The Early Edition: December 5, 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.

The TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court decided in a brief yesterday that the Trump administration’s travel ban can be fully implemented while lawsuits challenging the executive order are ongoing. The decision permitting immediate enforcement was made following an emergency request by the administration, however the Supreme Court has yet to hear a full case on the travel ban. Brent Kendall reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Supreme Court brief urged the appeals courts to determine the third version of the travel ban swiftly, the latest version restricts travel from eight nations, including six predominantly Muslim countries. Adam Liptak reports at the New York Times.

The decision sends a positive signal to the Trump administration that it has a chance of prevailing at the Supreme Court when it hears a full case, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the court’s action was a “substantial victory for the safety and security of the American people.” Robert Barnes reports at the Washington Post.

“It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims,” a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) said yesterday, arguing that the president has consistently displayed anti-Muslim prejudice, most recently through the sharing of videos from a far-right British political group. The BBC reports.

The Supreme Court’s intervention understood that “opposition to a policy is not justification for judges to ignore the law,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) questioned whether senior Trump transition official K.T. McFarland gave “false testimony” in her answers about her knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with the former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Booker raised the issue in a statement yesterday following court documents released on Friday that indicated that senior members of Trump’s transition team were aware of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak in December 2016. Michael S. Schmidt and Sharon LaFraniere report at the New York Times.

The White House chief lawyer Donald McGahn told Trump in January that he believed Flynn should be fired as he had misled the F.B.I. and lied to Vice President Mike Pence, a source familiar with the matter said yesterday, McGahn’s conversation with Trump was based on his conversation with then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Kara Scannell reports at CNN.

“I feel badly for General Flynn,” Trump told reporters yesterday, saying that his former national security adviser was being treated unfairly, Reuters reporting.

“The president makes his own decisions, guided solely by Russia’s national interests,” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said yesterday, responding to suggestions that Russian president Vladimir Putin was influenced by Trump’s transition team not to retaliate to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over Russian interference in the 2016 election. According to court papers released as part of Flynn’s plea deal, Flynn had urged the Kremlin not to respond immediately to the imposition of sanctions, Kislyak then told Flynn that Russia had decided to “moderate its response as a result of his request.” Ivan Nechepurenko reports at the New York Times.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort drafted an opinion piece about his political work for Ukraine with a Russian colleague as recently as Nov. 30, a prosecutor working for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team – which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election – alleged in a court filing. The opinion piece was not published after prosecutors warned Manafort’s attorneys that it would have violated a Nov. 8 court order not to discuss the case publicly. Sarah N. Lynch reports at Reuters.

As a consequence of Manafort’s alleged work on an editorial, Mueller’s team withdrew their support for a less restrictive bail deal, with prosecutors accusing Manafort of “ghostwriting” the opinion piece to “influence the public’s opinion,” and his actions had shown that he “is willing to violate a Court Order.” Del Quentin Wilber reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A person closed to Manafort identified the Russian colleague as Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who has been a close associate of Manafort’s for many years during his work in Ukraine and the two maintained contact throughout the 2016 election campaign. Kenneth P. Vogel reports at the New York Times.

Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd asserted that a president cannot obstruct justice “because he is the chief law enforcement officer,” however this assertion was met with incredulity by some senior White House officials and the interpretation has been disputed by many legal scholars. Sari Horwitz and Philip Rucker explain at the Washington Post.

The former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta appeared before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday in a private session and answered questions about the Russian interference in the 2016 election, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The President has been frustrated by the revelations about former top F.B.I. official Peter Strzok, who had been a member of Mueller’s team and was reportedly biased against Trump and a supporter of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, which partly explains some of his tweets and comments bashing the F.B.I., according to sources close to the White House. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

Trump’s defense team has repeatedly changed its position on the Russia investigation, Dana Milbank breaks down the various defenses that have been proffered over the past year at the Washington Post.

The Vice President’s aides have consistently maintained that Pence knew nothing about any contact between the Trump campaign and various foreign actors, Matthew Nussbaum explains at POLITICO.

The Trump team should be concerned about the Logan Act following Flynn’s guilty plea, the Act makes it a crime for a private citizen to communicate with foreign officials “without authority” and with the intention of influencing the “measures or conduct of any foreign government” in a dispute with the U.S., Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner write at the New York Times.

The president can obstruct justice, the arguments put forward by Dowd were unpersuasive and followed the bizarre claim that he had drafted the tweet from the President’s Twitter account that suggested Trump knew Flynn had committed a federal crime at the time he had fired F.B.I. Director James Comey. The New York Times editorial board writes.

The Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the former F.B.I. official Peter Strzok, Hugh Hewitt writes at the Washington Post.

The motivations and methods of Mueller’s team and the F.B.I. raise “troubling questions,” including the potential bias of individuals, the withholding of important information from Congress, and the defying of legal subpoenas related to surveillance warrants and the controversial dossier compiled by former British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Trump is expected to outline a new policy tomorrow on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and whether to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, according to an administration official, the Trump administration missed yesterday’s deadline for signing a waiver delaying a move of the embassy, signaling a possible shift in U.S. policy. Loveday Morris reports at the Washington Post.

