The Early Edition: March 12, 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.

U.S. MILITARY AND BUDGET REQUEST

The White House is proposing a budget of nearly $720 billion for the Pentagon for the upcoming financial year, adding $33 billion to support efforts against China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, as well as to fight Islamic State group and other militants across nations including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s total proposed budget of $718 billion represents a roughly 5% increase over the estimated $685 billion being spent in fiscal 2019, according to White House budget documents released yesterday, Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump will ask for about $544 billion for the base defense budget and another $9 billion for an “emergency” fund, while the balance of $165 billion will reportedly be requested for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, according to two administration officials, Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

The 2020 plan unveiled by Trump includes $8.6bn for his long-promised wall on the Southern Border, indicating his readiness to reignite the political fallout that led to the record 35-day partial government shutdown. The plan cuts domestic programs by 5% – or $2.7tn – over 10 years, and was dismissed by Democrats as “dead on arrival” and “breathtaking in its degree of cruelty,” David Smith reports at the Guardian.

The administration is not asking Congress for any funds to build a new F.B.I headquarters building, despite past funding proposals requesting billions for the project. “There is not new money for the F.B.I. headquarters,” Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus told reporters yesterday during a briefing on the budget request, though he noted that the project is “still under discussion,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The budge request includes $166 billion for the U.S. Air Force, representing a “sizable” 6 percent increase over last year, some of which the service will put towards revamping its pieces of the U.S.’ nuclear deterrent. Lara Seligman explains at Foreign Policy.

“There are now hundreds of women serving in positions that had previously been closed to them … this is not the time to reverse course … or weaken our military readiness by replacing them,” former White House chief of staff defense secretary and C.I.A. director Leon E. Panetta comments in Op-Ed at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND TRUMPWORLD INVESTIGATIONS

The New York attorney general’s office issued subpoenas late yesterday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas. The new inquiry was allegedly prompted by former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony last week, with Cohen having claimed that Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements – a claim Cohen aimed to evidencewith statements that he claimed had been submitted to Deutsche Bank, William K. Rashbaum and Danny Hakim report at the New York Times.

Lawmakers are reportedly clashing over Republican allegations that Democrats met extensively with Cohen before his scheduled testimonies, and found out ahead of time what Cohen was planning to testify to on Capitol Hill. Democrats have strongly rejected these claims, stating that meeting in advance with potential witnesses is standard practice for committees conducting investigations, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview that she opposes moves to impeach President Trump, despite the fact that she believes he is unfit for office. “I’m not for impeachment,” she said in a March 6 interview with The Washington Post Magazine, adding” I haven’t said this to any press person before … but since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this, impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country …. and he’s just not worth it,” Mike DeBonis and Rachel Bade report at the Washington Post.

Some Democratic lawmakers have voiced concern regarding Pelosi’s impeachment remarks. “If the facts require us to initiate removing the president, we are obligated to do it … if the facts don’t support it, we won’t,” Judiciary Committee member Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) commented, adding “this determination will be driven solely by the facts,” Sarah Ferris and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

“There may in fact be two Mueller reports,” Nelson W. Cunningham comments at The Daily Beast, explaining that “from the very beginning, Mueller has worn two hats and borne two missions relating to the Russia investigation”: the roles of criminal investigator and of broader counterintelligence expert.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegum commented yesterday that the U.S. would not consent to a phased approach for Pyongyang’s denuclearization. “We are not going to do denuclearization incrementally,” Biegun said in his first public remarks since last month’s failed summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, adding: “the president has been clear on that, and that is a position around which the U.S. government has complete unity,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A third Trump-Kim summit is likely though no firm date has been set, according to U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson, who also voiced a commitment to continuing U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang. “We are not letting the foot off the gas … we are going to continue with the pressure campaign,” Thompson said during a speech, adding “we are going to continue to hold those sanctions and we are going to continue to work with the team abroad to make sure those stay in place,” Reuters reports.

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó yesterday Monday called for a new mass demonstration as a “devastating” power outgage that has left millions without power entered its fifth day. Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro called for grassroots groups to hit back against what he called attacks encouraged by the U.S. against the country’s electrical grid, claiming in a speech that “the time has come for active resistance,” AFP reports.

The U.S. will withdraw all diplomatic staff from Venezuela this week due to the “deteriorating situation” there, the state department has announced. In a message sent on Twitter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented that having staff in the country’s capital had “become a constraint on U.S. policy,” the BBC reports.

The U.S. government yesterday imposed sanctions against Moscow-based Evrofinance Mosnarbank – jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state enterprises, accusing the bank of facilitating secret transactions to benefit Maduro’s regime. The Treasury Department alleges that the bank had tried to evade U.S. sanctions on the Maduro regime by providing support to state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., Courtney McBride reports at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria have claimed that 38 Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) fighters were killed in an offensive against the group’s final enclave at Baghouz after the area saw heavy bombardments overnight. Three Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) fighters were also killed in the battle, S.D.F. media boss Mustafa Bali stated in a message on Twitter, Al Jazeera reports.

Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) yesterday commented that I.S.I.S. “absolutely” not defeated as a movement. During an appearance on C.N.N.’s “New Day,” Waltz stated that that while he does give President Trump and the military “credit for defeating ISIS as a caliphate,” his view is that the U.S. needs to continue to target the group: “we have to stay on offense … I.S.I.S. is defeated as a caliphate but absolutely not as a movement … it’s metastasizing,” Waltz commented, Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 211 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Feb. 10 and Feb. 23. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Reports from Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate indicate that scores of civilians in the region have been killed following airstrikes that hit residential areas over the past two days. Medical sources suggest that at least 22 people have died, with more than 30 injured during the aerial bombardment, the U.N. News Centre reports.

Israelis will go the polls next month before a decision on whether to file a criminal indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, the country’s Justice Ministry announced yesterday. Israel’s attorney-general announced on Feb. 28 that he intends to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration has told the German government it would limit intelligence sharing with Berlin if Chinese tech giant Huawei is permitted to build Germany’s next-generation mobile-internet infrastructure. Bojan Pancevski and  Sara Germano report at the Wall Street Journal. 

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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).