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.
TRUMP’S WIRETAP CLAIMS
President Trump and his supporters in Congress said they hoped that investigators will investigate the “real story” of whether the former administration improperly surveilled members of the Trump team during the transition and requested that staff members’ identities be “unmasked” in intelligence reports documenting the surveillance by former president Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice as was alleged in several news reports, Paul Sonne and Shane Harris report at the Wall Street Journal.
Susan Rice should testify under oath, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) insisted yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reporting at the Hill.
Trump’s wiretapping allegation is “turning out to be true,” the President said in an interview with Lionel Barber, Demetri Sevastopulo and Gillian Tett at the Financial Times, published Sunday.
We now have the answer to who “unmasked” Trump transition officials in US intelligence reports, yet the media are ignoring the story of how the Obama administration might have abused domestic surveillance for its political purpose while “running like wilderbeest” after reports of Trump-Russia connections, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
“The real story.” The new “spin” on Trump’s “surveillance of Trump” story is fact-checked by Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
A secret meeting between Blackwater founder Eric Prince and a close associate of Russian President Putin was organized in January by the UAE with the intention of establishing a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and then-president-elect Donald Trump, Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post, citing US, European and Arab officials.
The House Intelligence Committee may resume interviewing witnesses as part of its investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in as soon as two weeks, chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday, Karoun Demirjian reporting at the Washington Post.
President Trump will hold a private meeting with California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, often called “Putin’s favorite congressman,” today, according to CNN’s Phil Mattingly via Twitter, The Daily Beast speculating as to the purpose of the meeting, which comes as the President’s administration comes under increasing scrutiny over links to Russia.
Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page met with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013 and passed him documents about the US energy industry, according to court filings, the AP reports.
The conventional wisdom about a Kremlin-friendly White House is outdated. The Trump administration’s attitude toward Russia has soured as investigations into its Moscow connections continue, with Russia’s state-controlled media turning against President Trump in turn, observes Adrian Karatnycky at the Wall Street Journal.
“We agree on so many things.” President Trump reassured Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi that he has “a great friend and ally in the United States and in me” when the two leaders met at the White House yesterday, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s repeated statements throughout the meeting made clear that the period of ostracism from the White House for Sissi was over and underlined Trump’s fundamentally transactional approach to international relations: if Egypt can be a partner in the fight against terrorism, then that is more important than concerns over its human rights abuses. Peter Baker and Declan Walsh write at the New York Times.
Trump’s meeting with Sissi might have been worth it if he had reminded Egypt’s president that he needs to undertake economic and political reforms that benefit all Egyptians, not just the military, rather than showering the “unsavory” leader with praise and promises of unconditional support, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Legislation that would order the State Department to decide whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism was approved by the House yesterday, Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program on April 28, US Ambassador Nikki Haley announced yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
The US and China have a joint responsibility in North Korea, and neither can end its nuclear program without the other, writes the Financial Times.
Trump’s tough talk on North Korea – can it work? Eric Talmadge at the AP takes a closer look at some of the rhetoric being tossed around.
While North Korea and its leader are often seen as a joke, it is the only place on earth where an estimated 120,000 people are stuck in gulags and where three generations of a family are punished for one member’s transgressions against the belligerent state’s “barbaric, corrupt rulers,” Ian Birrell at the Guardian arguing that Donald Trump is right to demand a solution to North Korea and suggesting that his “shock tactics” might just do the job.
Fears that North Korea has already become an advanced nuclear power have been stoked among intelligence experts by an ad placed by the third secretary in the North Korean Embassy in Beijing offering excess lithium – which can turn an ordinary atom bomb into a significantly more powerful hydrogen bomb – for sale, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write at the New York Times.
