," said NSC spokesman John Kirby on CNN. "But without the supplemental request that we asked for, it will absolutely have an effect on our ability to support Ukraine well into the fall and into the winter months."

"The weather is not going to be all that cooperative here soon," Kirby said. "Once we get into the winter, it gets really hard for both militaries to maneuver and to operate. And so, we want to make sure that we're getting them everything they need here while they still have good conditions on the ground. Not getting that supplemental request if there's a shutdown, that's going to have a significant impact on their ability to succeed on the battlefield."

BLACK SEA COMMANDER KILLED? Ukraine's special forces say a Friday attack on a military headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, killed the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, along with 33 other officers.

"After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Special Forces said Monday on the Telegram messaging app.

But this morning, the Russian Defense Ministry published on Telegram a video showing Sokolov attending a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, although the date of the footage was unclear.

If Sokolov was killed, it's "a remarkable achievement by Ukraine eliminating a very significant Russian military leader and many of his subordinates," retired Adm. James Stavridis, former supreme NATO commander, posted on X. "I believe you have to go back to WWII to find another admiral killed in combat."

The strike occurred during a meeting of senior Black Sea Fleet leadership, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which reported that Ukraine also claimed to have seriously wounded Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsekov, commander of the Russian 200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, and Col. Gen. Alexander Romanchuk, commander of the Russian forces in Zaporizhia.

"Special Operations Forces also reported that the Ukrainian strike on the Minsk landing ship in Sevastopol on September 13 killed 62 personnel, noting that many personnel were present as the Minsk was scheduled to go on combat duty on September 14," the ISW said in its latest battlefield assessment.

ISIS LEADER CAPTURED IN SYRIA: U.S. troops in northern Syria have captured a high-value ISIS operative, according to a release from the U.S. Central Command.

The U.S. forces conducted a "successful" helicopter raid in northern Syria over the weekend, capturing Abu Halil al Fad'ani, described as "an ISIS Syria operational and facilitation official," who "was assessed to have relationships throughout the ISIS network in the region."

"The capture of ISIS officials like al-Fad'ani increases our ability to locate, target, and remove terrorists from the battlefield," said Lt. Col. Troy Garlock, CENTCOM spokesman, in the press release, adding that "no civilians were killed or injured during the operation."

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Calendar

TUESDAY | SEPTEMBER 26

9 a.m. — Washington Post Live virtual discussion: "The Next Generation of Cyber Threats," with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco; former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, partner at Krebs Stamos; and Chris Painter, president of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise https://www.washingtonpost.com/washington-post-live

9 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Brookings Institution 2023 Knight Forum on Geopolitics, with Brookings senior fellow Robert Kagan delivering remarks on "The State of the World and U.S. Grand Strategy" https://www.brookings.edu/events

12 p.m. 616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program and U.S. Naval Institute for a Maritime Security Dialogue in-person and virtual discussion: "Strengthening the U.S. Industrial Base," with William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; Seth Jones, CSIS senior vice president and director of the International Security Program; and retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO and publisher, U.S. Naval Institute https://www.csis.org/events/strengthening-us-industrial-base-hon-dr-william-laplante

1 p.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Cato Institute book discussion: The Declassification Engine: What History Reveals about America's Top Secrets, with author Matthew Connelly, professor of international and global history at Columbia University; Nate Jones, Freedom of Information Act director at the Washington Post; and Patrick Eddington, Cato senior fellow https://www.cato.org/events/declassification-engine

5 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discussion: "Ukraine's Quest for Justice," with Ukraine Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin; Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova; Gregory Shaffer, president of the American Society of International Law; and CEIP President Mariano-Florentino Cuellar https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/09/26/ukraine-s-quest-for-justice

WEDNESDAY | SEPTEMBER 27

8 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, Virginia — Intelligence and National Security Alliance forum: "The New IC (Intelligence Community)," with Carmen Medina, former CIA senior executive; Ellen Ardrey, chief of staff at the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency; Kristina Walter, director of the NSA's Future-Ready Workforce Initiative; Dennis Westbrooks, chief diversity officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Diversity and Inclusion Group; FBI Supervisory Special Agent Joseph Garbato, FBI chairman of the Marine Corps University; and Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center https://www.insaonline.org/detail-pages/event

10 a.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute book talk: "Fiasco in Kabul: The Untold Story," with Jerry Dunleavy and James Hasson, coauthors of Kabul: The Untold Story of Biden's Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End; and Rebeccah Heinrichs, senior fellow and director, Keystone Defense Initiative https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fiasco-in-kabul-the-untold-story

