The Early Edition: May 17, 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 DISCLOSES CLASSIFIED INFORMATION TO RUSSIA

Israeli intelligence provided the classified information Trump shared with the Russians last week, according to U.S. officials, Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

Israel’s defense minister emphasized his country’s “deep, significant” ties with the U.S. today after it was revealed that President Trump had shared Israeli intelligence with Russia, F. Brinley Bruton reports at NBC News.

Russia will pass its records of Trump’s conversations with the Russian ambassador to Congress and the Senate, President Putin said today. [AP]

 “Wholly appropriate.” National security adviser H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s decision to reveal classified information to the Russians yesterday, Ashley Parker reports at the Washington Post.

Trump was not aware where the information he disclosed had come from and therefore could not have endangered national security, McMaster said yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.

“As President … I have absolute right” to share classified information with Russia, President Trump tweeted yesterday morning.

A meeting with the White House officials who were present when President Trump met with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week was requested by Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) calling the briefing “crucial” yesterday, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

The life of an Israeli spy placed inside the Islamic State may have been put at risk by Trump’s disclosures to the Russians, current and former U.S. officials said, Mark Hensch reporting at the Hill.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government has confidence in its relationship with the U.S. and will continue to share intelligence with the Trump administration today, William James reports at Reuters.

A European intelligence official is warning that his country may stop sharing information with the U.S. if reports that he shared highly classified information with the Russians are confirmed, the AP reports.

The various scandals surrounding the president have reached a “Watergate size and scale,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, Tim Mak reporting at The Daily Beast.

Now the world knows that the President of the United States cannot be trusted with sensitive information, potentially forcing governments from Britain to Israel to recalibrate cooperation with the U.S., while others such as Russian and China will attempt to use their access to Trump to extract more indiscretions, write the Washington Post editorial board.

Will this episode prompt U.S. intelligence officials to reevaluate how much they should share with the commander-in-chief? Nahal Toosi speculates at POLITICO.

Presidencies can only withstand “so much turbulence” before they fall apart, warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

A major policy shift may have been signaled by Trump’s apparent taking up of Russian President Putin’s call for unity in fighting terrorism via Twitter yesterday, according to political analysts, Neil MacFarquhar considering whether this is the case at the New York Times.

Every president encounters damaging leaks and other intelligence issues – the difference here is that Trump cannot decide whether the intelligence community is his friend or his enemy, an attitude that is self-destructive and which demeans the U.S. government, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

Donald Trump is President Putin’s “useful fool,” former N.S.A. and C.I.A. director Michael V. Hayden writes at the Washington Post.

The “classic Nixonian argument” – when the president does it, it’s not illegal – does not apply here. Various laws may well prohibit Trump’s disclosures to the Russians, contrary to conventional wisdom which suggest that while the disclosures may have been unwise, they were not illegal given Trump’s ultimate authority to declassify national security information, writes Just Security’s co-editor Steve Vladeck at the Washington Post.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution is the appropriate mechanism for the removal of Trump, not impeachment, suggests Ross Douthat at the New York Times, arguing that ultimately Trump does not sufficiently understand the nature of the office he holds, or the legal constraints that are supposed to bind him, to be guilty of obstruction of justice in the Nixonian sense of the phrase.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

President Trump asked former F.B.I. director James Comey to shut down the federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn at an Oval office meeting in February, according to a memo written by Comey shortly after that meeting, Michael S. Schmidt reports at the New York Times.

“I hope you can let this go.” Trump spoke to Comey in private after a national security meeting, according to Comey’s highly detailed two-page memo, Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz is demanding the F.B.I. hand over all documents relating to communications between President Trump and Comey within the next week, Heather Caygle reports at POLITICO.

There was “nothing casual” about the warnings about Flynn former acting attorney general Sally Yates gave the Trump administration, she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper yesterday, responding to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s characterization of her statements as a “heads up,” Euan McKirdy and Saba Hamedy report.

It was “inappropriate” for Trump to demand a pledge of loyalty from former F.B.I. director James Comey shortly after his January inauguration, Yates said yesterday, Mark Hensch reporting at the Hill.

 “I hope you can let this go.” Those words should sound as an alarm to Congress and anyone who cares about protecting the Constitution, the New York Times editorial board reminding us that, however powerful the president of the United States, that power does not extend to obstructing a federal investigation.

America needs to hear from Mr. Comey, view his memos and listen to White House tapes of the conversations between him and the president, if they exist, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

Why did Trump wait for his vice president and the attorney general to leave the room before speaking to Comey about the Flynn investigation if he had nothing to hide? Ruth Marcus asks at the Washington Post.

