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.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions on the firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey and his undeclared meetings with Russian officials tomorrow, though it is unknown whether the hearing will be public or private, Doina Chiacu and Sarah N. Lynch report at Reuters.
The Senate Intelligence Committee was urged to make the hearing public in a letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) delivered yesterday, so that “American people can hear for themselves what he has to say” regarding his Russia connections and President Trump’s “abuse of power,” reports the Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne.
President Trump was invited to testify before the Senate about his claims that Comey lied during his own hearing last week by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
A Trump attorney refused to rule out the possibility that the president would fire special counsel Robert Mueller appointed to investigate his administration’s ties with Moscow yesterday and would only say that “the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as inside,” Victoria Guida reports at POLITICO.
“Is Attorney General Jeff Sessions about to commit perjury?” Sessions and Comey have directly opposing positions on how Sessions responded when Comey asked him to stop President Trump communicating with him directly, but if Sessions repeats the falsehood contained in the Department of Justice statement issued following Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week under oath before Congress tomorrow, that is a federal crime, writes Just Security’s own Ryan Goodman.
A lawsuit alleging President Trump violated anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by accepting millions of dollars in payments and benefits from foreign governments since taking office brought by attorneys general for the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland could open a new front for Trump as he steers through Russia investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees, writes Aaron C. Davis at the Washington Post.
Trump personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz’ visits to the White House have raised questions about the boundary between public and private interests for a president facing legal issues, Kasowitz reportedly telling White House aides to discuss the Trump-Russia investigation as little as possible, and advising them that it was not necessary to hire private lawyers to deal with the investigation, conversations that were highly unusual between a private lawyer for a president and the government employees that work for him, write Rebecca R. Ruiz and Sharon LaFraniere at the New York Times.
What is missing from the Russia investigation is any real discussion of Russia itself, Molly K. McKew writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE, with President Trump only interested in his own innocence or the potential guilt of others around him and not at all in the culpability of a foreign adversary.
JAMES COMEY TESTIMONY
President Trump should voluntarily turn over any tapes of conversations he had with Comey to both the Senate Intelligence Committee and to special counsel Robert Mueller – if they exist – Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said yesterday, Dino Grandoni reporting at the Washington Post.
“Totally illegal? Very “cowardly!”” President Trump suggested that leaked information from Comey could be “far more prevalent” than is currently believed yesterday, following up from a Friday tweet accusing the former F.B.I. director of being a “leaker,” Daniella Silva reports at NBC News.
President Trump made a number of phone calls to then-U.S. attorney Preet Bharara apparently “trying to cultivate some kind of relationship,” Bharara’s refusal to return a third call coming shortly before he was asked to resign in March, Bharara told ABC News’ Maia Davis, adding that “there is absolutely evidence to begin a case” for obstruction of justice against Donald Trump.
There is very little chance special counsel Robert Mueller will bring an obstruction charge against President Trump on the basis of what we know following Comey’s testimony last week: the facts are ambiguous, and Comey reported Mr. Trump said several things that are inconsistent with an intent to obstruct the Russian investigation generally, argues Peter J. Wallison at the Wall Street Journal.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar is part of a “policy of domination and control” which will not prove successful, an adviser to Qatar’s foreign minister said today, Al Jazeera reporting.
“If the parties so wish, the Kingdom of Morocco is ready to offer its services to foster a frank and comprehensive dialogue,” a statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Sunday, adding that King Mohammed VI would draw on his personal ties with Gulf State leaders to mediate. Al Jazeera reports.
“[Kuwait] affirms the readiness of the brothers in Qatar to understand the reality of the qualms and concerns of their brothers,” Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah was quoted as saying yesterday by Kuwaiti state media, Noah Browning and Tom Finn reporting at Reuters.
Qatar has hired former attorney general under George W. Bush John Ashcroft to advise on its efforts to “combat global terror and its compliance goals and accomplishments,” according to a file issued Friday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Iran has sent hundreds of tons of food to Qatar since the dispute with Arab nations last week, signaling Iran’s intention to take advantage of the situation to drive a wedge between Qatar and other Gulf States, Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch write at the Wall Street Journal.
Who are the groups that Qatar is accused of supporting and what is their relationship? Aya Batrawy and Sarah El Deeb provide a breakdown at the AP.
Three American soldiers were killed and another wounded Saturday when an Afghan commando opened fire on U.S. forces in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province where a U.S.-Afghan joint operation to remove the Islamic State from its stronghold in the mountains has been underway for months, Habib Khan Totakhil and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.
Taliban second-in-command and head of the militant Haqqani network denied involvement in recent suicide bombings in Kabul including the attack on May 31 that killed at least 150 people in a message sent late last night, the AP reports.
Two of Afghanistan’s top security officials Kabul Police Chief Gen. Shah Hassan Frogh and Kabul Garrison Commander Gen. Gul Nabi Ahmadzai were suspended from duty after an investigation by the attorney general’s office found them responsible for lapses in security leading to the Kabul bombings and a subsequent protest, the AP reports.
