POLITICO's Morning Defense, presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries: Trump reported to have asked Comey to end Flynn probe — Washington reels amid Trump’s reported disclosures of classified information — Proposed defense budget to track closely to Obama’s

By Gregory Hellman | 05/17/2017 10:00 AM EDT

With Zach Montallero, Connor O'Brien and Jacqueline Klimas

TOP NEWS - TRUMP REPORTED TO HAVE ASKED COMEY TO END FLYNN PROBE, reports The New York Times: "President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

"'I hope you can let this go,' the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

"The existence of Mr. Trump's request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia."

The White House immediately pushed back against the allegations with a background statement, saying "the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey."

But if true, Trump may have obstructed justice, legal analysts say, via POLITICO's Josh Gerstein.

And those charges could open the door to impeachment, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) tells CNN.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has demanded the FBI hand over all documents detailing communications between Trump and Comey within the next week, reports POLITICO's Heather Caygle.

And the White House is on edge: 'We are kind of helpless,' reports POLITICO's Josh Dawsey and Matthew Nussbaum.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) withdraw from consideration to be the new FBI director, our colleague Burgess Everett writes.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recommends Merrick Garland for the post, adds Nolan D. McCaskill.

WASHINGTON REELS AMID REPORTED TRUMP CLASSIFIED DISCLOSURES, reports POLITICO's Louis Nelson: "President Donald Trump and his aides shifted their damage control strategy on Tuesday, defending Trump's conversation with Russian officials about allegedly classified information as "wholly appropriate" and instead blaming leakers for wreaking havoc.

"Tuesday's tone marked a shift from the tack taken Monday evening by the Trump administration, with multiple aides - including national security adviser H.R. McMaster - aggressively pushing back against a Washington Post story alleging that the president had shared highly sensitive information with two Russian diplomats as 'false.'"

The alleged disclosures put McMaster's truth-telling reputation at risk, writes our colleague Michael Crowley.

The disclosed intelligence came from Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the U.S. obtained the information, reports the NYT.

And it complicates Trump's state visit to Israel next week, write POLITICO's Annie Karni.

As the U.S.-Israeli spy partnership hits new rough spot, via Bryan.

Capitol Hill Republicans express alarm, via our colleagues Rachel Bade, Burgess and Seung Min Kim: "The reports that the president shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials are deeply disturbing," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America's allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future."

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demands a transcript of the meetings between Trump and top Russian officials last week, reports Seung Min.

IT'S WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we're always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at ghellman@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @greg_hellman, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

** A message from Huntington Ingalls Industries: As the largest military shipbuilder in America, Huntington Ingalls Industries provides our nation with six classes of military ships. Our nearly 37,000 employees worldwide stand ready to help shape America's freedom in the 21st century. Learn more at HuntingtonIngalls.com **

HAPPENING TODAY - HASC KICKS-OFF ACQUISITION REFORM: The House Armed Services Committee convenes a hearing to examine the findings of a special panel tasked by Congress to find ways to streamline the defense acquisition process.

And Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) plans to unveil his acquisition reform package on Thursday.

The proposal comes as the House committee's revolving door keeps spinning, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

- ALSO TODAY, THE NEW AIR FORCE SECRETARY MAKES HER SENATE DEBUT: Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is scheduled to make her first congressional appearance at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on space policy.

- AND TRUMP KEYNOTES THE COAST GUARD ACADEMY COMMENCEMENT: Trump delivers the address at the Coast Guard Academy's commencement in New London, Conn.

TRUMP DEFENSE BUDGET TO PROPOSE 'PAPER BUILDUP,' writes Bloomberg: "President Donald Trump is expected to propose a $603 billion defense budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 that would add one warship but no more F-35 and Super Hornet jets than the Obama administration had projected, according to officials.

"The proposal sticks with President Barack Obama's plan to request 70 of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35's and 14 of Boeing Co.'s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, said the officials, who discussed the budget proposal due to be sent to Congress on May 23. The officials asked not to be identified discussing the defense budget before it's made public and cautioned that some details may still change...

"'With just $18 billion in new spending penciled in,' the Trump administration 'is going to be pitching a paper buildup to the Congress,' Katherine Blakeley, budget analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in an email."

NAVY CHIEF SAYS A LARGER NAVY FLEET WOULD COST 'FAR LESS' THAN CBO ESTIMATES, writes our colleague Jacqueline Klimas: "Building a 355-ship Navy would cost "far less" than the Congressional Budget Office estimates, the service's top admiral says.

"Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the precise cost of a larger Navy is "TBD," and that it would be much less than the $26.6 billion a year predicted by the CBO but still more than what's now in the Navy's shipbuilding accounts.

"Richardson's conversation with reporters via phone from Singapore coincided with the Wednesday release of a white paper that offered few details on how the Navy might reach the 355-ship level it says it needs."

TOP DOCS - CRS REPORTS ON NUKES FUNDING, SHIPBUILDING via our colleague Connor O'Brien: "The Congressional Research Service has issued updated reports on funding for the nation's nuclear arsenal as well as a series of major Navy shipbuilding and procurement programs

"The nuclear weapons report outlines appropriations for nuclear weapons operations under the National Nuclear Security Administration, including the maintenance of nuclear warheads and the infrastructure to support them....

"The CRS also issued updated reports on the status, budget developments and related congressional issues for the Navy's Ford class aircraft carrier, the Virginia class attack submarine and the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 destroyers."

