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The Early Edition: May 11, 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.

JAMES COMEY 

The controversy over President Trump’s firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey Tuesday was further stoked yesterday when it emerged that Comey had sought additional resources in the F.B.I.’s investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties shortly before he was dismissed. Elise Viebeck, Ed O’Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane report at the Washington Post.

James Comey’s refusal to support President Trump’s claim that former president Barack Obama had him wiretapped was part of the reason he was fired, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa reveal at the Washington Post.

Comey told associates that President Trump was “crazy” to suggest that his predecessor had Trump Tower wiretapped, a claim Comey also publicly dismissed, drawing anger from Trump, write Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Michael S. Schmidt and Peter Baker at the New York Times.

Comey sent a farewell letter to colleagues yesterday, an annotated version of which is provided by Callum Borchers at the Washington Post.

Acting F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe will take Comey’s place at today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing after being automatically promoted Tuesday, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are already interviewing candidates to take his place as interim leader before they start their search for a nominee for the president to send to the Senate, Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

The investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion was stepping up in the weeks before Comey was fired, the former F.B.I. director becoming increasingly occupied with the probe, write Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee at the Wall Street Journal.

“His support within the rank and file of the F.B.I. is overwhelming.” Former colleagues of Comey dispute the White House’s main rationale for firing him, that he had lost their support, writes Josh Meyer at POLITICO.

Comey was “compromised” and “lost the confidence” of the American people, Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview yesterday in support of Trump’s decision to fire the former F.B.I. director. Rachael Bade reports at POLITICO.

James Comey was fired because he committed “atrocities,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, The Daily Beast reporting.

Trump had been thinking of firing Comey since he was elected in November, Huckabee Saunders said, denying that the president had ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to come up with a reason to fire him. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

How could Attorney General Jeff Sessions participate in the firing of Comey if he recused himself from presidential campaign investigations? Ask Meredith Mandell and Diana Marinaccio at NBC News.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s central role in the ouster of James Comey has left some wondering whether he was drawn into a White House plan to impede The F.B.I.’s investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties, write Michael Kranish and Lynh Bui at the Washington Post.

Congress and the Justice Department must restore the independence and credibility of the probe into Trump-Russia collusion as fast as possible, but first America must be provided with a full accounting of Comey’s dismissal – before Congress confirms a new F.B.I. director, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

Expecting the American public to believe that he had Comey “terminated and removed” for treating Hillary Clinton unfairly is a stretch too far by the man who said Clinton should be locked up for mishandling her emails while secretary of state, writes Edward Luce at the Financial Times.

The president made the right decision. Comey had become so caught up in the politics of the presidential election and its aftermath that a change at the helm of the F.B.I. was needed, writes Matthew Whitaker at the Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

An independent commission and special prosecutor to oversee the Trump-Russia probe could “compromise” U.S. intelligence gathering, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) insisted yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.

Recently-fired former-F.B.I. director James Comey has been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed hearing next Tuesday, the office of ranking committee member Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) confirmed yesterday, Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.

A hold has been placed on Trump’s pick to oversee the administrations sanctions policy by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who says he will only lift it when the Treasury Department provides documents about the financial ties between Trump associates and Russia. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

White House lawyers repeatedly warned President Trump to stay away from former national security adviser Mike Flynn, Kimberly Dozier, Asawin Suebsaeng and Lachlan Markay report at The Daily Beast.

Most of President Trump’s claims on the “Russia matter” have been false, but he is not the only one with serious conflicts of interest: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s Comey memo is addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled the Senate about his Russian government contacts and was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Adam B. Schiff calls for an independent prosecutor to oversee the investigation at the Washington Post.

The Trump-Russia investigation will soon be run by Trump allies now that Comey has been fired, anticipate Kim Soffen and Kevin Uhrmacher at the Washington Post.

The only way Trump’s presidency can return to normal is if there is an independent investigation of his links to Russia, with every out-of-the-ordinary move the president makes only serving to weaken confidence that the current investigations will be capable of producing an acceptable result, Karen Tumulty writes at the Washington Post.

The White House’ air of nonchalance over “Kremlingate” is belied by President Trump’s acting like “a man with something to hide,” reacting erratically and counterproductively whenever pressure from the investigations gets too strong, writes Max Boot at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-LAVROV MEETING

President Trump wants to improve ties with Moscow, he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met at the White House yesterday, Trump’s highest-level engagement since the Russian government since he was elected president. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The Kremlin feels “cautious optimism” about the prospects of improved U.S.-Russia relations following the meeting, a spokesperson said today. Reuters reports.

It must be “humiliating for the American people to realise that the Russian Federation is controlling the situation in America,” Lavrov told journalists after the meeting, his tone sardonic and showing little regard for the “sensitivities of the moment,” writes Katrina Manson at the Financial Times.

The issue of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election was not discussed by President Trump during the meeting with Lavrov, Felicia Schwartz and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump broke an Obama-era precedent at Russian President Putin’s request in receiving Lavrov in the Oval Office, an “appearance-laden” first step toward Trump’s campaign promise of renewed relations and a possible grand bargain with Russia despite the recently dicier politics of doing so, writes Susan B. Glasser at POLITICO MAGAZINE.