Arab leaders urged the Trump administration not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, warning that the move would trigger widespread violence and undermine efforts to negotiate a peace plan between Israel and Palestine. Dion Nissenbaum, Felicia Schwartz and Rory Jones report at the Wall Street Journal.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (P.L.O.) chief representative in Washington said yesterday, warning that such a step would have “catastrophic consequences.” Yara Bayoumy reports at Reuters.

“Mr. Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a televised speech yesterday, warning that Turkey would consider cutting diplomatic ties if the administration recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The BBC reports.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. and the French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern about plans to recognize Jerusalem, the Saudi ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said that “any announcement prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region.” Nicole Gaouette and Elise Labott report at CNN.  

Any action that would undermine the two-state solution “must absolutely be avoided,” the E.U.’s top foreign affairs diplomat Federica Mogherini warned today, saying that “a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.” Reuters reporting.

The State Department has warned U.S. embassies across the world to heighten security ahead of a possible announcement of the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

YEMEN

Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed yesterday in Yemen, the authoritarian leader was ousted following the Arab Spring uprisings, after which Yemen descended into a civil war and Saleh then struck an unlikely alliance with the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to drive out the internationally recognized government of his successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who has been in an exile in Saudi Arabia since 2015. T. Rees Shapiro reports at the Washington Post.

Saleh was killed by the Houthi rebels after the Saleh-Houthi alliance collapsed last week, on Saturday Saleh had offered to engage with dialogue with the Saudi-led military coalition. Mohammed al-Kibsi, Saleh al-Batati and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.

The death of Saleh could make it harder to negotiate an end to the conflict, which has now further intensified in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, and the Houthi leader hailed the news as a “great and significant occasion.” The BBC reports.

Saleh’s death will lead to a struggle for control of Sana’a and potentially escalate the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have supported opposite sides in the Yemen war. Tim Lister reports at CNN.

Hadi called for an uprising against the Houthis following the assassination of Saleh, urging Yemenis to “end the control of these criminal gangs and build a new united Yemen.” Al Jazeera reports.

Saleh’s son called for revenge against the Houthis and said that he would “lead the battle until the last Houthi is thrown out of Yemen … the blood of my father will be hell ringing in the ears of Iran.” The intervention by Ahmed Ali Saleh could shift the balance of power yet again, Reuters reports.

The Houthis have been strengthened following Saleh’s death, at least in the short term, and the events of the past week reveal a change in the dynamics of the war. Saeed Kamali Dehghan explains at the Guardian.

The claims that Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied Patriot missile defense system successfully thwarted a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels last month has been questioned by experts, Max Fisher, Eric Schmitt, Audrey Carlsen and Malachy Browne reveal at the New York Times.

Saleh’s death increases the urgent need for a resolution to the Yemen war, while there are no clear concept of the “good guys and bad guys” it is clear that “any chance of peace must involve an end to Saudi Arabia’s destructive bombing and the Trump administration’s support for it.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

NORTH KOREA

The U.N. chief diplomat Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled to travel to North Korea today for wide-ranging “policy dialogue” following an invitation from Pyongyang, meetings have been arranged with the North Korean foreign minister and vice president, but not the leader Kim Jong-un. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The trip comes amid increased tensions on the Peninsula and the latest North Korean missile test, which took place on Nov. 29, Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that it would strike the country if it allows Iran to set up military bases there, it is unclear when the message was sent but it came before pro-Assad media reported an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian-controlled military base near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Saturday.  Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Israel fired missiles at a Syrian military facility near Damascus last night, which were intercepted by Syrian air defense systems, according to Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen channel. Al Jazeera reports.

The Assad regime is no longer capable of achieving a military victory, senior U.S. officials have contended, pushing back against the Russia’s assessment of the conflict and pointing out the vulnerability of the forces supporting the Syrian President. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

The Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan today said that Turkey would “very soon completely destroy” those in Syria linked to Kurdish militants, Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia as an extension of the proscribed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.). Reuters reports.

The Trump administration has given Iran and Russia a “free hand” in Syria to its detriment, Russia has shown that it is not serious about the U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which aims for a political solution to the conflict, and Iran has been strengthened in the region, now posing a greater threat to Israel. Dennis Ross writes at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 33 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 1 and December 3. [Central Command]

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and U.A.E. have skipped the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) being held in Kuwait today, sending lower ranking officials instead. The three nations, along with Egypt blockaded Qatar on June 5, the AP reports.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have formed a new military and trade partnership separate from the G.C.C., the U.A.E. foreign ministry said in a statement today, amid a crisis in the G.C.C. since the blockade of Qatar. Al Jazeera reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has today rescinded his resignation, the Lebanese government said in a statement, saying that all members of the government had agreed to “dissociate themselves from all conflicts, disputes, wars or the internal affairs of brother Arab countries.” Reuters reports.

Congress has reached an impasse over competing proposals that authorize electronic surveillance programs against foreigners outside the U.S., with lawmakers from both sides divided over Section 702 of the F.I.S.A. Amendments Act and the need to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven affiliated news service have been designated as “foreign agents” by the Russian justice ministry, which has taken the action in retaliation to a U.S. Justice Department requirement that the Russia Today (R.T.) news channel register as a foreign agent. David Filipov reports 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