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.
“I need loyalty.” President Trump recurrently put pressure on former F.B.I. director James Comey to drop his agency’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and to publicly clear his name over months in unexpected phone calls and awkward meetings, Comey stated in written testimony prepared ahead of today’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt reporting at the New York Times.
President Trump feels “completely and totally vindicated” following the release of Comey’s prepared testimony, his attorney Marc Kasowitz said in a statement, referring in particular to sections of the statement where the former F.B.I. director said he told Trump that he was “not under investigation in any Russian probe,” tallying with a claim Trump made in his letter informing Comey that he was fired last month, Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
Comey’s statement is “certainly evidence of interference of obstruction,” top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday, adding that the question now was “where does this action fit in with other actions of the president.” Cristiano Lima writes at POLITICO.
An annotated version of Comey’s prepared testimony is provided by Amber Phillips and Peter W. Stevenson at the Washington Post.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers refused to answer questions related to their private conversations with President Trump during their testimonies before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, while at the same hearing acting F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to testify about Trump’s firing of James Comey as director of the F.B.I. on the basis that they did not wish to speak about an issue that could be part of a federal probe, Byron Tau and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.
Rogers and Coats both said they had never felt pressured by the White House to do anything illegal or unethical during their testimonies yesterday, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
Rosenstein refused to promise full independence to special counsel Robert Mueller in leading an investigation into Trump-Russia ties during his testimony yesterday, giving rise to new questions about the probe, Spencer Ackerman writing at The Daily Beast.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would subpoena Comey to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would agree to it as per the rules of the committee, Grassley said yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reporting.
The White House refused to say if President Trump has lost confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the second time yesterday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders telling reporters that “I haven’t had a chance to have an extensive conversation” with the president about the matter. Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.
Legislation to give Congress input if the Trump administration tries to Return diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York to Russia closed in response to Russian interference in the presidential election was introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) yesterday, the Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.
The question of whether the president tried to obstruct justice could be brought to the fore of the congressional investigations into Trump-Russia collusion by Comey’s testimony today, anticipate Ed O’Keefe and Karoun Demirjian at the Washington Post.
Comey’s written testimony raises some disturbing questions about Attorney General Jeff Session’s ability to serve, Just Security’s Ryan Goodman explaining why he wants Comey to say more about Sessions at today’s hearing and to explain a discrepancy in his testimony regarding the Attorney General.
Comey’s written statement is sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case, argues former U.S. deputy solicitor general Philip Allen Lacovara, who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors, writing at the Washington Post.
The irony here is that Trump was not under investigation before, according to Comey’s written statement, but his reactions to the investigation itself and his “raging narcissism” may have put him at the center of an even more serious investigation. Charles M. Blow examines Comey’s statement, which he writes portrays Trump as a “liar, a bully and a criminal” at the New York Times.
Taking the “intelligence” out of “national intelligence director.” Coats and his fellow Trump officials’ refusal to answer questions did no credit to President Trump when juxtaposed with James Comey’s “gripping” account in his written statement, writes Dana Milbank at the Washington Post.
“Disgruntled former employee” Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee should be regarded as such, former Trump campaign adviser Jack Kingston at the Washington Post anticipating that Democrats on the panel will try to frame his dismissal as “some sort of nefarious plot” on the part of the president, a characterization which ignores the circumstances surrounding the decision to fire him.
Bahrain demanded that Qatar distance itself from Iran and stop supporting “terrorist organizations” today after it severed diplomatic ties with Qatar along with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and several other countries Monday, Reuters reports.
The U.A.E. threatened to impose an economic embargo against Qatar yesterday as the Gulf-Arab crisis continued despite efforts by Kuwait and the U.S. to prevent further escalation, Al Jazeera reports.
A list of demands that Qatar must comply with before it can return to normal diplomatic and economic relations with its neighbors is being drawn up by Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Egypt and their allies, Jay Solomon and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.
Hackers installed a file and then published a fake news item attributed to Qatar’s emir on the website of Qatar News Agency on May 24, an incident that helped spark the current diplomatic crisis, Qatar’s Interior Ministry said last night, thanking the F.B.I. and the British National Commission for Combating Crime for helping it with its investigation. The AP reports.
President Trump invited the emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the White House to try to resolve the ongoing diplomatic crisis during the leaders’ phone call yesterday, Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
The deployment of Turkish troops to a Turkish military base in Qatar was approved by Turkey’s parliament yesterday, a show of support for Qatar in the midst of its diplomatic crisis, reports Al Jazeera.
This is an overdue reckoning for Qatar, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, suggesting that the Qataris have for years maintained a “two-faced” policy toward the West, their neighbors and the various regional Islamist movements.
