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The Early Edition: June 16, 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

Members of Trump’s transition team were ordered yesterday to preserve any physical and electronic records related to Russia or Ukraine, according to a memo, Adam Goldman, Julie Hirschfield Davis and Matthew Rosenberg report at the New York Times.

The Russia probe is being led by “some very bad and conflicted people,” President Trump tweeted yesterday, expressing dismay at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s widening investigation which is now looking into whether Trump obstructed justice, Peter Nicholas reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations,” Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned yesterday, making the statement without an apparent motivation but reflecting the president’s frustration with the series of leaks emanating from his administration, Rebecca R. Ruiz reports at the New York Times.

Mueller will also investigate the business dealings of Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to officials speaking anonymously, Sari Horowitz, Matt Zopotosky and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.

They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump tweeted yesterday, with Mueller’s probe apparently including conversations with former F.B.I. director James Comey, the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn, and interactions with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. Louis Nelson and Nolan D. McCaskill report at POLITICO.

Vice President Mike Pence has hired Richard Cullen as his personal criminal defense lawyer to guide him through the Russia investigation, the Vice President may have a relevant account of actions taken by the president while in office, Rebecca R. Ruiz notes at the New York Times.

Cullen’s hiring was made public a day after officials said Mueller was widening the Russia investigation and looking into Kushner’s business dealings, John Wagner and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

Why is the widening of the Russia investigation important and what are the next steps? Julie Vitkovskaya provides a breakdown of the latest developments at the Washington Post.

Mueller has found himself in the middle of a political maelstrom, with the President and his supporters accusing Mueller and his early hires of being biased because of their affiliation with the Democrats, making further appointments to Mueller’s team a difficult task, Scott Shane and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions face questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Califf.) said in a letter yesterday, adding that Democrats are willing to back a subpoena for Comey if he refuses, Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.

It would be a grave mistake for the president to fire Mueller as the position of special counsel is properly regulated to be practically independent of the executive and Mueller’s removal would impede the roles of the legislative and executive branches, former U.S. solicitor general and federal judge Kenneth W. Starr writes at the Washington Post.

Trump lashes out when under pressure, creating more difficulties for himself and leaving him vulnerable to attacks on multiple legal fronts, Amber Phillips writes at the Washington Post.

Trump is obsessed with the Russia probe and his constant comments are worrying advisers that he is exposing himself to obstruction of justice or other charges, Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

“We hope it happens, with the U.S. as a witness,” Qatar’s government spokesperson Sheikh Saif Al Thani said in an effort to persuade the U.S. to mediate the dispute between Qatar and Arab nations, while Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have also lobbied the U.S. to back their campaign to isolate Qatar, Jay Solomon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“This problem can’t be solved with embargoes and sanctions,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday, adding that accusations that Qatar supports Iran is untrue and that Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are united in their opposition to Iran’s actions, Al Jazeera reports.

What is the source of the dispute and what are the long-term costs to Gulf Arab states and regional relationships? Frank Gardner examines the crisis at the BBC.

Turkey is standing by Qatar out of fear, as the grounds for targeting Qatar for its support of extremist groups – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – can be equally applied to Turkey, Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The Gulf crisis could detrimentally impact African nations forced to pick sides in the dispute, posing economic risks and complicating military operations with Arab nations, Al Jazeera reports.

The Gulf crisis demonstrates the Trump administration’s foreign policy approach: defer to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – an approach likely to be increasingly utilized if the Gulf crisis is on its way to a resolution, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

Israel is taking advantage of the Gulf crisis to crack down on Hamas and the Al Jazeera news agency, as well as further isolating Iran, Jonathan Cook writes at Al Jazeera.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Trump aides are concerned that the president’s bet on Chinese President Xi Jinping playing a key role in the North Korea crisis is not paying off, the Chinese President having failed to meaningfully exert pressure on the Pyongyang regime, Mark Landler writes at the New York Times.

North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier has suffered extensive loss of brain tissue, according to doctors treating the recently released student, Jon Kamp writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Otto Warmbier’s father praised the Trump administration for working to free Otto and accused North Korea of having “brutalized and terrorized” his son, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes at the New York Times.

