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.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today, followed by a private session with the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow, while the Senate Judiciary Committee’s plans to interview Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort this week have been delayed indefinitely while negotiations with their lawyers for documents and information are ongoing, Devlin Barrett anticipating the upcoming meetings at the Washington Post.
Kushner will tell the Senate panel that neither he nor any member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during the U.S. election, according to his opening statement released ahead of the meeting today, the BBC reports.
Kushner’s full statement is provided at CNN.
Trump Jr. and Manafort cut a deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee to avoid a public hearing this week and instead provide records to the panel and be privately interviewed ahead of any public session at the end of last week, CNN’s Miranda Green and Manu Raju report.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed campaign matters with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak on two occasions during the presidential campaign, at which time he was foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, contrary to Sessions’ public statements, current and former U.S. officials told Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller at the Washington Post Friday.
President Trump still does not accept that Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said yesterday, Eli Watkins reports at CNN.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s name was included in a Senate Judiciary Committee letter requesting all communication between Donald Trump Jr. and a number of other individuals including Russian officials, making her what Alicia Cohn at the Hill calls a “surprising” addition to the congressional Trump-Russia probe.
There has been no discussion among President Trump and his legal team about whether presidents could pardon themselves, Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow insisted yesterday, after Trump himself sent out a tweet Saturday claiming that the president has the “complete power to pardon,” Kevin Robillard reports at POLITICO.
Trump can pardon any federal crime even before the alleged offender is charged with a crime, but can he pardon himself? Self-pardon has never been directly considered by the courts, and legal scholars are divided on the answer, but whether or not he can, whether he should is a different question – one the president should consider very carefully before answering, writes Jeffrey Crouch at the Hill.
Put yourself in Mueller’s shoes. The White House is attempting a systematic pushback on the independence and integrity of the special counsel investigation, and Mueller’s experience, and the steps he has taken so far to staff the Russia investigation with highly experienced lawyers, may not matter, because the president might bring things to a close with a bunch of preemptive pardons, or try to fire or rein in Mueller himself. Six things Mueller might be considering as he works out how to do his job under these circumstances are suggested by Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes at Foreign Policy.
Can a sitting president be indicted? A newly-rediscovered memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into former president Bill Clinton sheds new light on a “constitutional puzzle” that is attracting increasing attention amid the Trump-Russia investigation, writes Charlie Savage at the New York Times.
An agreement on a wide-ranging Russia sanctions package was reached by Congressional Republicans and Democrats, they announced Saturday, the bill also including stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea, Al Jazeera reports.
The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow, which would allow a senator to bring up a resolution of disapproval if the administration moved to lift the sanctions and would expedite House consideration of such a resolution once it passes the Senate, Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The White House backs congressional sanctions against Russia, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
Trump “hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or another,” new communications director Anthony Scaramucci said yesterday, David Nakamura and Ashley Parker noting the contradictions between his statement and that of Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the Washington Post.
The European Commission has activated “all diplomatic” channels to try to resolve its concerns about the new U.S. sanctions it says could impact Europe’s energy security today, Reuters reports.
An urgent review of how the E.U. should respond if the U.S. went ahead with far-reaching new sanctions against Russia that would affect European companies was called for by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for Wednesday, a note prepared for the meeting stating that Brussels “should stand ready to act within days” if the U.S. measures were “adopted without E.U. concerns being taken into account,” Jim Brunsden and Courtney Weaver reporting at the Financial Times.
Now “is probably not the best time” for a Russia-U.S. cybersecurity unit, the director of the National Security Agency Adm. Mike Rogers said Saturday, casting doubt on the prospect that an idea first floated by President Trump earlier this month at a cybersecurity working group after he discussed creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to guard against election hacking and other cyber threats would reach fruition, Reuters reports.
Expanded sanctions against Russia is exactly the outcome both President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped to avoid, and how that happened is the story of “two global leaders overplaying their hands,” writes David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
“You should immediately release Iranian citizens held in American prisons in violation of international rules and based on baseless charges,” the Head of Iran’s judiciary Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani said today, making the comments days after the White House called on Iran to release U.S. citizens, adding that the U.S. should release billions of dollars of Iranian assets, Reuters reports.
