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.
A former Soviet counterintelligence official suspected of current ties to Russian intelligence was also present at the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., White House adviser Jared Kushner and Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June, NBC News’ Steve Kopack reports via Twitter.
President Trump’s outside legal team representing him in the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation were aware of the email chain preceding a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer last year more than three weeks ago, according to a sources familiar with the matter, Michael Isikoff reports at Yahoo News.
White House adviser Jared Kushner’s resignation was called for by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) yesterday after it emerged that Kushner attended the meeting with the Russian lawyer last year, the Hill’s John Bowden reports.
Former attorney general Loretta Lynch sought to distance herself from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya yesterday after President Trump blamed the Obama administration and Lynch’s Justice Department for allowing Veselnitskaya into the U.S. at a press conference in Paris earlier on, the Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports.
Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya was part of a larger campaign by the Kremlin aimed at sowing distrust among U.S. leaders about the Magnitsky Act, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s disclosure to the Hill’s John Solomon and Jonathan Easley that he received a similar overture in April last year from the chief prosecutor in Moscow providing the latest evidence of this campaign.
White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner pushed other White House aides to more aggressively defend Donald Trump Jr. after it emerged that he had met with a Russian lawyer in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, a meeting at which Kushner was also present, reports Tara Palmeri at POLITICO.
“What do you do? End up in a fistfight?” President Trump offered his first detailed account of what took place between himself and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Hamburg, Germany, last week, as he flew to Paris Wednesday, explaining during an impromptu press session in which he commented on a range of foreign and domestic issues that he had confronted Putin twice about whether Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election, eventually changing the subject after Putin flatly denied it because he wasn’t getting anywhere, Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler report at the New York Times.
The co-founder of the firm that ordered the salacious dossier alleging Russian intelligence influence over now-President Trump will not testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week as planned after he refused what was a voluntary request to appear, while it’s currently unclear whether the committee will seek to compel his testimony, POLITICO’s Josh Dawsey and Kyle Cheney report.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky has “nothing to hide” in the Trump-Russia probe, he told NBC News’ Chuck Todd yesterday.
Top Trump allies are pressing the R.N.C. to cover the president and his associates’ legal fees associated with the investigations into possible Trump-Russia collusion, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.
Look beyond Donald Trump Jr. to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and to President Trump himself, then look at how Trump Jr.’s attempt at collusion with Russia may relate to Kushner’s attempts to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin, suggests Nicholas Kristof writing at the New York Times.
Trump’s defense of his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer seems to rest on how useless that meeting was – much as Trump Jr.’s does – the president telling reporters en route to Paris Wednesday that Trump Jr. had “listened, out of politeness” while Jared Kushner “left after a few minutes” and “the other one was playing with his iPhone” during the meeting – but the damage was already done as soon as Trump Jr. walked into that meeting, writes Philip Bump at the Washington Post.
“I love it.” Once you’ve said “I’m in,” it makes no difference that the meeting was a failure, it’s the attendance that counts, Charles Krauthammer argues at the Washington Post.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s work overseeing the task force that investigated one of the biggest fraud cases in American history the collapse of energy giant Enron may have given him a skin thick enough to protect him from the repeated attacks by the president denouncing his current investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion as a “witch hunt” and provided him with skills he will need to oversee an investigation that may well involve money laundering, secrecy havens, complex accounting maneuvers, campaign finance violations, and multiple lies, writes Jesse Eisinger at the New York Times.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was just the tip of the spear of a huge, years-long effort by the Kremlin to discredit and repeal the 2012 Magnitsky Act, named for Russian lawyer who died under suspicious circumstances while detained by the Russian government, an effort that has involved lobbying Congress and the posting of a petition calling for repeal of the act on WhiteHouse.gov, writes Ben Schreckinger at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Russian interference in the presidential election wasn’t a one-time affair, it’s an ongoing offensive aimed at undermining and debasing U.S. democracy, and next time, America better be ready with a plan, write Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
President Trump was treated to an elaborate military display to mark the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 in Paris this morning which involved around 150 U.S. military personnel and aircraft on the last day of his visit to France, CNN’s Kevin Liptak suggesting that President Macron hopes to return his nation to major global military standing including by reaching out to isolationist Trump.
The U.S. was thanked for coming to the aid of France during WWI 100 years ago by French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech following the Bastille Day parade at which President Trump was the guest of honor, the AP reports.
“The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable,” Trump said at a press conference following bilateral talks with Macron in Paris yesterday, during which Trump was also asked to comment on his son’s recently-disclosed meeting with a Russian lawyer last year, insisting that Natalia Veselnitskaya was a “not a government lawyer” and adding that “most people would have taken that meeting.” FRANCE 24 reports.
