The Early Edition: August 15, 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

Former top White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman claimed yesterday that President Trump knew about Democrat campaign emails stolen by Russian hackers before the emails were made public during the 2016 presidential election. When asked on MSNBC whether Trump knew about the communications before WikiLeaks began releasing them in the summer of 2016, Manigault Newman replied “absolutely,” Peter Nicholas reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“I didn’t say that, you did” Manigault Newman hit back when asked by the reporter whether she was implying that Trump had a back channel to WikiLeaks, though she added: “I will say that I am going to expose the corruption that went on in the campaign and in the White House.” In the run-up to the 2016 election, WikiLeaks released a volume of emails stolen from Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) servers and the personal inbox of candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman; the U.S. intelligence community has found that officials belonging to Russia’s G.R.U. military intelligence unit were responsible. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Manigault Newman would not confirm whether she has appeared before a grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference the 2016 election, but she did say that Mueller’s team had interviewed her. Stephanie Murray reports at POLITICO.

House Republicans are preparing for a private interview with Department of Justice (D.O.J.) official Bruce Ohr, which is expected to take place later in August. Ohr is the latest target among conservatives who claim that there is copious evidence of anti-Trump bias within D.O.J. and F.B.I. during the 2016 election. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Former F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok yesterday thanked his supporters, sending a message on Twitter stating that he is “stunned and humbled” as a GoFundMe page raised more than $250,000 for him in less than 24 hours following his dismissal from the F.B.I. Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

Strzok’s firing will not make the Russia investigation go away, but seems to have been employed as a “message to public servants: Here’s what will happen to you if you cross the president.” Quinta Jurecic comments at the New York Times.

The dismissal of Strzok sets a dangerous precedent and must be explained by the bureau, John Cassidy argues at the New Yorker.

The F.B.I.’s culture of truth was damaged during former Director James Comey’s tenure, the Wall Street Journal Editorial board comments, arguing that while more needs to be done to restore public trust in the bureau, “firing Mr. Strzok had to be done.”

An analysis of how hedge fund manager Bill Browder became Russia’s “most wanted man” is provided by Joshua Yaffra at the New Yorker.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton will meet Russian officials in Geneva next week as a follow-up to the President Trump’s one-on-one summit meeting last month in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House said. Bolton will also visit Israel and Ukraine for meetings with officials during the same trip, Reuters reports.

Bolton and his counterpart will discuss a “range of important national security issues,” according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The U.S. last week imposed stringent sanctions on Russia for its alleged use of Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the U.K. earlier this year, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The U.S. raised concerns yesterday regarding Russia’s pursuit of new space weapons, including a mobile laser system to destroy satellites in space, and the launch of a new inspector satellite allegedly behaving in an “abnormal” way. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance – Yleem D.S. Poblete – told the U.N.’s Conference on Disarmament that Russia’s pursuit of counter-space capabilities was “disturbing,” though a Russian delegate at the conference dismissed Poblete’s remarks as baseless and libelous, Reuters reports.

Russia yesterday claimed that it is willing to discuss its strategic weapons with the U.S. after Putin reportedly pushed Trump for talks on arms control. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed that Moscow is open to a dialogue surrounding its new weapons – despite these weapons not falling under the Soviet-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Jaqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

“We maintain our stance on these restrictive measures … this does not bode well for the bilateral relations,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call yesterday, referring to the text of a bipartisan bill published by the U.S. Congress that includes restrictions on investment in new Russian sovereign debt and prohibits several state-run Russian banks from operating in the United States. Reuters reports.

Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has named three Department of Homeland Security agents – Todd Hyman, Aleksandr Schwartzman and Svetlana Angert – as being on the Kremlin’s “most-wanted” list. Michael Weiss explains why at The Daily Beast.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

Turkey today announced significant fresh tariffs on various U.S. products including cars, alcohol and tobacco. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay claimed that the measures were in response to “the deliberate attack of the U.S. administration on our economy,” with the lira initially having plunged against the dollar in the wake of the political spat between the two N.A.T.O. allies, Jethro Mullen reports at CNN.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said today that Turkey will continue talks with the U.S. if it shows a constructive stance to resolve the diplomatic dispute, although he added that there are no talks planned between Erdogan and President Trump. Reuters reports.

Kalin said further that said he expects problems with the U.S. to be resolved but that Washington must stop trying to influence Turkey’s judiciary. Kalin also told a news conference that Turkey would exercise its contractual rights if the U.S. does not deliver F-35 jets to Ankara, Reuters reports.

The U.S. has warned that further economic penalties may be imposed on Turkey if it refuses to release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, according to a White House official speaking anonymously yesterday. The message emerged a day after White House national security adviser John Bolton met privately with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic about Brunson’s case, with Bolton cautioning that the U.S. is not prepared to give any ground. Reuters reports.

A Turkish court has rejected Brunson’s renewed appeal to be released from house arrest and for his travel ban to be lifted, although an upper court is yet to rule on the appeal, his lawyer said today. Reuters reports.

U.S. and European intelligence and counterterrorism officials said yesterday that the rising tensions between President Trump and Erdogan could jeopardize information sharing and law enforcement cooperation between the two countries as they fight the Islamic State group in Syria. Military commanders claimed that plans were still underway for U.S. and Turkish troops to conduct joint patrols near former Islamic State stronghold Manbij, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

In the wake of U.S. sanctions against both nations, Turkey and Russia are forging closer diplomatic ties. David Gauthier-Villars reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Answers to five questions about the U.S.-Turkey dispute: how did we get here; how has the global economy responded; what’s at stake for Washington; what’s Turkey’s strategy; and can Trump and Erdogan make this right? are provided by Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman at Foreign Policy.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan government forces appear to have pushed Taliban insurgents out of the provincial capital of Ghazni after days of fighting. The Taliban launched a large-scale assault on the strategic city on Thursday and the status of the Afghan forces clearance operations remains unclear, the AFP reports.

At least 1,500 Afghan troops and U.S. air support were needed to counter the Taliban assault on Ghazni. Craig Nelson, Habib Khan Totakhil and Ehsanullah Amiri provide an overview of the Taliban attempt to overrun the city at the Wall Street Journal.

The Taliban fighters’ use of civilian homes in Ghazni demonstrates “their willingness to put innocent people in harm’s way,” the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, adding that the tactics are “part and parcel of what they’ve done the past 20 years.” Robert Burns reports at the AP.

Taliban fighters have killed at least 40 Afghan troops in an attack today on a military outpost in the northern Baghlan province, according to officials, marking the latest in a series of Taliban attacks on soldiers across the country. Al Jazeera report 

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).