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.
JAMES COMEY TESTIMONY
“Lies, plain and simple.” Former F.B.I. director James Comey used his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday to criticize the character of President Trump and accuse him of firing him over his former agency’s Russia investigation and then misleading the public about why he had done so, statements that threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis overshadowing the White House, write Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Ed O’Keefe at the Washington Post.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have had a third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kiskyak during last year’s presidential race, Comey told lawmakers yesterday, Manu Raju, Evan Perez and Jim Sciutto reporting at CNN.
Aspects of Comey’s testimony were questioned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last night, who denied that he had stayed silent in the face of Comey’s complaint about president Trump’s inappropriate attempts to intervene in the F.B.I.’s investigation, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
The Justice Department defended Sessions following Comey’s testimony in which he said that members of the F.B.I. expected the Attorney General to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway avoided questions about the existence of recordings of conversations between President Trump and Comey yesterday, Jesse Byrnes reports at the Hill.
Trumps personal attorney Marc Kasowitz rejected allegations made by Comey during his testimony yesterday, which he said “finally confirmed publicly” that the president was not under investigation and suggesting that Comey’s leaks of memos of his interactions with Trump should themselves be investigated, the BBC reports.
Former N.S.A.-contractor Edward Snowden defended Comey’s efforts to publicly disclose his memos via Twitter yesterday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was one of many Republican lawmakers seeking to minimize Trump’s alleged interference and demands for loyalty as the fumblings of a political amateur more used to being a C.E.O. yesterday, legal analysts positing that emphasizing Trump’s naivete could be the beginnings of a legal defense, Mike DeBonis writes at the Washington Post.
“In the main, it was not true.” Comey disputed the veracity of a New York Times article of Feb. revealing direct contracts between Trump advisers and Russian officials prior to the election, communications which are now at the heart of the F.B.I. and congressional investigations, write Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times.
The F.B.I. had information about Attorney General Sessions that would have made his continued involvement in the Trump-Russia investigation “problematic” before Sessions recused himself, Comey told the Senate yesterday, Sari Horwitz reporting at the Washington Post.
An obstruction of justice case against President Trump seems to be mounting, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said yesterday, also calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.
Comey’s sworn statement and subsequent testimony form a strong evidential basis for a charge that President Trump committed obstruction of justice, former lawyer Norman Eisen and former federal prosecutor Noah Bookbinder argue at the New York Times.
President Trump’s behavior as described by Comey would constitute significant scandal in a normal administration, but it would not be grounds for impeachment, writes David Brooks at the New York Times.
The case that President Trump obstructed justice by leaning on Comey contains two major flaws: it overlooks both a requirement for corrupt intent and the principle of executive discretion, writes Andrew C. McCarthy at the Washington Post.
Democrats may be getting ahead of themselves in hailing Comey’s testimony as the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, the issues Comey raised unlikely to be resolved in court, write David J. Lynch, Sam Fleming and Demetri Sevastopulo at the Financial Times.
The question of whether what Trump did was illegal now resides with special counsel Robert Mueller, as do the notes Comey took of his conversations with President Trump, write Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO.
The most important takeaway from Comey’s testimony may be what he did not say, those topics he carefully avoided providing hints about where the Trump-Russia investigation is headed, suggests Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post.
Comey dropped hints about possible ties between Trump and the Kremlin for investigators during his testimony yesterday, five of those “enticing potential clues” identified by Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast.
A portrait of a president grossly abusing his executive powers was painted by Comey during his testimony yesterday, describing serious and disturbing allegations and revealing President Trump’s equally disturbing lack of concern about the underlying offense: Russia’s interference in American democracy, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
James Comey successfully recast his confrontation with the president as a battle between “the legal principles at the foundation of American democracy” and a “venal, self-interested politician who does not recognize, let alone uphold, them,” writes the New York Times editorial board.
Comey’s appearance before the Senate yesterday was a “political anticlimax” with “no major revelations” about the Trump-Russia investigation or Trump’s supposed attempt to interfere with that investigation, but it did reveal the methods of the “highly political” former F.B.I. director, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The “most dramatic flashpoint yet” in the Russia scandal saw the former F.B.I. director accuse the president of lying, suggest that Trump’s decision to fire him was an attempt to interfere with the bureau’s Russia investigation, and say he hoped that the special counsel probe would get to the bottom of whether Trump obstructed justice, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney providing five takeaways from Comey’s testimony yesterday at POLITICO.
Perhaps Comey should have done more, as he himself admitted during the hearing yesterday, which affirmed some of the White House narrative on the Trump-Russia scandal, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner will meet with Senate Intelligence Committee staff this month on the condition that he submit documents and answer questions from the senators themselves at a later time, Congressional sources told NBC News yesterday.
Top senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee will meet with special counsel Robert Mueller next week to hash out boundaries to make sure they aren’t interfering with his investigation into possible Trump-Russia links, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
Russia’s U.S. embassy demanded the return of diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration last year, warning it would retaliate “tit-for-tat” if the U.S. refuses via Twitter yesterday.
Qatar will “not surrender” its foreign policy in the ongoing Gulf-Arab diplomatic crisis, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said yesterday, the BBC reporting.
Qatar rejected allegations that it supports individuals and groups blacklisted as terrorists by four Arab countries as “baseless” today, Al Jazeera reports.
Saudi Arabia and its allies drew up a terror sanctions list including 12 organizations and 59 individuals early this morning, Malak Harb and Jon Gambrell report at the AP.
Sanctions imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations violate international law, Qatar’s foreign minister said today, the AP reporting.
Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has no plans to accept President Trump’s invitation for a meeting at the White House until the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries is resolved, a Qatari official told Reuters’ Tom Finn yesterday.