President Trump has again placed U.S. national security at risk by taking sides with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states in their isolation and intimidation of Qatar, arguably America’s most important military outpost in the region, writes the New York Times editorial board.
President Trump’s visit to Riyadh was a green light for the Saudi and Emirati bloc to ostracise Qatar and has offered Saudi Arabia the opportunity to utilize the rhetoric of fighting “terrorism” to shut down independent political thought in the Middle East, Abdullah Al-Arian writes at Al Jazeera.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea launched several anti-ship cruise missiles off its east coast this morning, local time, which flew around 125 miles before landing in the water, South Korea’s military said. The BBC reports.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened the first meeting of his National Security Council to deliberate a response to the tests, which came the morning after Mr. Moon suspended the deployment of a U.S.-built T.H.A.A.D. missile defense system, though allowing the two launchers already installed to remain, Motoko Rich reports at the New York Times.
China restated its opposition to the deployment of the T.H.A.A.D. system to South Korea today even after Seoul said it would suspend the deployment pending an assessment, Reuters reports.
Hezbollah threatened to target U.S. positions in Syria if it crossed any “red lines” yesterday, a day after American forces hit pro-Assad regime forces in eastern Syria whom the Pentagon said were infringing on a “de-escalation” zone, the AP reports.
A U.S. airstrike on a mosque complex near Syria’s Aleppo in March was legal and appropriate and resulted in only one possible civilian casualty – not the dozens claimed by human rights groups, a Defense Department investigation concluded yesterday, Helene Cooper reporting at the New York Times.
The U.N. special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura is in Russia for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss future peace negotiations today, the AP reports.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance faced considerable resistance from the Islamic State as it advanced on the city of Raqqa yesterday on the first day of the operation to retake the city from the militants, the BBC reports.
Syrian government warplanes struck Islamic State targets west of Raqqa today, Reuters reports.
U.S. and Iran-backed troops in Syria are locked in a race to reclaim Islamic State strongholds in the southeast of the country and seize a stretch of land that will either cement Iran’s ambitions there or destroy them, a struggle for power that it likely to be one of the most important fights against the Islamic State in Syria and a test for President Trump as he steps up anti-Iran rhetoric, writes Louise Loveluck and Loveday Morris at the Washington Post.
Children attempting to flee the shelling in western Mosul were gunned down by Islamic State militants, the U.N. human rights office said today, amid reports of a “significant escalation” in civilian deaths in the battle to oust the militants from the Iraqi city, including “credible reports” that 231 civilians trying to leave Mosul have been killed since May 26, Tom Miles reports at Reuters.
Iraqi Kurds in Iraq’s autonomous northern region will vote on independence on Sept. 25, Iraqi Kurdish officials announced yesterday, Balink Szlanko reporting at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 6. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
At least 12 people were killed and 46 wounded in twin attacks at Iran’s parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum yesterday, the security officials’ response suggesting that they were unprepared for the attack, Thomas Erdbrink and Mujib Mashal observe at the New York Times.
Iranians who had joined the Islamic State group were behind the attacks, according to the deputy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Reza Seifollahi, the BBC reports.
The attackers fought in the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq, Iran said today, Reuters reporting.
Five suspects have been detained in connection with the Tehran attacks, according to Tehran’s police chief, the AP reports.
“This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of the one of the region’s reactionary governments [Saudi Arabia] … shows they are involved in this savage action,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said in a statement, in a move that could further inflame tensions between Tehran and Riyadh and contradicting the statement of the deputy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Kareem Shaheen and Nadia Khomami reporting at the Guardian.
“We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” President Trump said in a White House statement, demonstrating that while Iran and the U.S. have a common enemy in the Islamic State group, they are likely to remain adversaries because of Iran’s expansionist ambitions and the U.S.’ embrace of Saudi Arabia, Brian Murphy and Kareem Fahim write at the Washington Post.
The White House Statement is “repugnant,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, adding that the “Iranian people reject such U.S. claims of friendship” after the U.S. Senate pressed ahead with a vote extending sanctions on Iran soon after the attack, Paul Schemm reporting at the Washington Post.
President Trump’s statement seemed to cross an unspoken line in diplomacy and ignores the fact that the terrorist attacks were carried out by those with greater sympathies to the Islam preached by clerics in Saudi Arabia than those of the clerics in Iran, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.
President Trump’s statement on the Tehran attack attempted to express sympathy for the victims and single out Iran’s clerical leaders for their role in state sponsored terrorism, revealing the complicated nature of balancing competing interests in the Middle East and that Trump’s black-and-white rhetoric does not match reality, David E. Sanger, Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt write at the New York Times.
