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 MUSLIM BAN
A nationwide temporary restraining order barring implementation of President Trump’s revised travel ban was imposed by US District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii yesterday, Brent Kendall and Ian Lovett report at the Wall Street Journal.
A “reasonable, objective observer” would view even the new order as “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose,” the judge said in his decision, which repeatedly referred to public comments made by the President. Alexander Burns reports at the New York Times.
Comments by Trump’s allies were also referred to in the judgment, including senior adviser Stephen Miller’s remarks to Fox News that the new order would have the “same basic policy outcome for the country,” the Hill’s Lydia Wheeler reports.
A federal judge in Maryland issued a second, narrower restraining order suspending only the part of the order that stopped the issuance of visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries early this morning, Matt Zapotosky, Kalani Takase and Maria Sacchetti report at the Washington Post.
“An unprecedented judicial overreach.” President Trump reacted to the Hawaii court ruling yesterday, calling it “terrible” and vowing to take the legal fight “all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to rehear the case in relation to the original travel ban in front of the entire court, as requested by a judge on the appeals court last month, the five dissenting judges arguing that the panel’s opinion should have been vacated to “clear the path for future relitigation.” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
The next step for Trump’s revised travel ban is likely the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will probably give the new ban the same treatment as it did the first, and then its chances in the Supreme Court “depend on timing:” the order is probably doomed under the current line-up of justices, but if Judge Neil Gorsuch is in position it would return the Court to a 5-4 majority of Republicans, S. M. anticipates at the Economist.
The biggest problem for the President’s travel ban in the President himself, as he clearly demonstrated by his “stream-of-consciousness” reaction to the restraining order yesterday, writes Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast.
The Hawaii judgment contains important lessons about “the enduring power of language,” and that when words lose their meaning and their capacity to bind those who use them, it signals the death of democracy and the rule of law, Austin Sarat writes at the Guardian.
TRUMP’S WIRETAP CLAIMS
“I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday as Republicans threatened subpoenas and complained publicly about the lack of evidence to substantiate the Presidents claim that former president Obama wire tapped Trump Tower during the election, Michael D. Shear, Adam Goldman and Emmarie Huetteman report at the New York Times.
“Wiretap covers a lot of different things.” The President stood by his accusation in an interview with Fox News aired last night, suggesting that “some very interesting items” would be “coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.” Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.
A more detailed public explanation of the progress of several investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign including a definitive answer as to whether there is any evidence for President Trump’s allegation that he was wiretapped by his predecessor was promised by lawmakers of both parties yesterday, Byron Tau and Siobhan Hughes report at the Wall Street Journal.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) accused Justice Department officials of lying when they said they would share information about ongoing department probes with his and other committees charged with investigating alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia yesterday, Karoun Demirjian and Ed O’Keefe report at the Washington Post.
FBI Director James Comey briefed top senators in a closed-door session yesterday amid increasing demands that he explain if his bureau is investigating any links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
There isn’t enough evidence to believe that Trump aides colluded with Russia, former CIA director Michael Morell said yesterday, Ken Dilanian reporting at NBC News.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Sen. Dan Coats was confirmed to serve as President Trump’s director of national intelligence by the Senate yesterday, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
One of Trump’s top economic advisers Dina Habib Powell has had her portfolio expanded to include national security strategy and interagency coordination, an administration official confirmed last night, Philip Rucker reporting at the Washington Post.
More information about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s role in defending the Bush administration in lawsuits over terrorism policies and the interrogation of detainees is being demanded by Senate Democrats, Robert Barnes and Ed O’Keefe report at the Washington Post.
Back-to-back hits on Gorsuch were orchestrated by Senate Democrats yesterday amid increasing pressure from liberal advocacy groups frustrated by his relatively smooth ride through the confirmation process, Seung Min Kim and Elana Schor report at POLITICO.
The Senate is allowing national security adviser H. R. McMaster retain his military ranking, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Envoy for President Trump Jason Greenblatt and Jordan’s King Abdullah II met to discuss reviving efforts toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal yesterday, the AP reports.
Trump’s “hardline but pragmatic” approach to Iran is contributing to the restoration of stability in the region, according to Nathan Field writing at the Hill.
The Trump administration’s moves to circumvent the rules limiting drone strikes imposed by the Obama administration could have disastrous outcomes, not least because the current President seems even more enthusiastic about drone warfare than Mr Obama was, warns the New York Times editorial board.
Is the system really working to check the President’s worst foreign policy impulses? “I fear not,” concludes Daniel W. Drezner at the Washington Post.
A budget plan that includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending and a cut of around 28 percent to the state department will be submitted to Congress by the Trump administration today, the BBC reports.
