The Early Edition: January 9, 2019

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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.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

President Trump last night delivered an assertive televised appeal for his long-promised border wall, telling viewers of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border and leveling blame at congressional Democrats for the partial government shutdown he instigated three weeks ago. Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

“This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said in his nine-minute speech from the Oval Office, adding: “Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis, and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation.” The speech has been widely fact-challenged since its broadcast, Philip Rucker and Felicia Somnez report at the Washington Post.

The president blamed criminal gangs and “vast quantities of illegal drugs” for “thousands of deaths,” citing cases of U.S, citizens “savagely murdered in cold blood” by undocumented immigrants in a grizzly depiction that Democrats have subsequently labeled as fear-mongering, the BBC reports.

The president sought to argue that proposals for a border wall enjoy wide public support. “Law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7bn for a physical barrier,” Trump said, adding: “at the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall … this barrier is absolutely critical to border security … it’s also what our professionals at the border want and need,” David Smith reports at the Guardian.

Congressional Democratic leaders last night hit back at Trump’s assertions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asserted that they agree with the president on the need to strengthen border security, but diverge with him over building a physical wall – a proposal that the two lawmakers claim would be expensive and ineffective. Seung Min Kim reports at the Washington Post.

“Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it,” Schumer said standing alongside Pelosi in a joint televised response, Kristina Peterson reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee – Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) – yesterday said that he does not support using military funding to build Trump’s proposed border wall. “In short, I am opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes … seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accountsm,” MacThornber commented, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A timeline of key dates relating to the ongoing partial government shutdown is provided at Reuters.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A fact-checker on Trump’s televised address, which contained “several false or misleading statements about illegal immigration and border security,” is provided by Ted Hesson at POLITICO.

A fact-checker on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s official Democratic response to Trump’s address is provided at NBC.

“There is no wave of terrorist operatives waiting to cross overland into the United States … it simply isn’t true,” former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (N.C.T.C.) Nicholas Rasmussen writes at Just Security, arguing that “fantastic and unsupportable claims only undermines public trust and confidence in our watchlisting system and in our counterterrorism community.”

“This speech wasn’t about saving his utterly fake wall,” Rick Wilson comments at The Daily Beast, characterizing last night’s address as a sign of the president’s weakness and claiming that “the $5.7 billion dollars [Trump has] demanded as his vig for ending the shutdown isn’t even close to being seriously considered, and this speech was an overt admission he’s out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas.”

“Seven Takeaways From President Trump’s Oval Office Address” are outlined by Domenico Montaro at NPR.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused yesterday to intercede in a “mysterious” dispute over a sealed grand jury subpoena to a foreign corporation, issued by a federal prosecutor who “may or may not” be special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. The court’s decision means that the unidentified corporation must provide information to the prosecutor or face financial penalties, with the court’s two-sentence order giving no reasons and providing no details, Adam Liptak reports at the New York Times.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared 2016 presidential campaign polling data with Russian intelligence-linked associate Konstantin Kilimnik, according to a court filing yesterday. The filing appears to have inadvertently disclosed information intended to be kept secret, and indicates a pathway by which Russian agents may have gained access to Trump campaign data, Rachel Weiner, Spencer S. Hsu and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

Manafort’s defense team denied that Manafort had broken his plea deal by lying repeatedly to Mueller’s prosecutors regarding the Kilimnik link and other issues. “Mr. Manafort provided complete and truthful information to the best of his ability,” the filing reads, Lydia Wheeler and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

SYRIA

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton left Turkey yesterday “in frustration” without having seen Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who then publicly slammed Bolton’s previous comments regarding Turkey’s role in Syria as constituting a “serious mistake.” Despite Erdogan’s response, U.S. officials have claimed that Bolton’s visit was worthwhile, with the national security adviser having met for more than two hours with his counterpart Turkish national security adviser Ibrahim Kalin as well as the country’s deputy defense and foreign ministers, Elise Labott reports at POLITICO.

Bolton had hoped to obtain Turkish guarantees that the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia Y.P.G. group would be safe after U.S. troops pull out of the country, but Ankara continues to regard the Y.P.G. as a terrorist group. Erdogan yesterday told representatives from his governing Justice and Development Party that he could not “accept and swallow” Bolton’s message, further telling the lawmakers that “if the U.S. evaluates them as ‘Kurdish brothers’ then they are in a serious delusion,” the BBC reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 469 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Dec. 16 and Dec. 29. [Central Command]

IRAN

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said yesterday that European Union (E.U.) sanctions leveled against Tehran “will not absolve Europe of responsibility for harboring terrorists.” The E.U. yesterday froze the assets of an Iranian intelligence unit and two of its staff, after the Netherlands accused Iran of two killings on Dutch soil, joining France and Denmark in alleging Tehran plotted other attacks on the continent, Reuters reports.

Former Israeli Minister Gonen Segev has admitted to spying for Iran as of a plea deal in exchange for an 11-year prison sentence, the Israeli justice ministry announced yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Afghan Taliban said yesterday they had canceled peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar this week due to an “agenda disagreement,” in particular relating to the involvement of Afghan officials as well as a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange. Two days of peace talks had been penned to start today, Reuters reports.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has asked the Security Council to approve the deployment of up to 75 observers to Yemen’s strategic port city of Hodeidah for six months to monitor a ceasefire and redeployment of forces by the warring parties. Reuters reports.

Congress is reportedly poised to push back on President Trump’s Middle East policy, with recent developments provoking anxieties amongst lawmakers. Last night, the Senate took a procedural vote on a bill that would impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, bolster defense cooperation with Israel and Jordan and discourage boycotts against Israel; Democrats blocked the otherwise bipartisan bill over the government shutdown, but the timing of the proposed legislation “has been seen as the upper chamber working to reassert itself on foreign policy,” Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell explain at the Hill.

A special train believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un departed Beijing today following Kim’s two-day visit to the Chinese capital, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

Senior U.S. Defense Department official Eric Chewning has been tapped as the new chief of staff to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer provide an analysis at Foreign Policy. 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Senior Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).