The Early Edition: October 4, 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 Senate is set for a critical vote tomorrow on judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, paving the way for a final vote by the weekend, with the F.B.I. report on the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh expected in the Senate chamber by this morning. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last night laid the ground for tomorrow’s vote, telling the Senate floor that the body would receive the results of the bureau’s time-restricted probe in the coming hours, John Bresnahan, Elana Schor and Burgess Everett report at POLITICO.

“We will not be intimidated by these people,” McConnell declared yesterday in another floor speech – referring to protestors who had earlier accused McConnell of ignoring survivors of sexual assault. “There is no chance in the world that they’re going to scare us out of doing our duty,” McConnell told the Senate floor, before moving forward with arrangements for tomorrow’s vote. Carl Hulse and Jonathan Martin report at the New York Times.

The White House has reportedly found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, having examined interview reports from the F.B.I.’s investigation into the judge’s background, according to people familiar with the matter. However, it was unclear whether the White House had completed its review of the material, and in any case the White House’s conclusions from the report are not definitive at this point in the confirmation process, Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael C. Bender, Kristina Peterson and Natalie Andrews report at the Wall Street Journal.

The F.B.I.’s report will reportedly be available at a sensitive compartmented information facility (S.C.I.F.) in the Capitol Visitor Center, a secure room designed for senators to look over classified material. A single physical copy of the report will be made available, with only senators and 10 committee staffers given clearance to view the material, Seung Min Kim, John Wagner and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

Senate Republicans are intensifying attempts to undermine the credibility of California Professor Christine Blasey Ford – the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault – by confronting Ford with a sworn statement from a former partner who has taken issue with a number of claims Ford made during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. Committee Chair Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) made reference to the former boyfriend’s statement in a letter sent Tuesday night to Ford’s lawyers, demanding that they disclose material that could be used to assess her veracity, Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

Ford’s lawyers last night expressed disappointment in the F.B.I.’s investigation into Kavanaugh, claiming in a statement that “an F.B.I. supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation … we are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth,” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“The Senate Should Not Confirm Kavanaugh,” over a thousand law professors argue in an open letter at the New York Times, claiming that “ we are united … in believing that he did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament requisite to sit on the highest court of our land.”

 The Democrats must “fight fire with fire” and pursue a more aggressive strategy in influencing the F.B.I., Matthew Miller comments at POLITICO Magazine, providing suggestions for Democratic lawmakers’ next moves.

The scope of the F.B.I.’s probe ultimately seems to have remained strictly curtailed, Matt Zapotosky, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Tom Hamburger and Devlin Barrett comment in an analysis at the Washington Post.

An analysis of the position of Republican swing voters Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in the run-up to tomorrow’s crucial vote is provided by Elana Schor at POLITICO.

Three questions for Judge Kavanaugh are outlined by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times: 1. Isn’t an itsy-bitsy lie still a lie?; 2. Do you have empathy for those who aren’t so blessed as yourself?; and 3. What should we make of your rage and partisanship?

TRUMP-RUSSIA

An ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin reached out to at least three additional individuals in close contact with the Trump transition team, in the days before President Trump’s inauguration team, according to communications seen by reporters. The communications from Russian sovereign Wealth Fund C.E.O. Kirill Dmitriev, suggest that the previously reported meetings between Trumpworld Associate Erik Prince and Dmitriev in the Seychelles was a “single strand of a broader campaign,” Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banco report at The Daily Beast.

A top F.B.I. official met with Democratic Party lawyers to talk about allegations of Trump-Russia collusion weeks before the 2016 election, and before the bureau secured a search warrant relating to Trump’s campaign, congressional investigators have confirmed. Former F.B.I. general Counsel James Baker met during the 2016 season with at least one attorney from the Democratic National Committee’s private law firm Perkins Coie – the same outfit that was used by Democratic Candidate Hilary Clinton’s campaign to secretly fund the report compiled by former British intelligence agent Christoper Steele to compile a dossier that contained salacious but unsubstantiated allegations regarding President Trump, John Solomon reports at the Hill.

 SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that his country has reached a “major understanding” with Arab states, following years of hostility over the country’s civil war. Making the remarks in an interview published yesterday in Gulf newspaper Al-Shahed, Assad did not name the specific Arab countries, but claimed that Arab and Western delegations have started to visit Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the European Union (E.U.) to assist in the rebuilding of Syria, claiming that international help will encourage refugees to repatriate. Putin made the remarks following talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in St. Petersburg, the AP reports.

“I have every reason to believe that we will achieve our goals,” Putin said, referring to the demilitarized zone set up by Russia and Turkey in the northwestern province of Idlib, adding that “that means, no large scale military actions are expected there … military action for the sake of military action is unnecessary,” also stating that he hopes all foreign forces eventually leave the country, Reuters reports.

The U.S. is stalling over the establishment of joint patrols with Turkey in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, previously agreed by the two nations, a spokesperson for Turkish 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]

IRAN

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the U.S. is withdrawing from the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights, which had provided the basis for normalizing relations between Washington and Tehran, encompassing diplomatic and economic exchanges. The “largely symbolic” move came just hours after top U.N. court the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.) ruled that U.S. sanctions imposed against Tehran this year must not prevent food, medicine and aircraft parts from reaching Iran, Edward Wong and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton lambasted the I.C.J. as “politicized and ineffective,” claiming that the U.S. would review all international agreements that could leave it exposed to binding decisions. Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

A Palestinian teenager was killed yesterday when a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a border protest hit him in the head, according to Gaza health officials. A Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson claimed that the incident had occurred near to the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip and that 24 people had been wounded, Al Jazeera reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off a visit to Israel yesterday, with Iranian nuclear ambitions and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among issues on the agenda in scheduled talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reuters reports.

YEMEN

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels yesterday announced the release of two sons of late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to Yemeni officials. Omani officials and U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths helped negotiate the release of Salah and Madian Saleh – both of whom are reportedly being flown to Jordanian capital Amman, Reuters reports.

Yemen’s southern separatist movement called yesterday for an uprising in the port city of Aden and the southern provinces against the country’s internationally-recognized government in exile. Tensions between U.A.E.-backed southern separatists and the Saudi-based government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi highlight the complexity of country’s war, with both sides allied against the Houthi rebels who control the capital of Sana’a, Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday called a former double agent Sergei Skripal a traitor and a “scumbag,” but brushed aside the notion that Moscow would target him in a poison attack. Skripal was sickened in the Novichok nerve agent attack in March in the U.K. town of Salisbury, Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

The U.K. today accused Russian G.R.U. military intelligence agency of orchestrating a host of cyber-attacks geared to undermine Western democracies by sowing confusion, in contexts ranging from the 2016 U.S. presidential election to the global chemical weapons watchdog. “The G.R.U.’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other countries,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented, Reuters reports.

“I’m very happy to be going back to get another chance to continue to advance the commitment that [North Korean leader] Chairman Kim [Jong-un] and President Trump made back in Singapore in the second week of June,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing at the State Department, ahead of his trip to Pyongyang this weekend. “I’m optimistic that we’ll come away from that with better understandings, deeper progress and a plan forward, not only for the summit between the two leaders but for us to continue the efforts to build out a pathway for denuclearization,” Pompeo added, Reuters reports.

The F.B.I. yesterday arrested Navy veteran William Clyde Allen III in relation to the envelopes sent to the Pentagon earlier this week that contained the raw materials for the deadly poison ricin – addressed to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Dave Phillips reports at the New York Times. 

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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).