The Early Edition: June 18, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating a meeting between President Trump’s adviser Roger Stone and a Russian national during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Stone’s friend Michael Caputo, who is a witness in the probe. Stone has alerted House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about the meeting, which he failed to disclose in his testimony before congressional investigators in September; a meeting that he says was prompted by an offer of information detrimental to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Shelby Holliday reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian national, Henry Greenberg, reportedly wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, according to Stone, who recalled that he replied “you don’t understand Donald Trump … he doesn’t pay for anything,” before rejecting the offer. Manuel Roig-Franzia and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

Caputo, who spoke to Greenberg on the phone, claimed that he “assumed [Greenberg] was a U.S. citizen,” adding that “it was May 2016 … Nobody was talking about Russia, collusion, etc.” Caputo said he now believes the Russian who met with Stone was an F.B.I. informant because “the O.S.C. [Office of Special Counsel] knew more about it than I did.” He added that it was not until prosecutors informed him that Greenberg was Russian that he learned the man he had spoken with in 2016 was not a U.S. citizen, Maegan Vazquez, Sarah Westwood and Boris Sanchez report at CNN.

Records indicate that although Greenberg was previously an F.B.I. informant, he had stopped working with the agency after 2013, though Caputo told the Washington Post that, “if you believe that [Greenberg] took time off from his long career as an F.B.I. informant to reach out to us in his spare time, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.” Jaqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that he “doubted” the president knew about the reported May 2016 meeting between Stone and Greenberg, claiming that “I certainly didn’t know about it. It’s news to me, I just read it here in the Washington Post.” Martin Pengelly reports at the Guardian

F.B.I agent Peter Strzok has agreed to appear before congressional committees that invite him to testify, his lawyer said in a letter published yesterday, with Strzok having been sternly criticized by the Inspector General last week for exchanging anti-Trump text messages with Lisa Page, an F.B.I. lawyer. Del Quentin Wilber reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Why was the F.B.I.’s sick loser, Peter Strzok, working on the totally discredited Mueller team of 13 Angry & Conflicted Democrats,”  Trump commented in a message yesterday on Twitter, adding, “when Strzok was giving Crooked Hillary a free pass yet telling his lover, lawyer Lisa Page, that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming President? Witch Hunt!” Maegan Vazquez, Jeremy Herb and Laura Jarrett report at CNN.

Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman said Strzok “wants the chance to clear his name and tell his story,” adding that Strzok “thinks that his position, character and actions have all been misrepresented and caricatured, and he wants an opportunity to remedy that.” Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

President Trump went on the offensive Friday in his ongoing tussle with investigators, making comments in an interview to “Fox & Friends” and then to reporters outside the White Whites in which he described a new Justice Department report as confirmation of his claim of a “deep state” conspiracy against him; lambasted the “scum on top” of the F.B.I. who were out to get him; and suggested that former aide Michael T. Flynn did not lie – even though he pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan report at the New York Times.

“I would never want to get involved in that,” Trump replied when he was asked if former F.B.I. Director James Comey should be “locked up,” adding “certainly he, they just seem like criminal acts to me …what he did was so bad in terms of our Constitution, in terms of the well-being of our country. What he did was horrible…Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination.” Eileen Sullivan reports at the New York Times.

A federal judge revoked Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s bail Friday and sent him to jail where he will await trial, citing new charges that Manafort had attempted to influence the testimony of two government witnesses after he had been granted a temporary release. The new felony charges mean that Manafort  cannot remain free even under arduous conditions, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson of District Court for the District of Columbia commented “this is not middle school … I can’t take away his cellphone.” Sharon LaFraniere reports at the New York Times.

Sending Manafort to jail could boost the pressure on him to strike a deal with Mueller, although it is unclear what information Manafort could provide that would interest prosecutors enough to offer significant concessions, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Giuliani said yesterday that he hopes for a thorough investigation into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential campaign, commenting that “it’s crying out for someone to investigate the investigators. There should be a full and complete [Inspector General] report and grand jury investigation of what happened here, after it became the Russia probe…What was the purpose of it? What did they gather?” Luis Sanchez reports at the Hill.

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) claimed yesterday that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) led a meeting Friday with F.B.I. and D.O.J. officials in which lawmakers “went item by item” through outstanding subpoenas from the House intelligence and judiciary committees. Gowdy commented that “Paul made it very clear. There’s going to be action on the floor of the House this week if the F.B.I. and D.O.J. do not comply with our subpoena request … We’re going to get compliance or the House of Representatives is going to use its full arsenal of constitutional weapons to gain compliance.” Kyle Cheney and Aubree Eliza Weever report at POLITICO.

