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The Early Edition: May 31, 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-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Lawmakers investigating Trump-Russia collusion should hear testimony from former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who would be able to counter previous testimony by former F.B.I. and intelligence officials, President Trump urged in a  tweet this morning interpreted by Reuters.

Former national security adviser Mike Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee, including documents related to two of his businesses and personal documents requested by the committee earlier this month, an anonymous source told the AP.

Former White House aide and Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn was asked to provide information to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Trump-Russia ties, Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk and Pete Madden report at ABC News.

President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is now included in the congressional Trump-Russia investigations, Cohen telling ABC News’ Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk that he was asked by House and Senate investigators to “provide information and testimony” regarding his communications with Russian government associates yesterday.

Cohen declined the invitation to participate in the investigations “as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” he told NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and Adam Reiss, adding that he would testify if he was issued a subpoena.

Intelligence leaders are being asked to provide any documentation of their conversations with President Trump about ongoing Russia probes by the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) after reports that Trump asked them to publicly push back on the F.B.I.’s investigation, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The Trump-Russia probe is a “fiction” invented by Democrats still bitter about losing the presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro published yesterday, also repeating his denial that he was involved in the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the D.N.C., the AP reports.

“It’s not true.” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) responded yesterday to Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) accusation that Democrats are using the Trump-Russia probes as an excuse for losing last year’s presidential election, hence their desire for an independent commission rather than an investigation, Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

White House staff are dreading the possible return of former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie whom President Trump is considering signing on as “crisis managers” to assist with the Russia investigation-related fallout and escalating scandals either as allied outside entities or within the West Wing itself, write Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng at The Daily Beast.

There is nothing wrong “per se” with governments having secret back-channels to enemy governments, the real problems with them arising with the motivation for keeping the contacts secret and what you then do with the channel. Former U.K. government chief Northern Ireland negotiator Jonathan Powell responds to the media “feeding frenzy” over revelations that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner tried to create such a channel to the Russian government at the Washington Post.

TRUMP IN EUROPE

German intelligence does not want America’s help in fending off the same kind of election hacking pinned on Russia during the U.S. presidential campaign, a senior intelligence officials told NBC News’ Richard Engel.

President Trump’s relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “fairly unbelievable” and the two leaders “continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted yesterday, adding that Merkel’s comments that “Europe must take its fate into its own hands” yesterday were “great” and “what the President called for.”

America has “the backs of our allies,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments that European countries could no longer rely fully on the U.S., Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks underscored profound divisions between the U.S. and Europe that have one clear beneficiary: Russia, writes the New York Times editorial board.

America doesn’t do alliances any more, it only does “Master Limited Partnerships.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel was just the first major leader to say what every U.S. ally is now realizing, writes Thomas L. Friedman at the New York Times.

The State Department’s silence following Merkel’s comments reveal its apparent lack of comprehension about why she fired the shots in the first place, which was partly that she wanted to appeal to voters in Germany’s upcoming election in the knowledge that resisting the brash and ignorant Trump will put her in a positive light to voters unimpressed with the American president, writes Daniel W. Drezner at the Washington Post.

Merkel’s comments are also a warning to the rest of the European Union: if it wants to take over the U.S.’ role as security and economic hegemon it needs to step up its collective action, spend more on its militaries and co-ordination, and present a more unified foreign policy, writes the Financial Times.

“Trump picks on you because he likes you.” Trump “views not just Germany but the rest of Europe as an important American ally,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted yesterday, adding that the president’s approach in Europe was “getting results” and a “good thing” for Europe as well as America, yet European-U.S. tensions over defense spending and other matters could ultimately lead to shifts in alliances if Trump does not modify his tone, writes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.

The friction between Trump and Europe following his recent trip is particularly striking when held up against his far more congenial time in Saudi Arabia, a difference that is leading Europeans to believe that they are now being treated worse by Trump than countries such as Russia or Saudi Arabia, and the back-lash is not limited to Germany, explains Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

“America First does not mean America alone.” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster and director of the National Economic Council Gary D. Cohn insist that President Trump presented an approach involving a commitment to protecting and advancing vital U.S. interests while also promoting relationships with its allies and partners on his recent trip to Europe at the Wall Street Journal.

The European opportunity is still President Trump’s to grasp. Behind the concerns for the future of American leadership generated by the president’s rhetoric and “domestic political distractions” the worst fears about Trump’s attitude to Europe have yet to materialize, argues former foreign policy adviser in the Senate Jamie Fly writing at the Wall Street Journal.

DONALD TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY

President Trump’s assurance to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi that he would get no “lecture” from Washington for his domestic repression prompted him to immediately double down, closing more than 20 news sites, arresting dozens of liberal political activists and ratifying a new law imposing unprecedented restrictions on civil society groups, yet Mr. Trump seems indifferent to the immediate effects of his supposedly successful Arab summit, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

“We live in the world the U.S. made. Now it is unmaking it.” President Trump seems to have no interest in preserving the post-WWII world order, observes Martin Wolf at the Financial Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The Pentagon conducted a successful missile-defense test yesterday amid rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula, intercepting a mock weapon launch resembling an intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.), Gordon Lubold and Jonathan Cheng report at the Wall Street Journal.