The Gulf states have lost all trust in Qatar, whose offers to engage in dialogue are “just a statement for western consumption,” leading U.A.E. diplomat Omar Saif Ghobas has said, Patrick Wintour reporting at the Guardian.
Egypt asked the U.N. Security Council to investigate reports that Qatar “paid up to $1 billion to a terrorist group to invade Iraq” and free hostages including members of its royal family in violation of U.N. sanctions yesterday, the AP reports.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Corker does not know how the Trump administration intends to resolve the standoff between Qatar and Gulf Arab states but hopes talks can be started soon, he told Al Jazeera’s William Roberts yesterday.
Kuwait’s leader Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah flew to Qatar Wednesday night for talks on “how to restore the normal relations” between Gulf nations, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
Excommunicating its longtime rival Qatar was Saudi Arabia’s first step in pursuing an increasingly aggressive, sectarian foreign policy after receiving a green light from President Trump during his recent visit to Riyadh, writes Fareed Zakaria at the Washington Post.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
South Korea does not intend to change its agreement with the U.S. on the deployment of a T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile system and will continue to work closely with America on the project, South Korea’s top national security adviser said today, Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim reporting at Reuters.
North Korea’s test firing of surface-to-air missiles was intended to show that it could repel forces staging a strike on the Korean Peninsula, coming days after a flotilla of American and Japanese warships left the sea between Japan and Korea where they had been deployed in a show of force toward Pyongyang, Motoko Rich and Jeyup S. Kwaak report at the New York Times.
Finally formally ending the Korean War – including U.S. recognition of the Pyongyang government – is an essential precondition for convincing leader Kim Jong-un to agree to give up his nuclear and missile programs, write James Dobbins and Jeffrey Hornung at the New York Times.
Analysts are increasingly wondering whether North Korea’s missile testing is intended to get the Pyongyang regime into the strongest bargaining position possible before it is forced to return to the negotiating table by economic sanctions, writes Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) have entered the Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa, presenting the opportunity for a major setback to the Islamic State if the anticipated campaign proves to be successful, Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.
A pro-Syria regime drone advancing on the al-Tanf garrison was shot down by U.S. aircraft after it attacked U.S.-backed fighters, marking the latest clash in the proxy war between Iranian-backed militias and the U.S. led-coalition, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” according to a Coalition statement, which emphasized that it is focused on combating the Islamic State group.
The shooting down of the drone at al-Tanf reveals that Iran’s drone fleet matches the capability of some of its peers but is not advanced enough to pose a fearsome threat, Adam Rawnsley observes at The Daily Beast.
An individual detonated an explosive belt in a market east of the Iraqi city of Kerbala today, killing at least 30 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State, Reuters reports.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 30 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 7. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on three houses killed four civilians in Yemen’s capital this morning, the father of the three children killed told the AP’s Ahmen Al-Haj.
Hundreds of men in Yemen have been kidnapped by an armed force run by the U.A.E., according to local human rights activists and relatives, adding to concerns about America’s choice of allies in its war against extremism, writes Abigail Fielding-Smith at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Senators are trying to block Trump’s $500 million sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, a move that is likely to fail but which demonstrates the pushback over the U.S. support for the Saudi’s efforts in Yemen and the lack of conditionality attached to the weapons sale, Elana Schor writes at POLITICO.
TERROR ATTACK in LONDON
British police arrested another suspect in connection to the London attack that killed eight people and wounded nearly 50 last weekend, the AP reports in rolling coverage.
Saudi Arabian soccer officials issued an “unreserved apology” on behalf of the Saudi national team who failed to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the London attack, adding that the players “did not intend any disrespect,” the BBC reports.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Vice President Mike Pence offered his personal help in ongoing talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus after more than four decades of frustrated peace efforts, Cyprian President Nicos Anastasiades confirmed after meeting with Pence yesterday, the AP repors.
The State Department’s recent statement about arbitrary detention in Turkey is a welcome sign that the U.S. has not abandoned all talk of human rights, although the statement stopped short of directly criticizing Turkish President Erdogan, the Washington Post editorial board notes.
There are notable positive aspects to Trump’s foreign policy, and – despite his missteps and crudeness – critics should laud his good decisions, such as appointing a talented national security team, taking action against Syria, and working with China to put pressure on North Korea, David Gorton and Michael O’Hanlon write at the Washington Post.
N.S.A. CONTRACTOR REALITY WINNER
N.S.A. contractor Reality Winner was denied bail by a federal judge after entering a not-guilty plea to charges of leaking classified information to the media yesterday, Katie Mettler reports at the Washington Post.
Winner may have stolen or exposed other secrets before her arrest last week, federal prosecutor Jennifer G. Solari said during her detention hearing yesterday, Alan Blinder reporting at the New York Times.
The psychologists behind the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogation techniques employed in the war on terror is being sued by lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah seeking to compel them to hand over information to Polish officials investigating a former C.I.A. prison in that country. Andrew Selsky reports at the AP.
China is monitoring U.S. military activities in the South China Sea after two U.S. bombers conducted training flights in the region, it said today, Reuters reporting.
The Islamic State attacks in Iran’s capital Tehran Wednesday “will only increase hatred for the governments of the United States and their stooges in the region like Saudis,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today, Parisa Hafezi reporting at Reuters.
The European Union cannot rely on the U.S. to defend it and bloc members must step up military cooperation, E.U. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said today, the BBC reports.
The Islamic State murdered two Chinese nationals it kidnapped last month in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, the militants’ news agency Amaq claimed yesterday, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Kiyya Baloch reporting at the Guardian.