The Early Edition: October 2, 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.

KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION

The White House yesterday relaxed some of the limits it had originally imposed on the F.B.I.’s investigation into sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, authorizing the bureau to interview whoever agents feel necessary. The move comes after efforts by Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who reportedly consulted with the White House counsel’s office to ensure that the probe would be thorough, Peter Alexander, Geoff Bennett and Ken Dilanian report at NBC.

Even the broadened probe retains various limitations: the F.B.I. will not conduct an unfettered review of Kavanaugh’s drinking habits in his youth or examine statements Kavanaugh made about his alcohol consumption during Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to determine whether those answers were misleading, according to people familiar with the matter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced yesterday that he intends to hold a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination “this week,” Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

“People need to understand that we’ve done what’s asked,” claimed Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), adding that “we’ve asked [Flake, Collins and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)] what they need, and this is what they said, so my assumption is once they’re satisfied with the results of the supplemental investigation, they’ll be satisfied to go ahead and vote.” McConnell has adjusted his strategy to appeal to the trio of Senate Judiciary Committee members who “remain on the fence,” John Bresnaha and Burgess Everett report at POLITICO.

Trump yesterday lashed out at Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, reiterating that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) lied about his service in Vietnam, blaming Sen. Dianne Feinstein for leaking California Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s confidential letter accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault and lambasting Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) for running Newark “into the ground” during his tenure as mayor, Catie Edmonson reports at the New York Times.

Reports have emerged regarding Kavanaugh being questioned by police in September 1985, following an altercation at a bar, with the revelations emerging as Kavanaugh’s past behavior – in particular relating to alcohol – is coming under close scrutiny. Sabrina Siddiqui and Sarah Betancourt report at the Guardian.

“Any nominee who lies to the committee, that is disqualifying,” Flake told reporters yesterday, adding that “if there’s evidence that comes back that corroborates Christine Ford’s story, then all of us will look at it that way.” Speaking at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, Flake claimed that he hoped the Senate could “move on from bitter partisanship” after the battle over the Supreme Court nomination, Stephanie Murray reports at POLITICO.

Kavanaugh’s class at Harvard Law School has been canceled, according to an email sent to students yesterday evening. The Daily Beast reports.

A transcript of the memorandum provided to Republican senators by outside counsel Rachel Mitchell regarding Ford’s allegations is provided at the Wall Street Journal.

KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A comprehensive F.B.I. investigation into the allegations is essential, the Washington Post editorial board comments, drawing attention to some of the remaining constraints that may hamper the bureau’s efforts.

Kavanagh’s response to accusations of past sexual assault has thrown light on his current traits; “his truthfulness, his partisanship and his temperament” are now providing his opponents with a basis for “a new avenue of attack,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg comments at the New York Times.

Kavanaugh’s comments before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday “disqualify him from participating in a wide range of the cases that may come before the Supreme Court,” Laurence H. Tribe argues at the New York Times.

“The demands by anti-Kavanaugh Democrats are blatantly partisan and unfair,” David B. Rivkin Jr. and Kristi Remington comment at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that “if countenanced, they would politicize the FBI and destroy the judicial confirmation process.”

The response to the Kavanaugh hearing is symptomatic of male rage, as misogynistic movements across the world respond to a perceived loss of male power and status, Gideon Rachman comments at the Financial Times.

An analysis of the continuing partisan fallout surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation process is provided by Chris Cillizza at CNN.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told the Seoul parliament yesterday that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal could house from 20 bombs to as many as 60, marking Seoul’s first public comment regarding the size of the North’s secret weapons hoard. However, the unification ministry announced today that Cho’s comments did not mean that South Korea would accept the North as a nuclear state, implying that Seoul’s diplomatic efforts to denuclearize Pyongyang will continue, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

Pyongyang has taken significant measures to end hostile relations between the two countries but the U.S. is “trying to subdue” the North through sanctions, the North’s official news agency commented yesterday, in what appeared to be a signal to Washington that sanctions will have to lifted should the U.S. want further progress in the stalled nuclear negotiations between the two powers. The news report stressed that a declaration replacing a 65-year-old armistice to formally end the Korean war “is not just a gift from a man to another … it can never be a bargaining chip for getting the D.P.R.K. [North Korea] denuclearized,” Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “speeches may read like peace-building” but in fact serve to tacitly endorse Pyongyang’s brutality toward its own people, Greg Scarlatoiu comments at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

A Chinese warship sailed within yards of a U.S. destroyer in the contested South China Sea Sunday, forcing the vessel to change course in what one U.S. official has described as an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter. The U.S.S. Decatur guided-missile destroyer was conducting a “freedom of navigation operation” when it passed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the remote Spratly Islands; China’s defense ministry announced today that a Chinese ship had been sent to warn the craft to leave, describing the U.S. operation as a threat to its sovereignty, the AFP reports.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that he does not think that U.S.-China relations are deteriorating, even after a series of setbacks including the cancellation of his planned visit to Beijing this month. Mattis claimed the U.S. has to learn how to manage its relationship with China, adding: “there’s tension points in the relationship, but based on discussions coming out of New York last week and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse…we’ll sort this out,” Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns report at the AP.

SYRIA

The U.S. and Turkish militaries have commenced training for joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced yesterday. “The training now is under way, and we’ll just have to see how that goes,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Paris, adding “we have every reason to believe the joint patrols will be coming on time, when the training syllabus is complete so that we do it right.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Turkey is hoping to secure control of the region of northern Syria east of the Euphrates river, ridding the area od the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia group, Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday, Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 64 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Sep. 24 and Sep. 30 [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (U.N.R.W.A.) announced yesterday that it is temporarily withdrawing some foreign staff from the Gaza Strip, following concerns about security linked to job cuts in the enclave. U.N.R.W.A. issued a statement claiming that it has “decided to temporarily withdraw part of its international staff from Gaza following a series of worrying security incidents affecting its personnel in the strip,” Al Jazeera reports.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil led dozens of ambassadors to locations near Beirut’s international airport yesterday, in an attempt to dispel Israeli allegations of clandestine Hezbollah rocket-making facilities. Andrea Rosa and Hassan Ammar report at the AP.

RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND MACEDONIA

Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent reinforcements to the area to counter a growing threat from Rusia, according to Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko, who claimed that Moscow has moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region and is now building up its military and naval presence on the Ukrainian border. Reuters reports.

The result of Sunday’s referendum in Macedonia “will be widely seen as a significant victory for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin”, Simon Tisdall comments at the Guardian, characterizing the development as “another disturbing example of Russia’s ability and willingness to influence the democratic process in western countries.”

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met yesterday with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, as part of Manafort’s cooperation agreement in Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election. The session stems from Manafort’s guilty plea last month, requiring him to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly…in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant,” Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

Former F.B.I. Director James Comey has rejected a request from Republicans in Congress to sit for a private interview, as part of their efforts to investigate allegations of bias at the Department of Justice and the D.O.J. “Mr. Comey respectfully declines your request for a private interview,” Comey’s attorney David Kelley wrote in a letter to leaders of the House Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform committees yesterday, adding that Comey “would, however, welcome the opportunity to testify at a public hearing,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Turkey will resist U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Ankara over the trial of detained U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday, accusing Brunson of having “dark links with terror.” Reuters reports.

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday it is working hard to correct mistaken targeting by the U.S.-backed military coalition it is leading in Yemen, following the country’s acceptance on Sept 1 that its August air attack in Sa’ada province killed dozens including children on a bus. Reuters reports. 

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About the Author(s)

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).