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.
Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers were in contact with Russian officials and others with ties to the Kremlin in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the presidential race, according to current and former U.S. officials. Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report at Reuters.
Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation by the Justice Department yesterday, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Mark Landler anticipating that the appointment of a former federal prosecutor with an “unblemished” reputation could alleviate doubts about the government’s ability to investigate potential Trump-Russia collusion at the New York Times.
Mueller’s appointment is a clear signal that federal investigators will “aggressively pursue” the matter of Trump-Russia collusion despite Trump’s repeated insistence that there was no “collusion” with the Kremlin, write Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post.
The parameters of the probe under Mueller were not specified by the Justice Department beyond noting that he would oversee the already-confirmed F.B.I. investigation, report Del Quentin Wilber and Aruna Viswanatha at the Wall Street Journal.
The federal investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia will find “no collusion,” President Trump said in a statement yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.
“Where is the actual crime that they think they need a special prosecutor to prosecute?” House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) departed from broad partisan consensus supporting Mueller’s appointment yesterday, Nikita Vladimirov reports at the Hill.
“I think Putin pays” President Trump, House Majority Leader and close Trump ally Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) said a month before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, according to a recording of the June 15,. 2016 exchange, Adam Entous reports at the Washington Post.
McCarthy’s comments were just a “bad attempt at a joke,” he told reporters yesterday, while President Trump confirmed that he still has “100 percent” confidence in him, Matt Flegenheimer and Emmarie Huetteman writing at the New York Times.
“Was it a joke or not?” Callum Borchers considers this question at the Washington Post.
Trump’s transition team knew that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was under federal investigation for secretly working as a lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign weeks before the inauguration, two people familiar with the case told the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti.
Three separate congressional committees are now calling for former F.B.I. director James Comey’s first testimony since he was fired by President Trump last week, testimony that could easily turn out to be the most dramatic congressional hearing of the Trump-Russia investigations so far, Katie Bo Williams writes at the Hill.
An independent commission is the best way to approach the Trump-Russia investigation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted yesterday despite the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the F.B.I.’s investigation. Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.
Democrats’ impeachment debate is forcing them to walk a fine line in their approach to the Trump-Russia saga, keeping up the pressure on the White House on one hand, avoiding politicizing their calls for an independent investigation on the other, Mike Ellis writes at the Hill.
The rarely-invoked rules Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein used to tap Mueller provide answers to some key questions about the post of special counsel, including its powers, scope and impact, Josh Gerstein writes at POLITICO.
Mueller’s appointment is terrible news for President Trump, who will be deeply humiliated by the now-formidable investigation into his relationship with Russia even if he has nothing to hide, writes The Economist.
Mueller’s appointment is a “nightmare” for the White House, special prosecutors wont to conduct investigations that last for years during which staffers are inevitably be “distracted and fearful” about being dragged into it while “leaky committees” provide a steady stream of headlines for the media. Philip Shenon writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The decision to appoint Mueller opens up years of political risk to the Trump administration with no guarantee that the public will end up with a better understanding of what really happened between the president and the Russians, even if it does afford some short-term political relief to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenberg, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
America needs Mueller, a special counsel the president can’t fire on his own, and one of the few people with the experience, reputation and stature to see the job through, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Mueller’s appointment is an “essential and reassuring step” after the recent series of alarming developments, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Five things to know about Mueller as he takes up the post of special counsel are provided by Morgan Chalfant at the Hill.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offered a “major olive branch” to his main critics in appointing Mueller less than 24-hours before he was due to brief the entire Senate on the Trump-Russia investigation, after his until-then stellar reputation received a knock with the firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey, Paul Kane writes at the Washington Post.
Further delays in the Trump-Russia investigation will harm America far more than political backlash from President Trump’s supporters, E.J.Dionne Jr. explaining why the investigation needs to be completed quickly at the Washington Post.
Congress should turn to the tools of funding, oversight and, as a last resort, impeachment, rather than rely on being able to turn the president’s core executive powers against him, John Yoo suggests at the New York Times.
Why didn’t former F.B.I. director James Comey resign in February after his conversation with President Trump, and inform senior Justice officials that the president had asked him to end the Trump-Russia investigation? The leak of Comey’s memo of the conversation is a classic example of his method that puts the Trump presidency in peril and raises serious ethical questions about his behavior, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
TRUMP DISCLOSES CLASSIFIED INFORMATION TO RUSSIA
Lawmakers from both sides quickly brushed off Russian President Putin’s offer to provide Congress with a transcript of President Trump’s meeting with Russian envoys last Wednesday, Amy B. Wang reports at the Washington Post.
