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.
Former F.B.I. director James Comey is expected to testify before the Senate next week about his conversations with President Trump, congressional officials said yesterday, Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt reporting at the New York Times.
Seven subpoenas were issued by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, four related to the Russia investigation and targeting former national security adviser Michael Flynn, President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and their businesses, while three others were issued to the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. for information about the “unmasking” procedure by which the names of Trump associates were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations, Byron Tau and Shane Harris report at the Wall Street Journal.
The White House will no longer answer questions about the Trump-Russia investigations, which will instead be refered to Trump’s long-time lawyer Marc Kasowitz, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, David Smith reporting at the Guardian.
A possible additional and previously undisclosed meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during Trump’s election campaign is being looked into by congressional investigators, Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation told CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Jamie Gangel, Shimon Prokupecz and Marshall Cohen.
The Trump administration is moving toward returning two diplomatic compounds to Russia that officials were told to clear out of as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election by former president Barack Obama, who said at the time that the compounds were being “used by the Russians for intelligence-related purposes,” Karen DeYoung and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.
Trump’s allegiances are with Russian President Putin and not with the American people, D.N.C. Chairman Tom Perez said yesterday in response to reports that he may return the compounds to the Russians, calling it a message to foreign powers that “attacks on our election process will go unpunished.” Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.
There have been “no agreements” over returning two diplomatic compounds to Russia, the State Department insisted last night, Ken Dilanian, Abigail Williams and Alex Johnson reporting at NBC News.
A group of over 40 House Democrats demanded that the White House revoke senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance amid the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election in a letter yesterday, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
Russia does not engage with hacking at state level and “no hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said today, the AP reporting.
Americans “guided” the Russians in how to weaponize information used against Hillary Clinton that cost her last year’s presidential election, she said yesterday, stopping short of stating that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. Andrew Rafferty reports at NBC News.
Allegations of collusion between President Trump and Russia are potentially worse than Watergate since they involve connections to a foreign power, which the scandal that brought down president Nixon did not, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested yesterday, Alexander Bolton reporting at the Hill.
Should the four congressional committees investigating Trump-Russia collusion be disbanded now that the probe by newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller will be the main investigation and Mueller the gatekeeper of much of the evidence gathered by the F.B.I.? asks The Economist.
“Simultaneously hero and villain, and presumably right where he likes to be: in the spotlight.” Former F.B.I. director James Comey is one of the people who condemned America to the Trump presidency, but may also be one of the only people who can save it from it, Charles M. Blow writes at the New York Times ahead of Comey’s anticipated public testimony in the Senate.
Why should former national security adviser Susan Rice need to unmask the names of Trump transition members to do her job? She wasn’t running counterintelligence investigations at the time, and if the “mere ambassador to the U.N.” could demand an unmasking, what privacy protection was the Obama administration really offering U.S. citizens? The Wall Street Journal editorial board poses several questions following reports that the House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas demanding information from the N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. about “unmasking” procedures yesterday.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
This year’s annual defense policy bill will “double down” on the message sent to North Korea by Tuesday’s successful missile intercept test by the U.S. by “making significant new investments to make good on the president’s promise to develop and deploy a “state of the art” missile defense system,” the chairman of the Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reporting at the Hill.
The U.S. and Japan began a three-day military exercise in the Sea of Japan today, increasing pressure on North Korea to halt its accelerating ballistic missile program, Reuters reports.
South Korea’s newly-elected President Mood Jae-in tried to soothe American fears that he would scrap a deal to host a T.H.A.A.D. missile defense system by sending his top security aide to Washington today, Jack Kim reports at Reuters.
Elements of the U.S.-built T.H.A.A.D. system being built in South Korea and Alaska are a challenge to Russia which it was obliged to respond to by building up its forces in those regions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today, Reuters reporting.
The death toll in an attack on the outskirts of Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday has risen to at least 90, with the number of wounded rising to 400, the Afghan Intelligence Agency blaming the attack on the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, Jessica Donati and Ehsanullah Amirir report at the Wall Street Journal.
The attack “reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people,” the commander of U.S. and N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said in a statement, also praising the Afghan security forces for stopping the attackers from entering the Green Zone itself. Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed and Jawad Sukhanyar report at the New York Times.
At least 11 U.S. citizens were injured in the Kabul attack, according to a State Department official, who added that none of the injuries sustained appear to be life-threatening. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain condemned the attack and reaffirmed Pakistan’s support for peace efforts in Afghanistan, the AP reports.
The Kabul bombing raises questions about the Afghan government’s ability to control the country, influencing the debate within the Trump administration over U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and impacting Germany’s policy regarding the repatriation of Afghan refugees, the Economist observes.
The attack on Kabul’s diplomatic quarter should not deter the U.S. from deploying a significant number of troops to Afghanistan and a strategic misstep could provide the insurgents with a new safe haven in the region, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
President Trump should change his approach in Afghanistan and appoint an American viceroy who would be responsible for a coherent strategy and setting rules of engagement, while further solutions could involve private military units, a trade-centric approach, and a central focus on the eradication of the Taliban threat, the founder of private military company Blackwater Erik D. Prince writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Thousands of U.S. and European troops are taking part in the annual Baltic Operations navy exercise on the Baltic Sea intended to enhance their joint response capabilities at a time when Russian activities threaten the region today, the AP reports.