Presidents Trump and Macron emphasized their joint efforts on counterterrorism and Syria yesterday as the two leaders appeared to make efforts to move past the disagreements that have characterized their relationship so far, Rebecca Ballhaus and William Horobin report at the Wall Street Journal.
Both Trump and Macron are seeking to confront terrorism with actions critics say could impinge on the freedoms of their citizens, Jenna Johnson and James McAuley emphasizing the similarities between the two leaders whose relationship had until now been largely defined by their stark differences at the Washington Post.
President Trump will invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House “at the right time” as it would be “stupid” not to, Trump told reporters as he traveled to Paris Wednesday, Brandon Carter reporting at the Hill.
Russia will expel U.S. diplomats and shut down some U.S. compounds in Russia if the U.S. does not reopen two diplomatic compounds confiscated by the Obama administration last year after former president Obama said they were being used for spy operations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said today, the AP reports.
A warning not to hand back the diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration was sent to the undersecretary of State for political affairs Thomas Shannon, due to meet with a top Russian official next week, by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
Russia and Turkey are edging closer to an up to $3bn deal on four Russian military battery systems and a number of missiles despite entreaties from the U.S. to its N.A.T.O. ally to remain reliant on it for air defense, two officials familiar with the matter told the Financial Times’ Mehul Srivastava.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to appoint Russia hawk Kurt Volker as chief U.S. envoy on Ukraine is an encouraging sign that the U.S. will respond forcefully to the radical steps Russia is taking in Ukraine and that the “personal chemistry” between President Trump and President Putin won’t be allowed to get in the way, writes Adrian Karatnycky at the Wall Street Journal.
Fighting continues in a handful of alleyways in Mosul’s Old City days after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over Islamic State militants, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports from the ground at the Guardian.
The Iraqi army flew overhead helicopters and explosions could be heard in Mosul today as fighting with the remaining Islamic State fighters continues, Stephen Kalin reports at Reuters.
The remaining Islamic State militants in Iraq’s city of Mosul have turned to desperate tactics as they face their final days, wearing suicide vests to detonate when encountering Iraqi forces and strapping bombs to disabled citizens, Asa Fitch and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.
Videos circulating on social media appear to show Iraqi forces killing and beating detainees in Mosul, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, a spokesperson for Iraq’s Interior Ministry, stating that an investigation has been launched, Susannah George reports at the AP.
Human Rights Watch condemned the videos and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement warning against vengeance killings in Mosul, the AP reports.
There has been a “change in tenor [in Mosul], with armed forces no longer feeling the need to hide their actions,” senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch Belkis Wille said yesterday, as the rights group urged the Iraqi authorities to investigate the allegations of abuse and extrajudicial killings, Louisa Loveluck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the Washington Post.
The role of Kurdish forces in the defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul must lead to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan independence referendum in September opening up the possibility of reconfiguring relationships with Baghdad and fostering an atmosphere of cooperation between two independent nations. Aziz Ahmad writes at the New York Times.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 19 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 12. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempt at shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf did not result in a breakthrough in the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain over Qatar’s alleged support of terrorism, Tillerson expressing frustration that the U.S. government’s decision-making process does not deliver the same efficiency as his former oil company Exxon Mobil, Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.
The Gulf crisis “cannot be solved in a day,” Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told reporters in Turkey today, objecting to the characterization of Tillerson’s shuttle diplomacy efforts as a failure, the AP reports.
The Saudi-led bloc are holding to their 13 demands before diplomatic ties with Qatar can be restored, and Tillerson’s memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Qatar to strengthen counterterrorism efforts has not placated the four Arab nations, Al Jazeera reports.
“We’d love to get them to the table, face to face, to begin a discussion around addressing these issues,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday at the conclusion of his attempt at shuttle diplomacy, calling on the Gulf countries to meet directly to resolve the diplomatic crisis, Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdoğan intends to visit the Gulf soon to discuss the crisis, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosuglu said today, adding that “[all] our efforts are focused on a solution that suits the laws of brotherly relations,” Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay report at Reuters.
The source of the Gulf crisis goes back decades and revolves around Saudi and Emirati distrust of Qatar’s actions in the region – such as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood – raising the question of whether political Islam has a place in the modern world. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is expected to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal (J.C.P.O.A.) on Monday, the certification – based on an arrangement made between former president Barack Obama and Congress that the administration must review Iranian compliance every 90 days – the cause of an internal dispute between those who want to crack down on Tehran now and those who want to keep European allies Russia and China on side, Karen De Young reports at the Washington Post.
The J.C.P.O.A. “is working, and we believe it represents the best option for the international community,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson writes in the Washington Post, arguing that the collapse of the agreement would serve to strengthen Iran as the regime would begin redeveloping its nuclear program and threaten U.S. and U.K. allies in the region.
The benefits of the J.C.P.O.A. are tangible and, although the deal is not perfect, the U.S. and its allies are safer as a consequence of the agreement, which gives U.S. leadership the space to combat terrorism in the Middle East and seek a path forward in Syria without the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, Jen Psaki writes at CNN.
The J.C.P.O.A. has strengthened Israel’s security by blocking Iran’s pathway to a bomb and, while Iran poses a significant threat in the Middle East due to its support for terrorist organizations, the deal ensures that the “dangerous regime” in Tehran does not have nuclear capability and so can be confronted for its disruptive behaviour. The former director of Israel’s General Security Service Carmi Gillon writes at Foreign Policy.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
The latest official trade numbers from Beijing showing trade with North Korea continues to rise suggest that China is not using its economic leverage over Pyongyang, reports Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is considering new sanctions on small Chinese banks and shell corporations linked to North Korea, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom report at Reuters.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears uninterested in negotiations until he has managed to develop a nuclear missile capable of striking anywhere in the U.S., a gamble that has so far paid off, with Kim likely to succeed fairly soon unless he is stopped, writes Hyung-Jin Kim at the AP.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has evolved over three generations of the ruling Kim family, Hyung-Jin Kim taking a look at the changes made under each of the three Kims at the AP.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Three gunmen who attacked the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City this morning were shot dead by Israeli police after they wounded at least three people, Karen Leigh reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Two Israeli police officers died in the attack, Israeli police subsequently ordering the closure of the Al Aqsa compound where the final gun battle between the attackers and the police took place, according to Al Jazeera.
A water-sharing agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was announced by the U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt yesterday, the first result of the Trump team’s effort to bring Israel and Palestine back to peace negotiations and designed to build some trust between the two parties, reports William Booth at the Washington Post.
The Palestinians made it clear that the water deal does not affect the status of the negotiations toward a final settlement between Israel and Palestine, Al Jazeera reports.
“Serious concern” at the deteriorating situation in Gaza was expressed by the international “Quartet” of Mideast peacemakers – the U.S., the U.N., the E.U. and Russia – after a meeting in Jerusalem yesterday to discuss current efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the AP reports.
THE MUSLIM BAN
The U.S. government could not bar entry to grandparents and some other relatives of people legally in the U.S. under its travel ban barring entry to the U.S. by citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, a federal judge in Hawaii ruled yesterday, NBC News’ Phil Helsel reporting.
The Trump administration’s definition of close family members went against “common sense,” Judge Watson said in his ruling ordering the ban not to apply to “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States” that applies nationwide while litigation on the ban continues, Brent Kendall reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The travel ban may be extended to more countries under new visa procedures set out in a State Department cable to consulates sent out Wednesday, Nahal Toosi and Ted Hesson report at POLITICO.
All nations will be required to provide extensive data to assist the U.S. in vetting visa applicants and deciding whether the traveller concerned constituted a terrorist threat under the cable sent to all U.S. diplomatic posts Wednesday, which contains a summary of a global review of vetting procedures required under the revised travel ban and sets out standards the U.S. will require of other countries, Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed and Mica Rosenberg report.
U.S. and Somali forces raided a village held by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia early yesterday, killing several al-Shabaab fighters, a senior Somali intelligence officials said today, Abdi Guled reporting at the AP.
“Get used to it.” China told Japan it would continue to undertake “legal and proper” military flyovers over the Miyako Strait between two southern Japanese islands today after Japan’s defense ministry issued a statement last night describing a recent flyover as “unusual,” Reuters reports.
A new cybersecurity law that would force tech companies including Facebook and Google to unscramble encrypted messages sent by suspected extremists and other criminals on behalf of the police was proposed by the Australian government today, Rod McGuirk reports at the AP.
A three-month extension on the state of emergency rule imposed in Turkey following last year’s failed coup attempt will be proposed by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim when it expires next week, he said today, Reuters reporting.
President Trump has exposed himself to accusations of wittingly or unwittingly paying a foreign officials to secure the interests of his private business, writes Oliver Holmes at the Guardian, after discovering that companies owned by the president employ a law firm managed by a Philippine government official.
President Trump’s recent overseas trip “demonstrated the resurgence of American leadership to bolster common interests, affirm shared values, confront mutual threats and achieve renewed prosperity,” is the director of the National Economic Council Gary D. Cohn and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster’s generous evaluation of the president’s recent performance in Poland and at the G20 summit in Germany at the New York Times.