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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.
Today looks set to be packed with developments relating to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Mueller’s s office has reached its deadline for submitting its document detailing how President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly violated his plea agreement; the investigators are expected to file a memo with recommendations for Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s sentencing; former F.B.I. Director James Comey is penned to return to Capitol Hill for a transcribed interview behind closed doors with the House Judiciary and Oversight committees; and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos comes to the end of his two-week prison sentence. Ryan Lucas reports at NPR.
Trump’s legal team has allegedly resumed discussions with Mueller’s office in recent days, marking the first time such discussions have been acknowledged since Trump submitted written responses to questions regarding the possibility of collusion with Russia, according to two people familiar with the matter. The sources would not detail the nature of the discussions – and would not be drawn on whether Mueller is pressing for an in-person interview or how close the process is to concluding, Kirsten Welker reports at NBC.
Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone yesterday lashed out at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.,) following Schiff’s claim that Stone may have made false statements during his congressional testimony, calling Schiff a “con man” and “full of schiff.” Stone made the comments in the course of an “impassioned” speech to a crowd of roughly three dozen at the conservative American Priority conference in Washington, D.C. – days after he exercised his Fifth Amendment rights to decline a Democratic request for further congressional testimony, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.
House intelligence committee members are reportedly keen to have founder of mercenary organization Blackwater – Erik Prince – attend for a further round of interviews about Trump’s links to Russia, according to three members of its incoming Democrat majority. Lawmakers are concerned about Prince’s candor, and have several outstanding questions about Prince’s January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where he allegedly met with an influential Russian magnate, The Daily Beast reports.
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared unlikely yesterday to change its long-standing principle that putting an individual on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy – an outcome that would potentially serve a blow to Manafort, who faces prison time for violating federal fraud laws. Pete Williams reports at NBC.
Tuesday’s heavily redacted filing of the sentencing recommendation memo for Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn spells bad news for the president, offering “a number of significant clues about Mueller’s endgame—all of them boding ill for Trump and those around him,” Norman Eisen comments at POLITICO Magazine.
The top military officer in the U.S. – Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford – said yesterday there has been no discussion of a military response to Russia’s actions against Ukraine near the Sea of Azov involving Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships and detention of their sailors. “There is not a discussion ongoing right now about a military dimension in response to the Sea of Azov,” Dunford told moderator David Ignatius at a Washington Post event, adding: “obviously, my job in uniform is to make sure the president has options available should he decide to respond with military force … but there has been no military response nor has there been a discussion about a military response to the Sea of Azov in public.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
The Pentagon announced yesterday that it carried out a rare flight over Ukraine under the international Open Skies Treaty to “reaffirm U.S. commitment to Ukraine” in the context of heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions, with a Pentagon statement asserting that “Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait is a dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity … the United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere.” The move follows Wednesday’s related development – which saw a U.S. warship sent through the Sea of Japan in an unusual challenge to Russia’s maritime claims in international waters, Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson announced yesterday that Russia must get rid of its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missiles and launchers or at least modify the weapons’ range – in order to return to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.) and avert a U.S. withdrawal from the accord. “Either you rid the system, rid the launcher or change the system where it doesn’t exceed the range” in a verifiable manner, Thompson commented, Reuters reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the U.S. of continuing to meddle in Macedonian domestic affairs by pushing a name accord with Greece to bolster the Balkan state’s bid to join the N.A.T.O. “It’s obvious there is a rampant and continued intervention by the U.S. and E.U. in Macedonia’s domestic affairs,” Lavrov said in an interview with Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton published today, Reuters reports.
The Trump administration’s attempts to extradite the C.F.O. of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. – Meng Wanzhou –mark the start of a “more aggressive phase” in the “technology rivalry” between Washington and Beijing. Canadian authorities arrested Meng on Dec. 1 – the same day that President Trump held a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping – but White House officials have claimed Trump had no advance knowledge of the arrest, Kate O’Keeffe and Bob Davis report at the Wall Street Journal.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government had no involvement in the arrest, the BBC reports.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has announced that he knew about the arrest in advance. Bolton would not give a specific reason for the U.S. request, saying it was a law enforcement matter, but in a radio interview yesterday he disclosed that the U.S. has long been concerned about the role of Huawei and other Chinese tech organizations in the theft of U.S. technological knowledge: “we’ve had enormous concern for years about … the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property to engage in forced technology transfers and to be used really as arms of the Chinese government’s objectives in terms of information technology in particular,” Bolton said, Julian Borger and Lily Kiu report at the Guardian.
