The Early Edition: May 9, 2017

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-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates warned a top White House official on Jan. 26 that then-national security adviser Mike Flynn misled vice president Pence and others about his conversations with Russian diplomat Sergei Kislyak, putting himself at risk of blackmail, she testified before Congress yesterday. Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau report at the Wall Street Journal.

Yates did not specify exactly how Flynn had put himself at risk of compromise but did say that her decision to warn the White House was prompted by “press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about Gen. Flynn’s conduct that we knew to be untrue.” Katie Bo Williams examines Yates’ testimony at the Hill.

“If nothing was done, then certainly that would be concerning.” Flynn remained in office for 18 days after Yates’ warning, only losing his job after the news of his false statements broke publicly, Matt Apuzzo and Emmarie Huetteman recall at the New York Times.

President Trump’s first move was in fact to fire Yates – not Flynn, and three months later Trump is still blaming Yates – not Flynn. Yesterday’s hearing “pumped the bellows” on the Trump-Russia probe, Dana Milbank writes at the Washington Post.

Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper was not aware of the F.B.I. investigation Director James Comey disclosed publicly on Mar. 10 into possible collusion between Trump and the Russians, taking a major defense away from the White House which has relied on Clapper’s earlier statement that he had seen no evidence of collusion to argue that there was, in fact, no evidence of collusion, Juliette Kayyem writes at CNN.

U.S. intelligence was warned about possible Trump-Russia ties by allies, Clapper confirmed yesterday, Madeline Conway, Martin Matishak and Austin Wright extracting highlights from the hearing at POLITICO.

The full transcript of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing at which Yates and Clapper testified yesterday is provided by the Washington Post.

Former president Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn as national security adviser, the White House confirmed. [BBC]

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is suing for access to Yates’ emails from Jan. 20 through Jan. 31, 2017 – one day after she was fired by President Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban executive order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The Defense Intelligence Agency was not aware that former director Mike Flynn had received almost $34,000 in payment from a Russian state media outlet when it renewed his security clearance in April last year, two U.S. officials told NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and Courtney Kube.

Republicans are almost single-handedly focused on how we know Flynn talked with the Russian ambassador. Five new things we learned – and some more questions raised – from Yates’ testimony are discussed by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

The “Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax,” the President tweeted last night, calling Yates’ testimony “old news!” and dismissing Clapper’s as a repeat of what “everybody, including the fake media, already knows – there is “no evidence” of collusion w/Russian and Trump.” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

Trump is throwing evasions and counteraccusations at the Russia investigation, but nothing he says or does can change the fact that a “grave crime” was committed against U.S. democracy and that the truth needs to be uncovered if only to prevent it from happening again. Max Boot encourages Republicans to face facts – including the U.S. intelligence community’s “high confidence” assessment that there was interference by Russia – at Foreign Policy.

Despite hours of hearings there is still much we don’t know about Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election, Camila Domonoske taking a look at what we don’t know – and wish we did – about the Trump-Russia investigation at NPR.

Only plain evidence of a deliberate conspiracy with Moscow to influence the election is going to do any damage to an administration that has normalized the slovenly handling of security matters and conflicts of interests, with the Republican party determined to look the other way when it comes to anything less blatant, writes Julian Borger at the Guardian.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The F.B.I. is trying to figure out what to do about the fact that much of Director James Comey’s “inaccurate” testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on his decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, a previously-stated plan to send a letter to Congress later this week to correct the record now apparently on hold, Peter Elkind reports at ProPublica.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reiterated his request that the Intelligence Committee “promptly investigate whether my name or the names of other members of Congress” were included in queries or searches of databases of the intelligence community or their identities unmasked in any intelligence reports or products in a letter to Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The White House is considering expanding its ban on carry-on electronic devices on flights to include flights to the U.S. from Europe, CBS News reports.

President Trump’s failure to respond to news of a suspected Russian-backed interference in the French presidential election reveals a concerning inability to call out Russia for its digital aggression, Democrats, cyber policy specialists and former White House officials say, Eric Geller reporting at POLITICO.

The sheer boldness with which Russia hacked the campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron must be met by a forceful and effective response by the West, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

After influencing Trump’s victory and the U.K.’s exit from the European Union Russia only needs one more election to bring about the fall of Western unions, and the Sept. 2017 German election provides one last and “very ripe” chance to disintegrate the E.U. after its failure in France, warns Clint Watts at The Daily Beast.

