The Early Edition: May 15, 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

President Trump was urged to hand over any recordings of conversations with James Comey by senior lawmakers after Trump tweeted what the BBC writes appears to have been a thinly veiled threat to the former F.B.I. director referring to ““tapes” of our conversations.”

It will be “very hard” to find a replacement F.B.I. Director “willing to operate under the circumstances that we’ve seen this week,” former C.I.A. director James Woolsey said yesterday, the Hill’s Olivia Beavers reporting.

President Trump has put American democratic institutions “under assault” and provided Russia with “another victory” in firing Comey, former director of national intelligence James Clapper said yesterday, Oliver Laughland reporting at the Guardian.

Trump’s firing of Comey was the latest in a series of attacks on core U.S. government institutions that have amplified the effect Russia intended to achieve with its interference in the 2016 presidential election, providing a welcome alternative to the sanctions relief it had hoped for under President Trump, writes Greg Miller at the Washington Post.

“Whatever it takes to resist accountability.” The firing of Comey and the ensuing “fog of lies” from the Trump administration aimed at obscuring the real reason behind Trump’s decision are the most important signs yet that the U.S. president harbors autocratic designs, writes E.J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post.

Calls for a special prosecutor to restore Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s reputation for integrity and professionalism are “premature” at a minimum. Kenneth W. Starr examines Rosenstein’s memo of last week criticizing then-F.B.I. director Comey, making the case for its “professionalism, integrity and fidelity” at the Wall Street Journal.

The case for the impeachment of Mr. Trump was theoretically made out even before he fired Comey on the basis of what he dismissed as “this Russia thing,” Laurence H. Tribe argues at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The Senate Intelligence Committee would “love” for former F.B.I. director James Comey to testify before it in an open hearing to explain the facts from “his side,” the vice chairman of the committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, the Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne reporting.

The president seems to be trying to interfere with the Russia investigation and appears to be “afraid” of where it may head, Warner also said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.

Trump “needs to back off” the Trump-Russia investigation and let it “go forward,” member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Lindsey Graham said yesterday, adding that he wants Comey to come before his committee to explain whether he ever felt the president was trying to interfere with investigations during their conversations. Kailani Koenig reports at NBC News.

A potential clash between the legislative and executive branches over whether the Justice Department will enforce Congress’ will has been set up by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s subpoena of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s private documents, writes Alexander Bolton at the Hill.

A five-day summit hosted by Stratcom – N.A.T.O.’s strategic communications arm – is being billed as the most concerted effort so far to counter alleged Russian destabilization measures aimed at undermining Western elections is due to start in Prague today, with security specialists from 27 countries including the U.S. in attendance. Robert Tait reports at the Guardian.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The missile launched by North Korea yesterday was a new ballistic missile capable of carrying a large, heavy nuclear warhead, U.S. military bases in the Pacific within its range, Pyongyang said Monday, local time, Choe Sang-Hun reporting at the New York Times.

The U.S. and international allies will continue to “tighten the screws” on the Pyongyang regime following the test over the weekend, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley promised yesterday, Louis Nelson reporting at POLITICO.

The Trump administration is pressing Russia to implement stronger sanctions on North Korea after its latest missile impacted “so close to Russian soil,” Kyle Balluck reports at the Hill.

N.A.T.O. and the E.U. condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch yesterday, calling on Kim Jong-un’s regime to abandon its weapons program and engage in “credible and meaningful dialogue” with the international community and “comply with its international obligations.” David M. Herszenhorn reports at POLITICO.

North Korea may be only one year as opposed to the expected five from having an inter-continental ballistic missile following its latest successful test of what North Korea called the “perfect weapon system,” according to U.S. rocket scientists. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

The missile launch tests new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness to engage in dialogue with the North and comes as U.S., Japanese and European navies gather in the Pacific for joint war games, write Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim at the AP.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has launched more missiles in the past three years than in the past three decades combined, Alastair Gale and Jonathan Cheng taking a look inside Pyongyang’s accelerated weapons program at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

Russian President Putin will not arm the Kurds fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, he said today, the AP reporting.

What are believed to have been U.S.-led coalition jets hit the Islamic State-held town of Al-Bukamal near the border with Iraq at dawn today killing 23 people, mostly civilians, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Reuters reports.

TRUMP-ERDOGAN MEETING

Officials in the U.S. administration appointed by former president Obama are influencing President Trump’s decisions on Syria and Iraq, including the U.S. support of “terrorist organizations” the Y.P.G. and the P.Y.D., Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters yesterday ahead of his meeting with President Trump at the White House tomorrow. Fikret Bila reports at the Hürriyet Daily News.

