Overnight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen's Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident

Happy Wednesday 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 TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO calls blocking New York Post article without explanation ‘unacceptable’ Michael Cohen writing second book on Trump administration’s Justice Department As Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT MORE is getting pushback from a famed Navy SEAL after amplifying baseless conspiracy theories about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Robert O’Neill, the former SEAL who has publicly said he killed bin Laden in the 2011 raid ordered by former President Obama, called Trump out in a series of tweets for promoting the conspiracy theory that it was a bin Laden body double who was killed and not the terrorist leader.

“Very brave men said goodby [sic] to their kids to go kill Osama bin Laden. We were given the order by President Obama. It was not a body double,” O’Neill, a Trump supporter, tweeted Tuesday evening. 

“Shit. I just found out that I killed Osama bin Johnson. Drinks are on me, I guess…” he wrote in another tweet.

What Trump did: Earlier that evening, Trump retweeted an account linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory that promoted the unfounded allegation that bin Laden still lives.

The account has since been suspended, but Trump on Wednesday also retweeted a video pushing baseless claims about bin Laden’s death.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top Dem weighs in: Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen’s Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Dems to focus on issues, not character, at Barrett hearings MORE (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, framed Trump’s retweets as another example of the president disrespecting the military.

“Pres Trump must stop spreading false conspiracy theories,” Reed tweeted Wednesday. “Questioning the brave special operators who conducted the bin Laden raid undermines America and is disrespectful to the entire U.S. military & diminishes the sacrifices our service members make.”

Election nexus: Trump has increasingly attacked Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTwitter CEO calls blocking New York Post article without explanation ‘unacceptable’ Cheers erupt as Trump puts on MAGA hat, takes off tie at Iowa rally Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE over the bin Laden raid, questioning the former vice president’s leadership and instincts.

Trump’s attacks draw on reports that Biden was hesitant over the raid, which gained traction in 2015 as Biden was considering whether to run in the 2016 presidential race. Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen’s Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident Trump hits road in scramble to shore up support from 2016 Trump campaign adviser: Republicans should expect ‘game day attendance’ in Florida on Election Day MORE’s campaign and her allies highlighted the fact that Clinton had backed Obama in ordering the strike against bin Laden while Biden, they underscored, was on the other side.


AMERICANS FREED FROM YEMEN: Two Americans held hostage by Houthi rebels in Yemen have been released as part of a U.S.-backed deal that includes more than 200 of the group’s loyalists returning to the war-torn country, the Trump administration confirmed Wednesday.

In addition to the two freed Americans, the remains of a third are also being sent back to the United States under the agreement, which was negotiated between Oman and the Houthis.

“The United States welcomes the release today of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well. We extend our sincerest thanks to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman and King Salman of Saudi Arabia for their efforts to secure the release of our citizens.”

The war: The United States has supported a Saudi-led coalition’s war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015.

U.S. support, which includes weapons sales, intelligence and other military aid, has been increasingly opposed by lawmakers in both parties as coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians.

But the Trump administration has seen support for the Saudis as a key part of its so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

U.N.-led peace talks have made some halting progress, including a prisoner exchange last month, but fighting has flared anew.

The politics: Trump has sought to portray freeing American hostages as one of his strong suits as the election approaches, and Wednesday’s news gives him another example to point to.

During this summer’s Republican National Convention, Trump appeared in a video with six American hostages freed during his tenure, claiming they were among 50 released from 22 countries during his administration.

The video mostly garnered attention for Trump’s praise of Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a conversation with Andrew Brunson, who had been held by Erdogan’s government for two years.


MARINES FIRE COMMANDER AFTER DEADLY TRAINING ACCIDENT: The Marine Corps has fired a commanding officer after nine service members were killed when the amphibious assault vehicle they were in sank off the coast of Southern California during a training exercise.

Lt. Col. Michael Regner, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment was relieved “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command as a result of the assault amphibious vehicle mishap” on July 30, according to a service statement released Tuesday night.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, relieved Regner after an investigation “compiled a substantial amount of information and data which formed the basis” for his decision, the statement added.

The investigation is still ongoing.

Background: The firing comes months after the fatal training accident, which involved the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Eight Marines and one Navy sailor were killed when their vehicle sank in 385 feet of water off the coast of San Clemente Island.

Of the 16 men on board at the time, eight were able to escape — two of whom were injured and one was pronounced dead at the scene.

The remains of the other eight service members were recovered a week later.



Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen’s Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident China’s Xi tells troops to focus on war preparations Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides MORE will speak at the virtual 2020 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting at 10 a.m.

Esper will speak at a virtual event hosted by the Heritage Foundation at 1 p.m.

Defense Security Cooperation Agency Director Heidi Grant will speak at a Middle East Institute Defense Leadership Series webinar at 1 p.m.



– The Hill: Pompeo: US committed to Saudi Arabia to deter Iran

– The Hill: Bolton: North Korea ‘more dangerous now’

– The Hill: Russia shuts down Trump admin’s last-minute push to strike nuclear arms deal before election

– The Hill: Opinion: A world without alliances

– Reuters: North Korea’s nuclear, missile programs ‘serious threat’ to security: Pentagon chief

– Washington Post: Protester files claim against D.C. National Guard, saying she was injured by low-flying helicopter during Floyd protest

– Foreign Policy: Trump’s foreign policy adventures haven’t all flopped

– Bloomberg: Trump demands a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia