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.
Donald Trump Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort are expected to speak with Senate committees next week as part of their ongoing investigation into Trump-Russia collusion, with Kushner down for a private interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday and Trump Jr. and Manafort appearing in an open hearing Wednesday, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Kushner is prepared to “provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress” and “appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest,” his attorney said yesterday, a person close to Kushner telling the Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Ashley Parker that he is expected to answer the committee’s questions Monday and not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Paul Manafort has as much as $17 million in debt to pro-Russia interests before he signed on as now-President Trump’s campaign manager in March last year, according to newly revealed financial records filed in Cyprus where Manafort was keeping bank accounts, Mike McIntire reports at the New York Times.
Top aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher Paul Behrends was pushed out of his role as staff director for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Rohrbacher chairs after reports of his relationships with pro-Russia lobbyists emerged in the press, a spokesperson confirming that he no longer worked at the committee yesterday evening. Rosie Gray reports at the Atlantic.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sought to reassure American citizens that special counsel Robert Mueller was conducting his investigation into Trump-Russia collusion with some degree of independence from the Justice Department yet with the cooperation he required in an interview with Fox News that aired yesterday, saying that he had been asked for an update on the investigation and that he was “not doing any micromanagement” of the probe, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions “should never have recused himself” and if he was going to he “should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.” President Trump harshly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the Trump-Russia investigation in an interview with the New York Times’ Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman yesterday.
Special counsel Robert Mueller was warned not to investigate the Trump family finances beyond the scope of his investigation into potential Trump administration-Russia ties by the president in his New York Times interview yesterday, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.
Trump’s statements that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should not be overseeing the Russia probe because of his involvement in the firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey and because he may be a closet liberal because he’s from Baltimore “surprised” a senior official interviewed by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein, Josh Dawsey and Darren Samuelsohn.
Trump’s public blasting of Sessions suggest he had hoped the Attorney General would play a part in managing an investigation he has consistently referred to as a “witch hunt.” Abby Phillip and Sari Horwitz at the Washington Post evaluate the Trump interview in which he spared virtually no one in contact with the Russia investigation and stated that he believed that former F.B.I. director James Comey meant to use an unsubstantiated dossier of derogatory information about Trump as leverage against him.
Trump would have seen Session’s recusal coming if he’d listened to anything the Attorney General said publicly about how he would handle a Russia investigation involving the president, and while he did not say explicitly that he would recuse himself, he did explain that he would seek legal counsel to avoid the conflict of interest of serving on the Trump campaign followed by the Trump administration, and that’s what he did. Amber Phillips writes at the Washington Post.
It is very possible that Trump’s undoing isn’t direct involvement of Russian election interference but obstruction of justice to protect those close to him for their role in the Russia scandal. James Robenalt takes a lesson from Watergate at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
SECRET TRUMP-PUTIN MEETING
President Trump discussed adoption with Russian President Putin during their previously undisclosed hourlong chat during the G20 summit earlier this month, Trump told the New York Times, adding that he was unaware that his son had discussed the same subject during a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
Trump and Putin did not have a “secret meeting” at the G20 summit but they did chat informally over dinner, the Kremlin said today, Reuters reporting.
Speculation that the U.S. could return two diplomatic compounds seized from Russia by the former administration has been reignited by the private Trump-Putin meeting, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) saying that “knowing the way Mr. Trump conducts policy” he was “greatly concerned” following the meeting. The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
It is the deeply troubling and unresolved questions about President Trump’s relationship with Russia rather than the fact that he impulsively sought out Putin for a private chat at a G20 summit dinner that are the real problems and which sensationalize contacts that might otherwise be considered unremarkable, observes the Washington Post editorial board.
The Trump administration has ended the covert C.I.A. mission supporting Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Trump making the decision more than a month ago after discussion with C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to a U.S. official, Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous reveal at the Washington Post.
“The release of sensitive military information exposes coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS,” the U.S. military said in a statement, rebuking Turkey’s state Anadolu Agency for publishing on Tuesday the purported locations of 10 military bases in Syria used by U.S. forces fighting Islamic State militants. Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“When we see [Hezbollah] transferring weapons in Hezbollah, we will hurt them. We did it dozens of times.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to striking targets in Syria in in comments made yesterday during a closed-door meeting with prime ministers from four central and eastern European countries that were accidentally transmitted on a radio frequency used by interpreters, Barak Ravid reports at HAARETZ.
A complaint accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes and crimes against humanity was filed by several Syrian ex-detainees using the principle of universal jurisdiction to submit the claim in Germany, Atika Shubert and Eliza Mackintosh report at CNN.
Russia is likely to welcome the decision to end the C.I.A. program, which indicates that the Trump administration no longer views the removal of the Assad regime as a priority and deems the opposition fighters to be ineffective, David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard note at the New York Times.
