The Early Edition: October 5, 2018

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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 to vote this morning on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, following the release of an F.B.I. report into allegations of sexual assault made against the judge. Senators had just a day to review the confidential supplemental background check into Kavanaugh’s conduct in the early-to-mid 1980s when he was in high school and college, Kelsey Snell reports at NPR.

Senators took turns one by one to view the single available copy of the F.B.I. report in the Capitol’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, where they were forbidden from using phones or other transmitting devices, and from taking any written notes away with them. Andrew Duehren and Vivian Salama provide an account at the Wall Street Journal .

Key swing Republicans Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) yesterday indicated that they were reassured by the F.B.I. report, heartening Republicans who believe that along with Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) – the undecided trio’s main concerns about the nominee have now been addressed. Burgess Everett and Elana Schor report at POLITICO.

“It appears to be a very thorough investigation,” Collins commented of the F.B.I. report, while Flake claimed that “we’ve seen no additional corroborating information,” although the two Senators did not give a definitive indication of which way they would vote, Lauren Gambino reports at the Guardian.

Other Republicans moved quickly to claim the report vindicated Kavanaugh, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) claiming that the document “found no hint of misconduct” and that “there’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know.” Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp V report at NBC.

Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstien (Calif) claimed that the F.B.I. report seemed to be “a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House.” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the public release of the F.B.I.’s findings, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report in Washington Post.

With Republicans confident that the Senate will narrowly vote to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination, a final confirmation could come as early as tomorrow. Due to rules introduced by G.O.P. lawmakers last year to end filibusters, today’s vote will require the same 50 senators as the final confirmation tally, Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report at the New York Times.

Several thousand protestors made a late stand at the Capitol against Kavanaugh’s nomination yesterday, marching to the Supreme Court in a demonstration that began with testimonials by sexual assault survivors and that culminated in a sit-down protest in a nearby Senate office building that led to scores of arrests. Elizabeth Williamson reports at the New York Times.

“The harsh and unfair treatment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters,” President Trump claimed in a message on Twitter yesterday, adding “The PEOPLE get it far better than the politicians … Most importantly, this great life cannot be ruined by mean & despicable Democrats and totally uncorroborated allegations!” Matthew Choi reports at POLITICO.

Trump last night cast Kavanaugh as a victim of political warfare, claiming Democrats “have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh since the very first second he was announced” and lamenting “what they’re putting him through” during a speech to supporters in Rochester, Minn. Trump told the crowd that Kavanaugh will “potentially, hopefully” be on the Supreme Court in short order, Jonathan Allen reports at NBC.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens commented yesterday that he no longer believes Kavanaugh should be confirmed, citing Kavanaugh’s heated performance during the Senate hearing last Thursday. Robert Barnes reports at the Washington Post.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) has announced that she will vote against Kavanaugh’s nomination, despite G.O.P. hopes that she would lend her support to the nominee. Elana Schor explains at POLITICO.

A “fact-box” on the six people known to have been interviewed during the course of the F.B.I. investigation into Kavanaugh, as well as 20 more who may have relevant information but who were not known to have been contacted by the bureau, is provided at Reuters.

KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“I will keep an open mind in every case and always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law,” Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh writes at the Wall Street Journal, acknowledging that at last Thursday’s hearing “ I might have been too emotional at times … I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said.”

“The F.B.I.’s investigation into … Kavanaugh has turbocharged the partisan passions surrounding the appellate judge’s Supreme Court nomination and fueled even uglier divisions in the Senate,” Mariane Levine and Kyle Cheney comment in an analysis at POLITICO.

The Senate should vote “no” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, the Washington Post editorial board comments, claiming that “senators have not been given sufficient information to consider him — and … he has given them ample evidence to believe he is unsuited for the job … the country deserves better.”

Kavanaugh is “a distinguished nominee” and “the charges against him are uncorroborated,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues, claiming that the Senate must vote “yes” to Kavanaugh’s nomination today.

“Lawmakers can’t claim to respect sexual assault survivors and then ignore them,” Maria Gallagher argues at the New York Times, having confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) at an elevator door last week following Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

RUSSIA: CYBERSECURITY

Western nations launched a “transatlantic offensive” against Moscow’s espionage activities yesterday, accusing Russian military intelligence of a bold cyber crime campaign aimed at targets across the globe. The legal assault was led by the U.S. and Netherlands governments, accusing Russia’s G.R.U. military intelligence agency of a litany of hacking attacks – including a thwarted incursion of the international chemical weapons watchdog and the sports agencies that had accused Russia of state-sponsored doping, David Bond, Mehreen Khan and Kadhim Shubber report at the Financial Times.

Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld announced that the G.R.U. had hacked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) in April, with the Netherlands responding by expelling four Russian intelligence officers. The attack on the watchdog coincided with investigators’ attempts to look into an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma – which the pro-Syrian Russian administration had written off as a “fabrication,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The European Union’s (E.U.) top officials decried the Russian aggression, with head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, E.U. President Donald Tusk and the E.U.’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini claiming in a statement: “we deplore such actions, which undermine international law and international institutions … the E.U. will continue to strengthen the resilience of its institutions and those of its member states, and international partners and organizations in the digital domain,” Reuters reports.

The U.S. Department of Justice (D.O.J.) unveiled charges yesterday against seven Russian military intelligence officials for their role in the sweeping cyber-attacks. Trump administration officials disclosed a 41-page indictment filed in federal district court in Pittsburgh, targeting members the G.R.U. for launching a four-year hacking campaign against the Colorado-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency and several other global sporting groups, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The U.K. weighed in yesterday to state its belief that the G.R.U. was responsible for a series of major hacks, including the disclosure of doping-test results from U.S. and other athletes, also corroborating U.S. agencies’ conclusion that the G.R.U. was behind for the 2016 leak of Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) emails. The British Foreign Office labeled the attacks as “indiscriminate and reckless,” Max Colchester and Dustin Volz report at the Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday’s disclosures mark “one of the most embarrassing months ever for Russia’s military intelligence,” Andrew Roth comments in an analysis of the events at the Guardian.

RUSSIA: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that Russia’s violation of an arms control treaty was “untenable” and the U.S. would have to respond unless Moscow changed course. Despite Russia’s denial, the U.S. believes that Moscow is developing a ground-launched system in breach of a Cold War treaty – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) – that could allow its military to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice, Reuters reports.

India could soon face U.S. sanctions following a controversial $5 billion weapons deal with Russia, involving the transfer of a high-tech S-400 missile defense system. Manveena Suri and Steve George explain at CNN.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

China today angrily denounced renewed U.S. accusations that it is interfering in the upcoming midterm elections. In a wide-ranging speech delivered last night, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence claimed that Beijing was meddling in the vote in response to President Trump’s tough trade stance, commenting that “China wants a different American president;” today, China hit back labeling Pence’s accusation as “ridiculous.” Al Jazeera reports.

The Pentagon is set to release a report today accusing China of attempting to undermine the U.S. military’s industrial base, in the latest U.S. “jab” aimed at Beijing. The report, ordered by President Trump last year, identifies nearly 300 “vulnerabilities” that could affect the supply of critical materials and other supplies essential to support the United States military, with China controlling the vast majority of the world’s rare earths materials used to produce high-tech defense equipment, Joshua Berlinger and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

Senate Democrats yesterday asked the Trump administration for evidence backing up Trump’s recent assertions regarding China’s alleged electoral meddling, with three Democratic Senators sending a letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats asking whether the accusations from Trump that China wants to hurt him politically due to his stance on trade “aligns with the intelligence community’s assessments of Beijing’s intentions, plans and activities.” Dustin Volz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Pence’s comments have escalated U.S.-China friction beyond a trade war, Keith Johnson and Elias Groll comment at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

The northwestern Syrian province of Idlib is clinging on to a tenuous ceasefire as the 10 October cut-off date approaches, with uncertainty surrounding whether rebel fighters are in fact withdrawing tanks and artillery from the 15-20 km buffer zone between opposition and regime forces. Turkish negotiators are reportedly ironing out implementation problems with rebel leaders, with some factions still concerned that too much territory is being ceded in the deal, Bethan McKernan writes in an analysis at the Guardian.

Turkey will not leave Syria until the Syrian people hold an election, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced yesterday, stating that at a forum in Istanbul that “we will leave Syria to its owners after they hold their elections.” 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

The Trump administration is putting greater emphasis on Iran and its proxies, according to a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy document released yesterday that further increases pressure on Tehran. Reuters reports.

The new strategy was promoted by administration officials as a new approach to fighting terrorism in a “landscape more fluid and complex than ever,” although it appears to embrace several of the principles “adopted and refined” by the former Bush and Obama administrations. The focus on Iran mirrors the preoccupations of national security adviser John Bolton, who in a briefing to reporters described Iran as “the world’s central banker of international terrorism since 1979,” Mark Landler and Eric Schmidtt report at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Jerusalem’s mayor has announced plans to remove the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (U.N.W.R.A.) from Israeli capital city to “end the lie of the Palestinian refugee problem.” Al Jazeera reports.

The head of a U.N.-mandated team of investigators on Yemen has accused Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. of interfering in his panel’s work, which accuses all parties in the Yemeni conflict of human rights abuses. Al Jazeera reports.

An analysis of the role of Blackwater founder and “mercenary executive” Erik Prince in the Afghanistan conflict is provided by Mujib Mashal at the New York Times.

President Trump is reportedly considering ousting Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson over her handling of his directive to establish a U.S. Space Force. Lara Seligman explains at Foreign Policy. 

Filed under:
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).