10 a.m. 2118 Rayburn — House Armed Services Quality of Life Subcommittee hearing: "Update on Unaccompanied Military Housing and the Military Housing Privatization Initiative," with testimony from Elizabeth Field, director, Defense Capabilities and Management Government Accountability Office; Carla Coulson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations, housing, and partnerships; Robert Thompson, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and environment; and Robert Moriarty, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings/qol-hearing

12 p.m. CVC-120, U.S. Capitol — Cato Institute briefing: "Pariah or Partner? Reevaluating the U.S.-Saudi Relationship," with Jon Hoffman, Cato foreign policy analyst, and Lawrence Montreuil, Cato director of government affairs https://www.cato.org/events/pariah-or-partner

2 p.m. — Atlantic Council virtual discussion: "An Allied Approach to Countering Beijing's Military-Civil Fusion," with Nazak Nikakhtar, commissioner for export controls at the Global Tech Security Commission; Dave Stillwell, commissioner for defense at the Global Tech Security Commission; Claire Chu, Janes senior China analyst; Ryan Heath, Axios global technology correspondent; and Anna Puglisi, senior fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event

2:30 p.m. 216 Hart — Senate Intelligence Committee hearing: "Countering China's malign influence operations in the U.S.," with testimony from Glenn Tiffert, distinguished research fellow, Hoover Institute; Sarah Cook, senior adviser for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, Freedom House; and Alan Kohler, president Pamir Consulting, former assistant director, the FBI's Counterintelligence Division https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/hearings/open-hearing

4:30 p.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies Center on Economic and Financial Power discussion: "Bolstering American Economic Statecraft," with Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) https://www.fdd.org/events/2023/09/27/bolstering-american-economic-statecraft

9 p.m. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California — The Republican National Committee hosts the second presidential primary debate, hosted by Fox Business Network

THURSDAY | SEPTEMBER 28

8:45 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: "China's Strategy of Political Warfare: Views from Congress," with Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) https://www.csis.org/events/chinas-strategy-political-warfare

9:30 a.m. — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider nominations of Derek Chollet to be undersecretary of defense for policy and Cara Abercrombie to be assistant secretary of defense for acquisition https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings

9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Wilson Center's Polar Institute conference: "The Rules-Based Order in Antarctica and Global Challenges," with Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Adm. Peter Gautier https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/rules-based-order-antarctica-and-global-challenges

9:30 a.m. 760 Maine Ave. SW — 2023 Atlantic Festival, with speakers including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI); and others. Full agenda at https://www.theatlantic.com/live/atlantic-festival-2023/#agenda

10 a.m. 2118 Rayburn — House Armed Services Committee hearing: "Examining Irregularity in the Strategic Basing Process for U.S. Space Command," with testimony from Frank Kendall, secretary of the Air Force; Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander, U.S. Space Command; and Space Force Gen. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings

12:30 p.m. 529 14th Street NW — National Press Club "Headliners Luncheon," with Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command https://www.press.org/events/npc-headliners-luncheon-general-nakasone

3 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute discussion: "NATO and the Franco-American Alliance," with French Ambassador to NATO Muriel Domenach https://www.hudson.org/events/nato-franco-american-alliance

5 p.m. 1521 16th Street NW — Institute of World Politics lecture: "The Structure of INDOPACOM and Comparable U.S. Agencies for the Asia-Pacific Region," with Gordon Rudd, professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Marine School of Advanced Warfighting https://www.iwp.edu/events/the-structure-of-indopacom

FRIDAY | SEPTEMBER 29

9 a.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: "India's Role in a New Pacific Order," with Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar; Jayant Sinha, chairman of the Indian Parliament's Standing Committee on Finance; Stephen Biegun, senior vice president of Boeing; and retired Indian Vice Adm. Shekhar Sinha, chairman of the board of trustees of the India Foundation https://www.hudson.org/events/indias-role-new-pacific-order

10 a.m. Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia — Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of retiring Army Gen. Mark Milley, 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff https://www.defense.gov/News/Live-Events

11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Wilson Center book discussion: Catastrophes, Confrontations, and Constraints: How Disasters Shape the Dynamics of Armed Conflicts, with co-author Tobias Ide, associate professor at Murdoch University Perth; and co-author Marwa Daoudy, associate professor at Georgetown University https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/catastrophes-confrontations-and-constraints

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QUOTE OF THE DAY
"It's very dangerous. It's wrong. It's disgusting. It's despicable. And it's not just an assault on one person, Mark Milley, who has served his country nobly and who now has to fear that somebody may act on such remarks. But it's also an attack on the institution of the military officer corps, their professionalism, and their sworn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States."
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, on CNN, reacting to former President Donald Trump's suggestion that the Joint Chiefs chairman deserves the death penalty for treason.
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