Campaign chiefs for the U.K. movement to exit the European Union appear to have passed documents detailing an American law enforcement investigation on to a Russian official, according to a cache of leaked emails, which indicate that papers – concerning a probe into dark web money laundering and the arrest of Brexit financier George Cottrell – were shared with the Russian embassy in London by Leave.EU campaign group executive Andy Wigmore. Nico Hines reports at the Daily Beast.

Former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier alleging links between Trump and the Kremlin, is asking a U.S. court to throw out a defamation case against him filed on April 16 by three Russian oligarchs: Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan. Steele is accusing the three men of intimidation, Natalka Pisina reports at the BBC.

An explainer of “What The Justice I.G. Report Revealed” is provided at NPR.

Mueller should not wait for Trump to testify before making a decision whether to file any further Russia-related charges, Philip Allen Lacovara comments at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition yesterday conducted airstrikes on the airport in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, according to witnesses, with the coalition strikes supporting the Yemeni government forces’ attempt to retake to the airport and to regain control of the city, which is held by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

It appears that U.N. efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Hodeidah have lost momentum. The Houthis said yesterday that talks had failed and accused the Saudi-led coalition of escalating attacks, the AFP reports.

The battle for Hodeidah is aimed at forcing the Houthis to negotiate an end to the Yemeni conflict, the U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, told reporters today. The AP reports.

“We are still counting on the U.N. attempt to pull a rabbit out of a hat,” Gargash also told reporters. Reuters reports.

“I emphasize my grave worry regarding the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition’s ongoing attacks in Hodeidah,” the U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said today, expressing concern about the impact of the assault on civilians and the wider humanitarian situation in Yemen due to the city being a key entry point for food and supplies. Mohammed Ghobari reports at Reuters.

French Special Forces are in Yemen fighting alongside U.A.E. forces, the French Le Figaro newspaper reported Saturday, citing two military sources. Reuters reports.

Houthi rebels have shelled a village in the center of Yemen today, killing at least eight and wounding 15. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

A timeline setting out the key dates in Yemen’s conflict is provided by Reuters, noting that the pro-Yemeni government forces’ recapture of Hodeidah would mark a turning point in the war.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Taliban yesterday rejected an extension to a three-day cease-fire coinciding with the holy Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr holiday, after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a nine-day extension after a suicide bombing killed 36 people on Saturday, hoping that the Taliban would respond in kind. The AP reports.

The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for Saturday’s suicide bombing, according to the group’s news agency. The bombing occurred two days after the start of the cease-fire, which saw dozens of unarmed Taliban fighters pouring into several Afghan cities to celebrate, prompting unprecedented scenes of soldiers and Taliban insurgents embracing, Ehsanullah Amiri reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The bombing killed 36 people and wounded 65, among them civilians and members of both the Taliban and the Afghan security forces, with officials claiming that the blast was either a suicide bomber or a car bomb. Zabihullah Ghazi and Mujib Mashal report at the New York Times.

The Taliban put out a statement saying they will go back to full-fledged war, reportedly after holding long meetings of their leadership in the Pakistani city of Quetta. The statement reiterated the group’s longstanding demands: that they must negotiate directly with the U.S., and that foreign forces should leave Afghanistan, Najim Rahim and Mujib Mashal report at the New York Times.

“Our fighters will now resume their operations across the country against the foreign invaders and their internal puppets,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera.

The Taliban said that the three-day Eid ceasefire proved the unity of their movement and its “wide national support,” commenting in a statement that “the announcement (of the ceasefire), implementation and the wide national support and welcome of the Mujahideen by the people proves that the demands of the Islamic Emirate and the nation are identical – all want the withdrawal of foreign invaders and establishment of an Islamic government.” Rupam Jain and Qadir Sediqi report at Reuters.

“I truly believe the outlines for a peace deal are now discernible through the haze and dust of war,” U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto had written of the ceasefire. Memphis Barker and Sami Yousafzai report at the Guardian

Dozens of Afghans arrived in the capital Kabul today after travelling across the country on foot, calling for an end to the 17-year war. The Helmand Peace Convoy – which began in the southern city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province – reached the capital after traveling more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) over nearly 40 days, the AP reports.

The march was triggered by a car bomb in Helmand on March 23 that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack, Qadir Sediqi and Mohammad Ismail report at Reuters.

SYRIA

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition has killed 40 fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near the eastern city of Albu Kamal, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.). Reuters and Haaretz report.

The Syrian state media also said today that the U.S.-led coalition carried out the strike. Angus McDowall reports at Reuters.

