Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: President Trump is expected to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening after three days of treatment for COVID-19.
Trump, whose oxygen levels dropped as recently as Saturday and who is on several medications following his coronavirus diagnosis, tweeted that he is “feeling really good” and that Americans should not allow COVID-19 to “dominate your life,” downplaying a virus that has killed more than 210,000 people in the country.
“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!” Trump tweeted. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Caveats: While Trump urged Americans not to be afraid of the virus, the president has access to medical resources unavailable to most in the country. For example, Trump was given an experimental Regeneron antibody cocktail under a compassionate use agreement that is not available to the public.
There is also the risk Trump could experience a setback while he receives treatment at the White House and have to return to the hospital, something that could be damaging for both his health and his re-election chances. Trump is 74 and overweight, putting him at higher risk for serious coronavirus complications.
What Trump’s doctors say: White House physician Sean Conley told reporters that Trump’s symptoms have continued to improve and that he has met or exceeded all discharge criteria. But he acknowledged that Trump may not yet be “out of the woods,” underscoring the degree of uncertainty surrounding his condition.
“Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all of our evaluations, and most importantly, his clinical status, support the president’s safe return home,” Conley said.
Trump’s doctors had told reporters on Sunday that he could be discharged as early as Monday as they painted a rosy portrait of his condition and recovery while continuing to evade some questions about his treatment and health. At the same time, the doctors also revealed that Trump had a high fever on Friday and experienced two transient drops in his oxygen levels on Friday and Saturday.
According to the medical team, the president is currently on multiple medications, including the antiviral medication remdesivir, the steroid dexamethasone and the Regeneron antibody cocktail.
The president’s doctors said Monday that he would receive his fourth dose of remdesivir at the hospital and his fifth on Tuesday when he is back at the White House. They also said that Trump will continue to receive dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation.
Conflicting messages: The White House has offered confusing and incomplete answers about the status of Trump’s condition, harming its credibility in a time of crisis. Conley acknowledged Sunday that he did not initially disclose that Trump had received supplemental oxygen on Friday because he wanted to reflect the “upbeat attitude” of the team about Trump’s condition.
Chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Friday that Trump had been feeling “very energetic,” only to disclose the next day that Trump’s vitals had been “very concerning” before he was taken to the hospital.
Expanding White House outbreak: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive for COVID-19, she said Monday, making her the latest person in Trump’s orbit to contract the virus.
Two assistant press secretaries who work in the West Wing also tested positive, according to multiple reports. Both reportedly tested positive prior to McEnany’s announcement.
Others in the president’s circle who have tested positive include one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks; his campaign manager, Bill Stepien; three Republican senators; and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who assisted Trump with preparation before last week’s presidential debate.
Many of those who have tested positive, including McEnany, attended a White House event on Sept. 26 during which Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court.
At the Pentagon: You may recall the Pentagon said Friday that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley tested negative and that Defense Secretary Mark Esper tested negative Monday and Wednesday and would take another test Friday.
Esper’s Friday test also came back negative, the department told The Hill.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon updated its online chart of all COVID-19 cases connected to the department as it does every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
As of Monday, 68,515 people connected to the department have tested positive for the coronavirus. That includes 47,117 service members, 10,650 civilians, 6,300 dependents and 4,448 contractors.
The number of service members killed by COVID-19 is still eight, while 60 civilians, seven dependents and 23 contractors have died.
ARMS TALKS: The Trump administration’s arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Finland on Monday amid an impasse over the expiring New START treaty.
The Trump administration only wants to extend the nuclear pact if Russia also agrees to a separate political framework that pledges China’s participation in future arms control talks and an expansion of the treaty to include more classes of weapons. Billingslea recently said U.S. demands would increase after the November presidential election.
Russia, which wants to extend the agreement, has rejected the administration’s demands.
After Monday’s meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a brief statement saying “the sides exchanged views on the current state and further prospects for bilateral cooperation in the area of arms control.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who met separately with Billingslea and Ryabkov after their meeting, released his own statement saying he had “two interesting discussions.”
“In the current world situation, all dialogue is important, and I welcome its continuation between the United States and Russia. I wish further progress in agreeing on arms control,” he said.
DEMS WIDEN POMPEO PROBE: House Democrats are widening an investigation into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is illegally campaigning for the president ahead of the November election.
Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman of its subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter Monday to the State Department demanding the agency’s legal guidance over at least three recent speeches Pompeo delivered in the U.S.
The lawmakers called for the State Department to hand over any legal guidance related to Pompeo’s speeches at a church in Texas on Sept. 20, his speech to the Wisconsin legislature Sept. 25 and his speech to the Florida Family Policy Council on Oct. 3.
“It is concerning that the Secretary is suddenly crisscrossing the country at taxpayers’ expense to speak with state legislators and private groups and that these events appear to be increasing in frequency as the November 3rd election approaches,” Engel and Castro wrote in the letter.
It was sent to Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao and acting Legal Adviser Marik String, two close allies of Pompeo.
The lawmakers are also raising concern over what orders President Trump is giving Pompeo on such speeches and requesting communications from the White House to the State Department. They noted in their letter that the State Department’s legal team had reviewed in 2019 a request by Trump for Pompeo to participate in a campaign rally. The secretary had declined to participate over the legal concerns, according to Castro, who raised the issue in a foreign affairs hearing last month.
Background: The documents requested by House Democrats build on an investigation launched in August over whether Pompeo violated the Hatch Act by delivering pre-recorded remarks to the Republican National Convention while he was on diplomatic travel in Israel.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal officials from using their government positions for partisan political activity. In July, Pompeo sent out communications and guidance to State Department employees barring staff from participating in political activity.
But the secretary has defended his Jerusalem speech to the convention, saying he did so in his personal capacity and that he was given the green light from the State Department legal team that determined his participation was “lawful.”
Monday’s records request is yet another benchmark of tensions between House Democrats and Pompeo, who have clashed repeatedly.
Engel has stepped back from holding Pompeo in contempt, halting procedures last month following the delayed delivery to House Democrats of tens of thousands of documents from the State Department related to an investigation being conducted by Senate Republicans.
Democrats are also investigating whether it was politically motivated when State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired by Trump in mid-May at Pompeo’s request.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Heritage Foundation will host a virtual event on “U.S. Leadership in Women, Peace and Security” with remarks from Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.); Kelley Currie, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues; and Stephanie Hammond, acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability and humanitarian affairs, at 11 a.m. https://herit.ag/3d1qw78
— The Hill: State urges immediate ceasefire in clash between Azerbaijan and Armenia
— The Hill: Opinion: High stakes in the high north
— Washington Post: On overseas tour, Pentagon chief strikes a low-profile amid friction at home with President Trump
— Stars and Stripes: Marine general under investigation for allegations he used a racial slur, Corps confirms
— Air Force Times: Eglin F-35 crash resulted from tired, distracted pilot and unresponsive tail glitch, investigators find
— Associated Press: US, Australia, India, Japan to discuss China’s growing power