The Early Edition: January 28, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Longtime associate of President Trump Roger Stone was arrested Friday for lying to Congress about the 2016 campaign’s attempts to use stolen emails to undercut Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton. Stone is one of the closest Trump associates to be charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, with Mueller claiming in court papers that Stone shared with multiple members of the Trump campaign team advance knowledge he had of a plan by WikiLeaks to release senior Democrats’ emails, Reuters reports.

Stone was also charged with obstructing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and tampering with a witness, with the charges apparently relating to his interactions with New York radio personality Randy Credico. A selection of the communications between. Stone and Credico is provided by Shelby Holiday at the Wall Street Journal.

A group of a dozen F.B.I. agents and local police reportedly raided Stone’s Florida home early Friday morning, marking a departure from previous Mueller-linked arrests. Olivia Beavers and Jacqueline Thomsen report at the Hill.

Stone and his attorney Bruce Rogow appeared outside a federal courthouse hours later where they proclaimed Stone’s innocence to the charges. “After a two-year inquisition, the charges today relate in no way to Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal act in connection with the 2016 campaign,” Stone commented, adding “I am falsely accused of making false statements during my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee … that is incorrect.” A full transcript of Stone’s statement is available at the New York Times.

Stone will be arraigned before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson tomorrow morning, according to the D.C. District Court. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

In comments yesterday Stone did not rule out cooperating with Mueller. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” if he would cooperate with the special counsel, Stone answered: “you know, that’s a question I would have to – I have to determine after my attorneys have some discussion,” adding“I’d also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

House Speaker Nancy Pelsoi (D-Calif.) hit out at Trump over Stone’s arrest, telling reporters: “it’s very interesting to see the kinds of people the president of the U.S. surrounded himself with … this connection to the integrity of our elections is obviously something we have to get the truth about.” Pelosi added that its “bothersome to see his connections to Russia and the president’s suggestions that we should question whether we should be in N.A.T.O., which is a dream come true for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” Morgan Gstalter reports at the Hill.

President Trump along with his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner apparently believed that what they dubbed “Russia thing” would end following the firing of former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn in the early days of the administration, according to an account in a new memoir by former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie. Trump on one occasion allegedly told Christie: “Flynn met with the Russians … that was the problem … I fired Flynn … it’s over,” Maggie Haberman reports at the New York Times.

“We have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware,” Democratic 2020 candidate Kamala Harris told supporters as she officially announced her run for president yesterday, marking one of her “sharpest” attacks on Trump’s perceived coziness with Russia. Maeve Reston reports at CNN.

TRUMP-RUSSIA: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

The special counsel’s indictment “trusses and binds Stone with emails and text messages of remarkable specificity that not even the best defense attorney will find easy to untangle,” Jack Shafer comments in an analysis at POLITICO Magazine.

“This is as close to a slam-dunk case as a prosecutor will ever bring,” Peter Zeidenberg comments at The Daily Beast, arguing that given the “excruciating detail” of the email and text evidence available, the prosecution will not be left relying on the credibility of any particular witnesses.

An in-depth look at the relevant law and facts behind Stone’s indictment is provided by Paul Seamus Ryan at Just Security.

Each case like Stone’s – or former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s – filed without charging a conspiracy “makes it seem more likely that criminal charges brought by the special counsel will end up being primarily about the coverups,” Randall D. Eliason argues at the Washington Post.

How does Stone know what Trump told the special counsel in the President’s written responses to Mueller? Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman traces possible explanations and their legal implications at Just Security.

Following the Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s multiple reversals in previous weeks, Joshua Chaffin asks whether there is “method to the seeming madness of his defense of Donald Trump” at the Financial Times

Trump and his associates had more than 100 contacts with Russians before the inauguration. Karen Yourish and Larry Buchanan illustrate the campaign’s links with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks through a series of graphics at the New York Times.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND BORDER WALL

President Trump agreed Friday to reopen federal government for three weeks while negotiations continue over borer security, climbing down after a monthlong impasse failed to force Democrats to give the president billions of dollars for his long-promised wall at the southern border. Trump’s concession laid the ground for the House and the Senate to both pass a stopgap spending bill by voice vote, signed by the president on Friday night, Nicholas Fandos, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Peter Baker report at the New York Times.

Trump commented yesterday that he does not believe congressional negotiators will strike a deal over border-wall funding that he could accept and vowed that he would build a wall in any event, using emergency powers to do so if necessary. “I personally think it’s less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board,” Trump commented – referencing the newly formed group of lawmakers convened to craft a deal within the coming three weeks, Peter Nicholas and Kristina Peterson report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The president’s commitment is to defend the nation … and he will do it either with or without Congress,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney commented on “Fox News Sunday.” Robert Costa and Felicia Sonmez report at the Washington Post.

