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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.
Prosecutors attached to special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday accused former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of repeatedly lying to them, accusing Manafort of breaching his plea agreement with Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Manafort denied intentionally misleading the investigators, but both parties agreed in a court filing that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the District of Columbia should set sentencing immediately, Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.
Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiring against the U.S. and obstruction of justice in September, and had agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe. Mueller’s office yesterday indicated that it will file a detailed submission describing Manafort’s subsequent misconduct at a later date, Aruna Viswanatha and Shelby Holliday report at the Wall Street Journal.
Manafort’s defense team claimed that he had met repeatedly with Mueller’s office and “believes he has provided truthful information.” Prosecutors, however, claimed that Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement – though under the terms of the deal, Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea. Shaon LaFraniere reports at the New York Times.
The development came only hours after President Trump launched a fresh attack against Mueller, sending a pair of messages on Twitter stating: “when Mueller does his final report, will he be covering all of his conflicts of interest in a preamble, will he be recommending action on all of the crimes of many kinds from those “on the other side”(whatever happened to Podesta?), and will he be putting in statements from hundreds of people closely involved with my campaign who never met, saw or spoke to a Russian during this period? So many campaign workers, people inside from the beginning, ask me why they have not been called (they want to be). There was NO Collusion & Mueller knows it!” Jon Swaine reports at the Guardian.
“The ultimate significance of the breakdown between Manafort’s team and Mueller’s office is hard to assess and may be limited,” Josh Gerstein writes at POLITICO, noting also that the fallout presents a renewed opportunity for Mueller’s prosecutors to air some of the evidence in their possession including details about alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos begun his two-week prison term yesterday, having pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his links with Russia-linked individuals. Papadopoulos’ sentence – which he received earlier this year – comes after he unsuccessfully sought to postpone his prison term, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Right-wing commentator Jerome Corsi – an associate of political operative and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone – announced yesterday that he will reject what he claims is a plea deal from Mueller. According to Corsi, two email exchanges from 2016 – in which Stone and another associate encouraged contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – were at issue in the plea talks, but Corsi maintains that he has never communicated with Assange, Reuters reports.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is requesting that the Senate Judiciary Committee hold a hearing on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s “conflicts of interest.” Blumenthal sent a letter yesterday to chairman of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asking him to schedule an oversight hearing so Whitaker can testify under oath about his previous criticisms of the Mueller probe as well as potential violations of the Hatch Act – a federal law on political activities, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) is pushing the Supreme Court to decline a chance to weigh in on whether President Trump acted legally when he tapped Matthew Whitaker earlier this month after demanding former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation. Although litigants in several courts have questioned the legality of the move, Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the Supreme Court yesterday that it should stay out of the fallout until lower courts have a chance to make a determination, writing that “no court — in this case or any other — has previously addressed the questions petitioner seeks to inject here … the Court therefore should decline petitioner’s request to address those matters in the first instance in this suit,” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said yesterday that it was “awfully tough” for government officials such as Ivanka Trump to comply with agency standards for secure communications when using email. “When things like this come up, it’s important people understand, they need to make sure they’re doing what they can … and it’s awfully tough, as everyone knows, when you’re sending emails about a lot of different things to make sure that you’re doing it according to the rules in the White House or wherever you’re doing it,” Goodlatte said during an interview on CNN, also arguing that Ivanka Trump’s use of a personal email account to conduct government business was “very different” from the private email server Hillary Clinton employed during her time as Secretary of State, Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.
Incoming Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerry Nadler cautioned yesterday that any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump starting in the new Democrat-controlled House would need to clear an obvious partisan bar. In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Nadler outlined a three-pronged test that he said would constitute a legitimate impeachment proceeding, Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.
The Ukrainian parliament has supported a presidential plan to impose martial law in part of the country after Russia captured three of its naval vessels and 23 crew members on Sunday. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that the 30-day order – under which authorities can ban protests and strikes, and citizens can be called up for military duty – would affect border regions vulnerable to potential Russian attack, the BBC reports.
After intense debate 276 lawmakers voted in favor of Poroshenko’s request, after the Ukrainian president accused Moscow of orchestrating a “new phase of aggression.” AFP reports.
The Kremlin along with some Ukrainian opposition figures characterized the move as a domestic political ploy by an embattled president, accusing Poroshenko of fearmongering in order to delay or at least reconfigure the March 31 election that he appears likely to lose, Neil MacFarquhar reports at the New York Times.
Moscow cautioned that the imposition of martial law might trigger renewed hostilities in the separatist-held east. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a “serious concern” about what the martial law might entail, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.
A Ukrainian diplomat was yesterday seen entering the Russian foreign ministry, according to R.I.A. news agency, hours after Moscow promised to summon a Ukrainian representative to discuss Sunday’s incident in the Kerch Strait, Reuters reports.
