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
Former national security adviser Mike Flynn told the FBI and congressional officials that he is willing to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but has so far had no takers, according to officials, Shane Harris, Carol E. Lee and Julian E. Barnes reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Nikita Vladimirov compiles Democrats’ responses to Flynn’s offer at the Hill.
Two White House officials helped provide Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) with the intelligence reports indicating that President Trump and his aides were incidentally surveilled by US spy agencies, Matthew Rosenberg, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman at the New York Times anticipating that the revelation is likely to bolster criticism that the chairman of the committee tasked with independently investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration.
At least three White House officials including the top lawyer for the National Security Council were involved in the handling of intelligence files shared with Nunes, according to Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.
Did the White House try to “launder” information through the House Intelligence Committee? Asked Rep. Adam Schiff yesterday as new details emerged about committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ visit to the White House last week. Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.
Either Nunes has been lying to the public or the news reports that White House officials provided documents to Nunes, a story that neither Nunes nor the White House will deny, is plain wrong. Tim Mak and Lachlan Markay examine the mounting evidence that the White House orchestrated a “leak” to itself at The Daily Beast.
Nunes clearly was not the brains behind this “farce,” suggests Rick Wilson at The Daily Beast.
Send documents related to their Russia investigation directly to the panel, Senate Intelligence Committee leaders urged the White House yesterday in response to a White House letter inviting the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to attend the White House to view the documents in question, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accepted his invitation earlier in the day, but said the invitation “raises far more questions than any it answers.” It is unclear whether the documents he was invited to view are the same as those seen by Rep. Nunes before he announced that the Trump transition team had been incidentally surveilled by the Obama administration, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
The Senate Intelligence Committee held its first open hearing in its investigation into Russian meddling in the US election yesterday, consisting of two witness panels, one featuring academics and the other cyber security experts. Katie Bo Williams, Joe Uchill and Morgan Chalfant provided live coverage of the hearing at the Hill.
Russia tried to interfere with the US election with a propaganda campaign “on steroids,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) told the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
Republican opponents to Trump were the target of Russian influence efforts during the presidential election, former FBI special agent Clint Watts told the Senate Intelligence Committee panel during the hearing yesterday. Tom LoBianco reports at CNN.
The Senate Intelligence Committee offers the best prospect of a “timely, fair, bipartisan and independent investigation” into possible Russian interference, neither a select committee nor Nunes’ recusal as likely to produce a credible result, former general counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee Suzanne Spaulding writes at the Washington Post.
All the “engineered drama” over Nunes’ recent actions served to distract from the important information American’s deserve to know: what Nunes has seen about the Obama administration’s surveillance of the incoming administration – a potential crime, writes Kimberley A. Strassel at the Wall Street Journal.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The US military has been given more leeway to aggressively target al-Shabaab militants in Somalia as part of an expanding global campaign against Islamic extremists after President Trump signed a proposal Wednesday night declaring Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” meaning the military can strike militants with less oversight from Washington, Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Next week’s meeting with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping will be “very difficult,” President Trump tweeted yesterday, the two leaders set to discuss issues including China’s military expansion and North Korea as well as trade. Cristiano Lima writes at POLITICO.
The US is committed to previous agreements with NATO and will ensure the alliance has the capability to defend itself, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told allies at his first NATO meeting in Brussels today. [Reuters]
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will likely face questions on what America’s allies see as the danger posed by the White House itself during the NATO meeting, suggests Alexander Smith at NBC News.
President Trump is being barred from implementing his agenda by false accusations about collusion with Russia during the election, Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, suggesting that he will meet with Trump once the furore in Washington has died down, possibly at the G-20 summit in Germany in July. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.
“The American public deserves to know what is going on in Syria and Iraq,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) demanded of Defense Secretary James Mattis in a letter released yesterday, which included questions about a reported increase in civilian casualties. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
The “disturbing” number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria raises concerns that President Trump’s approach to counterterrorism puts too many civilians at risk and ultimately prompts more people to side with the terrorists, is the view of the New York Times editorial board.
“Xenophobic nationalism” blended with protectionism. Trump’s foreign policy is all about intimidating more and negotiating less, while his preference for protectionism is illustrated by his proposals in relation to Latin America. The problem with nationalist protectionism? It is blind both to its exaggerations and to its consequences, writes Javier Corrales at the New York Times.
The sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain despite human rights concerns fits with an emerging pattern under the Trump administration that indicates a new US preparedness to “pump hi-tech weaponry into global trouble spots and fuel lucrative but destabilizing regional arms races,” suggests Simon Tisdall at the Guardian.
A weak president can be dangerous – picture a crisis in the Baltics or a conflict on the Korean peninsula. While it’s tempting to feel relief that the Trump presidency is in such a mess so early in its first term for those who see the possibility that he will accomplish little as the best hope, that logic is wrong, explains the Economist.