If the latest ceasefire in Syria holds it may open the door to increased cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, which will bring with it a peace of sorts, but the ultimate price may be the carving up of Syria into zones controlled by different foreign powers, while removing dictator Bashar al-Assad will not be possible without the consent of ally Iran and Russia, writes the Economist.
The U.S.-Russia-brokered ceasefire threatens Israel’s security, the likely failure of the ceasefire offering hostile parties, such as Iran and Hezbollah, the opportunity to gain territory in Syria on the border with Israel, while supervision of any ceasefire would prove to be problematic due to conflicting interests. Shmuel Rosner writes at the New York Times.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has arrived in China to discuss the Gulf Crisis, following comments from China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China hoped the dispute could be resolved, and a day after Wang met with U.A.E.’s Minister of State Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, raising the prospect of China Acting as a mediator, the AP reports.
The “illegal blockade” of Qatar has been conducted in a “dangerous and disorganized manner,” the director of Qatar’s government communications office Sheikh Saif Al Thani said yesterday, responding to Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain’s demand that Qatar comply with six principles on combating terrorism, narrowed down from the initial 13 demands made by the Saudi-led bloc, the AP reports.
“It’s just a face-saving approach by the four countries,” Qatar’s U.N. ambassador Alya Ahmed al-Thani said yesterday, stating that the seeming easing of demands was in response to criticisms from the international community, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
“[We] can continue like this forever,” Qatar’s U.S. ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani said yesterday, stating that Qatar’s economy has the ability to withstand an indefinite “blockade” by the four Arab nations, Ben Westcott and Richard Roth report at CNN.
Qatar “maintained a strong partnership in the fight against terrorism in 2016,” a U.S. State Department report released Wednesday said, Al Jazeera reporting.
Iraqi forces recaptured Imam Gharbi from Islamic State militants today, regaining control of the village to the south of the city of Mosul, Reuters reports.
Islamic State militants will focus on guerrilla tactics in light of their territorial losses, possibly reflecting the tactics of al-Qaeda militants in 2003, posing a dangerous and complex threat to Iraqi forces and their allies, Michael Georgy reports at Reuters.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 18. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Moscow consents to President Trump’s suggestion that Jon Huntsman take up the post of U.S. ambassador to Russia, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday, according to Russian state television. The AP reports.
Increased sanctions on Russia will harm American oil and natural gas companies, House leaders negotiating several fixes to a bill expanding sanctions on Russia and Iran are being warned, Devin Henry reporting at the Hill.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Trump’s unsophisticated and confused presidency suggests that none of his foreign policy approaches will work, Daniel W. Drezner analyzes Trump’s lack of accomplishments and what the future has in store at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration should avoid escalating tensions with Iran, accepting simplistic narratives about the nuclear deal, and leading the U.S. toward a military confrontation, and instead should use its diplomatic tools and work with Iran’s moderates, the New York Times editorial board writes.
“It hurts not having ambassadors,” the top U.S. commander in Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said yesterday, noting that the current vacancy in Germany was particularly “bad” as it hosts the U.S. Army’s Europe headquarters, David M. Herszenhorn reports at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to expand the scope of President Trump’s travel ban limiting entry to the U.S. by citizens from six Muslim-majority countries in a decision yesterday that said that Trump’s ban must allow exemptions for family members, including grandparents, Al Jazeera reports.
Airports in the Middle East and North Africa have been exempted from the ban on laptops in the cabins of flights bound for the U.S., Riyadh’s King Khalid international airport the last of 10 airports to be exempted, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed in a tweet last night. Reuters reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the European Union of undermining its own interests by focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of strengthening economic ties in comments made during a closed-door meeting with European leaders in Budapest, Hungary, yesterday, that were accidentally transmitted to the earbuds of reporters via the radio frequency used by translators, Andrew Byrne reports at the Financial Times.
The “extreme dangers” facing civilians in Yemen who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and its allies and the Houthis were highlighted by the U.N. refugee agency in a statement following a bombing by Saudi-led forces on the southwest province of Taiz late Tuesday that killed at least 20 people, reports Rick Gladstone at the New York Times.
The leadership of the Islamic State-linked militants who laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi is largely intact despite almost two months of fighting and have funded diversionary attacks on other cities in the region, Jim Gomez reports at the AP.
Suspected Boko Haram fighters have been killed and tortured by Cameroon forces at a base that has also been used by U.S. and French troops, Amnesty International said in a new report today, Al Jazeera reports.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is in Japan for talks on security among other issues, meeting with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida tomorrow to discuss increased foreign and security cooperation, Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.
Kuwait announced its intention to shut the Iranian cultural mission and other related offices, in a brief statement made on Kuwait’s State News Agency, citing Iranian links to a terrorist cell broken up in 2015, the AP reports.
Has Kim Jong-un received good returns on his investment into a nuclear arsenal? Eric Talmadge provides an analysis at the AP and examines the sources of the North Korea’s income.