All six American combat deaths in Afghanistan this year were Special Operations troops involved in the fight against the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the casualty rate indicating the increased concentration on fighting the local branch of the extremist group, previously dismissed as a small breakaway faction of the more powerful Taliban, writes Rod Nordland at the New York Times.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea is “not far away” from testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.), according to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, Rebecca Savransky reporting at the Hill.
Japan is seeking to increase its sales of military equipment to Southeast Asian nations amid the crisis in the Korean Peninsula and growing tensions in the region, Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.
Trump has correctly identified China’s role in propping up North Korea but his approach is mistaken as it entangles U.S.-China relations and ignores the necessity of a multilateral framework to solve the crisis in the Korean peninsula, Yoichi Funabashi writes at the Washington Post.
A bipartisan deal to strengthen sanctions against Russia is on the verge of being struck in the Senate, despite the Trump administration’s mixed signals on Moscow, writes Elana Schor at POLITICO.
While pundits panic about Russia’s resurgence and successful interference in the 2016 presidential election, the reality is that President Putin is not winning: he is actually on a losing streak, including failing to achieve his paramount goal of lifting Western sanctions against Russia, writes Stephen Kotkin at the New York Times.
Rebels in the southern Syrian city of Deraa are coming under increased bombing by the Syrian army and Iran-backed forces, a potential prelude to a campaign to retake control of the city, rebels and residents said today, Suleiman Al-Khalidi reporting at Reuters.
The alleged mastermind behind the Islamic State-claimed terror attacks in Iran’s capital last week was killed on Saturday, Iranian authorities confirmed, Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Two U.S citizens were charged with providing material support to Hezbollah and helping the group to prepare potential attacks in America and Panama, charges that show that Iran’s “terror proxies” extend far beyond the Middle East, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte did not request U.S. help in resisting the Islamic State in the Philippines and was “not aware of that until they arrived,” he said yesterday after the U.S. military committed “technical assistance” to the fight in the southern town of Marawi Saturday, Neil Jerome Morales and Simon Lewis report at Reuters.
Attack aircraft took it in turns to bomb areas of Marawi where Islamist militants were still holed up today as the Philippine’s marked its independence day, three weeks after the militants overran the town and dug in there using civilians as human shields, Reuters reports.
U.K. TERROR ATTACKS
A teenager was arrested in connection with the June 3 terrorist attack in London by U.K. police yesterday, the Press Association reports.
Manchester Arena attacker Salman Abedi likely built the explosive device he used to kill 22 people on May 22 on his own in his apartment, police saying they now have an understanding of Abedi’s movements “almost hour by hour” in the days leading up to the attack. The BBC reports.
Recent attacks in the U.K. and Iran were more than “just a message” from the Islamic State, a review of court records and statements by officials suggests: they reflect persistent efforts by the militant group since its rise in 2014 to hit targets once believed unassailable, write Rukmini Callimachi and Laure Fourquet at the New York Times.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The White House and the U.K. both denied that President Trump wants to delay his state visit to the U.K. after reports that Trump called British Prime Minister Theresa May to tell her he did not want to visit until he had support from the British public emerged in the wake of Trump’s attacks on London Mayor Sadiq Khan for his response to the recent terrorist attack in England’s capital, though U.S. officials have said that the president “does not feel like” visiting the U.K. any time soon. The BBC reports.
Surprisingly China and Saudi Arabia are the big winners so far after five months of the Trump presidency, with Saudi Arabia getting everything it wanted from the White House including unconditional public support from Trump, while China has seen none of the sanctions Trump threatened to implement on his first day in office. Meanwhile, writes Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post, America’s closest allies are the biggest losers in U.S. foreign relations.
President Trump is increasingly diverging from his national security team after initially appearing to be heeding the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others pushing for more continuity and consistency in U.S. foreign power, but an upcoming series of hearings with lawmakers focusing chiefly on whether they will support funding of the non-military tools of U.S. power will provide an opportunity for them to reassert themselves, writes Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
“It’d be easier if Trump wasn’t tweeting so much.” The past few weeks have underscored the potential consequences of President Trump’s loose rhetoric and sudden policy shifts, write Sabrina Siddiqui and Lauren Gambino at the Guardian.
The U.S. military carried out a drone strike against al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, it confirmed yesterday, the first such attack since President Trump relaxed targeting rules for counterterrorism operations in that country in March, report Charlie Savage, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.
Chief of staff Reince Priebus has been given a July 4 deadline to make major staffing changes at the White House and threatened with firing if he fails to meet it by President Trump, though the fact that the president has set deadlines for staff shakeups at the White House in the past and then let them pass has left many skeptical that he will follow through this time. Tara Palmeri writes at POLITICO.
A suspected al-Qaeda attack on an army camp in southeastern Yemen today left a number of militants and two soldiers dead, Reuters reports, citing military officials and residents.
The dismantlement of the U.N. agency that aids millions of Palestinian refugees was called for by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement and confirming he had conveyed the message to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, Al Jazeera reports.
The legality of President Trump’s revised travel ban demands an immediate resolution by the Supreme Court to give the parties and the public finality and to signal to the lower courts how to treat the president’s unprecedented behavior in this case and beyond, writes Josh Blackman at the New York Times.