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.
JAMES COMEY FIRED
F.B.I Director James Comey’s firing by President Trump yesterday raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an investigation by the U.S.’ main law enforcement agency and prompted immediate calls for a special counsel to lead the enquiry into Trump-Russia collusion from Democrats, report Michael D. Shear and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times.
The firing was at the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who said that Comey had damaged the credibility of the F.B.I. through his treatment of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration released a memo dated yesterday from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein calling Comey’s actions in relation to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state “troubling” and saying that Comey had harmed the F.B.I.’s credibility, report Del Quentin Wilber and Michael C. Bender at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump stressed the need for new leadership at the F.B.I. and made it clear that he had been told by the F.B.I. “on three occasions” that he was not under investigation in a letter informing Comey that he had been fired yesterday, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the case for Comey’s firing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed, and President Trump pulled the trigger, all on the same day – the same day that it was reported that Comey had misstated key facts during his testimony to Congress last week, leading some to speculate that the Trump administration was simply creating a paper trail to support the president’s pre-existing desire to fire Comey. Aaron Blake provides an annotated version of Rosenstein’s memo to Sessions at the Washington Post.
Trump’s decision to fire Comey has been on the cards since last week with senior White House and Justice Department officials working to build a case against Comey throughout that time according to numerous media reports, Jordan Fabian collating them at the Hill.
A one-page sheet containing four negative press clippings on Comey was circulated by the White House last night minutes after his firing was announced, the Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee requested that the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. “preserve any and all files” related to Comey’s firing in a letter sent yesterday, the Hill’s Olivia Beavers reports.
“EVERYONE who cares about independence & rule of law” should be troubled by Comey’s firing, former attorney general Preet Bharara who was also fired by President Trump tweeted yesterday.
The F.B.I clarified Comey’s testimony before a Senate panel last week in which he stated that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded “hundreds of thousands” of Clinton’s emails to her then-husband to print out via a letter to the panel yesterday stating that in fact only a handful of emails had been forwarded manually, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
There are fears among legislators that the F.B.I.’s investigation into possible Russia-Trump collusion could be upended now that President Trump is free to pick its new overseer, report Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post.
By firing Comey President Trump has cast serious doubt on the viability of any further investigation into possible Russian interference in the presidential election, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Comey’s firing will increase focus on the very issue President Trump is so impatient to dismiss: his awareness of contacts between former national security adviser Michael Flynn, other associates, and Russia, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Nothing has changed in terms of the reasons cited for Comey’s firing since Inauguration Day, but what has changed is that we now know the F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the election, Ruth Marcus explaining why Trump’s decision to fire Comey has left her feeling “mildly nauseous” at the Washington Post.
Frustration with Comey’s refusal to publicly tamp down questions about possible Russian interference in the presidential election had been growing among top Trump associates, Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael C. Bender and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.
“The president of the United States is lying again.” David Leonhardt explains why he’s so confident that this is the case at the New York Times.
“A brazen attack on the rule of law.” President Trump is continuing the work Russian President Putin started by firing Comey, writes Lawrence Douglas at the Guardian.
Firing Comey was the biggest shock Donald Trump has delivered so far in his “shock-filled” presidency, writes Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast.
“Better now than never.” Comey deserved to be fired for his mistakes in the last year, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
A timeline of the “Comey saga” starting with Comey’s statement that the F.B.I. would not recommend charges in the Clinton email probe on July 5, 2016, is provided by Morgan Chalfant at the Hill.
Grand jury subpoenas have been issued to associates of former national security adviser Mike Flynn by federal prosecutors seeking business records, Evan Perez. Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown report at CNN.
Sen. Lindsey Graham wants to look into whether there are ties between Trump’s businesses and Russian interests after former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s “no comment” answer in response to questioning on whether he was concerned about Trump’s potential business ties to Russia before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, The Daily Beast reports.