The presence of a photographer from a Russian state-owned news agency in the Oval Office during Trump’s meeting with Lavrov was cited as a potential security breach by former U.S. intelligence officials, Carol Morello and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

A close look at the awkwardly-timed Trump-Lavrov meeting is provided by David E. Sanger and Neil MacFarquhar at the New York Times.

President Trump should have left it to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to meet with Lavrov while he assessed what exactly Moscow wants at a likely leadership summit this summer, write Mark D. Simakovsky and Daniel P. Vajdich at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

President Trump will meet with his Russian Counterpart Vladimir Putin as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, according to Russian state media, the White House yet to confirm. Ben Westcott and Tomas Etzler report at CNN.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with President Trump at the White House as part of a visit to Washington on May 16, the two leaders set to discuss strengthening their relationship and cooperation in fighting terrorism, the White House confirmed. Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

Erdoğan is expected to reiterate the message that America should rethink its support of the Kurdish Y.P.G. in Syria when they meet, bringing with him an alternative plan for the operation on Raqqa involving Turkish soldiers and rebels instead of Kurds, a meeting that may prove “toxic” following Trump’s decision Tuesday to arm Kurds fighting in Syria, writes The Economist.

SYRIA

U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters fully recaptured the city of Taqba and a nearby dam from the Islamic State, it said today after over a month of heavy fighting. Al Jazeera reports.

Turkey threatened to escalate its military action against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters following President Trump’s decision to directly arm the Kurds for an operation to remove the Islamic State from the city of Raqqa, Kareem Fahim and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.

Turkey demanded that the U.S. decision to arm the Kurds be reversed yesterday, Philip Issa and Suzan Fraser report at the AP.

Small arms and equipment will be distributed to the Kurds by the U.S. “very quickly” and the U.S. will monitor how they are then used, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria said yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.

The U.S. is increasing joint intelligence efforts with Turkey to assist with the better targeting of terrorists in the region in an apparent bid to alleviate Turkey’s anxieties over the plan to arm Kurdish forces in Syria, Gordon Lubold, Julian E. Barnes and Margaret Coker report at the Wall Street Journal.

Antagonizing Turkey by arming the Kurds carries risks and may have an unpredictable impact on the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the question now being what will the headstrong President Erdoğan do next? write Anne Barnard and Patrick Kingsley at the New York Times.

The White House is looking at ways to curb what it views as Iran’s drive to consolidate an “arc of Shia power” in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and down into the Gulf, but further sanctions pressure on Tehran could have the same effect as tearing up the nuclear deal, could affect Iran’s election and could even start a new war in Lebanon, David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.

The U.N. still has a “million questions” about the deal struck by Russia, Turkey and Iran on “de-escalation zones” in Syria, an aid official said today, Reuters reporting.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 9. Separately, partner forces conducted ten strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The KOREAN PENINSULA

A C.I.A. mission center focused on halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been established, the agency announced yesterday. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

North Korea will press for the extradition of anyone involved in an alleged C.I.A.-backed plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong-un last month, a North Korean foreign ministry official said today. The AP reports.

New South Korean President Moon Jae-in launched international efforts to address North Korea today, urging dialogue and sanctions but also trying to ease China’s anger over the presence of a U.S.-made T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile system in South Korea, Ju-min Park and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

A delegation will be sent to Beijing from South Korea for talks on North Korea and the T.H.A.A.D. system, Moon told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call today, Hyung-Jin Kim reporting at the AP.

Moon and President Trump must make sure they forge a clear and common overall strategy on North Korea as soon as possible, and Moon’s openness to dialogue with the North need not be at odds with Washington’s tougher stance, writes the New York Times editorial board.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The U.S., Japan, France and the U.K. are gathering on U.S. islands in the Pacific for drills they intend to demonstrate support for the free passage of vessels in the South China Sea, Haven Daley and Audrey McAvoy report at the AP.

Show resolve with Beijing in the South China Sea with increased U.S. naval patrols in the disputed region, Senators from both sides write to President Trump yesterday, Dan De Luce reporting at Foreign Policy.

China had “positive” talks with Vietnam about the South China Sea today with no criticisms exchanged, a senior Chinese diplomat confirmed. [Reuters]

Leaders across Asia are being frustrated and confused by President Trump’s erratic approach as they look to Washington for guidance on a number of pressing regional issues, including America’s anti-missile system on South Korean soil, Taiwan’s desire to purchase U.S. weapons, and the Philippine’s hopes to discover whether America is going to challenge China in the South China Sea, writes Javier C. Hernández at the New York Times.

SAUDI ARABIA

A Saudi-funded lobbying campaign involving U.S. military veterans targeting a new law that allows the families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts saw some organizers disclose their activities late or vaguely, blocking public awareness of the extend of foreign influence in the campaign, John Gambrell reports at the AP.

The chairman of U.K. arms manufacturer B.A.E. Systems refused to say whether his employees are loading bombs on to Saudi fighter jets involved in the Yemen war at the company’s annual general meeting yesterday, Alice Ross reporting at the Guardian.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell is to be the White House’ deputy national security adviser taking over from K.T. McFarland, Tara Palmeri reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. will shore up its ability to watch Russia’s military in the Baltic Sea area ahead of large-scale military exercises by Moscow, U.S. defense officials said yesterday. Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Germany is not anticipating increasing its troop presence in Afghanistan but will continue to lead N.A.T.O.’s training mission in the country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said today. [Reuters]

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About the Author

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