Iran now finds itself the target of terrorist attacks after years of pioneering terrorist tactics across the world – an irony that is hard to miss, is the Wall Street editorial board’s contribution to the commentary on yesterday’s attacks.
The terrorist attacks in Tehran have the potential to create further chaos in the region and threaten to escalate tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in their bid for regional hegemony, adding a new dimension to conflicts in Syria and Yemen and foreshadowing a possible tussle over Qatar, David D. Kirkpatrick and Anne Barnard write at the New York Times.
The impact of the Tehran attack will reverberate across the world, stoking tensions with Saudi Arabia, complicating U.S. foreign policy and showing that the Islamic State group has a foothold in the home of its principal Shiite adversary, Simon Tisdall writes at the Guardian.
The timing and locations of the Tehran attacks are highly symbolic, underlining the religious, political and ideological battlegrounds in the Middle East which President Trump would be wise to defuse, Hooman Majd writes at the New York Times.
The attack on Tehran reveals the Islamic State’s mind-set: it is conducting attacks abroad – including a highly symbolic attack against a predominantly Shiite state – to boost morale because it is losing ground in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and, the Economist observes.
TERROR ATTACK in LONDON
Three further arrests were made by U.K. police investigation the terrorist attack in London Saturday, the BBC reports.
Italian police “constantly monitored” attacker Youssef Zaghba while Italy warned British authorities of his case in an “exhaustive and complete” communication, the chief prosecutor of Bologna Giuseppe Amato insisted yesterday, in what James Politi and Davide Ghiglione at the Financial Times point to as an implicit criticism of British authorities for not considering Zaghba to be a high priority in the months leading up to his part in the terrorist attack in London last weekend.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley supports an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan as “an insurance policy against another 9/11” but hesitated on recommending additional troops to South Korea during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on defense yesterday, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
President Trump’s $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia reached during his recent trip to Riyadh is coming under increased scrutiny amid concerns about the Saudi’s intervention in Yemen and its sudden cutting of diplomatic ties with Qatar, details emerging revealing that the $110 billion figure Trump claimed is an exaggeration, William Roberts writes at Al Jazeera.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Trump’s intended nominee for F.B.I. director Christopher Wray was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s attorney in the Bridgegate scandal and a top Department of Justice official after 9/11, Josh Gerstein identifying five things to know about Wray at POLITICO.
Wray offered to join then-F.B.I. director Robert Mueller and then deputy attorney general James Comey in their protest over the Bush administration’s controversial surveillance program in 2004 when Wray was serving as the government top criminal prosecutor, write Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times.
Wray was told about the suspected homicide of a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq Manadel al-Jamadi months before the public knew and was at the very least on the fringes of conversations about the legality of U.S. military interrogation techniques in 2003, according to documents dating from Wray’s time in the George W. Bush administration. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
How will Wray respond when President Trump comes looking for a pledge of loyalty? This is the bigger question for Americans in the wake of assertions by former F.B.I. director James Comey that President Trump demanded his loyalty repeatedly over several months before firing him in his written statement ahead of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, writes the New York Times editorial board.
German authorities were asked to issue an arrest warrant for recently-appointed deputy director of the C.I.A. Gina Haspel over claims she oversaw the waterboarding of prisoners at a secret American detention center in Thailand by civil rights group the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Frank Jordans reports at the AP.
The U.S. is considering banning laptops from the cabins of inbound flights from 71 overseas airports, a considerable increase from the ten airports were the protocol currently applies, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said yesterday, David Shepardson reporting at Reuters.
Alleged N.S.A. leaker Reality Winner will enter a plea of not guilty, her lawyer told NPR’s Martin Kaste yesterday.
A device exploded inside the U.S. embassy compound in the Ukrainian capital Kiev early this morning, with no injuries, Reuters reports.
A controlled explosion was carried out near the new U.S. embassy in London by British police yesterday, Chris Johnston reports at the Guardian.
F.A.R.C. rebels in Colombia have handed over 30 percent of their weapons to U.N. monitors in accordance with the peace deal agreed last year and have until the extended deadline of June 20 to hand over all their weapons, the BBC reports.
Islamist militants in the southern Philippines city of Marawi have been reduced to a “small resistance” and the fight to remove them could be over in “a few more days,” Philippine military officials said today, Neil Jerome Morales reporting at Reuters.
Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia killed 20 Somali soldiers in an attack on a military base in the semi-autonomous Puntland region at dawn this morning, an officer confirmed, Reuters reporting.
Dozens of Boko Haram militants attacked the outskirts of Maiduguri town in Nigeria late last night, the AP reports.