The Early Edition: October 31, 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

Charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign advisers Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos were announced by special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday, the charges were made as part of Muller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Manafort and Gates surrendered to the F.B.I. yesterday and Papadopoulos secretly pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. weeks ago and has been cooperating with investigators for months. Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Matthew Rosenberg report at the New York Times.

Papadopoulos’s plea describes extensive efforts to establish links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, in a January 2017 interview with the F.B.I. Papadopoulos said that a London-based professor claimed he had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post, revealing how much Trump campaign officials knew about Papadopoulos’s attempts to broker relationships.

Papadopoulos’s guilty plea is a “small part” of a “large-scale ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson for Mueller’s office, Aaron Zelinsky, said yesterday, Katelyn Polantz reporting at CNN.

The charges against former Trump campaign officials “has nothing to do with the president,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday in a daily briefing, adding that the indictments do not change the fact there has been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion and played down Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The indictments demonstrate the wide scope of the Mueller investigation, the charges against Manafort and Gates relate to tax and money-laundering while they were working in Ukraine, and the Papadopoulos guilty plea shows that Mueller has the ability to “flip” people without it being leaked. Joe Palazzalo and Jacob Gershman report at the Wall Street Journal.

Republican senators said yesterday that legislation protecting Mueller is not necessary because they do not believe Trump would fire the special counsel, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The prominent Washington lobbyist Tony Podesta has stepped down from his lobbying group as Mueller’s team investigate his connections to Manafort, a source familiar with the matter said yesterday. Mark Honseball and Ginger Gibson report at Reuters.

Trump was “seething” when he found out about the indictments, according to a Republican source close to the White House and the President hit out at the Mueller investigation in a series of tweets yesterday. Jeff Zeleny and Kevin Liptak report at CNN.

Republicans have tried to avoid discussing the Mueller indictments and sought to distance themselves when probed, Karoun Demirjian and Sean Sullivan report at the Washington Post.

The indictments could upset the congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, neither of the intelligence committees have met with Papadopoulos and it is unclear whether Manafort and Gates can engage with Congress. Elana Schor, Kyle Cheney and Ali Watkins report at POLITICO.

Who is George Papadopoulos? Alex Johnson explains at NBC News.

The key questions raised by Papadopoulos’s cooperation with the F.B.I. and what we know already are set out by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

The campaign officials described in the Papadopoulos plea are explained by Rosalind S. Helderman at the Washington Post.

The unexpected Papadopoulos guilty plea may have significant implications as it relates directly to allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the plea revealed plenty of new information. Just Security Editors Kate Brennan and Ryan Goodman set out the key takeaways at Just Security.

A timeline of Manafort’s relationship with Trump and the Trump campaign is set out by Joanna Walters at the Guardian.

The charges against Manafort are very likely to relate to Russian intelligence operations through his work for Ukraine’s government and his work with the Russia-friendly Ukrainian Party of Regions. Just Security editor John Reed writes at Just Security.

Gates was a former business associate of Manafort and remained part of the Trump campaign after Manafort was kicked out, taking a central role in Trump’s inaugural committee and a lobbying group created to advance the president’s agenda. Eileen Sullivan provides a background to the campaign adviser at the New York Times.

The views of legal experts on the indictments are set out by Joe Palazzalo and Jacob Gershman at the Wall Street Journal.

What will be the focus of Mueller’s investigation following the indictments? POLITICO Magazine sets out the views of eleven legal experts.

The White House should be concerned about the indictments, Trump’s links to the unscrupulous Manafort and the Papadopoulos plea indicating that more of Trump’s associates should be “afraid of being ensnared in Mr. Mueller’s spreading net.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

Trump should be worried as Mueller has shown he is willing to use his mandate widely, Betsy Woodruff writes at The Daily Beast.

The Manafort indictment does not involve the 2016 election campaign and relates to his work for Ukraine; Mueller has provided no evidence to back up the claims made in Papadopoulos’ plea that the Trump campaign worked with Russian operatives and Congress members should push for the whole story, including the Democrats’ role in the Fusion GPS-commissioned dossier on alleged Trump-Russia connections. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The real investigation on Russia’s role in the 2016 election is being carried out by the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), particularly its efforts to uncover the truth behind the dossier alleging Trump-Russia connections, which was compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele. William McGurn writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Around 126 million people saw Russia-propagated content on Facebook before and after the 2016 U.S. election, according to sources familiar with the matter, prepared testimony ahead of today’s hearing before congressional investigators and a statement by the social media company. Google and Twitter also disclosed further information about Russia propaganda efforts on their platforms, Deepa Seetharaman and Georgia Wells report at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian-backed Facebook accounts organized directly with U.S. activists on divisive issues to sow discord and, according to a review by the Wall Street Journal, this included at least 60 rallies, protests and marches publicized or financed by eight Russia-backed accounts. Deepa Seetharaman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Ukraine warned Facebook and U.S. officials in 2015 about Russia’s “aggressive behavior” in spreading disinformation on social media, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said today. Hannah Kuchler and Roman Olearchyk report at the Financial Times.

