Show sidebar

The Early Edition: July 24, 2017

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today, followed by a private session with the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow, while the Senate Judiciary Committee’s plans to interview Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort this week have been delayed indefinitely while negotiations with their lawyers for documents and information are ongoing, Devlin Barrett anticipating the upcoming meetings at the Washington Post.

Kushner will tell the Senate panel that neither he nor any member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during the U.S. election, according to his opening statement released ahead of the meeting today, the BBC reports.

Kushner’s full statement is provided at CNN.

Trump Jr. and Manafort cut a deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee to avoid a public hearing this week and instead provide records to the panel and be privately interviewed ahead of any public session at the end of last week, CNN’s Miranda Green and Manu Raju report.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed campaign matters with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak on two occasions during the presidential campaign, at which time he was foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, contrary to Sessions’ public statements, current and former U.S. officials told Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller at the Washington Post Friday.

President Trump still does not accept that Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said yesterday, Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s name was included in a Senate Judiciary Committee letter requesting all communication between Donald Trump Jr. and a number of other individuals including Russian officials, making her what Alicia Cohn at the Hill calls a “surprising” addition to the congressional Trump-Russia probe.

There has been no discussion among President Trump and his legal team about whether presidents could pardon themselves, Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow insisted yesterday, after Trump himself sent out a tweet Saturday claiming that the president has the “complete power to pardon,” Kevin Robillard reports at POLITICO.

Trump can pardon any federal crime even before the alleged offender is charged with a crime, but can he pardon himself? Self-pardon has never been directly considered by the courts, and legal scholars are divided on the answer, but whether or not he can, whether he should is a different question – one the president should consider very carefully before answering, writes Jeffrey Crouch at the Hill.

Put yourself in Mueller’s shoes. The White House is attempting a systematic pushback on the independence and integrity of the special counsel investigation, and Mueller’s experience, and the steps he has taken so far to staff the Russia investigation with highly experienced lawyers, may not matter, because the president might bring things to a close with a bunch of preemptive pardons, or try to fire or rein in Mueller himself. Six things Mueller might be considering as he works out how to do his job under these circumstances are suggested by Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes at Foreign Policy.

Can a sitting president be indicted? A newly-rediscovered memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into former president Bill Clinton sheds new light on a “constitutional puzzle” that is attracting increasing attention amid the Trump-Russia investigation, writes Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

RUSSIA

An agreement on a wide-ranging Russia sanctions package was reached by Congressional Republicans and Democrats, they announced Saturday, the bill also including stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea, Al Jazeera reports.

The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow, which would allow a senator to bring up a resolution of disapproval if the administration moved to lift the sanctions and would expedite House consideration of such a resolution once it passes the Senate, Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal. Continue Reading »

Yemen: The View from Riyadh

 

Meetings in Riyadh last week with senior Yemeni and Saudi officials offered little hope that the war that has wracked Yemen for over two years and spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises is anywhere near its end. Admittedly, the picture we were able to develop is incomplete. Still, some themes emerged from our conversations with these senior officials that may prove useful to U.S. policymakers wrestling with options the Administration can pursue to bring Yemen’s destabilizing war to a conclusion. Continue Reading »

Recap of Recent Pieces on Just Security (July 15-21)

I. The Trump-Russia Investigations

II. Trump Tower Russia Meeting and the Magnitsky Act

III. Travel Ban

IV. Countering Violent Extremism

V. War Powers and the AUMF

VI. Civilian Casualties

VII. Norms Watch

VIII. Transparency

IX. Trump’s Civil Service

X. Sudan Sanctions

XI. Peacekeeping

 

Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (July 14-July 21)

Sign up here to receive Norms Watch in your inbox each Friday.

 

THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION

The list of attendees at a Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaigners and Russians grows, Trump and Putin meet a second time, and Mueller’s investigation expands to finances as Trump expresses his discontent.

 

Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner Met With Russian-American Lobbyist and Accused Money Launderer In Trump Tower

Although Donald Trump Jr. promised last week to be “transparent” as he released copies of emails that showed he attended a meeting after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support” for Trump, he did not reveal the identities of all present, disclosing only Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and British pop manager Rob Goldstone.

One attendee not mentioned by Trump Jr. is Rinat Akhmetshin, a Kremlin-connected lawyer and Soviet army counterintelligence veteran who holds both American and Russian citizenship. He has been accused by some U.S. critics of having links to Russian spy services, and at the time of the June 2016 meeting he was lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russia for human rights violations. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked why Akhmetshin was not registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Another attendee Trump Jr. overlooked is Ike Kaveladze, a U.S.-based employee of a Russian real estate company who has been the subject of a congressional inquiry into Russian money laundering in U.S. banks. The accusations arose out of his time as president of International Business Creations, a Delaware Corporation. Kaveladze was never charged, and he described the inquiry as “another Russian witch hunt in the United States.” His attorney told the Washington Post he attended the meeting as the representative of Aras and Emin Agalarov, Russian developers who hosted the Moscow Miss Universe pageant in 2013.

