Overnight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline

Overnight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

THE TOPLINE: FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday the bureau is investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election -- including any links or coordination between members of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDems push leaders to talk less about Russia Kobach fined over Trump meeting memo OPINION: Dear media, Americans don't care about Obama's legacy MORE's campaign and Moscow.

The news came during Comey's testimony alongside National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Roger before the House Intelligence Committee.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has the story:

The bombshell revelation puts an end to months of roiling speculation and frustration on the part of Democrats, who saw the director's silence as a double-standard after Comey's repeated disclosures in the FBI's investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump notes 'election meddling by Russia' in tweet criticizing Obama Former Obama advisor calls Fox ‘state sanctioned media’ Biden rips Senate GOP healthcare bill, says it 'isn't about healthcare' MORE's private email server.

In a dramatic moment at the beginning of a hotly anticipated House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. election, Comey announced that he had been authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to break bureau policy and publicly disclose the probe.

"As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation," he said. "But in usual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so."

Read more here.

Other headlines out of the hearing:

-- FBI director: 'No information' to support Trump wiretapping claims

-- Comey disputes Trump tweet on Russian election interference

-- Gowdy suggests reporters should be prosecuted for leaks

-- House Intelligence chair to Comey: You have put 'big, gray cloud' over White House

The White House reacted to the hearing by asserting that there's "no evidence" on any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Hill's Jordan Fabian has the story here.

The White House also sought to distance itself from some former Trump campaign officials, claiming many of them did not play a large role in the campaign. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had only a "limited role."

The Hill's Jonathan Easley has more on that here.

For a full blow-by-blow of the hearing, look back at The Hill's liveblog of the proceedings here.


PENTAGON ASSESSING CIVILIAN CASUALTY REPORTS: The Pentagon said Monday that it's looking reports of civilian causalities after an outcry from watchdog groups alleging an airstrike hit a mosque.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell reports:

Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters Monday U.S. Central Command (Centcom) is assessing reports of civilian deaths after a March 16 strike.

Observer groups reported that at least 49 people were killed in the airstrike, which targeted a building near a mosque in the village of Al-Jineh in the northern province of Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the destroyed building belonged to the mosque and was part of the same compound.

Davis said he had no information on whether the building was affiliated with a mosque.

"We did not judge this to be a mosque," he said.

Read more here.


SENATORS PUSH AFGHAN VISAS IN SPENDING BILL: Four senators are pushing appropriators to include visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops in a spending bill for the State Department as the visa program faces a shortfall.

In a letter released Monday, the senators quoted Defense Secretary James Mattis's support for the program in arguing for additional visas.

"Keeping our promise to those Afghans who meet the strict qualifications of this program is a strategic imperative as well as a moral one," they wrote. "During his confirmation process, Secretary Mattis noted that 'most of our units could not have accomplished their missions without the assistance, often at risk to their lives, of these courageous men and women,' and he pledged to work to ensure such individuals are not left behind."

The letter was sent by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate overwhelmingly passes Russia sanctions deal Russia sanctions deal clears key Senate hurdle MORE (D-N.H.), Thom TillisThom R. TillisThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Lawmakers celebrate National Selfie Day on Twitter Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget MORE (R-N.C.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOnly Congress can enable drone technology to reach its full potential Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (D-Conn.) and Jack ReedJack ReedDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity 3 tips for President Trump before he outsources his duties to Mattis McCain threatens to block Trump's deputy Defense nominee MORE (D-R.I.) to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranThad CochranDefense hawks gird for budget brawl Congressional politics hurts cotton farmers GOP senators dismiss Trump filibuster change MORE (R-Miss.), ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyGoing national with automatic voter registration Republicans slam Trump’s new policy toward Cuba Trump draws a harder line on Cuba MORE (D-Vt.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (R-S.C.), who chairs the committee's subpanel responsible for the State Department.

Read the rest here.


PROBLEMS PERSIST AT VETERANS SUICIDE HOTLINE: A suicide hotline for veterans is still plagued with issues more than a year after an inspector general first identified problems, according to a report released Monday.

The latest report found that more than a quarter of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) rolled over to backup centers, much higher than the Veterans Affairs Department goal of 10 percent.

Further, the report said, none of the recommendations made in the original February 2016 report have been fully implemented.

"Veterans are at a disproportionately high risk for suicide compared to the rate of U.S. civilian adults," Michael Missal, Veterans Affair inspector general, said in a statement. "The VCL is a critical effort to reduce veteran suicide for those who call in crisis. Therefore, it is imperative that VA take further steps to increase the effectiveness of VCL operations."

Read more here.



New America hosts an all-day "Future of War" conference. Speakers include Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt. http://bit.ly/2mDqQ3K

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. policy and strategy in Europe with testimony from the former head of the U.S. European Command at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. http://bit.ly/2mb1Kuh

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley will be on Capitol Hill for a House Armed Services hearing on America's role in the world at 10 a.m. at Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2n6QgHl

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on North Korea at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. http://bit.ly/2mMMsZR

The House Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee will have a hearing on the social media policies of the military services at 3:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. http://bit.ly/2n6BAIx



-- The Hill: Army tackling task of significantly boosting its ranks

-- The Hill: Lawmakers fear infiltration of defense supply chain

-- The Hill: Russia, China making gains on US military power

-- The Hill: US sends warning to North Korea -- with China the likely audience

-- Associated Press: N.Korea says it's not afraid of US threat of military strike

-- Reuters: U.S.-allied Kurds strike deal with Russia in Syria-Kurdish militia

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com

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