SYRIA

Government watchdog group Protect Democracy is suing to oblige the Trump administration to reveal its rational for what lawful authority Trump relied on to order a military strike on the Syrian regime in response to its use of chemical weapons last month or concede that it did so without considering the law, filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act for all emails, memos and other documents discussing the President’s legal authority to launch the strike. Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

The “de-escalation zones” negotiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Syria could not be monitored by the U.N. or any others, the Syrian government said yesterday, Rick Gladstone reporting at the New York Times.

The de-escalation zones are no substitute for a political transition that would see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down, Qatar’s foreign minister said today, Reuters reporting.

The U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura plans to reconvene political talks between the Assad regime and opposition leaders in Geneva next week, his office said. The AP reports.

A video showing the beheading of a Russian intelligence officer captured in Syria was released by the Islamic State, the US-based SITE monitoring website reported today, Reuters reporting.

Malaysia’s top Islamic State operative was killed in an attack in Syria last month, Malaysia’s police chief confirmed, the AP reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

The finalized proposals for an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan are expected to cross President Trump’s desk this week, the likely range for troop increase between 3,000 and 5,000, U.S. officials say. Barbara Starr, Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

The recommendations are the product of a broad review of America’s longest war by the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence community and other government agencies and is broadly consistent with advice given to Congress by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson in February, explains Michael R. Gordon at the New York Times.

The Taliban’s drive to govern villages across Afghanistan is making the task of removing them faced by U.S.-backed forces even more daunting, write Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil at the Wall Street Journal.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Liberal candidate Moon Jae-in – who favors increased dialogue with North Korea – has been voted in as the next president of South Korea, the BBC reports.

North Korea is the victim of state-sponsored terrorism from the White House, Pyongyang is claiming, though what connection the recent arrests of U.S. citizens in North Korea have to the alleged plot is unclear, reports Eric Talmadge at the AP.

South Koreans are more worried about the “irascible” President Trump than “unruly” North Korea or “imperious” China, explains Suki Kim at Foreign Policy.

U.S. partners and allies in Asia are worried about security issues including North Korea as Washington’s commitment to the region comes under question, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said in an interview yesterday, Jake Maxwell Watts writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the State Department tomorrow for talks focusing on the Ukraine and Syria conflicts, Lavrov’s first trip to Washington since 2013, Felicia Schwartz reports ta the Wall Street Journal.

IRAQ

The liberation of Iraq’s Mosul will leave a region steeped in complex tensions. Erike Solomon looks in-depth at Iraq’s prospects once the Islamic State are ousted at the Financial Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 25 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 7. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem yesterday, calling on Muslims to stand up for the Palestinian cause and prompting strong criticism from Israel, the AP reports.

The only solution to the Palestinian issue was “the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Erdoğan said, Israel’s Foreign Ministry countering with “whoever dramatically violates human rights in their own country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region.” Ralph Ellis and Andrew Carey report at CNN.

LIBYA

Troops loyal to General Riyadh al-Shahiebi pushed into central parts of Benghazi yesterday, working toward clearing out the last parts of the city under Islamist control, the AP reports.

Vehicles carrying weapons crossing from Libya were destroyed by the Egyptian military which deployed fighter jets and helicopter gunships in an operation that lasted 48 hours, Al Jazeera reports.

FRANCE

Paris’ Gare du Nord rail station reopened today following a security alert prompting the evacuation of the area late last night, no details about the operation yet provided, the BBC reports.

The operation was aimed at “removing doubt,” a Paris police spokesperson said last night, declining to confirm what prompted it or whether there had been any injuries or arrests. Raphael Satter reports at the AP.

The MUSLIM BAN

Questions about how much weight to afford President Trump’s campaign statements calling for a “Muslim ban” were thrown at a government lawyer by the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., yesterday as it assessed the constitutionality of the revised travel ban, the judges appearing to have split into two camps by the end of the argument, some prepared to take account of Trump’s statements, others insisting that the law did not permit judges to second-guess a president’s national security assessments, suggesting that they would uphold the order, Adam Liptak writes at the New York Times.

The original travel ban was “unlawful,” former acting attorney general Sally Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee yesterday, standing behind her original decision to order the Justice Department not to defend it in court which led to her firing by Trump. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The page of President Trump’s website stating the aim of “preventing Muslim immigration” was deleted shortly after a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about it yesterday, the BBC reports.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

President Trump’s pick for Air Force chief Heather Wilson was confirmed by the Senate 76-22, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Japan and India agreed to increase military cooperation yesterday, Emily Tamkin explaining what this means for U.S. policy in the region at Foreign Policy. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE