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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 meeting between the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Russians at the Trump Tower in June 2016 was “treasonous,” Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted as saying in a book written by Michael Wolff entitled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” The Trump Tpwer meeting took place after an intermediary offered damaging material about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and attendees included Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, David Smith reports at the Guardian.
An excerpt from the book revealing details about Trump’s presidential campaign, the atmosphere within the Trump administration and Steve Bannon’s role, is provided by Michael Wolff at the New York Magazine.
Bannon “lost his mind” when he left the White House, Trump said in a statement yesterday responding to Bannon’s comments, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Wolff’s book “trashy tabloid fiction” that is “filled with false and misleading accounts.” Eli Stokols reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue,” Trump’s statement also said, and the acrimonious break between the president and Bannon could have implications for the struggle for influence within the Republican establishment. Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley report at the Hill.
Lawyers for Trump sent Bannon a cease and desist letter yesterday, accusing Bannon of breaching the employment agreement he signed with the Trump campaign and demanding that Bannon refrain from further disclosure of confidential information and disparagement of Trump and his family members. John Santucci reports at ABC News.
The White House has been angered by Bannon’s quotes to Wolff and, according to White House sources, Trump personally dictated key parts of the statement denouncing Bannon. Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein report at The Daily Beast.
Trump has been agitated by the ongoing Russia investigations, the probes have dragged on longer than Trump’s lawyers had initially told the president and a source close to the White House said that Bannon had crossed a clear line when he made personal comments about the president’s family. Kevin Liptak and Dana Bush report at CNN.
The ten most explosive revelations from Wolff’s book are provided by the BBC.
Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday, arguing that the Justice Department had had exceeded its legal authority when the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ordered Mueller to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, an order which gave Mueller a “carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating.” Spencer S. Hsu and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.
Manafort’s lawsuit asks for the federal judge to throw out Rosenstein’s order, to dismiss the indictment against Manafort and bar Mueller from pursuing similar investigations. Del Quentin Wilber reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has signaled his willingness to have the founders of the opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S. testify publicly about the controversial dossier they commissioned alleging connections between Trump and Russia, the Senator’s comments follow an opinion piece written by the founders in the New York Times which accused the Republicans of spinning conspiracy theories about their firm, the dossier and leaking selective details from their closed-door testimonies. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) met with top federal law enforcement officials yesterday to discuss the dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele and commissioned by Fusion G.P.S., the meeting was held following a request by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a statement after the meeting that he believes the House Intelligence Committee has “reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that will provide the committee with access to all documents and witnesses we have requested,” Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.
The government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (C.R.E.W.) filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Justice Department for its decision to reveal anti-Trump private text messages between two F.B.I. agents, which have been seized on by Republicans as evidence of bias within Mueller’s team. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
The founder of Fusion G.P.S. have spun a “sob story” and their op-ed did not provide a single example “of something that proves the dossier’s claim of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, referring to the opinion piece written by the founders earlier this week.
The reopened communication line between the two Koreas was tested by North Korean and South Korean officials yesterday, the reactivation of the line came following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s comments in a New Year’s Day address that suggested that he would be open to talks with Seoul. Andrew Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“We must keep our expectations at the appropriate level,” the chief of United States Forces Korea Vincent Brooks was quoted as saying yesterday, warning that Kim’s peace overture should not lead to undue optimism. Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.
The U.S. has been sidelined while North Korea and South Korea have opened dialogue, Trump administration officials said that they were not opposed to the talks if they were confined to discussion of the Winter Olympics and said that the White House plans to keep in close contact with South Korean officials. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
The North and South Korean officials had little to say once the communications line was reopened, nevertheless the discussions were a breakthrough of sorts that have raised Seoul’s hopes of the possibility of a face-to-face meeting. Justin McCurry explains at the Guardian.
North Korea “could make their country richer only if they adopted the right policies,” the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today, but did not mention Kim’s recent overture to South Korea, the AP reports.
“The president and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness of the leader of North Korea,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters yesterday in response to a question about Trump’s tweets about the size of his “nuclear button.” David Brunnstrom and Christine Kim report at Reuters.
The participation of North Korean athletes in the Winter Olympics could help to calm anxieties about potential missile tests or other belligerent measures, Adam Taylor explains the significance of the games in the context of the North Korean threat at the Washington Post.
The president does not actually have a “nuclear button” on his desk, Zachary Cohen and Brian Todd explain at CNN.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has approached the crisis peacefully and soberly, unlike Trump who has been bellicose and childish, Moon has taken advantage of Kim’s overture and while there are reasons to be cautious, the U.S. should lead a comprehensive strategy to test whether North Korea is serious about engaging in discussions. The New York Times editorial board writes.