A plan to place further sanctions against Russia is being introduced by members of the Senate Banking Committee, calling the country a “hostile, recalcitrant power,” Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today at the International Economic Forum, the AP reports.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
President Trump was “angry” during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month and charged him with inciting against Israel, Abbas reportedly confirmed today after conflicting versions of the meeting emerged from his close officials, HAARETZ reports.
President Trump is expected to renew the waiver that keeps the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv, avoiding for the time being a controversial move to Jerusalem, senior administration and diplomatic sources told CNN’s Elise Labott and Dan Merica.
A Palestinian woman was shot dead by troops after attacking an Israeli soldier with a knife outside a West Bank settlement today, according to the Israeli army, the AP reports.
Arming Syrian Kurds is “extremely dangerous,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday, urging the U.S. to reverse its “mistake.” Sevil Erkuş reports at the Hürriyet Daily News.
The U.S. policy of arming the PKK and the YPG in Syria “does not befit a friendship and alliance,” Turkey’s National Security Council said following a meeting last night, the Hürriyet Daily News reports.
The founder of the Islamic State’s news agency Aamaq was killed in an airstrike in eastern Syria, his brother and activists said last night, the AP reporting.
Rebel leaders in Syria have limited options when it comes to allies they can trust in the “madhouse of forces” on the battleground, none of them good, and they feel that the U.S. has abandoned them after deciding to arm and finance Kurdish-led militias to fight the Islamic State – yet they remain intent on fighting for years to come, reports Sarah El Deeb at the AP.
The U.S.-backed offensive in Syria has made 200,000 civilians homeless since November, according to the U.N., the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces entering villages after the U.S. has bombed them to oust the Islamic State militants and ordering the mostly Arab population to leave at gunpoint, Roy Gutman writes at The Daily Beast.
Islamic State militants have shut off streets around Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque in apparent preparation for a final battle against Iraqi forces over the city, the insurgents’ last major stronghold in Iraq, Al Jazeera reports.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 30. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
A Philippine military airstrike killed 11 of the country’s own soldiers yesterday as the government continues to try to wrest the southern city of Marawi from insurgents loyal to the Islamic State after more than a week of fighting, Felipe Villamor and Gerry Mullany report at the New York Times.
As many as 500 militants fought in Marawi and they had a “big plan” to occupy the city, with around 50 to 100 militants remaining at this point, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said today. The AP reports.
TRUMP IN EUROPE
“China has become a more important and strategic partner” than the U.S., German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a joint news conference with her Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today after the two leaders held talks covering issues including the North Korea crisis, Reuters reports.
There are signs of a backlash against President Trump in Europe following his upbraiding of fellow N.A.T.O. leaders in Brussels last week and now his anticipated rejection of the Paris climate accord with potential longstanding consequences affecting America’s foreign policy aspirations, write Stephen Collinson and Nicole Gaouette at CNN.
So what if Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hate each other? Anna Sauerbrey writing at the New York Times suggests that while the current disagreements between the U.S. and Europe are “really and will have a significant impact” they do have limits: Europe needs America and will not be going its own way, whatever its leaders and publics think, and its quest for self-sufficiency will be more about “leveling the playing field than leaving the game.”
China is in “prime position” to take advantage of the major policy splits emerging between the Trump administration and Europe on defense, climate and other issues, a new dynamic that will be on full display today when Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with his European counterparts at the annual E.U.-China summit in Brussels, coinciding with an expected announcement from President Trump that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, write Jethro Mullen and Charles Riley at CNN.
President Trump met with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in the Oval Office yesterday, discussions covering the transfer of a Coast Guard cutter to the U.S. onetime enemy turned front-line defender against an expansionist China among other issues, Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
The U.K.’s Trident fleet of nuclear submarines is vulnerable to “catastrophic” cyber-attacks that could render the country’s nuclear weapons useless, according to a new report by London-based thinktank the British American Security Information Council (Basic), Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.
U.S. Air Force veteran Tairon Pugh was sentenced to 35 years in prison for attempting to join the Islamic State yesterday after he was found guilty last year, the Department of Justice confirmed.
An al-Shabaab-claimed bomb attack in Mangai in southern Kenya killed seven Kenyan police officers and a civilian yesterday, Tom Odula reports at the AP.
A man arrested in connection with the investigation into last week’s bomb attack on a concert arena in Manchester, England, was released by U.K. investigators without charge last night, leaving ten suspects in custody, the AP reports.
The director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (D.S.C.A.) Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey will retire in July after heading the agency in charge of weapons sales to other countries since Sept. 2013, his replacement yet to be announced, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
President Trump’s federal budget released last week exposes Americans to the threat of bioterrorism by crippling or even eliminating programs vital to the U.S. national health security, explain Tara Kirk Sell, Crystal Watson and Matthew Watson at the Hill.