The test “demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Adm. Jim Syring said in a statement, adding that the U.S. military will analyze the system performance to allow the Pentagon to improve defense capability, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The successful test “sends a clear message to the unstable dictator in North Korea,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said yesterday, emphasizing that while the launch was successful, more must be done to boost missile defense. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S.’ antimissile system still faces criticism despite the successful test, with some arguing that the Defense Department can only understand the system’s ability to protect the U.S. homeland once it has been tested in a range of situations, Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger write at the New York Times.

China is using “back channel networking” to persuade North Korea to stop nuclear and ballistic missile testing, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told reporters yesterday, adding that the U.S. will continue to put pressure on China to combat the threat posed by North Korea, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry “intentionally dropped” details about the four additional T.H.A.A.D. antimissile defense system launchers according to a report submitted to newly-elected President Moon Jae-in’s office today. President Moon ordered an investigation into the Defense Ministry yesterday after the launchers were installed without the new government or the public being notified, Jack Kim reports at Reuters.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile program allows the Pyongyang regime to create a new “balance of terror” invoking the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against a regional target and forcing Washington D.C. to consider its options and the loss of life associated with any decision, Eric Talmadge writes at the AP.

The U.S. may need to cede power and influence in South Korea to China in order to denuclearize of the Korean Peninsula, as U.S. military activity in the region, and China’s unstoppable rise, creates a dynamic between the two countries that amplifies risk, Graham Allison writes at the New York Times.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attempts to woo South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In may be successful based on the two leaders’ preference for engagement with North Korea, however differences over the recent installation of the U.S. antimissile T.H.A.A.D. system in South Korea – which China considers to be a threat to its national security – may prove too difficult to overcome, Jane Perlez writes at the New York Times.

SYRIA

The U.S. has started distributing weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria ahead of the operation to drive the Islamic State from its stronghold Raqqa, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway confirmed yesterday, the BBC reports.

Iranian-backed pro-Assad regime fighters were warned to move away from a U.S. training base at At Tanf near the Syrian border with Jordan and Iraq where they are still “massing” after the U.S. attacked forces advancing toward the base last month, Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters yesterday, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reporting.

The U.S. is providing extra arms to Syrian rebels in an attempt to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iranian-backed militias attempting to open a supply route between Iraq and Syria, according to Syrian rebels. Al Jazeera reports.

Russian warships in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles at Islamic State positions in Syria, Russia’s defense ministry said today, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.

The Syrian government is using civilian suffering as a “tactic of war,” denying aid to civilians and forcing people in besieged cities to choose between starvation and death and escaping to locations that are just as unsafe, the U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 29. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

A truck bomb close to the Afghan presidential palace killed at least 80 people this morning, one of the bloodiest attacks in the Afghan war so far, Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed report at the New York Times.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Taliban denied involvement in the attack, Al Jazeera reports.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The amended Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act being floated by Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) would make it legal for victims of hackers to hack back against the hacker, with some limits, to the concern of security experts, writes Kevin Poulsen at The Daily Beast.

President Trump wants world leaders to contact him on his cell, handing out his cellphone number in a break from diplomatic protocol that is prompting security concerns, the AP’s Vivian Salama reports.

A Russian man charged in the U.S. with hacking the computers of American companies can be extradited to either the U.S. or Russia, a Czech court ruled yesterday, the suspect immediately appealing his possible extradition to the U.S. Karel Janicek reports at the AP.

The LAPTOP BAN

The Trump administration will not extend the ban on laptops in the cabins of U.S.-bound flights to those traveling from Europe for now, it decided following a call between Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and two of his European counterparts yesterday, Cathy Buyck reporting at POLITICO.

The air-transport industry is an expert source on the matter of safety and security that the Trump administration is not fully including in the discussion on banning laptops and other large portable electronic devices from the aircraft cabins of U.S.-bound international flights, writes Alexandre de Juniac at the Wall Street Journal.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Former Transportation Security Administration (T.S.A.) head John Pistole was interviewed by President Trump for the role of F.B.I. director yesterday, the White House said yesterday, also confirming that former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division Chris Wray is being considered for the post. Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

The D.N.C. is advertising for an executive to lead its I.T. modernization, cybersecurity and technology efforts, Eric Geller notes at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar is among six people from an alleged Islamic State-linked recruiting network detained in France yesterday, the AP’s Lori Hinnant reports.

Manchester bomber Salman Abedi purchased most of the parts of the bomb he used himself and carried out many of his movements and actions ahead of the deadly attack “alone,” UK investigators said today, the BBC reporting.

Philippine troops have cleared almost 90 percent of the city of Marawi of Islamic State-linked gunmen a week since a botched raid to capture a rebel leader triggered a militant siege, Philippine authorities promising to do everything they can to save those taken hostage by the militants, Jim Gomez reports at the AP.

What weight should be given to the words of a U.S. president in court? This as-yet unexamined issue will almost certainly be the deciding factor in the Supreme Court’s decision if it agrees to hear an appeal by the Trump administration against last Thursday’s opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejecting President Trump’s revised travel ban on the basis of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, writes Kate Shaw at the New York Times.

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About the Authors

is the Assistant News Editor at Just Security. She is also Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE.

is an assistant news editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK.