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.
U.S. intelligence officials discovered contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia last year, sparking concerns that Moscow could attempt to foster Trump’s associates, former C.I.A. director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, shedding further light on why federal agents decided to launch a full investigation last year. Byron Tau and Joshua Jamerson report at the Wall Street Journal.
Brennan did not know if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and the contacts between them may have been benign, he said yesterday, the New York Times Matt Apuzzo reporting.
President Trump has retained the services of long-time personal lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz to help him navigate the Trump-Russia investigations, John Wagner and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is being served with two further subpoenas to oblige him to hand over documents related to his contacts with Russian officials, Senate Intelligence Committee leaders said yesterday after Flynn invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in response to a previous subpoena. Austin Wright and Burgess Everett report at POLITICO.
“All options should be on the table” if Flynn refuses to comply with the additional subpoenas, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned the former national security adviser via Twitter yesterday.
It is “not appropriate” to talk about his conversations with President Trump about the Russia probe, the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday after he was asked about reports that the White house tried to recruit Coats and Director of the National Security Agency Michael Rogers to help with pushing back on the F.B.I.’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties. Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.
Coats would be willing to disclose the details of his conversations with President Trump to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said after the hearing, Martin Matishak and Austin Wright extracting five takeaways from the intelligence leaders’ Trump testimony yesterday at POLITICO.
Coats has “not discussed” the issue of President Trump’s reported disclosure of highly classified intelligence to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reporting at the Hill.
The issue of leaks to the media was given a serious response from both current and former administration officials at Trump-Russia probe panel hearings yesterday, despite Democratic criticism of the G.O.P. focus on leaks as a partisan attempt to protect the president, Katie Bo Williams and Morgan Chalfant reporting on this and four other takeaways from a day of Russia probe hearings before various panels at the Hill.
“If the president crosses a line, he knows what he’s doing.” Ignorance is no longer an excuse for President Trump’s repeated attempts to subvert the proper boundaries between himself and government agencies investigating possible Trump-Russia collusion now that he has been widely rebuked for firing former F.B.I. director James Comey, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Brilliant legal strategy – or just brilliantly stupid. Was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer laying the groundwork for a “foreign policy defense” to potential charges of obstruction of justice over the firing of Comey with his explanation that Comey’s firing was necessary because he was making it difficult for the president to “engage and negotiate with Russia” as was suggested by former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal? Asha Rangappa considers the feasibility of such a defense at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
TRUMP VISITS ISRAEL
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are ready to reach a peace agreement, President Trump declared at the end of his three-day tour of the Middle East yesterday, without revealing how he intended to work with both sides toward that goal, Ian Fisher, Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner write at the New York Times.
The obstacles that have stood in the way of outside brokers of Israeli-Palestinian peace for decades have not been removed as a result of Trump’s trip to the region, where he outlined a “detail-free” strategy involving ignoring the key sticking points that have hindered talks in the past. Dan Perry takes a look at where things stand following Trump’s trip at the Washington Post.
Trump’s “ultimate deal” for Israeli-Palestinian peace is likely to be based on the 15-year-old Arab Peace Initiative that was largely ignored at the time and since, but is now being brought to the attention of the Trump administration by several regional leaders, Ian Black explains at the Guardian.
The real impediment to Trump’s ambitious peace plans is likely change over the next four to eight years: by the end of his first term, the president will probably be confronting an entirely different political map in Israel and the occupied territories than he sees now, writes Gregg Carlstrom at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
TRUMP’S FIRST FOREIGN TRIP
“We can use peace.” President Trump continued his nine-day overseas trip with a meeting with the pope in the Vatican today, Jonathan Lemire, Nicole Winfield and Julie Pace report at the AP.
N.A.T.O. is “holding its breath” in anticipation of a dinner in Brussels tomorrow where President Trump intends to harangue senior officials about their defense spending yet again, David M. Herszenhorn and Tara Palmeri write at POLITICO.
Sen. Rand Paul will force a vote on a $110 billion defense deal President Trump signed with Saudi Arabia during his visit there earlier this week, according to his aide, Mark Hensch reporting at the Hill.
DONALD TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in his country, President Trump told him during a phone call last month, referring to the government sanctioned mass killing of suspected drugs users, Trump also boasting to his Philippine counterpart that the U.S. has “two nuclear submarines” off the coast of North Korea which he does not want to use. David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.