An analysis of the political factors contributing to Trump’s “surrender” is provided at the Economist.

VENEZUELA

Head of the Venezuelan opposition and self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidó yesterday called for two new protests in the country, in an effort to persuade the military to turn against current president Nicolas Maduro and back a European ultimatum demanding free elections within the week. In a video posted on Twitter, Guaidó announced that the first of the nationwide strikes on Wednesday will “demand that the armed forces side with the people,” and a second on Saturday will be a “big national and international rally to back the support of the European Union and the ultimatum” from the U.K., France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands that they would recognize Guaidó as interim president unless Maduro calls elections by February 3, AFP reports.

“Nobody can give us an ultimatum,” Maduro said in an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk aired yesterday in response to the European pledge. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza had already rejected the deadline during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Saturday, claiming “Venezuela will not allow anyone to impose on us any decision or order,” Al Jazeera reports.

Venezuela’s military’s attaché in the U.S. Col. José Luis Silva on Saturday became the first high-ranking officer to officially abandon the government since Guaidó announced his challenge to Maduro last week. Yesterday, Maduro responded by demanding the loyalty of his country’s soldiers, asking dozens of uniformed troops kneeling before him in the town of Valencia “are you coup plotters?” promting cries of “no!” in widely broadcast scenes, Ryan Dube and Kejal Vyas report at the Wall Street Journal.

Guaidó yesterday claimed that he is in talks with sympathetic military and civilian officials in a bid to force out Maduro. Andreina Aponte, Anthony Faiola and Rahcelle Krygier report at the Washington Post.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton yesterday warned of a “significant response” to any violence or intimidation against U.S. diplomats in Venezuela or the country’s current government. “Any violence and intimidation against U.S. diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guiado [sic], or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response,” Bolton stated in a message on Twitter, also alleging that “Cuba’s support and control over Maduro’s security and paramilitary forces are well known,” Kyle Balluck reports at the Hill.

“Maduro keeps the loyalty of the armed forces by granting leaders stakes in [state-run oil company] P.D.V.S.A. … and turning a blind eye to their involvement in illegal activities,” Joe Parkin Daniels and Manrina Zúñiga explain at Foreign Policy, predicting that the current president will survive the challenge to his power in the short term.

An analysis of the impact of social media and fake news in the recent Venezuela events is provided by Jasmine Garsd at NPR.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. and the Taliban militant group are reportedly closing in on a deal to end the U.S.’ longest war in Afghanistan after six days of peace negotiations wrapped up yesterday. The talks in Doha, Qatar, lasted longer than planned with both sides publicly reporting progress; chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad sent a message on Twitter claiming that the talks were “more productive than they have been in the past” and that he hoped they would resume shortly, Rod Nordland and Mujib Mashal report at the New York Times.

Taliban officials claimed that U.S. negotiators agreed on a draft peace pact setting out the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s administration has condemned Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria as a violation of a 1998 protocol between the two countries, with the Syrian foreign ministry claiming Saturday that: “since 2011, the Turkish regime has violated and continues to violate this agreement.” The ministry also accused Turkey of supporting “terrorists,” Al Jazeera reports.

The recent takeover of the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province by an Al Qaeda-linked group could threaten the cease-fire there, according to the Syrian government and its Russian backers. “Supporting the cease-fire … should not come at the expense of the struggle against terrorists, which is to be continued,” Russian President Vladimir Putin commented, Vivian Yee reports at the New York Times.

The Kremlin commented yesterday that its agreement with Turkey on Idlib province has not been fully implemented, raising concerns in Moscow and Damascus. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 575 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

A Palestinian man has been shot dead and dozens of others have been wounded in the occupied West Bank during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers and settlers in the village of al-Mugheir, northeast of Ramallah. Al Jazeera reports.

Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group has been able to enter Israel “for years,” the group’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday, responding for the first time to Israel’s discovery of tunnels dug into Israeli territory across the Lebanese frontier. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.N. special rapporteur on executions Agnes Callamard said Saturday that she has requested access to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, but has not yet received a reply from the kingdom. Callamard is leading an international inquiry into the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – last seen at entering the consultate on Oct. 2. – and begins her week-long mission to Turkey at government invitation today, Al Jazeera reports.

Two bombs exploded just minutes apart yesterday at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines – killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 100 others during Mass. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, the group’s Amaq news agency reported hours after the attack, Serena McMahon reports at NPR. 

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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).