The budget “sharply reorders the nation’s priorities” by spending billions on defending the southern border and strengthening the Pentagon while drastically cutting foreign aid, and is sure to be disregarded by Hill Republicans who view many of the President’s cuts as overly rushed, indiscriminate and reckless, write Alan Rappeport and Glenn Thrush at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is “willingly” taking on the challenge of a major cut in funding to his department, he said from Tokyo yesterday. [AP]
The budget is “ripped from Bannon’s nationalistic playbook,” suggests Shane Goldmacher at POLITICO.
REX TILLERSON’S ASIA TOUR
It’s time to take a “different approach” to dealing with the threat posed by North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday from Tokyo after talks with the Japanese foreign minister, Anna Fifield at the Washington Post anticipating that his comments would fuel fears in the region that the US is mulling a military response.
Tillerson will seek increased efforts from China to deal with the threat of North Korea when he visits Beijing this week, he said yesterday, Alastair Gale reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Suicide bombers left at least 39 people dead after they attacked a courthouse and restaurant in Syria’s capital Damascus yesterday, Noam Raydan reporting at the Wall Street Journal that there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Peace in Syria is “a moral and political imperative both for the Syrian people and for the world,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday, urging all parties to make the most of the 30 Dec. ceasefire and to overcome their difficulties and work together to end the conflict, now entering its seventh year. [UN News Centre]
The “puzzle” of the Syria conflict is unraveled by Jonathan Marcus at the BBC.
Heavy rain slowed Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State around Mosul’s Old City today, Patrick Markey reports at Reuters.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 14. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) of colluding with Russia after he objected to a Montenegro becoming a NATO member yesterday, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
The Russian spy ship that transited along the East Coast of the US last month has returned, but the US military is “not really” concerned, NBC News reports.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair will not face an investigation into whether he misled Parliament before the 2003 Iraq invasion due to lack of evidence, a committee of lawmakers said today. [AP]
A British Royal Marine who shot dead an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan has had his sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter based on the ground of diminished responsibility, the AP reports.
An arrest warrant for a Minnesota man wanted in relation to a Nazi massacre was issued by a Polish court, paving the way for Poland to seek his extradition from the US to face war crimes charges, Monika Scislowska reports at the AP.
EUROPE and TURKEY
German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened to ban Turkish politicians after Turkey’s President Erdoğan accused German authorities of using Nazi tactics, a move that would follow the Netherlands which banned Turkish ministers’ campaign appearances over the weekend, Stefan Wagstyl reports at the Financial Times.
Erdoğan stepped up his rhetoric against the Netherlands yesterday despite Germany’s peace offering that it would allow Turkish citizens to cast their votes in the upcoming referendum in Turkey on German soil as long as Turkey’s government cut out its abusive broadsides and disclosed its campaign plans, Philip Oltermann reports at the Guardian.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The US has failed to counter information operations from states such as Russia and China, experts told the House Armed Services Subcommittee yesterday, chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) calling for a “whole of government strategy” to counter efforts by terrorist groups and nation states. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
The first public step in an investigation into intelligence community leaks involving aides to President Trump was taken by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, committee heads disclosing that they are pressing the CIA, FBI and NSA on a loophole in US surveillance law. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
Two Russian government spies have been charged in connection with Yahoo’s 2014 security breach, federal authorities confirmed yesterday.
The clearest details yet on what some US officials say is a symbiotic relationship between Russia’s security forces and private Russian hackers are provided in the indictments of four people in relation to the Yahoo attack, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay report at Reuters.
“We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told NBC News’ Jane C. Timm after the Justice Department’s announcement.
New director of national intelligence Dan Coats and CIA director Mike Pompeo need to restore the trust between America’s spy agencies and its citizens, a good first step being to teach the intelligence agencies to keep their own secrets, Peter Hoekstra writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Working with WikiLeaks on flaws being exploited by the CIA poses legal and ethical questions for tech companies reluctant to pick new fights with the government, writes Joe Uchill at the Hill.
A 2018 trial date USS Cole bombing case will be set, the judge said yesterday, adding that he expects it will take months to choose the US military jury to hear the death-penalty case. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
A challenge to a prosecutor’s attempt to close proceedings for testimony from defendant Abd al Rahim was declared unnecessary by the judge in the USS Cole bombing case, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Security forces funded by the US in Africa are accused of human rights abuses in new research by the Angaza Foundation for African Reporting, Simon Allison reports at the Guardian.
Battles for control of Tripoli and key oil ports currently underway represent the worst fighting of Libya’s civil war so far, Chris Stephen reports at the Guardian.
A UN commission report saying that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians led to furious denunciations by Israel and the US, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
China doesn’t understand that the US-built THAAD missile defense system deployed to South Korea is aimed only at defending against North Korea, South Korea’s vice foreign minister said today. Christine Kim and Jack Kim report at Reuters.
The conclusion of a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea by Southeast Asian nations was urged by Australia today, Teresa Cerojano reports at the AP.
An impeachment complaint was filed against President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippine Congress by an opposition lawmaker today, citing high crimes, betrayal of public trust and abuses of power. [Reuters]