The full transcript of the phone call between Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte is provided by Jeremy Scahill, Alex Emmons and Ryan grim at The Intercept.
President Trump should reach out and talk with Iran, which is trying to reach out to the world by signing a nuclear deal with six major powers and re-electing President Hassan Rouhani, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
UK TERROR ATTACK
The British government raised its terrorism threat level to “critical” yesterday, indicating that authorities fear another attack is imminent, George Kantchev, Mike Bird and David Gauthier-Villars report at the Wall Street Journal.
Almost a thousand troops are being deployed to assist the police in London and later elsewhere in response to the Islamic State-claimed attack as part of “operation Cobra,” U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd explained this morning, the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow, Matthew Weaver and Claire Phipps providing live updates on this story.
Rudd is irritated by the U.S.’ leaking of information about the bomber before U.K. police would have liked, she said today, saying that she had been “clear with Washington that it should not happen again.” The BBC reports.
Three men have been arrested in connection with the terrorist attack in the English city of Manchester Monday night today, including the brother of the man who carried out the attack, the BBC reports.
The bomber was identified as British-born Salman Abedi whose trips to Libya are being examined by police attempting to piece together his allegiances and prevent any further attacks, Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz report at the AP.
“We have not verified the connection” between the attack and the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, warning that “European tourist sites, such a cultural monuments, transportation hubs, shopping malls, and restaurants will almost certainly continue to be targeted” as part of the militants’ playbook now that they are being defeated in Syria and Iraq. Ken Dilanian and Corky Siemaszko report at NBC News.
The French parliament will consider whether to extend the state of emergency imposed following the November 2015 Paris attacks today, President Emmanuel Macron said today after meeting with security chiefs to discuss Monday’s attack in the U.K. Brian Love and Adrian Croft report at Reuters.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
A group of 64 Democratic legislators urged President Trump to open direct talks with North Korea and reminded him of the need for congressional approval for any pre-emptive military strike yesterday over concerns about what they said was the president’s erratic response to North Korea’s behavior, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a “madman with nuclear weapons,” President said during a private phone call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in April, David Nakamura and Barton Gellman report at the Washington Post.
North Korea is on an “inevitable” path to developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States if it is left unchecked, the Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant-General Vincent Stewart warned at a Senate hearing yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
An unidentified flying object from North Korea that drew fire from South Korea yesterday was probably a balloon carrying propaganda leaflets from Pyongyang, South Korea’s military confirmed yesterday, Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung reporting at the AP.
Exposure to “sarin or sarin-like substance” in samples from the April 4 chemical attack in northern Syria was found by the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog which now wants to visit the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, a senior U.N. official said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
“This is an issue about which the United Nations cannot be neutral,” the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu told the U.N. Security Council yesterday when presenting the findings of a fact-finding mission in Syria looking into an alleged sulfur mustard gas attack on Sept. 16, 2016, the U.N. News Centre reports.
The Islamic State’s “minister of war” was killed along with other senior figures in Syrian army operations east of the city of Aleppo, a Syrian military source said today, Reuters reporting.
The U.S. Army failed to take proper account of over $1 billion in weapons and equipment in Iraq, according to a government audit from 2016 that was obtained and released by Amnesty International today.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 17. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The TRUMP BUDGET
A cut of over 30 percent in funding for the State Department in 2018 requested by the Trump administration in a budget proposal was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as a potential threat to national security, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A key tool in the U.S. arsenal aimed at promoting American goals abroad through counterpropaganda is being threatened by President Trump’s budget via programming changes being weighed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors to meet budget reduction targets, writes Lachlan Markay at The Daily Beast.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A lower court’s decision to dismiss Wikimedia’s lawsuit challenging the N.S.A.’s mass interception of Americans’ international digital communications was reversed by a federal appeals court yesterday, Ali Breland reports at the Hill.
House Homeland Security Democrats are “deeply concerned” by a White House plan to counter negative coverage by launching an investigation into a Department of Homeland Security program sharing information on cyberattacks leaked to Foreign Policy last week, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
The world must take North Korea’s hackers as seriously as it takes its nuclear weapons and missile programmes after a private cybersecurity firm said that they were behind the WannaCry ransomware attack on May 12, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cut short his trip to Moscow last night after declaring martial law in the south of his country following a gun fight between government troops and militants, Shaun Walker reports at the Guardian.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani issued a new court filing saying that he had nothing to do with President Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, walking back on former claims that he helped the president carry out a “Muslim Ban,” Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.