“Without a single piece of proof, we are as you know being accused of meddling not only in the U.S. election, but also in those in European states,” the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency today. Reuters reporting.

NORTH KOREA

A dispute between China and South Korea over the U.S. T.H.A.A.D. antimissile defense system installed in South Korea has been resolved, with both countries releasing a statement today, the repaired relations likely coming as relief to the U.S. as it attempts to deal with the threat posed by North Korea and the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

South Korea and China will move to normalize their relationship motivated by a joint desire to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

Japan and N.A.T.O. “condemn in the strongest terms North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches,” the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and N.A.T.O. Secretary General said in a joint statement yesterday following a meeting to discuss security cooperation, also calling on U.N. member states to apply Security Council resolutions “fully and transparently.” The AP reports.

North Korean hackers likely stole South Korean warship blueprints by hacking into the Daewoo Shipbuilding Company’s database, a lawmaker in South Korea’s main opposition party said today. Haeijin Choi reports at Reuters.

AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday on the authorization for the use of military force (A.U.M.F.) yesterday, saying that a new A.U.M.F. should not have time or geographic constraints, that the 2001 A.U.M.F. – which provides the legal justification for most of U.S. military actions abroad – should not be repealed until a replacement has been put in place, and Mattis emphasizing that the 2001 and 2002 A.U.M.F. “remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military options.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Tillerson and Mattis declined to explain what an “imminent threat” would constitute, but said that the president would not have authority to use military power in North Korea outside of an imminent threat to the United States. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

 “The next step most logically is to attempt to move to a mark up,” the Chairman of the committee Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, saying that legislation for a new A.U.M.F. would come “fairly soon.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

IRAN

The U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has called on Washington’s allies in the Middle East to step up sanctions against Iran, Mnuchin said in an interview yesterday, adding that the focus of sanctions would be on activities outside the scope of the 2015 nuclear deal. Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Any future negotiations with the U.S. are unlikely without a “fundamental change” in American behavior, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi said yesterday, the AP reporting.

SYRIA

Russia expects “all” terrorists in Syria to be defeated by the end of the year, Russia’s head of the upper house of parliament’s defense and security committee was quoted as saying yesterday, adding that enough Russian troops would be kept in the country once this has been achieved “to avert a possible repeat of this terrorism.” Reuters reporting.

A U.N. aid convey has reached Syrians in eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital of Damascus, the U.N. said yesterday, the Syrian government has shelled the region which is one of the last remaining rebel-held territories in the country. Philip Issa reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 29. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

The deputy head of the Iran-backed and state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) militia has rebuffed calls from the U.S. for it to disband, saying that the “future of the [P.M.F.] is to defend Iraq.” Susannah George reports at the AP.

Who are the P.M.F.? Farah Najjar explains at Al Jazeera.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. condemned the Taliban for holding a seriously ill U.S. citizen hostage in such dire circumstances, referring to Professor Kevin King who has been held since August 2016 and the Taliban called on the U.S. yesterday to meet the conditions for his release in light of his deteriorating condition. Craig Nelson and Habib Khan Totakhil report at the Wall Street Journal.

Key details about the Afghan security forces have been kept secret by the U.S. military in a report by the government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports at the New York Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli army destroyed a tunnel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Israeli territory yesterday, killing at least seven militants and wounding more than a dozen, Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Officials from the Islamic Jihad militant and political movement vowed to retaliate, Al Jazeera reports.

LIBYA

U.S. forces captured Mustafa al-Imam who is accused of being involved in the attack on the U.S. compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi in 2012, President Trump said yesterday. Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.

Airstrikes on the eastern Libyan town of Derna have killed at least 15 people, according to local media, no one claiming responsibility for the attack. The AP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. yesterday pledged $60m to a U.N.-backed antiterrorism force in Africa’s Sahel region, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that “these funds will play a key role” in combating extremist groups in the area. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

The Trump administration’s ban on transgender troops serving in the military was temporarily blocked by a ruling by a federal judge yesterday, the judge saying that the claim that the transgender people would have any negative effect on the military had “absolutely no support.” Dave Philipps reports at the New York Times.

Trump’s comments on the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may impact his sentence, the military judge Col. Jeffrey R. Nance said yesterday, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and endangering troops when he walked off his army base in Afghanistan in 2009. Richard A. Oppel Jr. reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. and Qatar agreed yesterday to “substantially increasing the sharing of information on terrorist financiers,” the comments coming amid the Gulf crisis which began on June 5 when Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain diplomatically isolated Qatar due to its alleged support for terrorism and its close ties to Iran. Reuters reports.

Prosecutors in the U.S.S. Cole case have asked for a hearing to find the three civilians defense lawyers who left the case to be held in contempt of court, the civilian lawyers walked away over a classified ethical conflict and they refused an order by the military judge to return to the war court at Guantánamo Bay. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The claim that Russia obtained “20 percent” of the U.S.’s uranium supply in an Obama administration deal is false. Glenn Kessler fact checks the claims at the Washington Post. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

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