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.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
Then Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the US twice last year, according to Justice Department officials, conversations he did not later disclose when asked during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general. Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.
“I did not have communications with the Russians.” CNN’s Faith Karimi recalls what Jeff Sessions said about Russia ties during his confirmation hearings.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for Sessions to resign as Attorney General yesterday, Reuters reports.
“This is a real and very serious threat to the national security of the United States,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted yesterday, also calling on Sessions to resign. Brooke Seipel reports at the Hill.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said in a statement late last night. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.
Precedent and law dictate that an FBI investigation must begin to determine if there are grounds to indict Sessions for perjury and an independent prosecutor must be appointed to look into his conduct in particular, and possibly the Trump administration’s ties to Russia in general, argues Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast.
White house officials in the last days of the Obama administration rushed to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election and about possible contacts between now-President Trump’s associates and Russian officials, with two aims: to make sure such interference isn’t repeated in future US or European elections, and to leave a clear paper trail of intelligence for government investigators, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.
If the FBI uncovers any criminal activity related to Trump’s aides’ alleged contacts with Russian officials, Attorney General Sessions should step aside to make way for a special prosecutor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
The parameters of their investigation into Russian interference with the US election have been set by lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, Joe Uchill setting out the main questions they’ll focus on at the Hill.
White House staffers have been told to preserve any material related to Russian interference in the election, the Julie Pace and Vivian Salama report at the AP.
The House of Representatives intelligence committee will investigate allegations of collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, top Democrat on the committee Rep. Adam Schiff said yesterday, Reuters reporting.
A timeline of what we know about the Trump campaign, his White House and Russia is provided by Marshall Cohen at CNN.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
A plan to speed up the authorization of counterterrorism missions by allowing the Pentagon – or even field commanders – to approve them rather than the White House is being discussed by military commanders, US defense officials told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
The US nearly went to war with Iran at the start of February, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wanted the US Navy to intercept and board an Iranian ship to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen,” an operation he ultimately decided to set aside because it was “leaked.” Mehdi Hasan explores this “bizarrely buried” story at The Intercept.
The possibility of military force or regime change to stop North Korea’s nuclear program is included in an internal White House review of strategy on the bellicose nation, Carol E. Lee and Alastair Gale report at the Wall Street Journal.
India’s foreign secretary will undoubtedly focus on defense ties with the US during his visit to Washington this week, where the belief that the US and India are “natural defense partners” enjoys “remarkably widespread agreement,” Benjamin Schwartz writes at the Wall Street Journal.
The White House is fully supportive of using the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” Vice President Pence said yesterday, despite advice from the new national security advisor. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
Several of predecessor Michael Flynn’s moves are being reversed by new national security adviser H. R. McMaster, Eliana Johnson, Nahal Toosi and Kenneth P. Vogel report at POLITICO.
Former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon M. Huntsman Jr. is under consideration to be the US ambassador to Russia, Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
The one subject that could bring Trump’s America and China closer together is the threat of terrorism by Islamist extremists, suggests Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.
Foreign policy was the “one gaping omission” in Trump’s speech to Congress on Monday, the New York Times editorial board concluding that the President failed to grasp his chance to demonstrate understanding of the foreign policy threats and opportunities facing America.
What do jihadists think of Donald Trump? Amarnath Amarasingam considers this “important question” at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Is it not time to “sound the death-knell of American exceptionalism?” Nick Bryant writes at the BBC.
SPECIAL OPERATIONS RAID in YEMEN
Clues about possible future al-Qaeda weapons and training tactics are offered by computers and other devices seized during the Special Operations raid in Yemen in January, according to American officials, though it remains unclear as to how this information will increase the military’s knowledge of plans and future operations by the terrorist group. Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.
Secretary Mattis confirmed as recently as yesterday that “there was significant intelligence” gathered in the raid, Vice President Mike Pence insisted yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.
President Trump’s honoring of the widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens during his Congressional speech doesn’t erase the lingering questions surrounding the raid in which he was killed, Democrats said yesterday, Jeremy Herb reporting at POLITICO.
The many questions and issues resulting from the deadly raid in Yemen are analyzed by Missy Ryan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff at the Washington Post.
Russian aircraft mistakenly bombed US-backed Arab fighters, the commander of the US-led operation in Syria and Iraq Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said yesterday, Michael R. Gordon reporting at the New York Times.
The Assad regime and opposition forces both carried out war crimes in Syria’s Aleppo by deliberately targeting civilian populations and institutions, the UN report also concludes. [UN News Centre]
Assad regime forces entered the ancient city of Palmyra, recaptured by the Islamic State last December, the BBC reports.
Syrian Kurds will participate “in some form or fashion” in the operation to retake the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said yesterday, Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe reporting at the Washington Post.
“Modest achievements” are expected in the latest round of peace talks in Geneva following a week of discussions focusing on setting an agenda for future talks, the AP reports.
Villages controlled by the Manbij Military Council will be handed over to the Assad regime in the next few days under a deal agreed with Russia, Reuters reports.
The US should use its leverage to oblige Russia to split with Iran and abandon the Assad regime, suggests the Washington Post editorial board.
Syrians are increasingly pursuing justice through criminal suits in domestic European courts, relying on the notion of universal jurisdiction – that war crimes have no geographical boundaries – report Anthony Faiola and Rick Noack at the Washington Post.
The Islamic State launched a counter-attack against advancing Iraqi forces in western Mosul overnight, Stephen Kalin reports at Reuters.
Oil pumping at Iraq’s northern Kirkuk fields stopped temporarily today as Kurdish forces were deployed to check for explosives said to have been left there by the Islamic State, Ahmed Rasheed reports at Reuters.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 28. Separately, partner forces conducted ten strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The death toll following simultaneous suicide bombings in Kabul yesterday has climbed to 22, the AP reports.
An offshoot of the Islamic State near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is expanding to new areas, recruiting fighters and widening the reach of its attacks in the region, Al Jazeera reports.
Alternative options for tightening the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal are being compiled by European officials in the hope that they will bolster their case that President Trump should stick to the accord, Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The UK must stand up to the US to ensure that the west maintains a principled stance on sanctions against Russia, the UK’s all-party foreign affairs select committee has found in a new report on Anglo-Russian relations, the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour reports.
North Korea will “mercilessly foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword,” a spokesperson for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army of North Korea said in response to the start of South Korean war drills, the AP reports.
A suspect in the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother will be released due to lack of evidence and deported back to North Korea, Malaysian authorities said. Yantoultra Ngui and Ben Otto report at the Wall Street Journal.
Two other suspects have taken refuge in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Richard C. Paddock reports at the New York Times.
The House Judiciary Committee generally agreed that the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was both necessary and in need of some reform yesterday, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
China carried out military drills near Taiwan and into the Western Pacific today as Taiwan warned of a growing threat from its neighbor, Ben Blanchard and J. R. Wu report at Reuters.
The UN Security Council headed to West Africa last night to look into the threat posed by Boko Haram to the countries most affected by it: Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen was among the 11 parties the UN was urged to add to the blacklist of countries and armed groups responsible for grave violations against children by various organizations yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
FARC rebels began giving UN observers an inventory of the weaponry they will soon surrender yesterday, Alba Tobella at the AP describing it as an important step in Colombia’s peace process.
The widow of the man responsible for the mass shooting at an Orlando night club in June last year can be released on a $500,000 bond pending trial on charges that she assisted her husband, a federal judge in California ruled yesterday, Richard Gonzales reporting at NPR.