Comey’s allegation is the strongest support yet for a criminal obstruction-of-justice case against President Trump, if true, according to legal analysts, though further evidence would likely be needed before action is taken. Matt Zapotosky writes at the Washington Post.

Whom do you believe, Trump or Comey?- or perhaps, the White House or the media? This latest episode is forcing the American public to make an explicit choice between the word of the White House and the word of an outside party, Philip Bump writes at the Washington Post.

President Trump has been burned by his enduring loyalty to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he has continued to defend even after eventually firing him in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, writes Tara Palmeri at POLITICO.

TRUMP-ERDOGAN MEETING

A “new era” of U.S.-Turkey relation was hailed by President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following their meeting at the White House yesterday, Trump publicly equating the Kurdish P.K.K. with the Islamic State and lending U.S. support in Turkey’s fight against the secessionist group, Katrina Manson writes at the Financial Times.

Trump and Erdoğan pledged to work together against extremist groups including the Islamic State, Trump highlighting the importance of the U.S.-Turkish alliance despite tensions over U.S.’ support for Syrian Kurdish rebels. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

Erdoğan denounced America’s Syrian Kurdish allies as a “clear and present danger” to Turkey and said he would never accept them as partners in the region as he stood beside President Trump following their meeting yesterday, Dion Nissenbaum and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

“You either support North Korea or you support us.” That was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s message to “the entire international community” yesterday, Haley warning that the U.S. was not past “looking at third-country entities who are helping North Korea and putting sanctions against them.” Somini Sengupta and Choe Sang-Hun report at the New York Times.

North Korea’s recent military actions are “a recipe for disaster,” the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said today, cautioning against complacency in the face of rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Kaori Hitomi reports at the AP.

A closed-door emergency meeting on North Korea was held by the U.N. Security Council yesterday to discuss imposing new sanctions in response to its latest ballistic missile test. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Three Republican Senators urged the U.N. Security Council to take “immediate and additional actions” against North Korea in a letter sent yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

There is a “high possibility” of conflict with North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today, Christine Kim reporting at Reuters.

South Korea wants to re-establish lines of communication with North Korea under new President Moon Jae-in conjunction with new sanctions in an effort to persuade it to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, Al Jazeera reports.

What would happen if North Korea fired against targets near and far? Senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists David Wright and analyst Markus Schiller of S.T. Analytics talk to the AP’s Eric Talmadge.

TRUMP’S VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands for war crimes allegations has been invited to this week’s summit in Saudi Arabia with President Trump and other leaders at which Saudi’s King Salman has said he hopes a “new partnership in confronting extremism and terrorism” will be established, Saudi officials said yesterday. Abdullah Al-Shihri reports at the AP.

The ministry run by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef signed a $5.4-million contract with a boutique Washington lobbying form with ties to President Trump’s team ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia Friday, part of an effort on the Prince’s part to position himself with the Trump administration that is part of a power struggle with another Saudi prince also seeking to succeed the ageing King Salman, write Kenneth P. Vogel and Theodoric Meyer at POLITICO.

GLOBAL RANSOMWARE ATTACK

North Korean cyberhacking sleeper cells are the new focus of the investigation into the world-wide randsomware attacks over the past four days as new signs emerge that North Korea was behind the attack and that China was a specific target, Choe Sang-Hun, Paul Mozur, Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

There has also been renewed focus on the activities of the National Security Agency and how the U.S. government chooses to disclose cyber-vulnerabilities to the private sector, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The N.S.A.’s worst fears were confirmed when it was revealed that the malicious code at the heart of the WannaCry virus was apparently stolen from the agency, Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg writing that the N.S.A. continued to utilize the EternalBlue hacking tool for years despite fears that it could create widespread havoc if it ever got loose at the Washington Post.

Microsoft will make the most from the WannaCry attack, pointing to it as a reason to resist governmental pressure to loosen security, writes John Gapper at the Financial Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Targeting and aggressively prosecuting government leakers will be a Justice Department priority under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, officials told The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff.

Chelsea Manning has been released from prison after serving seven years for leaking diplomatic cables and military files to WikiLeaks, the BBC reports.

A bill intended to assist state and local law enforcement officials combat cyber crime was passed by House lawmakers last night, the Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A prosecutor in the 9/11 case at Guantánamo Bay war court was cautioned not to turn proceedings into a “mini-trial” of witness Abu Zubaydah who is testifying about conditions at the notorious C.I.A. Black Sites, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The possibility of freeing a doctor who helped the U.S. to locate Osama bin Laden whose imprisonment has been a thorny issue between the U.S. and Pakistan was discussed between the Trump administration and Islamabad as the latter seeks to improve ties with the U.S. and the doctor’s appeal hearing approaches, Saeed Shah reports at the Wall Street Journal. 

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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