The Early Edition: December 6, 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

Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a clandestine Turkish lobbying effort previously involving former national security adviser Michael Flynn, even as Flynn’s role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference winds down, according to people familiar with the inquiry. Mueller had been handling the Turkish lobbying case – at some point referring it back to the prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., who had originally opened the investigation, Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

Mueller’s prosecutors appeared to make reference to the investigation in documents released on Tuesday detailing Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia inquiry. In 2016, Flynn penned an op-ed for the Hill attacking exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen; prosecutors claim that the op-ed targeting Gulen “was valuable to the Republic of Turkey’s efforts to shape public opinion,” and was not written of Flynn’s initiative as he had previously told investigators. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The heavily redacted court documents noted Flynn’s “substantial help” in several unspecified but continuing investigations. Carrie Johnson considers possibilities for what these other investigations might entail in an analysis at NPR.

The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. has privately told friends that he expects an indictment forthcoming from Mueller’s office, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano disclosed yesterday in an interview with “Live PD” executive producer Dan Abrams, John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The boyfriend of alleged Russian agent Maria Butina – G.O.P. political operative Paul Erickson –has been told he may face similar accusations of acting as a covert agent, according to a “target letter” federal investigators sent to Erickson’s lawyer, warning that the investigators are considering charging Erickson for acting as an agent of a foreign government and for conspiracy, Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banc report at The Daily Beast.

A long-standing exception to the double-jeopardy rule will be reconsidered today when the Supreme Court takes up Gamble v U.S.. An explainer is provided at the Economist, noting: “Mueller … is well aware of double-jeopardy rules in states like New York and Virginia where his witnesses reside and may have strategized his charges around them.”

A series of “unanswered questions” regarding acting attorney general Mathew Whitaker is posed by the Washington Post editorial board, with the questions including whether Whitaker examined “the memo that … Mueller … released Tuesday?” … has he seen the material that Mr. Mueller redacted from the document? … has he sought the advice of Justice Department ethics experts on how much he should be involved in the Russia investigation? … If so, what did those experts say?”

U.S. RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday threatened to develop nuclear missiles prohibited under the 1987 the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (I.N.F.), a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Washington would withdraw from the treaty within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the U.S. claims breach the deal. Putin dismissed Pompeo’s statement as a smokescreen, claiming that Washington had already taken the decision to pull out the I.N.F.; “they thought we would not notice,” Putin said adding: “we are against the destruction of this treaty … but if this happens, we will react accordingly,” AFP reports.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated yesterday that the U.S. had yet to provide any evidence Moscow was in breach of the I.N.F., although it added that it was ready to continue discussing the issue with Washington. Spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a briefing that the U.S. embassy in Moscow had handed over a note Tuesday evening saying Washington would quit agreement unless Russia began complying with it – Zakharova commented: “these documents were received for further processing … in them once again there were groundless allegations about our alleged violation of this agreement … we have repeatedly said that this is conjecture … no proof (of our alleged violation) has been presented to us,” Reuters reports.

The U.S. Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer into Russian-claimed waters in the Sea of Japan in what it dubbed a “freedom of navigation” operation yesterday. The Navy said in a statement that the U.S.S. McCampbell destroyer had sailed near Peter the Great Bay “to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the U.S. and other nations,” Alex Johnson reports at NBC.

“With all that currently divides the United States and Russia … these two leaders have the opportunity to take a step that would reassure the world that they each understand the terrible responsibility they bear as custodians of civilization-ending weapons,” Richard Burt and Thomas Countryman comment at POLITICO Magazine, appealing for the preservation of the I.N.F.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called yesterday for an international investigation into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. “I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the [people] responsible for that awful killing,” Bachelet said in response to a question about the need for international intervention at a news conference in Geneva, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Six U.S. Senators have introduced a “scathing” bipartisan resolution to hold the Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman accountable for Khashoggi’s killing on Oct 2. The proposal, introduced yesterday, states the Senate “has a high level of confidence” that Bin Salman “was complicit in the murder,” Al Jazeera reports.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo misled senators last week in their Senate-only briefing on Khashoggi’s murder, Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – excluded from Tuesday’s classified briefing with C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel – said yesterday. Murphy added that senators coming out of the briefing with Haspel undercut the administration’s claim that restricting access to the intelligence was necessary, Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

Lobbyists representing the kingdom’s government reserved series of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the visits and documents obtained by The Washington Post. The transactions will face scrutiny next year from the House’s new Democratic majority – with Democrats claiming that they want to understand Trump’s business links with the Saudi government in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell report at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

Peace talks aimed at ending nearly four years of civil war in Yemen have commenced in Sweden, and have been described by the U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths as an important “milestone.” Griffiths also announced the signing of a prisoner swap deal that would see thousands of families reunited, the BBC reports.

“Without a congressional freeze on weapons to the coalition states … there will never be enough political space for peace negotiations to take root,” Daniel R. Mahanty and Eric Ekinberry comment at Just Security, in an analysis of how reforms to arm sales legislation could prevent U.S. “enabling … other governments’ gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws” – with Yemen as a prime example

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 185 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Nov.18. and Nov. 24. [Central Command]

A suicide car bomber has attacked a police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar, in a rare assault that has killed at least two people and wounded several others, the AP reports.

New satellite images suggest that North Korea has significantly expanded a key long-range missile base located in the mountainous interior of the country, providing a further sign that diplomatic talks with the U.S. have not prevented leader Kim Jong-un from “pursuing his promise to mass produce and deploy the existing types of nuclear warheads in his arsenal,” Zachary Cohen reports in an exclusive at CNN.

The U.K. Parliament yesterday released a trove of internal Facebook communications that show C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg and other executives pursuing “hard-nosed tactics” to suppress competitors, as well as considering a raft of options for monetizing the vast amounts of data the social media collects on its users, Deepa Seetharaman, Stu Woo and Kirsten Grind report at the Wall Street Journal.

Rescue operations are underway today for five U.S. marines missing, after two U.S. military aircraft crashed during a refueling operation off the coast of Japan, according to Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya. One crew member has already been rescued and is thought to be in a stable condition, Iwaya told reporters; a spokesperson for the Japan Self-Defense Forces (S.D.F.) said another crew member had been found though there were no immediate details of that marine’s condition. AFP reports.

“Our common task is not to allow Russia to spill its aggression into the Sea of Azov,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko writes in an Op-Ed at the New York Times, arguing that “an ‘Azov package of sanctions’ against Russia would be the least the world should respond with this time … It is time to respond.” 

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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).