The revelations in the news media about the different people in attendance follow Trump Jr.’s shifting explanations for the meeting, which he initially characterized as “primarily” about adoptions, and repeated denials from Trump aides that campaign officials had contact with Russians ahead of the election. The meeting was also attended by Veselnitskaya’s translator Anatoli Smorchornov.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has called Trump Jr. and Manafort to testify publicly next week. Kaveladze has reportedly agreed to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Kushner will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session on Monday.

 

Trump Asks Advisers About Pardon Powers

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the Russia investigation, the Washington Post reports.

 

Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Jeff Sessions If He’d Known He Would Recuse Continue Reading »

Five Questions about the Scope and Limits of the President’s Pardon Power

On the front page of today’s Washington Post, Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman, and Tom Hamburger report that the Trump administration is currently considering a range of options to control and/or block Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, including the p-word—pardons. On Wednesday, Andy Wright walked through some of the pardon scenarios, and folks should really start with his post. But I wanted to take a shot at framing the pardon issue around five distinct questions, many of which are being asked by folks reacting to today’s Post story. Below the fold, I ask (and try to answer) the questions.  Continue Reading »

Not So Fast: Trump Administration Continues U.S. Sanctions Toward Sudan

After months of speculation, the Trump administration has decided that the current U.S. sanctions against Sudan will remain in place – at least for now.

The State Department announced on July 11 that it would postpone the decision concerning the future of the sanctions. It said it needed more time to review the Sudanese government’s actions pursuant to Executive Order 13761, which President Obama signed on January 13 during his final days in office. Obama’s order surprised many human rights organizations and Sudan analysts as it temporarily removed some sanctions towards Sudan. But the Obama executive order included a six-month window during which the United States had to verify continued progress by the Sudanese government on “five tracks” before permanently lifting the sanctions.

These tracks included a marked reduction in offensive military activity, a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in Sudan’s conflict areas, improved humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and cooperation with the U.S. on addressing regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism. Citing previous progress on these issues, Obama suspended the longstanding U.S. trade embargo with Sudan, unfroze assets, and removed financial restrictions. All of these acts, however, were conditional, pending the six-month assessment.

Other than pushing the sanctions decision from July 12 to October 12, Trump’s executive order does little to alter EO 13761. The interagency decision-making process, which includes input from NGOs, remains the same. Likewise, the general license issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control remains in place. The general license makes otherwise prohibited transactions permissible while the sanctions continue. Finally, the criteria for removing the sanctions remain the same, although some have suggested expanding these requirements and the State Department noted the administration’s intention to engage the regime on issues outside of the five tracks including human rights and ensuring that the Sudanese government is not aiding North Korea. Still, as long as Sudan sustains the positive actions that led to Obama’s decision in January, the U.S. will likely end the sanctions program in October.  Continue Reading »

When This Part is Over–America Post the Russia Investigation

 

At some point, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will complete his investigation. He could bring criminal charges, name other co-conspirators, comment on possible grounds for impeachment, or determine that no further legal action is necessary.

Whatever his decision, a significant number of Americans will likely disagree with the outcome. Some have not followed news reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election very closely. Some, on both the right and the left, will have a faulty understanding of the events under investigation because they access only partisan media sources.

Some will question Mueller’s judgment, intelligence, and politics. There will likely be public protests. There could even be violence.

So, as important as Mueller’s current work is, what follows will be even more so. In reacting to Mueller’s findings, our country will either coalesce or fracture further. Here are six things we should all want to see.  Continue Reading »

The Early Edition: July 21, 2017

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Ways to limit or weaken special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation are being explored by some of President Trump’s lawyers after Trump asked his advisers about his powers to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the investigation, with Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

Trump’s legal team is also reportedly amassing allegations of conflicts of interest against Mueller, an allegation disputed by a source with knowledge of the discussion who spoke to Eli Watkins at CNN.

It would be “extremely disturbing” if President Trump were thinking of pardoning aides who could be implicated in the Trump-Russia investigation, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) said yesterday following reports that the president was consulting with advisers on his pardoning powers in connection to the probe. The Guardian reports.

It would be a “mistake” to fire Mueller, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.

The spokesperson for President Trump’s legal team Mark Corallo resigned because he disagreed with its reported strategy of discrediting or limiting the team directing the Trump-Russia investigation, Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz’ role is being reduced and he is no longer running the legal strategy, which will now be handled by internal White House lawyer Ty Cobb, according to two people familiar with the matter, who added that Kasowitz could leave the team altogether. Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly looking at transactions involving Trump’s businesses and those of his associates as part of the Russia probe despite the president’s warning earlier this week that he would cross the line by looking into his finances, Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen report at Bloomberg.

There was no question that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, President Trump’s homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert and C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado yesterday, Kevin Johnson reporting at USA Today.

Possible money laundering by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia probe, Erica Orden reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Paul Manafort’s request to retract an article reporting that the former Trump campaign manager was in debt to pro-Russia interests by up to $17 million before he joined the campaign last year was denied by the New York Times, Hadas Gold reports at POLITICO.

With the president’s son, son-in-law and former campaign manager due to testify July 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian influence on the U.S. election, Michelle Ye Hee Lee provides a timeline of Donald Trump Jr.’s contradictory statements about his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at the Washington Post.

“Everything is fine because nothing happened between Trump and the Kremlin.” The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal sets out where things stand according to the wisdom President Trump imparted in his New York Times interview this week, concluding that the Trump team is not evil or corrupt but ignorant and poorly informed, which explains why they have “trouble making moral judgments that most children could make.”

Americans are in danger of forgetting how a president who respected his or her office and the Constitution and had nothing to hide would speak and behave. The Washington Post editorial board imagines what an “ethical president” would have said in Trump’s interview this week.

It is paramount that the Trump administration follows through on the steps taken by its predecessor to make clear that the U.S. is united in opposition to Russian interference and that further attempts will not succeed. Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff from 2013-2017, describes the events that took place inside the Obama administration last fall at the Washington Post.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS

Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to remain in his role despite comments from the president that he would not have nominated him if he’d known he would recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation in an interview this week, Sessions said yesterday, Robert Costa, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky reporting at the Washington Post. Continue Reading »

Palantir Contract Dispute Exposes NYPD’s Lack of Transparency

 

News that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is in a fight with Palantir Technologies over access to analytic data the company produced, raises a host of troubling questions. The dispute over the information stems from NYPD’s plans to cancel its contract with the data mining company as NYPD transitions to a new system —“Cobalt”— which it developed in partnership with IBM, as BuzzFeed recently reported. The most troubling revelation so far is that neither the public nor the City Council had any idea this was going on. New Yorkers have learned more about the NYPD’s relationship with Palantir through this dust-up over a contract dispute than after years of public records requests and a lawsuit. It shouldn’t be this way.

First, some background. Palantir is a secretive tech company founded in part with funds from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of dozens of government agencies with multimillion-dollar Palantir contracts, fueling fears that the technology could be used to enforce President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration agenda. The NYPD has also had a contract with Palantir for years, but the specifics are still unknown.

All we know is that the NYPD was licensing Palantir software to produce analysis from data collected by the police, such as arrest records, license-plate reads, and parking tickets. According to BuzzFeed, Palantir’s software “graphs this data in a way that can reveal connections among crimes and people.” The NYPD’s continued use of this analytic data is at the center of the ongoing contract dispute. Palantir has declined to hand over a readable version of the data to the NYPD, claiming that doing so would threaten its intellectual property.

All of this begs the question: Why are New Yorkers just learning about this now, and where is the public oversight?  Continue Reading »

Nikki Haley is Wrong to Boast About Peacekeeper Budget Cuts: A View From the Central African Republic

Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, bragged on Twitter recently about cuts to UN peacekeeping funding, saying:

Haley’s ill-advised and alarming boast and promise to cut more funds is a serious risk to UN peacekeeping operations. This is especially so in the Central African Republic (CAR), where we have worked in and with NGOs, and with the UN mission (MINUSCA), advancing civilian protection, humanitarian aid, education, and investigations into war crimes and human rights violations. In the CAR, security reinforcements, not funding cuts, are needed—particularly in a context where peacekeepers have also become a target of attacks.

The country’s security situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the prospect of new mass atrocities, ethnic killings, and forced displacement that had been looming for the past few months, is becoming a reality, particularly in the central and eastern provinces.

Around the towns of Bria, Kaga-Bandoro, and Bambari, tensions have been on the rise since mid-2016. Recently, the Fulani people have been forcibly displaced from the sub-prefecture of Bakouma. Muslim internally displaced people in the city of Bangassou are being prevented by the rest of the population from returning to their neighborhoods, and an armed group made up of former Seleka members calling itself the, L’Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), is targeting anti-Balaka militias as well as the communities around the towns of Alindao and Kembe. In the town of Zemio, 19,000 people have been displaced amid outbreaks of violence between armed groups in the past weeks, with some fleeing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As we drafted this piece, the grandmother of one of the co-authors was burned alive during an attack on her house in Zemio, and his eight-year old son is missing.  Continue Reading »