Iran announced the launch of a new missile production line Saturday, according to Iranian state media, the plans being announced amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran over the nuclear deal and new U.S. sanctions against Iran introduced last week, Reuters reports.
The U.S. has tried to “sabotage” Iran by putting in place new sanctions against Iran, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Aragchi said Friday, commenting that the sanctions “violate” the terms of the nuclear agreement, Al Jazeera reports.
President Trump has established a White House team to explore ways to withhold certification of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal at the next 90-day review period, according to a source close to the White House, after fractious conversations between the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over Iran’s re-certification last week. Jana Winter, Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce reveal at Foreign Policy.
ISRAEL & PALESTINE
Two Jordanian men were killed when one of them attacked a guard at Israel’s embassy compound in Amman last night, according to police, Israel refusing to allow Jordanian investigators under the Vienna convention, claiming diplomatic immunity. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian, explaining that violence against Israelis is rare in Jordan and that this incident comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Jordan since Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque following an attack by Arab-Israeli gunmen that left two Israeli police officer dead on July 14.
The Israeli security cabinet met for urgent discussions last night amid fears that the installation of metal detectors at entrances to al-Aqsa Mosque could lead to longstanding violence, the growing crisis the latest manifestation of a struggle over ownership and control over the contested holy site, reports Isabel Kershner at the New York Times.
The metal detectors are here to stay, Israel said following the security cabinet meeting, Dan Williams reporting at Reuters.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas suspended all contact with Israel Friday after new security measures were installed at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, prompting clashes between thousands of Palestinians and Israeli security forces last week, Nuha Musleh reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Additional surveillance cameras were installed at al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday, joining the previously-installed metal detectors in attempt to boost security there, Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt is reportedly due to arrive in Israel today in an attempt to broker a deal that will help lower tensions escalating since the installation of metal detectors at al-Aqsa Mosque, with the Palestinian leadership demanding nothing less than a full Israeli reversal of the decision, the Israeli right stating that Israel was a “sovereign Jewish state” that was “surrounded by an ocean of radical Islam,” while the most worrisome aspect is the suspension of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation, which is liable to truly escalate the situation on the ground, writes Neri Zilber at The Daily Beast.
All involved in the clashes taking place in and around Jerusalem’s Old City were called on to demonstrate maximum restraint and work toward de-escalating rising tensions in a statement from the envoys of the so-called Middle East Quartet – the U.N., Russia, the U.S. and the E.U. – released Saturday, the UN News Centre reports.
Why is al-Aqsa a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian tensions? Al Jazeera explains five things you need to know about the ongoing confrontation.
Hezbollah’s offensive against the al Nusra Front on the Syria-Lebanon border is almost over, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim group said today, a security source claiming that the “biggest part of the operation has finished” and the focus will now turn to fighting the Islamic State, John Davison reports at Reuters.
The al-Qaeda linked group Hayat Tahrir al Sham (H.T.S.) took control of the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib yesterday after rival rebel group Ahrar al-Sham withdrew following a ceasefire agreed Friday, Al Jazeera reports.
The Trump administration lacks a strategy for Syria beyond eradicating the Islamic State, the end of support for the Free Syrian Army and the ceasefire negotiated between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month demonstrating that Trump has failed to consider the consequences of ceding power and influence to Russia and Iran, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
The Trump administration’s Syria policy repeats the Obama administration’s mistakes, failing to contain Iranian and Russian expansionism, trusting Russia too readily on its stated desire to combat terrorism and negotiating with Russia without leverage, Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.
The U.S. abandonment of the aim of removing President Bashar al-Assad is a strategic error, emboldening Iran and entrenching its influence in the region, serving Russia’s interests and radicalizing global jihadists, Michael G. Vickers writes at the Washington Post.
All parties to the Gulf crisis should “enter into negotiations to agree clear principles and a roadmap for a swift resolution,” the E.U.’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement yesterday, following discussions with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah, who is mediating the dispute. Al Jazeera reports.
