Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief’s use of personal email under review

THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary Ash Carter is under scrutiny by members of Congress for using a personal email account for work matters, even after Hillary Clinton came under fire for doing the same. 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he is launching a review into the matter, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called for a Defense Department inspector general investigation. 

“With all the public attention surrounding the improper use of personal email by other Administration officials, it is hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment,” McCain said in a statement.

{mosads}”The Senate Armed Services Committee has requested copies of the emails and will be conducting a review to ensure that sensitive information was not compromised,” he said.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Carter relied on a personal email account for some of his official duties during his first months at the Pentagon. 

A former aide to Carter told the newspaper that the Defense secretary used the personal account “so frequently that members of his staff feared he would be hacked and worried about his not following the rules.”

Carter called his use of a personal email account for work a “mistake” and said he had been “warned by lots of people along the way” to be careful about his communications.

“It’s a mistake, and it’s entirely my own,” Carter told CBS News on Thursday in an interview during his trip to Iraq.

He said he never sent classified information over his private email and that he stopped using his private email “a few months ago.” 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest indicated the administration would not take any actions to punish the Pentagon chief, saying public embarrassment was an adequate consequence.

“He made a mistake. He owned up to that mistake. He acknowledged that it was his alone,” Earnest told reporters. 

 

CARTER VISITS KURDISH FIGHTERS: Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday touted the effectiveness of Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but indicated there were no plans to begin directly arming them despite bipartisan support in Congress to do so.

“The Kurdish Peshmerga have been exactly what we have been looking for in this whole fight in Iraq and Syria, namely a capable and motivated force that we can enable,” Carter said during a visit to Erbil, Iraq, using the name for Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

However, he added, “everything we do here, of course, in Iraq … recognizes that this is a sovereign country… [with] one government in Baghdad.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee last week unanimously voted to authorize the president to directly arm and train the peshmerga, instead of funneling all military assistance through Baghdad. 

Lawmakers say Baghdad — which is dominated by Shiites and heavily influenced by Iran — is not distributing the U.S. military aid set aside for the peshmerga to keep non-Shiite factions in Iraq weak.

“If you run weapons through Baghdad, those weapons will not be received by the Kurds, or the Yezidis, or the Sunni tribes,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the panel’s chairman, told reporters on Thursday. 

He said he would work to bring the bill to the House floor next year, and then work on directly arming the Sunni tribes. 

 

OBAMA: NO SPECIFIC OR CREDIBLE TERRORIST THREAT: President Obama said during a high-profile visit to the National Counterterrorism Center on Thursday that there is no specific or credible terrorist threat against the U.S.

“At this moment, our intelligence and counterterrorism do not have any specific and credible information about an attack on our homeland,” Obama said after receiving an update on terror threats from more than two-dozen top national security officials.

Obama, however, urged a jittery public to remain “vigilant” about the possibility of lone-wolf attacks like the one that was carried out earlier this month in San Bernardino, Calif., an event that he said marked a “new phase” in the nature of threats against the nation.

He also reassured Americans that the government’s counterterrorism officials are doing all they can to sniff out terror plots during the busy holiday travel season.

“I want every American to know as you go about the holidays … we’ve got dedicated patriots working around the clock all across the country to protect us all,” he said.

Instead of receiving his pre-holiday update at the Situation Room of the White House, he traveled to the counterterrorism center in Northern Virginia.

Obama was flanked on stage by Vice President Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, Secretary of State John Kerry, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The holidays are a sensitive time of year for Obama. In 2009, he was forced to interrupt his Hawaii vacation when a man connected to al Qaeda attempted to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear aboard a commercial airliner in Detroit.

But Obama urged the public not to let the threat posed by ISIS overshadow time spent with family and friends during the holidays.

“When Americans stand together, nothing can beat us,” he said. “We cannot give into fear or change how we live our lives.”

 

ICYMI: 

— Senators want visa screening to include social media

— GOP lawmaker proposes halting fiancé visas

— GOP senators: Don’t lift sanctions on Iran

— Ambassador: White House not leading on refugees

 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@digital-stage.thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@digital-stage.thehill.com 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K

Tags Hillary Clinton John Kerry John McCain

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