The MUSLIM BAN
The Trump administration is set to appeal a Hawaii federal judge’s order indefinitely halting key parts of the revised travel ban, a Justice Department spokesperson saying that it “strongly disagrees” with the ruling yesterday, Laura Jarrett reports at CNN.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Kevin McAleenan is the White House’s nominee to serve as Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection under DHS, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Air Force secretary pick former Rep. Heather Wilson sidestepped questions about her work as defense industry consultant with a Lockheed Martin subsidiary during her Senate nomination hearing yesterday, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
Vacant positions in the State Department seen as vital to drafting summit accords are hampering Italy’s preparations for hosting this year’s G7 meeting, Crispian Balmer and Steve Scherer report at Reuters.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is isolated and walled off from his Department’s bureaucrats in Washington and around the world, his distant management style causing confusion among foreign officials and sowing mistrust among career employees at State, write Anne Gearan and Carol Morello at the Washington Post.
TILLERSON IN TURKEY
“Flashes of tension” between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during their meeting yesterday raised doubts as to whether Tillerson had succeeded in his mission to preserve the Trump’s cordial relationship with the Turkish leader despite serious policy disagreements, Kareem Fahim writes at the Washington Post.
The dispute over the role of Kurdish YPG militias in the operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa dominated the Tillerson-Erdoğan meeting yesterday, reports Al Jazeera.
Removing dictator Bashar al-Assad is no longer a US priority in Syria, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters yesterday. [BBC]
Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked militants are working quickly to drum up outrage over the spike in civilian casualties believed to have resulted from US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Susannah George and Zeina Karam at the AP suggesting that the propaganda points to a risk that civilian deaths and the destruction of infrastructure could undermine the US-led campaign in those countries.
The Russia-backed Syrian army retook 16 villages from rebels near the city of Hama, an area of critical importance to the Assad regime, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today. [Reuters]
Syrians trapped in besieged areas are facing “severe and horrific threats” making the last few months some of the worst for civilians, the UN humanitarian chief told the UN Security Council yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
The Islamic State is herding civilians into buildings in Mosul on the premise that escalating civilian casualties will prompt the US to rein in its use of airstrikes to retake the western half of the city, a US military spokesperson said yesterday, Michael R. Gordon reporting at the New York Times.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 29. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
China must prove that it really wants to stop North Korea’s nuclear testing with actions, and that’s what President Trump will be telling his Chinese counterpart in Florida next week, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
The US is using North Korea’s nuclear program as an excuse to cover up its own reluctance to ban nuclear weapons, a counsellor at North Korea’s UN mission told Edith M. Lederer at the AP.
Malaysia returned the body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother to North Korea in exchange for nine Malaysian detainees, both countries confirmed, Ben Otto, Jonathan Cheng and Yantoultra Ngui reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Police in Venice dismantled a suspected jihadist cell which had discussed blowing up the Rialto Bridge, Elisabetta Povoledo reports at the New York Times.
The man who attacked the UK’s Parliament last week made a test run in the days before, investigators have concluded, Benoit Faucon and Jenny Gross reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Turkey’s intelligence agency may have given its German counterpart a list of suspected supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen to “provoke us in some way,” Germany’s interior minister suggested yesterday. [AP]
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s foolish and aggressive threat to disrupt the entire European security infrastructure if Britain isn’t offered a trade deal with the EU in her letter triggering the Article 50 process to exit the bloc yesterday demonstrates that the UK has not yet realized the weakness of its bargaining position, writes Hussein Kesvani at the Guardian.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The Trump administration will likely pursue criminal charges to stop alleged leaks from government agencies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Fox News yesterday, Jesse Byrnes reporting at the Hill.
The greatest legislative expansion of the FBI’s surveillance power since the Patriot Act of 2011 could result from Congressional efforts to gut Internet privacy regulations set by the FCC under the Obama administration, warms Paul Ohm at the Washington Post.
Congress has voted to repeal the FCC privacy rules – now it must replace them, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The EU will consider a range of plans to require backdoors into encryption products this June, the EU Justice Commissioner for Human Rights announced at the beginning of this week, Joe Uchill recapping on the issue of circumventing otherwise unbreakable encryption for law enforcement at the Hill.
There was no mention of dealing with encrypted messages in a joint statement from tech companies who promised to work closely with UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd to tackle the “vital issue” of removing extremist material from the internet, points out Peter Walker at the Guardian.
The first new settlement in the West Bank in decades was proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Rory Jones and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.
UN Security Council members were urged to put pressure on the warring parties in Yemen to engage in discussions on the peace process framework he had presented by the UN envoy for Yemen yesterday. [UN News Centre]
Ukrainian troops have been ordered to cease firing on Russia-backed separatists on Saturday by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, the AP reports.
A Russian military delegation made a rare visit to the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan close to the border with Afghanistan, until recently a militant headquarters, Pakistan officials confirmed. [AP]
A car bomb attack close to a Shiite place of worship in the northwestern Pakistani town of Parachinar killed at least 22 people today, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claiming responsibility. Riaz Khan and Munir Ahmed report at the AP.
Five civilians were killed in a mortar attack in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province yesterday when Taliban fighters attacked a nearby security post, the AP reports.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that India may be reinterpreting its nuclear weapons doctrine with potential serious implications for the already fragile nuclear balance in South Asia, writes Max Fisher at the New York Times.
A resolution cutting 500 troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is expected to be approved by the UN Security Council today, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.