The Early Edition: March 23, 2018

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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 TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

President Trump yesterday named the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton as his national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Trump made the announcement via a message on Twitter and said the appointment would be effective April 9, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Bolton is known for his hawkish foreign policy approach; the announcement comes ahead of potential talks with North Korea and key decisions to be made on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The move also comes a week after the president announced that he would replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the former C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo, who is known for his hardline approach, Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Bolton’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation, the former ambassador’s foreign policy positions include advocating for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea and withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. His aggressive stances have raised concerns among Democrats and some Republicans, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

“Human scum and bloodsucker” were the names that North Korean state media called Bolton in 2003 when he attacked the Pyongyang regime, demonstrating the animosity felt toward the former ambassador and raising concerns about what Bolton’s appointment means for talks between Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled to take place before the end of May. Christine Kim and Josh Smith report at Reuters.

Trump’s announcement yesterday disrupted the White House chief of staff John Kelly’s plan to announce the departure of multiple senior officials in a single statement, according to two senior administration officials. Eliana Johnson reports at POLITICO.

Tillerson made his leaving speech yesterday and called on State Department employees to treat each other well in this “very mean-spirited town.” Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

Bolton’s appointment comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-China relations, particularly as Trump has approved new tariffs on China, has encouraged closer relations with Taiwan and has also called on China to put pressure on North Korea. Christopher Bodeen explains at the AP.

Bolton has held hardline views for a long time, Matthew Haag provides three examples at the New York Times.

Trump and Bolton differ on their approach to Russia and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite sharing similar foreign policy approaches on other issues, such as North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal. Nancy A. Youssef explains at the Wall Street Journal.

Bolton is a “solid and experienced choice” to replace McMaster, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

Trump’s appointment of Bolton demonstrates the shortcomings of the modern conservative movement and how the Republican Party has aligned its interests “with the most cynical political operators of our time.” Joe Scarborough writes at the Washington Post.

Bolton is set to bring a more aggressive foreign policy approach, he also shares Trump’s disdain for multilateral organizations. Colum Lynch and Elias Groll explain at Foreign Policy.

Bolton’s unilateralist worldview has been developed through the prism of militant libertarian ideology and his conception of U.S. sovereignty, Michael Hirsh explains at POLITICO Magazine.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Guccifer 2.0, who pretended to be the “lone hacker” that stole emails from the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) and provided it to WikiLeaks, was a Russian military intelligence officer. Guccifer 2.0 had contacts with the Trump adviser Roger Stone and the investigation into the hacker has been handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen reveal at The Daily Beast.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted yesterday to end the panel’s investigation into Russian interference and adopted a report that concluded the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russian government. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) yesterday issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for all documents relating to the role that the dossier compiled by the former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele – which alleged Trump-Russia connections – played in the decision to authorize surveillance on the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The subpoena also demanded documents relating to former security of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and information related to the firing of F.B.I. deputy director Andrew McCabe, Karoun Demirjian and Sari Horwitz report at the Washington Post.

John Dowd resigned as Trump’s lead lawyer in Mueller’s Russia investigation yesterday, Dowd has been key to negotiating the terms of a possible interview between the president and Mueller and Dowd’s decision has caught some Trump advisers by surprise. Peter Nicholas and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

“I love the president,” Dowd said in a telephone interview after resigning, adding that he wishes Trump the best of luck and he thinks the president “has a really good case.” Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Dowd’s departure and changes to Trump’s legal team are part of preparations for a Trump-Mueller interview, according to sources familiar with the matter. Kristen Welker, Carol E. Lee, Hallie Jackson and Julia Ainsley report at NBC News.

Dowd’s resignation comes amid disagreements over the approach to the Mueller investigation, Jeremy Diamond, Gloria Borger and Pamela Brown explain at CNN.

“John Dowd is the latest to flee Mr. Trump’s legal team, but he won’t be the last,” the New York Times editorial board writes.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

“When I look at the American legislation, I don’t see such robust measures or a robust legislative framework [as the European Union],” the E.U. Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said yesterday, warning the U.S. that it must take stronger action to protect data and making the comments amid the scandal involving the firm Cambridge Analytica and its harvesting of information from Facebook user profiles. Kamal Ahmed reports at the BBC.

“I didn’t even know anything about the Facebook mining,” the former Trump adviser and former board member of Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, said yesterday, adding that “Facebook data is for sale all over the world.” Joanna Walters reports at the Guardian.

Bannon made further comments distancing himself from the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica and downplayed the firm’s role in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, saying that the spotlight on the firm was another example of liberals and “the opposition media” looking for further excuses for why Hillary Clinton lost the election. Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Shannon Band report at the Financial Times.

RUSSIA

“We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security,” leaders of the European Union (E.U.) said in a statement, ascribing responsibility to Russia for the recent nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury. Laurence Norman and Jenny Gross report at the Wall Street Journal.

The E.U. has recalled its ambassador to Russia as part of its response to the nerve agent attack. The BBC reports.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has today opened the possibility of a further response to Russia for the nerve agent attack. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

A key rebel group in the enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital of Damascus announced a ceasefire in the southern part of the area yesterday, the BBC reports.

Airstrikes on the enclave have continued in spite of the ceasefire, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Reuters reports.

President Trump discussed the situation in Syria with the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan in a call yesterday, there have been significant differences between the two countries over the Turkish operation against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

A feature on the Turkish operation in Afrin, and the risks raised by the offensive, is provided by Carlotta Gall at the New York Times.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between March 9 and March 15. [Central Command]

CHINA

President Trump has approved tariffs on Chinese goods up to $60bn, raising the possibility of a trade war and clearly portraying China as a strategic competitor. Mark Landler and Jim Tankersley report at the New York Times.

Trump’s tariff decision comes ahead of a potential summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and suggests that Trump no longer sees China as important in efforts to rein in the Pyongyang regime. James Griffiths provides an analysis at CNN.

A U.S. Navy destroyer today carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation near disputed islands in the South China Sea, which is likely to be seen as provocative in Beijing. Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. will play a role in integration talks between the Taliban and the Afghan officials, the top U.S. commander for the war in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said yesterday. Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

Russia has been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and has smuggled arms to the militants, Gen. Nicholson also said yesterday. Justin Rowlatt reports at the BBC.

SAUDI ARABIA

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday denied that he claimed that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was “in his pocket,” responding to a report in The Intercept. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

The State Department yesterday approved a sale of around $670m in arms to Saudi Arabia, the proposed package is expected to be questioned by Congress, particularly as there have been recent efforts to halt U.S. military support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.

U.S. and U.K. arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels have caused “enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” Amnesty International said in a statement today. The AP reports.

Saudi Arabia “is part of the solution” to the civil war in Yemen, the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Attorneys representing Saudi Arabia in a U.S. lawsuit over the country’s alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks have filed a “tag-along action” accusing Iran of playing a role in the attacks, Al Jazeera reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A gunman has taken hostages at a supermarket in southern France, a prosecutor says the gunman claims to be a member of the Islamic State group. The BBC reports.

The chief war crimes prosecutor at Guantánamo, who was fired without explanation, has said that he was considering plea deals in the 9/11 case and U.S.S. Cole bombing case, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald. 

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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