The U.K. welcomed comments from Qatar’s Emir supporting dialogue to resolve the dispute in the Gulf, according to a statement from U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday praising Qatar’s efforts and commitment to combating terrorism and the financing of terrorism, Al Jazeera reports.
President Trump should push for dialogue between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, U.A.E. and Bahrain, having encouraged Saudi Arabia to escalate the crisis by overtly aligning with it in a dispute that has the potential to further entrench divides in the region, the Financial Times writes.
President Trump wrongly stated that the New York Times “foiled” the U.S. attempt to kill Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Michael R. Gordon sets out the facts countering Trump’s tweet at the New York Times, pointing out the errors in the allegation that appear to be based on a Fox News report.
The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum planned for September cannot resolve the myriad of problems facing the region, the political and economic fallout of the fight against the Islamic State posing significant challenges, and the reaction of neighboring countries to independence potentially threatening Kurdistan’s ability to rebuild its infrastructure and institutions. Jackson Diehl writes at the Washington Post.
At least 24 have been killed and 42 wounded in a Taliban bombing in Kabul today, the explosion taking place near the home of the deputy chief executive of the Afghan government Hajji Mohammed Mohaqiq, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
“The enemy of Afghanistan can’t face our forces in battle field so they target innocent civilians,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement today, condemning the Taliban for the attack in Kabul, CNN reports.
The Taliban overran two districts in the north and the west of Afghanistan yesterday, killing dozens of members of the security forces in their annual offensive and coming at a time when the Trump administration is reviewing its Afghanistan policy, Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar report at the New York Times.
The fight against the Islamic State’s affiliate in the Afghan province of Khorasan (known as I.S.I.S.-K) is unrelenting, the affiliate seemingly recruiting fighters almost as quickly as it loses them, Afghan analysts claiming that I.S.I.S.-K derives much of its support from Pakistan’s military establishment – which Pakistan denies. Max Bearak reports at the Washington Post.
The Pentagon is expected to address reports that it spent $28m on camouflage uniforms for Afghan soldiers, purchased for use in Afghanistan which has only 2 percent of woodland, USA Today reports.
The Trump administration should pursue a policy of peace in Afghanistan, throwing full political and diplomatic weight behind peace initiatives, influencing the Taliban’s strategy and using the U.S.’ leverage to encourage Afghanistan’s political establishment to negotiate a peace deal. Laurel Miller writes at the New York Times.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A Russian brand of security software being used by local and state government from Oregon to Connecticut could be a backdoor for Russia, warn Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis at the Washington Post.
Cyberthreats are worse than ever, and the situation continues to get worse, and it is a war in which everyone is a combatant – and a target, write Christopher Mims at the Wall Street Journal.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
How does Trump’s foreign policy measure against the expectations of conservatives? Bret Stephens analyzes the president’s actions at the New York Times.
Who really benefits from Trump’s ‘America First’ policy? Ian Bremmer lists the “winners” at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Sources close to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not be surprised if there were a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom soon, noting an increase in his frustration and doubts over the ongoing tug-of-war with the White House, most recently over Iran policy and personnel, and the president’s recent rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, which Tillerson reportedly viewed as unprofessional. CNN’s John King reports.
U.S. Army Sergeant Ikaika Erik Kang was indicted on charges of attempting to provide support for the Islamic State after allegedly attempting to supply military information and materials to F.B.I. agents posing as Islamic State operatives, the Justice Department announced yesterday, Josh Delk reporting at the Hill.
China wants to “maintain stability” in the South China Sea by “abiding by the terms that have been agreed on the Declaration of Conduct and Code of Conduct in the near future,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said today, referring to a framework for a long-proposed code of conduct for the disputed region agreed between China and Southeast Asian countries in May. Reuters’ Panu Wongcha-um reports.
The forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya executed a group of 20 suspected Islamic State fighters ahead of a meeting between Libya’s rival factions in Paris tomorrow to discuss a deal to end the political crisis, Al Jazeera reports.