Putin’s offer to release his record of what was said at Trump’s meeting with the Russian officials is more a “headline-grabbing assertion of his own authority” than an effort to establish clarity about what President Trump actually disclosed in the Oval Office last week, Andrew Higgins writes at the New York Times.
The Israeli source of the intelligence Trump shared is the most valuable source of information on external plotting by the Islamic State, according to multiple U.S. officials. Shane Harris reports at the Wall Street Journal.
It is “absolutely necessary” to continue German-U.S. intelligence cooperation despite the recent furore over Trump’s disclosures to the Russians, Germany’s foreign minister said last night after a meeting in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The AP reports.
Jordanian spies provided the intelligence on an Islamic State airliner bomb plot to President Trump, not Israelis, Jordanian intelligence officials told Al Jazeera’s Ali Younes.
Can President Trump screw up six decades of U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation? Ronen Bergman examines this vital and effective relationship at the New York Times.
Israel will likely be obliged to absorb the damage from Trump’s leaks and continue to share intelligence with the U.S. in view of its significant strategic reliance on American support, but has now been afforded a little leverage by American embarrassment over the matter in its dealings with Mr. Trump next week, Yossi Alpher suggests at the New York Times.
We now know that Trump is paying attention to the intelligence community, one of three lessons – one “heartening,” two “disturbing” – to come out of the Trump disclosures episode, writes former acting director and deputy director of the C.I.A. Michael Morell at the Washington Post.
TRUMP’S FIRST FOREIGN TRIP
President Trump “doesn’t really want to go” on his nine-day, five-city foreign trip starting Friday, his first trip as U.S. president, which nevertheless comes at a crucial moment in his presidency and represents his first opportunity to reveal the specifics of his “America First” foreign policy, write Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times.
Saudi Arabia intends to “dazzle” President Trump during his trip there in an effort to align U.S. interests with Saudi Arabia’s and shove aside rival Iran, Aya Batrawy reports at the AP.
“No greater friend.” Trump is testing Israeli politics in ways few on the country’s right could have anticipated when he became president, Ian Fisher at the New York Times asking “what happened?” ahead of the president’s trip to Jerusalem next week.
European leaders should encourage President Trump’s counterterrorism ambitions when N.A.T.O. leaders meet in Brussels next week, an opportunity for the President and his allies to strengthen unity and enable N.A.T.O. to take the fight to the terrorists to the benefit of the alliance and Europe, suggests former N.A.T.O. secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen writing at the Wall Street Journal.
A plan to retake the Islamic State stronghold Raqqa that was opposed by Turkey was delayed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Vera Bergengruen reports at McClatchy.
N.A.T.O.’s top military officers want the alliance to become part of the international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
N.A.T.O.’s involvement will not include the deployment of troops, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said today, the AP reporting.
Legislation to impose sanctions on anyone involved in the humanitarian and security crisis in Syria was passed by the House yesterday, Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.
A chemical weapons “cell” is being formed by the Islamic State in territory it controls within the Euphrates River Valley between Mayadin and the town of al Qaim just across the Iraqi border, according to U.S. intelligence. Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr report at CNN.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 16. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Donald Trump passed on a chance to rip up the Iran nuclear deal yesterday after his repeated characterization of it as the “worst deal ever” during his campaign, instead extending it by at least 120 more days. Robert Kennedy writes at Al Jazeera.
The “waive-and-slap approach.” The Trump administration renewed a waiver on oil-exports sanctions against Iran yesterday, then introduced a whole raft of new sanctions against Tehran, write Mark Dubowitz and David Albright at the Wall Street Journal.
China lodged a complaint with the U.S. over its imposition of narrow penalties on Iranian and Chinese individuals for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program, the latest of numerous complaints from China on the issue, Reuters reports.
The State Department is “concerned by the violent incidents” near the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., Tuesday involving Turkish security personnel accompanying President Erdoğan on his visit and demonstrators protesting the Turkish leader, who say they were ambushed by the security personnel, Nicholas Fandos and Christopher Mele report at the New York Times.
Demonstrators were linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (P.K.K.), Turkey insisted, Reuters reporting.
The protesters were affiliated with “terrorist” groups and were attacked in response to “unpermitted, provocative demonstration,” the Turkish embassy claimed in a statement. CNN’s Andrea Mitchell reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
U.S. and European officials discussed aviation security in Brussels yesterday after the Department of Homeland Security said it was mulling extending the ban on laptops and tablets in the cabins of trans-Atlantic flights to European airlines, the Europeans having requested clarification about any new restrictions and the terrorist threats that prompted them. James Kanter reports at the New York Times.
Will new F.B.I. director reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation? David E. Weisberg considers this possibility at the Hill.