President Trump should tell his Turkish counterpart directly that his demands are unacceptable to the U.S. when the two leaders meet at the White House this week in what may be his “toughest” meeting with a foreign leader yet, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

U.S.-Turkish relations are deeply strained ahead of the meeting after the U.S.’ decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters for an upcoming offensive on Raqqa and a lack of progress on the request for the extradition of alleged coup mastermind cleric Fethullah Gulen, writes Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

“I make a distinction between values and policy.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to an op-ed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) published in the New York Times last week warning of the dangers of viewing foreign policy as “simply transactional,” Tillerson saying that American values were the “guidepost” of the administration’s approach while policies had to be “tailored to the individual situation.” Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.

America cannot “reset” relations with Russia, Tillerson also said yesterday, calling for the two nations to instead “reengage” with each other. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

President Trump might not move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if it would risk efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, Tillerson suggested in the interview broadcast yesterday, Dion Nissenbaum reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s first foreign trip as president starting Friday is aimed at showing that his “personal charisma” can override longstanding global divisions and conflicts of interest with allies, a personality-driven approach which relies heavily on Trump’s sense of his own persuasive powers that critics say is delusional and risks damaging longterm U.S. aspirations to global leadership. Julian Borger writes at the Guardian.

What about an America First campaign to deter foreign governments from unjustly imprisoning or mistreating American citizens? Jackson Diehl suggests a way in which the Trump administration – having already made it clear enough that it has no interested in pursuing the traditional U.S. strategy of pressuring foreign regimes to release political prisoners or stop torture – could lead on human rights at the Washington Post.

GLOBAL RANSOMWARE ATTACK

A global cyberattack over the weekend that affected business, hospitals and government agencies across at least 150 countries continued to infect computers as users returned to work today, Nick Kostov, Jenny Gross and Stu Woo report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. government’s “stockpiling” of cyber weapons facilitated the WannaCry ransomware attack that has spread over the past few days, Microsoft said, warning governments of the world to treat the attack as a “wake-up call.” Tim Bradshaw writes at the Financial Times.

As experts try to figure out who was behind the attack, Kelvin Chan at the AP provides some details and explains what can be done to stay safe.

The “era of cyber-disaster” may finally be here, suggests Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

The MUSLIM BAN

Arguments over President Trump’s revised travel ban will be heard by a three-judge 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel today, Tom James reports at Reuters.

President Trump has frequently criticized the court, which will join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit – which heard arguments last week – in ruling on whether the travel ban is unconstitutional. Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

The 9th Circuit has been wrestling with the question of whether and when it’s legal for the government to target Muslims on the basis of their religion – one of the core issues of the travel ban dispute – for almost a year and a half in relation to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charging that the federal government violated the rights of Muslims in Southern California by repeatedly sending an undercover F.B.I. informant into mosques. Josh Gerstein writes at POLITICO.

The LAPTOP BAN

U.S. and European transport and security officers will meet in Brussels Wednesday to discuss American plans to extend an in-flight ban on laptops and tablets on flights to include all planes from Europe, the AP reports.

The Department of Homeland Security will hand terrorists their biggest victory since 9/11 if it goes ahead with plans to ban laptops from the cabins of all flights from Europe to the U.S., warns Clive Irving at The Daily Beast.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The U.S. soldier convicted of leaking national security secrets Chelsea Manning will remain on active duty after her release from military prison on May 17, the Hill’s Cyra Master reports.

U.K. whilstleblowers and journalists could end up in prison for revealing documents that can be obtained through freedom of information requests under proposals for a new espionage law put forward by the U.K.’s Law Commission, campaigners warned. Owen Bowcott reports at the Guardian.

Smaller countries are using hacking as a weapon in an attempt to confront larger rivals, Mike Ives and Paul Mozur write at the New York Times.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Trump appears to have settled on nominating Callista Gingrich – wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Jeff Zeleny and Caroline Kenny report at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An as-yet unreleased request to stop the proceedings from the lawyer for alleged deputy in the 9/11 attacks Walid bin Attash may delay the resumption of pre-trial hearings in the death-penalty case due to recommence today, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

A package of U.S.-Saudi arms details and financial investments aimed at increasing security and economic cooperation between the two nations is being developed following years of strained relations as a result of U.S. diplomatic outreach to Iran, Carol E. Lee and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

The son of Osama bin Laden may be following in his father’s footsteps, the F.B.I’s lead al-Qaeda investigator after 9/11 Ali Soufan said in an interview yesterday, Cyra Master reports at the Hill. 

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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