N.A.T.O. said its ambassadors and Ukraine’s envoy would hold emergency talks in Brussels at Poroshenko’s request after he had spoken to N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The alliance called for “restraint and de-escalation” and appealed to Russia to “ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov in accordance with international law,” Julian Borger and Jon Henley report at the Guardian.
U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo urged the parties “to refrain from any ratcheting up of actions or rhetoric,” also calling for an “immediate de-escalation” of tensions in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and “earnest attempts” to find a peaceful resolution to years of simmering conflict between the two countries. The U.N. News Centre reports.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley yesterday criticized Russia’s seizure of the ships as “dangerous” and “arrogant,” expressing the U.S.’ support for Kiev at the opening of an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting that she called to discuss Sunday’s incident. Accusing Russia of violating international law, she launched a broadside against Moscow for what she described as “yet another reckless Russian escalation” of the situation in Ukraine, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
President Trump yesterday said that the U.S. will cooperate with Europe to address the escalating tensions, telling reporters as he departed the White House for a campaign trip to Mississippi: “we do not like what’s happening either way … we don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it’ll get straightened out … I know Europe is not, they are not thrilled … they’re working on it too … we’re all working on it together.” The remarks mark Trump’s first on Sunday’s events, with Trump having previously drawn criticism for his reluctance to condemn Russia over its seizure of Crimea among other topics, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.
In the 24 hours following Sunday’s events a number of foreign lawmakers weighed in to express their grave concern and call for a de-escalation, including: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, the foreign ministers of Germany, the U.K. and Canada, European members of the Security Council, including France, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands and the U.K., in addition to a number of U.S lawmakers, Nicole Gaouette reports at CNN.
The Kremlin yesterday announced that President Trump and and Russian President Vladimir Putin are still expected to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit despite the flaring crisis in Ukraine. “This meeting is being prepared,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked if the developing altercation with Kiev would impact the planned meeting although the White House did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the meeting is still expected to take place, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Sunday’s incident marked “a violation of international law and a dangerous escalation of the undeclared war the Kremlin has waged for more than four years against Ukraine in Crimea,” the New York Times editorial board comments.
Western powers “should make clear they are not prepared to see Russia in effect annex the Azov Sea as it did Crimea … and [that they] will impose robust new sanctions unless Moscow guarantees safe passage to Ukrainian ships,” the Financial Times editorial board comments.
Live updates on the escalating fallout are provided at the AP.
U.S. military and immigration officials are considering proposals to extend the deployment of troops along the Mexican border beyond their original mid-December end date, according to four U.S. officials. The Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) has reportedly not yet made a formal request for the troops to stay, nor has the Pentagon issued updated orders, but one of the officials described an extension as “very likely,” Nancy A. Youssef and Alicia A. Caldwell report at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump yesterday suggested without citing evidence that some of the migrants who were tear-gassed at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday were “grabbers” who took others’ children to protect themselves. In an exchange with reporters, Trump also threatened to close the southern border “for a long time, claiming that three U.S. agents were “very badly hurt” by rocks and stones thrown by migrants during the unrest, Philip Rucker and Felicia Somnez report at the Washington Post.
An analysis of how the developments at the Mexican border will affect relations between the U.S. and new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López is provided by Azam Ahmed and Elisabeth Malkin at the New York Times.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) is considering sending inspectors to investigate an alleged poison gas attack by rebels in Syria that left dozens wounded, although the rebels deny carrying out any poison gas attacks and have accused the government of trying to undermine a truce reached by Russia and Turkey in September. O.P.C.W.. Director-General Fernando Arias yesterday told a meeting of the organization’s member states in The Hague that the watchdog has been in touch with U.N. experts “to assess the security situation on the ground for a possible deployment” of a fact-finding mission, Mike Corder reports at the AP.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 168 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Nov.11. and Nov. 17. [Central Command]
A Palestinian man rammed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank yesterday before being shot and killed, the Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) announced, claiming that three I.D.F. soldiers were wounded in the attack. The AP reports.
Israeli police have arrested 32 Palestinians in east Jerusalem, accusing them of illegally working with Palestinian security services. Interim peace accords state that Israeli residents are not allowed to cooperate with Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, the AP reports.
Turkish police searched a remote villa in a coastal area southeast of Istanbul yesterday as part of the investigation into last month’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to officials. Reuters reports.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vm.) is planning to force a vote this week on ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen. In an email to supporters, Sanders claimed that “this week I will go to the floor of the United States Senate” to force a vote on the resolution, adding that “despite Trump’s venal support for the Saudi regime, I am confident that we now stand an excellent chance to win this vote which I plan on bringing back to the Senate floor this week,” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
U.S. and Czech forces are under investigation after an Afghan commando was returned to Afghan custody reportedly “beaten up” and later died. The Daily Beast reports.