It is “time to move on” from the investigations into Trump-Russia ties, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said yesterday, Jonathan Easley reporting at the Hill.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to “re-litigate” the 18-day delay in firing Flynn after former acting attorney general Sally Yates informed White House counsel that he could be compromised yesterday, but the various explanations he and other administration officials have provided in the past are identified by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates may have had a partisan agenda when she warned the Trump administration about Michael Flynn, Spicer suggested yesterday. Nolan D. McCaskill reporting at POLITICO.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House today, notably a day after F.B.I. Director James Comey, who was in charge of an investigation into Trump-Russia ties, was fired, reports Abigail Williams at NBC News.
Plans to directly arm Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in Syria were approved by President Trump, U.S. officials confirmed today, Dion Nissenbaum, Gordon Lubold and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.
The decision was hailed as “historic” and “a sign of confidence” by the Y.P.G. militia today while Turkey’s top diplomat in the U.S. insisted that every weapon given to the Kurds posed a threat to Turkey, the AP reports.
The U.S. will be able to resolve tensions with Turkey over the decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today, Reuters reporting.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster will meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the Trump administration’s as yet undisclosed strategy for combating the Islamic State Thursday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
The Syrian army began a new operation aimed at re-establishing its authority in eastern Syria yesterday, clashing with U.S.-backed opposition fighters near the borders with Iraq and Jordan, the AP’s Sarah El Deeb reports.
Turkey is bringing together thousands of Syrian Arab fighters it says should lead the offensive to oust the Islamic State from its stronghold Raqqa instead of the Syrian Kurdish militia the U.S. supports, Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Trump administration must give serious consideration to Russia’s plan to establish de-escalation zones in Syria as it must to almost any plan to end or reduce the horror in Syria, writes the New York Times editorial board.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 8. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
N.A.T.O. is assessing a request from its military authorities to send more troops to Afghanistan and will decide on the scope and scale of the mission within weeks, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today. Estelle Shirbon reports at Reuters.
Congress needs to ask itself when the U.S. presence in Afghanistan becomes a “permanent occupation,” the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate Dick Durbin (lll.) said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
Trump risks violating his “America first” campaign pledge if he approves a recommendation for thousands of additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan being mooted by his national security team, point out Bryan Bender and Eliana Johnson at POLITICO.
America’s “obserssion” with the Islamic State in Afghanistan is distracting it from the more important task of negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban which now controls almost half of the country, Borhan Osman writes at the New York Times.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
New South Korean President Moon Jae-in is willing to visit North Korea in the right circumstances, he said during his first speech as president today, Jonathan Cheng and Min Sun Lee reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Moon will “sincerely negotiate” with the U.S. and China over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in southern South Korea, he said today, Kim Tong-Hyung reporting at the AP.
President Trump is on a “collision course” with the new South Korean president, whose approach on North Korea directly contradicts Trump’s vow to “solve” Pyongyang’s nuclear problem one way or another, David E. Sanger writes at the New York Times.
Moon’s victory poses a problem for the U.S.’ already “wobbly” position in Asia, but the good news is he’s signaled that he’s for striking a conciliatory note with the U.S. meaning that this is a relationship that can be saved and even strengthened provided Trump treads carefully, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
National security adviser H.R. McMaster is the latest target of leaks by anonymous White House officials that have plagued the young Trump administration, reports Jonathan Easley at the Hill.
Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning will be released next week when she will have served her commuted sentence for stealing classified documents on the war in Iraq and passing them to WikiLeaks, Al Jazeera reports.
Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah who was subjected to torture at C.I.A. black sites will testify for the first time today at a pre-trial hearing that pre-empts the long-delayed trial of five prisoners on war crimes charges related to the 9/11 attacks, Ed Pilkington reports at the Guardian.
Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken die alongside – not behind – Somali security forces approaching an al-Shabaab complex last week, U.S. officials said yesterday, Helene Cooper reporting at the New York Times.
The U.S. and its allies need to understand what the Iran nuclear deal actually says if they want to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, writes Max Singer at the Wall Street Journal.