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
“The answer is very simple. No.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov flatly denied Russian interference in the US presidential election yesterday, saying that the US is humiliating itself with its obsession over Russian meddling. Nolan D. McCaskill reports at POLITICO.
Roger Stone’s contacts with “Gucifer 2.0,” the hacker who claims responsibility for hacking the DNC during the 2016 presidential elections, amounted to a “brief exchange,” the political adviser who has been connected to President Trump for years told CNN, Gloria Borger and Matt Korade report.
It’s not clear how two lawmakers diametrically-opposed on the issue of Russian interference in the election are going to handle “the most politically sensitive investigation to hit Capitol Hill in decades,” Austin Wright writes of Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes at POLITICO.
All of President Trump’s Russia ties, in seven charts, are provided by Michael Crowley at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump invited his Palestinian counterpart to visit the White House to “discuss ways to resume the [Palestinian-Israeli] political process” during the leaders’ first phone call since the Trump inauguration Friday, Al Jazeera reports.
Trump will soon have to decide if confronting the Palestinians about payments made to militants who attack Israelis is more urgent than pursuing his budding efforts to establish a new Middle East diplomatic process, with many in Congress advocating cutting off all US aid to Palestine over the payments, suggests Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
Ways to dismantle or avoid Obama-era constraints aimed at preventing civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions outside conventional war zones are being explored by the Trump administration, report Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times, citing officials.
If President Trump has come up with a new plan for defeating the Islamic State, it isn’t obvious, observes the New York Times editorial board, pointing out that the missions underway in Iraq and Syria were begun by President Obama, the question now being whether the new President will continue or accelerate the trend toward deeper military involvement in both countries.
Members of the Mexican government are visiting Washington to establish relationships with the Trump administration despite rising tensions between the two nations, reports Rafael Bernal at the Hill.
Moscow should expect a man who has no love for authoritarianism and isn’t afraid to show it, if Trump’s pick for ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman’s stint as ambassador to China is anything to go by, writes Melissa K. Chan at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
President Trump has decided to perpetuate the illusory connection between Islam and terrorism to such a degree that his rhetoric actually mirrors the messages disseminated via Islamic State propaganda, writes Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco at the Hill.
TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS
The White House was asked to present evidence by today that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from former president Barack Obama by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
“Either retract or provide the information that the American people deserve.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called for President Trump to either prove that he was wiretapped or withdraw the accusation yesterday, Kelsey Snell reports at the Washington Post.
NEW YORK ATTORNEY PREET BHARARA FIRED
Trump wants “a bunch of tame prosecutors who won’t investigate him,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted yesterday in response to the President’s unusually sweeping order to 46 prosecutors Friday to resign with “immediate effect” – an order that was refused by the US attorney of the southern district of Manhattan Preet Bharara, who was subsequently fired, Alan Yuhas reports at the Guardian.
There may be a connection between the firing of former US attorney Preet Bharara and a request put to him by three watchdog groups to investigate whether the President had received benefits from foreign governments in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) suggested in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Rebecca Savransky reporting at the Hill.
Trump tried to call Bhahara before he was fired, according to a US law enforcement official, who declined to comment on whether the office in the southern district of New York had any active investigations related to the President. Mark Hosenball and Ayesha Rascoe report at Reuters.
Al-Qaeda-linked group the Levant Liberation Committee claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings near Shi’ite holy shrines in the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, the AP reports.
The already lengthy Syrian peace process could be drawn out further by shifting international priorities in Syria coupled with a problematic work plan coming out of the Geneva 4 talks that wrapped up last week, writes Dylan Collins at Al Jazeera.
The Assad regime’s relationship with China is going to be “on the rise” because China was “a real friend,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with China’s Phoenix TV, in which he also accused US and other foreign troops of entering his country without invitation or permission, SANA reports.
Iraqi forces faced strong resistance from snipers and mortar rounds as they tried to advance into Mosul’s Old City today, John Davison reports at Reuters.
Islamic State fighters remaining in Mosul will die there, the US envoy to the coalition fighting the group Brett McGurk said yesterday. [BBC]
With President Trump in power in the US, the future of Iraq – and independence-aspiring Kurdistan – is very much in doubt, writes Susan B. Glasser at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
A Palestinian who stabbed two police officers in the Old City in Jerusalem was shot dead today, the AP reports.
Prominent British boycott activist Hugh Lanning of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was denied entry to Israel, the country’s ministry of strategic affairs said today. [AP]
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Tensions in the South China Sea are expected to be discussed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese officials in meetings in Beijing this week, Christopher Bodeen reporting on this and other recent developments in the disputed region at the AP.
Japan intends to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning May, its biggest show of naval force since WWII, Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo report at Reuters.
The details of the now-outlawed enhanced interrogation program he was subjected to in 2003 were provided by former Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Slahi in his first televised interview since he was released yesterday, the Hill’s Olivia Beavers reports.
North Korea boycotted a UN review of its human rights record today, calling it “politically motivated,” Stephanie Nebehay reports at Reuters.
At least six people were killed when a suicide car bomber detonated near the Weheliye hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu this morning, Abdi Guled reports at the AP.