“Today we announce the end of the sedition,” the head of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) Mohammed Ali Jafari said yesterday, referring to the protests across the country that began Dec. 28 and saying that a “large number of the trouble-makers … have been arrested and there will be firm action against them.” Al Jazeera reports.
Iran’s army chief Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi was quoted as saying today that his troops would be ready to intervene if needed, adding that the police were able to quell the “sedition” but his forces in the army “would be ready to confront the dupes of the Great Satan [United States].” Michael Georgy reports at Reuters.
The protests in Iran have quietened down, however it does not mean that the anger has subsided and may point to a longer period of unrest. Amanda Erickson explains at the Washington Post.
The protests in Iran caught the Trump administration off guard, according to senior U.S. officials, the U.S. has been trying to protect the protestors through presidential tweets, public condemnation and international pressure on Iran’s leaders, and yesterday Iran’s mission to the U.N. complained in a letter to the Security Council and General Assembly that the U.S. had “incited” the protests. Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. “will not be silent” on Iran, unlike President Obama – who failed to express American solidarity with the protests in the country in 2009 – the Trump administration will show leadership and stand with Iranians demanding freedom and opportunity. The Vice President Mike Pence writes at the Washington Post.
The U.S. seeks to obtain information about Iranian individuals and organizations involved in the crackdown on protestors to feed into the U.S.’s “sanctions designation machinery,” a senior Trump administration official said yesterday. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.
The Iranian capital of Tehran has been largely devoid of pro- or anti-government protests, marking a significant difference to the 2009 protests, possibly revealing the divide between the perspectives of the urban middle class and the rural working class, and perhaps pointing to concerns in the capital about the potential for protests to descend into a breakdown of authority – as has been seen in Syria. Thomas Erdbrink explains at the New York Times.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have looked at the unrest in Iran for potential leverage, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the demonstrators and denounced Iran’s “cruel regime,” Saudi Arabian officials has been more careful not to issue statements to avoid fueling claims by Iranian leaders that the protests have been spurred by foreign powers, however Saudi commentators have been more vociferous. Aya Batrawy and Josef Federman report at the AP.
“The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” the French President Emmanuel Macron warned yesterday, saying that it was important to maintain dialogue with Iran. Reuters reports.
It is “highly unlikely” that President Trump will certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal when faced with the Jan. 13 deadline, according to a senior administration official, a measure that could lead to the deal falling apart. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.
At least 20 people have been killed today by suspected Russian airstrikes in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, near the Syrian capital of Damascus, according to residents and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Reuters reports.
Rebel shelling destroyed at least seven Russian planes at a military base in Syria last week, according to the Russian Kommersant newspaper, Reuters reports.
A group representing opponents to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have urged the U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to boycott the peace talks being hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Sochi at the end of January, saying that the Russian peace initiative sought to entrench Assad’s position and would represent a “dangerous departure from the [U.N.-led] Geneva process.” Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
The war in Syria will be over in one or two years, the leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group said yesterday, Reuters reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 46 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 22 and December 28. [Central Command]
The Israeli military has struck “significant terror infrastructure” inside the Gaza Strip this morning in response to three mortars fired from Gaza at Israel, the AP reports.
Israeli security officials and analysts have expressed concerns about Trump’s threat to cut aid to the Palestinians, warning that cutting funding would further weaken the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has rejected military conflict with Israel. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.
The atmosphere in the month following the assassination of the former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh has been tense, with the Houthi rebels tightening their grip on northern Yemen. Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan report at the Washington Post.
Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that it would suspend exports of weapons and ammunition to the U.A.E. due to concerns about their use in the war in Yemen. Reuters reports.
There should be “no doubt or fear as the defense of Pakistan is in competent and strong hands,” the Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir said today, adding that Pakistan would be ready to face any U.S. action after Trump tweeted earlier this week that Pakistan was offering a safe haven to terrorists. Washignton confirmed yesterday that it would withhold £255m in military aid to Pakistan, Zarar Khan reports at the AP.
The third version of Trump’s travel ban “remains equally useless and cruel,” the question of its legality may be considered by the Supreme Court in the coming year, whatever their decision may be, the ban “is bad policy made poorly.” The Washington Post editorial board writes.
The former National Security Agency (N.S.A.) contractor Harold Milton has agreed to plead guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information, according to court filings yesterday. Reuters reports.