TRUMP TRIES TO REASSURE TURKEY'S ERDOGAN, reports Bloomberg: "President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to repair relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is alarmed about a U.S. plan to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.

"Trump said he and the Turkish president would have a 'long and hard discussion' as he welcomed Erdogan to the Oval Office for a meeting three days ahead of a Trump trip to the Middle East. Erdogan said the U.S. shouldn't work with the YPG Kurdish militia, a group Turkey considers a terrorist organization, that Trump plans to arm.

"'Taking them into consideration in the region will never be accepted and it is going to be against the global agreement that we have reached,' Erdogan said in a statement to reporters, through a translator."

IRAQI KURDS OFFER BASES TO U.S. AFTER ISIS CAMPAIGN, via your Morning D correspondent: Masrour Barzani, chancellor of the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, said on Tuesday his government would support the continued stationing of U.S. troops on Kurdish bases after ISIS is routed.

The U.S. is negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government to allow the continued presence of American troops. Barzani's comments also come amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, which hosts Incirlik Air Base, a hub for U.S. operations against the Islamic State.

"I wouldn't say that we offer any alternatives [to Incirlik], but we certainly offer our willingness to cooperate with the United States," the chancellor said at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation. "If they are willing to use the facilities that exist in Kurdistan we have already welcomed that."

Barzani led a Kurdish Regional Government delegation that met with the National Security Council Monday, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and Jared Kushner.

MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM DETECTS NORTH KOREAN TEST, reports Reuters: "North Korea's missile program is progressing faster than expected, South Korea's defense minister said on Tuesday, after the UN Security Council demanded the North halt all nuclear and ballistic missile tests and condemned Sunday's test-launch.

"Han Min-koo told South Korea's parliament the test-launch had been detected by the controversial U.S. THAAD anti-missile system, whose deployment in the South has infuriated China."

But North Korea could hit the south in minutes with artillery or missiles, despite the deployment of THAAD, according to an analysis, writes The Associated Press.

And U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris warns against complacency on the Korean peninsula, calling North Korea's actions a "recipe for disaster," via the AP.

- FOR YOUR RADAR - SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT WHITE HOUSE LATE NEXT MONTH, adds the AP.

"President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday there was a 'high possibility' of conflict with North Korea, which is pressing ahead with nuclear and missile programs it says it needs to counter U.S. aggression.

"The comments came hours after the South, which hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, said it wanted to reopen a channel of dialogue with North Korea as Moon seeks a two-track policy, involving sanctions and dialogue, to try to rein in its neighbor," via Reuters.

HACKING GROUP THREATENS FOREIGN NUCLEAR ARSENALS, reports The Washington Post: "The hacking group that leaked the bugs that enabled last week's global ransomware attack is threatening to make public even more computer vulnerabilities in the coming weeks - potentially including 'compromised network data' pertaining to the nuclear or missile programs of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, as well as vulnerabilities affecting Windows 10, which is run by millions of computers worldwide.

"A spokesperson for the group, which calls itself the Shadow Brokers, claimed in a blog post Tuesday that some of those computer bugs may be released on a monthly basis as part of a new subscription-based business model that attempts to mimic what has proved successful for companies such as Spotify, Netflix, Blue Apron and many more.

"'Is being like wine of month club,' read the blog post, which is written in broken English."

U.S. AND EUROPE TO DISCUSS LAPTOP BAN ON FLIGHTS, via the AP: "U.S. and European officials will discuss Wednesday plans to broaden a U.S. ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from Europe.

"The move would create logistical chaos on the world's busiest corridor of air travel - as many as 65 million people a year travel between Europe and North American on over 400 daily flights, many of them business travelers who rely on their electronics to work during the flight."

SPEED READ

- North Korea's cyberwarfare capabilities come into focus following the recent ransomware assault: The Wall Street Journal

- Syria denies it built a crematorium in an infamous prison: NYT

- The Trump administration is talking with Pakistan about freeing a doctor who helped the U.S. find and kill Osama bin Laden: WSJ

- The U.S. Special Operations Command looks to create super-soldiers by pushing human performance, through nutritional supplements and even performance enhancing drugs: Defense News

- More than three out of five troops dismissed for misconduct from 2011 to 2015 have been diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or other adjustment-related issues: USA Today

- The Defense Department is quietly scrambling to define a little-known term coined by the Obama administration that conveys vast authority over how and where it can fight wars: U.S. News and World Report

- An ex-Hamas member is named in the killing of a senior Hamas commander: AP

- A reformist drops out of the Iranian presidential election, throwing his support behind incumbent President Hassan Rouhani: AP

- Iraq says it controls about a tenth of Mosul's western half: AP

- After al Qaida's ouster, Yemen pushes to revive its port in Al Mukalla: WSJ

- A Marine who received the Bronze Star in 2003 for saving his linguist in Iraq is set to have the medal upgraded to a Silver Star: Marine Corps Times

- The VA warns that scammers are trying to take advantage of Choice Program users: Military Times

** A message from Huntington Ingalls Industries: Huntington Ingalls Industries is America's largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry. For more than a century, HII's Newport News and Ingalls shipbuilding divisions in Virginia and Mississippi have built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder. HII's Technical Solutions division provides a wide range of professional services through its Fleet Support, Integrated Missions Solutions, Nuclear & Environmental, and Oil & Gas groups. Our nearly 37,000 employees worldwide stand ready to help shape America's freedom in the 21st century. Huntington Ingalls Industries, Hard Stuff Done Right. Learn more at HuntingtonIngalls.com. **

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