State-run Chinese media have accused the U.S. of “hooliganism” over Meng’s arrest, claiming that the U.S. is seeking to use the incident to topple the company. “One thing that is undoubtedly true and proven is the U.S. is trying to do whatever it can to contain Huawei’s expansion in the world simply because the company is the point man for China’s competitive technology companies,” an editorial in China Daily said, The Daily Beast reports.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
Chinese President Xi Jinping today told North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho that he hoped North Korea and the U.S. could “meet each other halfway and address each other’s reasonable concerns … allowing positive progress on the peninsula’s nuclear talks,” according to a statement issued by China’s foreign ministry, Reuters reports.
An analysis of the contrasting narratives on the progress of North Korean denuclearization – coming out of Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang – is provided by Foster Klug and Matthew Lee at the AP.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani has sparked anger after he demanded that Iran-aligned Houthi rebels – currently in control the capital Sanaa and large expanses of territory – hand over power to his government in exile. Yamani made the comments while speaking at the first day of U.N-sponsored peace talks in the Swedish town of Rimbo, giving little indication he was planning to offer concessions to his adversaries, Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S. Senate is set to respond to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi with a vote next week aimed at ending U.S. backing for Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, but it will almost certainly take until 2019 before sweeping changes to Saudi policy get through Congress due to the imminent end of the congressional session. “We don’t have time this year,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) commented, listing the major proposals on offer: sanctions against Saudi officials; a moratorium on weapons transfers; an official condemnation of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman; and a move to end U.S. involvement in Saudi’s Yemen campaign, Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.
A proposed resolution that condemning the militant Palestinian Hamas groups and its attacks on Israel failed to pass the U.N. yesterday, despite a forceful campaign by U.S. and Israel to cast the proposal as a vote on peace and terrorism. The U.S.-drafted resolution drew 87 votes in favor and 57 against, with 33 abstentions, such that it fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed to pass; U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley had argued for a simple majority vote, but a last-minute rule change scuppered that plan – in a development marking a “personal defeat” for Haley as she reaches the end of her tenure, Carol Morello and Loveday Morris report at the Washington Post.
U.N. peacekeepers have verified the existence of a tunnel in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, days after Tel Aviv accused Iran-backed Lebanese militia group Hezbollah of tunneling under the frontier. The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (U.N.I.F.I.L.) announced in a statement that it had “visited a location near Metula in northern Israel” and “can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location,” also announcing that it is “engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action [and] will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon,” Al Jazeera reports.
JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING
Turkey’s Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan has briefed a number of U.S. senators about his nation’s investigation into the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Latest updates on the Khashoggi case at Al Jazeera.
Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to suppress any meaningful inquiry into the Khashoggi case, “we have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the C.I.A., and with other federal agencies, for the release of all U.S. records relating to the Khashoggi murder,” Amrit Singh and James A. Goldston write at Just Security, arguing that such files “should be declassified and made publicly available because they are already the subject of intense public debate and the focus of bipartisan calls in Congress for the facts about who was ultimately responsible.”
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
President Trump has decided to name State Department spokesperson and former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., according to a source familiar with his decision. Trump will allegedly send a tweet this morning about choosing Nauert to replace the outgoing U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her resignation in October, Sabrina Saddiqi reports at the Guardian.
Nauert’s selection comes as “something of a surprise,” with people familiar with the situation – in the context of previous indications that Nauert had fallen out of contention for the post after emerging as an early favourite, Eliana Johnson, Nahal Toosi, Gabby Orr and Daniel Srauss report at POLITICO.
The top military officer in the U.S. – Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford – said yesterday that it was “inexplicable” that technology giants such as Google do not want to work with the Pentagon, even as they seek out business with China where companies have comparatively less freedom. “We are the good guys and it’s inexplicable to me that we would make compromises in order to advance our business interests in China where we know that freedoms are restrained, where we know that China will take intellectual property from companies,” Dunford commented during an event, Reuters reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 185 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Nov.25. and Dec. 1. [Central Command]