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Key point: For two decades the Tu-160 was the USSR's, and later Russia's, only supersonic, nuclear-armed strategic bomber.
The Russian air force could receive the first of up to 50 new Tu-160M long-range bombers as early as 2021, Deputy Minister of Defense Alexei Krivoruchko said in late December 2019.
That’s not a new assertion. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the same thing back in January 2019.
But it’s a dubious assertion. Buying 50 Tu-160Ms could prove too expensive for the cash-strapped Kremlin. And that’s assuming the contractor actually can build the giant, swing-wing bombers.
The Tu-160 is not a new aircraft. The 177-feet-long, four-engine Tu-160 first flew in 1981. Tupolev built for the Soviet air force 36 of the huge bombers including nine prototypes.
For two decades the Tu-160 was the USSR's, and later Russia's, only supersonic, nuclear-armed strategic bomber. The Tu-95 strategic bomber is subsonic.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, newly-independent Ukraine inherited 19 Tu-160s. Kiev ultimately returned to Russia eight of the bombers and scrapped the other 11. By the turn of the millennium, just a handful of Russia's Tu-160s were airworthy. One of the bombers crashed in 2003.
In the early 2000s, Moscow paid Kazan, a subsidiary of Tupolev, to finish assembly of two incomplete Tu-160 airframes left over from the 1980s. As of early 2020, the Russian air force possessed 16 Tu-160s and at least around a dozen apparently were airworthy.
To put that number in context, the U.S. Air Force possesses more B-2 stealth bombers -- 20 -- than the Russian air force possesses non-stealthy Tu-160s.
The U.S. Navy promoted Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph four months after he admitted to choking a Green Beret to death.
DeDolph—who will be back in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing—was formally charged in November 2018 with felony murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, burglary, hazing, and involuntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Special Forces soldier assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group.
Melgar was nearing the end of his deployment when he was killed in the West African nation of Mali in June 2017. He was part of an intelligence operation in Mali supporting counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda’s local affiliate, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Days after Melgar was strangled, DeDolph, at the time a petty officer first class, was sent back to his base in Virginia Beach under suspicion of murder. Despite that, DeDolph found himself on the promotion list for chief petty officer in August 2017; he was “frocked”—meaning he began wearing the insignia of the higher rank—on Sept. 15, 2017, according to defense officials. He didn’t start drawing chief’s pay until December.
Three days before DeDolph’s promotion, the medical examiner’s report was signed. It concluded, based on a June 8, 2017, autopsy at Dover Air Force Base, that Melgar’s cause of death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.
A defense official familiar with the case said Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as Seal Team 6, didn’t flag DeDolph because he was not formally charged or a person of interest in an ongoing investigation. He was a participant in the investigation but no charges were filed until November 2018.
Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, the former commander of Special Operations Command-Africa, told The Daily Beast this week that he authorized an investigation after he learned of Melgar’s death. Bolduc alerted Army Criminal Investigation Command and told commanders in Mali to preserve evidence. He didn’t understand why DeDolph was promoted when he returned to his unit in Virginia Beach.
“It is another failure of leadership,” Bolduc said. “I mean senior leadership. It’s unfortunate. He should have never been promoted. The investigation was started right away. They whisked them out of there as fast as they could.”
When asked if he was surprised by the news, Bolduc said no.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “But not surprised. It’s utter bullshit.”
Navy prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Garcia declined to comment on the promotion because DeDolph is part of an ongoing investigation.
“DeDolph has remained a member of Naval Special Warfare throughout this process,” said Navy Capt. Tamara Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare. “It is paramount that the rights of the service member are protected, thus any additional information regarding this case will not be discussed.”
Phil Stackhouse, DeDolph's civilian attorney, did not return calls or text messages seeking comment. Melgar’s widow, Michelle, declined to comment on the story.
DeDolph’s case is just one of several high-profile incidents that have exposed issues in the SEAL culture. Members of SEAL Team 7 were expelled from Iraq in 2019 after allegations of drinking and sexual assault. Six SEALs tested positive for cocaine last year. Then there’s the case of Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher, a former member of SEAL Team 7, who faced a court martial for war crimes charges including murder, but was convicted of posing for a picture with a dead body and granted clemency by President Trump in November 2019.
Some of the same issues were present in Mali, where there was widespread alcohol use, partying, and prostitutes at the safehouse, according to sources familiar with the investigation. “It was like a frat house,” one source said, when asked to describe what the safe house in Bamako was like.
In response to the recent incidents, Rear Adm. Collin Green, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, sent a memo last year to his subordinate units declaring the whole SEAL community has a problem.
“Some of our subordinate formations have failed to maintain good order and discipline and as a result and for good reason, our NSW culture is being questioned,” Green wrote in the July 2019 memo. “I don’t know yet if we have a culture problem, I do know that we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately.”
Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of Special Operations Command, ordered an ethics review last August following several high-profile incidents. He acknowledged in a memo to service members on Tuesday that “unacceptable conduct” had been allowed to occur as a result of “lack of leadership, discipline and accountability.” The 71-page report summing up the ethics review warned of what Clarke described as an emphasis on “force employment and mission accomplishment over the routine activities that ensure leadership, accountability, and discipline.”
Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, who was in Mali doing an assessment of the mission there, testified in August he felt it was his duty to haze Melgar—on DeDolph’s recommendation—to teach him a lesson after Melgar “ditched” the team in Mali’s capital city of Bamako on his way to a party at the French embassy.
DeDolph, Matthews and two Marine Raiders—Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez and Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell—spent the rest of the night plotting to choke Melgar into unconsciousness, pull his pants down and videotape the incident and then show it to him later to embarrass him. When Melgar became unresponsive, Matthews and DeDolph tried to resuscitate Melgar with CPR and opened a hole in his throat. The SEALS with Sergeant First Class James Morris, Melgar’s supervisor, then rushed Melgar to a French medical facility, where he was pronounced dead. At the clinic, DeDolph admitted to an embassy official he choked Melgar, according to NBC News and subsequent reports.
Maxwell and Matthews have already pleaded guilty in exchange for plea agreements with prosecutors. Matthews, 33, pleaded guilty to hazing and assault charges and attempts to cover up what happened to Melgar. He was sentenced in May 2019 to one year in military prison. Maxwell, 29, was sentenced to four years of confinement after pleading guilty in connection with Melgar’s death in June 2019.
DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez are the last of the four men who carried out the attack to stand trial. Both men are expected to face courts martial this spring. An exact date has not been selected, according to Navy officials.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called the revelation that former national security adviser John Bolton can implicate President Trump directly in the effort to pressure Ukraine by withholding military aid “stunning” evidence that “we’re all staring a White House cover-up in the face.”
Schumer was reacting to a report in the New York Times that Bolton’s forthcoming memoir contains an account of an August 2019 conversation in which Trump told him he wanted military aid to Ukraine frozen until that country’s government announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The withholding of aid from Ukraine and the White House’s alleged attempts to cover it up constitute the two impeachment charges against the president.
The manuscript of the book, which is scheduled for publication in March, was circulated among officials at the National Security Council for security vetting. The Times said it had spoken to “multiple people” with knowledge of its contents.
“This is stunning,” Schumer said in a press conference on Capitol Hill. “It goes right to the heart of the charges against the president. Ambassador Bolton essentially confirms the president committed the offenses charged in the first article of impeachment.”
Numerous witnesses in the House inquiry outlined what they described as orchestrated pressure by the administration to get Ukraine to announce the investigation into the former vice president, who is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump for reelection — an effort Bolton reportedly likened to a “drug deal.” But the testimony directly implicating the president was mostly secondhand, a key point in Trump’s defense.
House Democrats approved two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — against Trump. The Republican-controlled Senate voted to take up the matter, but blocked attempts by Schumer and Democrats to call witnesses, deferring any decision until near the end of the trial.
Bolton said he would be willing to testify if called by the Senate.
“We have a witness who has firsthand evidence of the president’s actions for which he is on trial,” Schumer continued. “He is ready and willing to testify. How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents? Anyone who says the House case lacks eyewitnesses and then votes to prevent eyewitnesses from testifying is talking out of both sides of their mouth.”
The Senate minority leader also cited Bolton’s claim that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was on the phone with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani while Trump was discussing the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Mulvaney has publicly denied knowledge of such a conversation.
Schumer called the revelations in Bolton’s book “further evidence” of a “giant cover-up among so many of the leading people in the White House.”
“If there was ever even a shred of logic left to not hear witnesses and review the documents, Mr. Bolton’s book just erased it,” Schumer said. “We’re all staring a White House cover-up in the face. It is so clear what is going on here.”
In a series of late night tweets, Trump denied ever telling Bolton the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into the Bidens.
Schumer was unmoved by the president’s tweeted denials.
“I would remind everyone, between President Trump and Ambassador Bolton, only one of them is willing to testify in the Senate under oath,” he said. “Only Mr. Bolton is willing to swear he is telling the truth.”
Democrats involved in the impeachment effort cited the disclosure about Bolton to accuse White House counsel Pat Cipollone of “crossing the line” ethically in his defense of Trump at the Senate trial.
The White House counsel is not the president’s personal lawyer but represents the office of the president.
The Bolton revelations make it even more likely that Cipollone is a “fact witness,” they said.
In a Jan. 21 letter, the House impeachment managers said that because of Cipollone’s firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine matter, he should disclose the extent of what he knew “so that the Senate and Chief Justice can be apprised of any potential ethical issues, conflicts, or biases.”
“He was at risk at the time of running afoul of his ethical and professional obligations and responsibilities,” a House Democratic aide working on the impeachment trial said in a conference call with reporters Monday morning. “The revelations about Ambassador Bolton highlight the point that it appears he and his team have crossed that line.”
And based on allegations that Bolton’s manuscript had been circulated widely within the White House, the Democratic aide said that Cipollone and his team were “suppressing and concealing evidence from the Senate and the American people.”
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