“There have been no strikes by U.S. or coalition forces in that area,” the U.S.-led coalition’s press office said in response to the Syrian state media and S.O.H.R. reports of the attack near Albu Kamal, which is part of a de-confliction area. The AFP reports.

Iraqi officials said that members of the Shi’ite Iraqi state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) militia were among those who came under attack near Albu Kamal, adding that the cause of the attack was not immediately clear. Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report at the AP.

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) said yesterday that they had captured the strategic village of Dashishah in northeastern Syria from the Islamic State group. The AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 134 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 1 and June 10. [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli military today struck nine targets belonging to the Palestinian Hamas group in the Gaza Strip, responding to Palestinians flying burning kites and balloons across the Gaza border to Israel. Reuters reports.

The Israeli military has said that its drones have shot down over 90 percent of the kites and balloons, nevertheless the low-tech tactics have sparked fires in Israeli territory and caused extensive damage. The AP reports.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told State Department officials not to examine military assistance to Israel in an email last year, saying that “Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights” and that it would not be the U.S. national interest to limit Israel’s access to military equipment. Nahal Toosi reveals at POLITICO.

The Trump administration’s plan for Middle East peace faces huge challenges, as previous failures attest. F. Brinley Bruton and Lawahez Jabari provide an analysis at NBC News.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

“Holding back the ‘war games’ during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiation. Also, quite provocative,” President Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, referring to largescale joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises and his offer last week to suspend the drills after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The suspension of joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises is expected to be announced by both countries this week, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, which cited an unnamed government source, adding that the drills would restart if North Korea failed to keep its promise to denuclearize and that the announcement would likely only relate to major exercises and not more routine military training. Josh Smith reports at Reuters.

Trump yesterday hit back at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) criticisms of the Singapore summit, saying in a message on Twitter that the talks had achieved a halt to nuclear and missile testing, the destruction of launch sites, the return of U.S. hostages and “much more.” Brent D. Griffiths reports at POLITICO.

The American financier, Gabriel Schulze, approached Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner last summer to help set up a back channel between North Korea and the Trump administration, according to current and former U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the secret meetings. Mark Mazetti and Mark Landler reveal at the New York Times.

The back channel established by Kushner led to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s secret trip to Pyongyang ahead of Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.

Sports diplomacy between the two Koreas has taken place today, opening the possibility of inter-Korean sports events and representing an ongoing détente between the North and South which began in January this year. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

Japan has condemned South Korean military exercises near contested islands in the Korean Peninsula, with the Japanese foreign ministry saying in a statement yesterday that it could not accept the drills. The South Korean drills come amid talks that its joint exercises with the U.S. may be suspended to help ease tensions with North Korea, Brad Lendon reports at CNN.

The president needs to extract more concessions from North Korea before canceling the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises as the withdrawal would impact combat readiness and change the power dynamics in the region. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

Trump’s statements on North Korea amount to “gaslighting” and demonstrate his tactic of repeating misinformation in order to obfuscate and distract from the fact that little in terms of concrete action was included in the Singapore declaration. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.  

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

U.S. Cyber Command’s status was elevated by the Pentagon in the spring and is now taking a more aggressive approach in countering cyberattacks. David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.

The possible Russian targeting of undersea cables for spying purposes has come under the spotlight following recent U.S. Treasury Department sanctions against five Russian firms and three Russian individuals, who were accused of having supported Moscow’s “underwater capabilities.” Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Cyber attackers have upped their game in recent years and cyber weapons have emerged as effective tools for states of all sizes. David E. Sanger explains at the New York Times, setting out what the U.S. should consider when it comes to cyber-policy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Satellite images appear to show that Russia has upgraded a nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad, an enclave between Poland Lithuania, with a nuclear weapons expert saying that it is unclear whether nuclear warheads are installed at the site. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

At least 20 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria, there has been no claim of responsibility in the region that has seen an Islamist insurgency led by the Boko Haram extremist group. Ahmed Kingimi reports at Reuters.

A Philippine military offensive against Islamic State group-linked militants near the southern city of Marawi has killed five extremists and led to an exodus of villagers, officials said today. The operation is focused on one of the leaders who led last year’s five-month Islamist militant siege of Marawi. Jim Gomez reports at the AP.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland on Saturday, their conversation following the recent fractious G-7 meeting, which saw increased tensions between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) forces have made further advances in northeastern Libya. The L.N.A. controls most of eastern Libya and is opposed to the internationally recognized government, Al Jazeera reports.

An overview of the latest developments in the South China Sea is provided by Christopher Bodeen at the AP. 

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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

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).