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
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election” including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. [New York Times]
While it was clear that the Russians wanted to disadvantage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, intelligence agencies made no judgement on whether their efforts affected the outcome of the election, Comey explained, Patricia Zengerle and Warren Strobel reporting at Reuters.
The FBI’s investigation began last July, Comey also disclosed, a fact that angered Hillary Clinton supporters who noted that Comey chose to reveal the investigation into the Democratic candidate’s email arrangements but not the one into Trump’s campaign, Shane Goldmacher and Matthew Nussbaum report at POLITICO.
You have put a “big, gray cloud” over the White House, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Re. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told Comey at the end of the four-hour hearing yesterday. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
There was no “smoking gun” from either Comey or NSA Director Mike Rogers, who also testified, but we did learn more about what the FBI is investigating and what Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to investigate, concludes Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.
Republicans shrugged off the implications of Comey’s testimony yesterday and instead tried to shift the focus on leaks from the Trump administration to news networks, writes Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.
Trump’s tweets throughout the day yesterday were “misleading, inaccurate or simply false,” Glenn Kessler demonstrates at the Washington Post.
Trump’s obsessive and ferocious pushback against the Russian allegations are making an uncertain situation worse, observe Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times.
Comey’s acknowledgement that the FBI is investigating possible Trump campaign was a “breathtaking admission” and ought to mark a turning point in how inquiries into Russia’s role in the 2016 election should be handled, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Where might the FBI investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia lead? Eugene Robinson tries to imagine at the Washington Post.
Who is targeted by this inquiry? Anthony Zurcher sets out what is known and still unknown about the FBI investigation at the BBC.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort only had a “limited role for a very limited amount of time,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted yesterday, trying to downplay scrutiny into the campaign’s links with Russia. Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.
Trump associate Roger Stone is keen to speak to lawmakers about Russian meddling in the presidential election to “put an end to this myth about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” he said in response to a letter sent to him by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. Martin Matishak reports at POLITICO.
TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS
FBI Director James Comey has “no information” that supports the President’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor, he told the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, white NSA Director Mike Rogers agreed that it was “ridiculous” to suggest that British intelligence service GCHQ helped Mr. Obama to spy on Trump. Shane Harris and Aruna Viswanatha examine yesterday’s hearing at the Wall Street Journal.
“Nothing has changed.” President Trump will not back off his wiretapping charge, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters yesterday, Alex Seitz-Wald reporting at NBC News.
Comey declined to say whether he briefed former president Obama on former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s contact with Russian operatives, Trump tweeted yesterday via his official presidential account, his first direct public response to Comey’s testimony and a hint at a new conspiracy theory: Obama was behind the Flynn leaks, Dan Mercia writes at CNN.
Do you still maintain the wiretap claims? Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on President Trump to say if he still believes he was wiretapped following Comey’s comments yesterday, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will avoid bringing up the White House’s claims that British intelligence agency GCHQ spied on Donald Trump when he visits Washington today, the BBC reports.
The current president of the US “lies in ways that no American politician ever has before,” David Leonhardt writes at the New York Times.
ELECTRONIC DEVICE BAN
A ban on airline passengers traveling direct from eight Middle Eastern and North African countries carrying any electronic device larger than a mobile phone is expected to be announced by the Trump administration at 10 a.m. today, Shebab Khan and Simon Calder report at the Independent.
The indefinite ban is said to apply to nonstop flights from 10 international airports serving Cairo, Jordan’s Amman and other cities in Muslim-majority countries, Al Jazeera reports.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump pledged to increase its support to Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday after the two leaders met in Washington. Felicia Schwartz and Tamer el-Ghobashy report at the Wall Street Journal.
A bipartisan group of Senators is urging the President to continue US support in Iraq after the Islamic State has been defeated, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
It is not certain how the Trump administration will deal with the problems that will arise in Iraq after the Islamic State has been ousted, with Trump’s messaging on Iraq confusing ever since the election campaign, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
The US boycotted a UN Human Rights Council session focusing on Palestinian areas Monday on the basis of the council’s “longstanding bias against Israel,” Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will go to Russia next month, a week after a NATO summit he has opted to miss, Carol Morello observes at the Washington Post.
Defense Secretary will likely face questioning on a wide range of defense issues when he makes his first visit to Capitol Hill since his confirmation this week ostensibly to answer questions about the defense budget, Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell predict at the Hill.
Rex Tillerson sustained a “series of self-inflicted wounds” on his bumbling trip round Asia, his first big trip abroad, writes Ely Ratner at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Why does Steve Bannon want Americans to believe in “convenient enemy from within” the deep state? Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon explain at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Foreigners see a “Darwinian, nationalist framework for American foreign policy” and “a diminished commitment to global engagement,” a spectacle that will cause some to live in fear, and others to see a “golden opportunity,” writes Michael Gerson at the Washington Post.
North Korea is undeterred by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s threats of possible pre-emptive military action against it, a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry said yesterday. [Al Jazeera]
Broad sanctions against North Korea to counter its burgeoning nuclear and missile threat are being considered by the Trump administration, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom report at Reuters, citing a senior US official.
North Korea has doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility in recent years, according to the UN’s top nuclear inspector, Jay Solomon reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Bombing North Korea would be “dangerous folly,” warns Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times.
The only way to disarm Pyongyang is for Washington to demonstrate to Beijing that it is serious about protecting the American homeland, suggests Gordon G. Chang at The Daily Beast.
A counterattack against rebels in Damascus was launched by Assad regime forces this morning following a rebel suicide bombing and the second rebel assault in three days, Philip Issa reports at the AP.
Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch is intensifying targeted attacks on Syrian government strongholds under pressure from other insurgents and escalating airstrikes by the US-led coalition, Bassem Mroue observes at the AP.
The Pentagon is assessing whether an airstrike targeting al-Qaeda in northern Syria last week killed civilians, it confirmed yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
Syrian defectors in Washington are urging Trump to follow through on a promise to establish safe zones in Syria, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
A military base in northwestern Syria is being set up by Russia in agreement with the Syrian-Kurdish YPG that controls the area, a YPG spokesperson said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
The Islamic State said it was responsible for a car bombing in Iraqi capital Baghdad yesterday that left 27 people dead, Murtada Faraj reports at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 19 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 19. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
A suicide car bomber killed six members of an Afghan intelligence service unit when they targeted a checkpoint in southern Helmand province today, the AP reports.
Four Senators are pushing for the inclusion of visas for Afghans who aided US troops in a spending bill for the State Department, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Eight parcel bombs addressed to EU finance officials and businesses in various European cities were identified and neutralized by Greek police at a postal sorting office near Athens, the AP reports.
Western sanctions against Russia were built to last, one of the diplomats involved in creating them Edward Fishman writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Forever-prisoner and CIA post 9/11 interrogation program guinea pig Abu Zubaydah will testify in the 9/11 war crimes case at Guantánamo Bay navy base, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
The status and leaked prison profiles of the remaining 41 detainees currently held at Guantánamo Bay is provided by the Miami Herald.
A lawsuit against Saudi Arabia requiring an act of Congress to be filed has been filed by a group of over 800 people and families hurt by the 9/11 attacks, Claudia Koerner reports at BuzzFeed.
An inquiry into a deadly aerial attack on a boat carrying refugees from Somali of Yemen’s coast was called for by the UN yesterday, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
A US-Israeli missile defense system will be operational soon, a senior Israeli air force official confirmed yesterday, Ian Deitch reporting at the AP.
Uruguay is to pull its troops out of a UN stabilization mission in Haiti, the AP reports.