US PRESIDENCY of the UN SECURITY COUNCIL
The US will examine two of the UN’s major functions, peacekeeping and human rights, as it assumes the Security Council’s rotating presidency this month, US ambassador Nikki Haley said yesterday, Farnaz Fassihi reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
The US and Russia clashed over a US effort to have the Security Council debate human rights violations as a major cause of conflict yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP
The MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s travel ban is “simplistic and misguided,” former CIA director John Brennan said on the BBC Newsnight program aired last night, while the administration’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” legitimizes terrorists in their own eyes. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
President Trump is expected to name former Army lieutenant colonel and Tennessee Sen. Mark Green (R) as Army secretary and investment banker and former Marine aviator Richard V. Spencer as Navy secretary this week, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has developed a “singular and almost untouchable” role in the White House, undertaking more foreign trips already than either the secretary of state or Trump’s national security adviser, observe Ashley Parker and John Wagner at the Washington Post.
At least 58 people were killed in a suspected chemical attack in northern Syria today, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an attack which, if confirmed, will be the deadliest chemical attack since Assad regime forces began dropping sarin gas on the suburbs of Damascus, reports Louisa Loveluck at the Washington Post.
Clinics treating victims of the gas attack were later fired on by aircraft, according to medics and opposition activists, the BBC reports.
The EU has put itself at odds with President Trump by reasserting that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has no future in Syria days after the Trump administration stated that his departure was no longer a US priority, Jennifer Rankin reports at the Guardian.
Assad is a “war criminal” but the US isn’t ruling out cooperating with him in order to defeat the Islamic State, US ambassador Nikki Haley told a news conference Friday, echoing President Trump’s statement that defeating the terrorists takes priority over removing the Syrian leader. [AP]
Rebels in northern Syria have formed a new military alliance aimed at consolidating control over Idlib province, western Aleppo province and parts of Latakia province, the new operation to be supported by the “Friends of Syria” coalition which includes the US as well as Turkey, Western European and Gulf States. Mariya Petkova reports at Al Jazeera.
A “planned display of EU diplomatic muscle” at a meeting of 70 countries in Brussels tomorrow for an EU conference on Syria will likely highlight its weaknesses, instead, suggests Laurence Norman at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner paid a surprise visit to Iraq’s Prime Minister and other officials yesterday, receiving military briefings, as his visit to Iraq continued. Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Fourteen years since the US intervention in Iraq, the country is more volatile and dangerous, and Iran has increased its influence there and throughout the region, reflects Daniel R. Depetris at the Hill.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 2. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Two suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrikes near Sanaa in Yemen have killed eight people, according to Yemeni security and tribal officials, Ahmed Al-Haj reporting at the AP.
The Pentagon carried out around 20 airstrikes against al-Qaeda targets in Yemen since last week, raising the total number of strikes to over 70 in just over a month, a Defense Department spokesperson confirmed yesterday. The Hill’s Will Sommer reports.
ST PETERSBURG ATTACK
Kyrgyz native Akbarzhon Dzhalilov has been named as the person responsible for a deadly bomb attack on the St. Petersberg subway in Russia yesterday afternoon, the death toll resulting from which has now been raised to 14, with over 50 injured. It is still unclear whether Mr Dzhalilov acted alone or with others, or whether he had ties to any militant groups, Ivan Nechepurenko and Neil MacFarquhar report at the New York Times.
President Trump offered the “full support” of the US in bringing those responsible to justice in a phone call to his Russian counterpart yesterday, Rebecca Morin reports at POLITICO.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A bill repealing internet privacy rules passed by the FCC that would have provided internet users with greater control over what service providers can do with their data was signed by the president yesterday, Harper Neidig reports at the Hill.
Ongoing CIA operations could be disrupted if WikiLeaks releases more data on the agency’s hacking techniques, according to experts, the BBC reporting.
Could the revived Arab offer of recognition of Israel in exchange for Palestinian statehood, combined with President Trump’s eagerness to strike a deal, be an opening for relaunching the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks? Karin Laub at the AP takes a look ahead of Jordan’s King Abdullah II’s visit to the White House tomorrow.
The Supreme Court will decide whether corporations can be sued in US courts for complicity in human rights abuses abroad, it agreed yesterday, in a case concerning Jordan-based Arab Bank which is accused of processing financial transactions through its New York branch for groups linked to terrorism, the plaintiffs seeking to hold the bank liable for terrorist attacks in Israel and Palestine. Adam Liptak reports at the New York Times.