The State Department’s top official in North Korea Joseph Yun met with the three U.S. citizens still detained by the Pyongyang regime who are in a healthy state, Anna Fifiled reports at the Washington Post.

U.S. and Chinese diplomatic and defense chiefs will meet next week to discuss the threat posed by North Korea, the State Department adding that the aim would be “to expand areas of cooperation while narrowing differences on key diplomatic and security issues,” David Brunnstrom reports at Reuters.

Former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman’s decision to gift North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “The Art of the Deal” may have been a genius move, providing Kim the opportunity to see where his and President Trump’s philosophies align, Anni Fifield writes at the Washington Post.

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed internal political issues for the U.S. senate sanctions bill against Russia, stating yesterday that there was no reason for further sanctions and adding that former F.B.I. director James Comey would be able to claim political asylum in Russia if he faces “any persecution,” Thomas Grove reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

Germany and Austria criticized the senate sanctions bill, arguing that the measure damages Russia’s energy exports to the detriment of Europe’s energy market and in favor of U.S.’ exports, Anton Troianovski and Emre Peker report at the Wall Street Journal.

House aides expect the senate sanctions bill to be debated in the House in coming weeks with changes in the House to be expected, Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

SYRIA

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed by Russian military, but U.S. officials are unable confirm the claim and contend that Russia may have an incentive for making the claim, Nathan Hodge and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Fighting in southern Syria may bring the U.S. and Iran face to face, both countries having an interest in the area around al Tanf – a garrison for U.S.-backed forces and the site of an important border crossing of interest to Iran’s expansionist aims, Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib write at the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian defense ministry raised concerns about two U.S. Himar launchers being set up in al Tanf, the BBC reports.

IRAQ

Al Qaeda is vying with the Islamic State group for domination in the global jihadist movement, a report from Europol states, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 14. Separately, coalition forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a Shiite mosque in Kabul last night, killing at least four people and wounding eight, Islamic State claiming responsibility for the attack, Hamid Shalizi reporting at Reuters.

The Pentagon will send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan, according to a Trump administration official speaking yesterday, the official announcement from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is yet to come but could be made next week, Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns report at the AP.

“No decisions have been made,” Defense Department spokesperson Jeff Davis said in response to questions about the AP article on troop numbers, Phil Stewart reporting at Reuters.

CUBA

President Trump will issue a directive scaling back Obama-era policies toward Cuba today, including a prohibition on direct financial transactions with Cuba’s military and intelligence services and the elimination of the loosening of travel regulations, Felicia Schwartz writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The directive will not reverse elements such as unlimited “family” travel and money sent to private Cubans, Karen De Young reports at the Washington Post.

Human rights concerns will form part of the justification for the directive on Cuba, reversing what U.S. aides considered to be “appeasement,” Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland reporting at Reuters.

Trump’s partial reversal of Obama’s normalization policy is substantial, but does not go as far as some hard-liners were seeking, Julie Hirschfield Davis writes at the New York Times.

TURKEY

What kind of a rule, what kind of a law is this?” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reported to have said yesterday, criticizing the criminal charges filed in the U.S. against 12 members of Erdogan’s security detail after attacking anti-Erdogan protestors in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. last month, Nicholas Fandos and Patrick Kingsley write at the New York Times.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara yesterday following the issuing of arrest warrants, The Hürriyet Daily News reports.

Washington D.C. police are right to issue arrest warrants against Erdogan’s security detail in spite of the concerns about dealings with foreign governments, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Facebook has expanded its use of Artificial Intelligence to identify potential accounts and posts from terrorist, the move comes following a recent spate of terrorist attacks and intense political pressure, Sam Schechner reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation yesterday aimed at combating Russian cyberattacks, proposing a response center to coordinate reponses, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Soldiers in the Philippine city of Marawi have been hit by Molotov cocktails and sniper fire in their attempt to recapture the city from Islamist militants, the offensive is now in its fourth week, Simon Lewis and Neil Jerome Morales report at Reuters.

Leaked recordings show Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball mocking President Trump, Rob Taylor reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Egyptian government has blocked websites ahead of a Parliamentary vote on deal to transfer to Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia, Farah Najjar writes at Al Jazeera.

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About the Author

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK