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
“Our investigation is stalled.” Top Democrats and a Republican called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to step aside over his decision to visit the White House last week to view unspecified intelligence documents and his subsequent cancellation of a hearing to hear testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and other former officials, Byron Tau and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.
Nunes’s declaration that he will not hold any more interviews and depositions until FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers return to Capitol Hill for an as-yet unscheduled private briefing effectively puts the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 election on indefinite hold, Karoun Demirjian explains at the Washington Post.
“I hope she testifies.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied “entirely false” reports that the White House blocked Yates from testifying yesterday, insisting that it wants her to testify, Jonathan Easley reports at the Hill.
We will “never reveal” the “sources and methods” behind intelligence reports indicating that the Trump team was incidentally surveilled, Nunes told Reuters yesterday.
Nunes could soon be facing a House Ethics Committee investigation for his possible “unauthorized disclosure of intelligence,” lawyers familiar with the House’s rules told Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.
Devin Nunes is dangerous. Frank Bruni sets out the “many reasons” why Nunes should recuse himself at the New York Times.
If Nunes has to resign then so should ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for “spreading innuendo without evidence,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Getting an independent commission to investigate possible Trump-Russia connections won’t be easy, Erik Ortiz explains at NBC News.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will push NATO “very hard” to renew their commitment through increased defense spending when he attends the military alliance’s meeting in Brussels this week, according to a State Department official. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Trump’s “very clear message” about NATO members paying their fair share on collective defense has put the issue “even higher on the agenda,” to the approval of NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberf who told the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher that he had already been pressing NATO members to pay more.
Tillerson’s visit to Turkey on Mar. 30 may determine the future of US-Turkey relations, suggests Metin Gurcan at Al Jazeera.
Despite Trump’s “curious affection” for Russia, US support for Ukraine has been consistent, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine at the UN Security Council on Feb. 2, while congressional legislation aimed at deterring Russia was introduced in February, Dirk Mattheisen writes at the Hill.
The debate in the US over whether to lift sanctions on Russia miss the “key point” that they might not actually be hurting Russia much, if at all, Andrey Movchan writes at POLITICO.
The Trump administration’s disregard for international institutions generally and human rights in particular was demonstrated by its failure to appear at hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Mar. 21, writes Lauren Carasik at Al Jazeera.
The US and UK electronics bans are not sustainable in the long run, the head of the International Air Transport Association said yesterday. [AFP]
The US-led coalition in Syria was accused of targeting infrastructure including a key dam in Islamic State territory by a senior Russian general yesterday, Howard Amos reports at the AP.
Questions about the quality of US intelligence are raised by three incidents inside a week in Syria alone, write Roy Gutman at The Daily Beast.
A deal for the evacuation of four besieged areas in Syria has been reached, according to a pro-government source and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]
The Islamic State in Raqqa has implemented its strategy of hiding behind civilians as US-backed forces approach, this time taking it further than before, Bassem Mroue and Lori Hinnant report at the AP.
A year and a half since the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State was announced, Mariya Petkova at Al Jazeera explains what’s involved and what is likely to result after the assault finally takes place.
If Israel continues to attack Syria and Hezbollah, they will eventually hit back with force and the “inevitable” next war will begin, writes Larry Derfner at the New York Times.
Iraqi special forces closed in on the al-Nuri mosque in western Mosul today, Isabel Coles and John Davison report at Reuters.
The US “probably had a role” in the deaths of dozens of civilians resulting from air strikes on Mosul earlier this month, the top US military commander in Iraq Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said yesterday, Ben Kesling reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
The rising number of civilian deaths is not the result of any loosening of US military rules of combat and Washington has not decided to tolerate greater risk of civilian casualties resulting from US airstrikes, Townsend insisted, Sinan Salaheddin and Robert Burns reporting at the AP.
The US-led coalition in Iraq should reconsider its tactics “to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum,” the UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said yesterday. Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.
Rules of engagement under former president Obama were too strict and discounted the judgement of the commanders in the field, Republican lawmakers said in defense of the Trump administration over increased civilian deaths from air strikes in Syria and Iraq. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
What is known so far about the US airstrike targeting Islamic State fighters and equipment in Mosul on Mar. 17 that may have killed up to 200 people is set out at the New York Times.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 27. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT
Arab leaders are expected to reaffirm support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in a strong message to the White House at the annual Arab League summit today, report Sudarsan Raghavan and Ruth Eglash at the Washington Post.
Palestine’s President is waiting to hear from the US on the extent to which Israel is willing to curb settlement construction, he told reporters last night after meeting with President Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt on the sidelines of the summit, the AP reporting.
Large-scale Russian military exercises close to the Baltic States in September pose a heightened risk of miscalculation that could trigger a crisis, according to NATO officials. Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Montenegro’s NATO membership was overwhelmingly backed by the Senate yesterday, sending the treaty to President Trump’s desk, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
A request by Turkey to spy on its opponents in Germany was refused by German officials, they confirmed yesterday, adding further strain to relations between the two nations. Alison Smale reports at the New York Times.
Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea is preparing its sixth nuclear device test, Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
How has North Korea managed to prevent the international community from discovering the more sensitive details of its nuclear program? Eric Talmadge explains at the AP.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The head of the Justice Department’s counterterrorism branch is keeping up the pressure for action to allow investigators to obtain access to encrypted communications, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Proposed legislation that wipes away landmark online privacy protections was sent to President Trump by Congress yesterday, Brian Fung at the Washington Post recapping that if Trump signs the legislation as expected providers will be enabled to monitor customers’ behavior online and use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads.
A deadline for submitting a new cybersecurity strategy to Congress was missed by the Department of Homeland Security, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Former FBI lawyer Harvey Rishikof is the Pentagon’s pick to run Guantánamo Bay’s war court, a job previously held by retired general officers or lawyers with Department of Defense experience, reports Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald.
China conducted military drills near its border with Myanmar where fighting between the Myanmar army and ethnic rebels has recently resurged, the AP reports.
The UN will conduct an enquiry into the deaths of two of its experts whose bodies have been found in Congo, the AP reports.