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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, BORDER WALL AND BUDGET REQUEST
Senators will today vote on a resolution blocking President Trump’s emergency declaration, that the President hopes to use to secure funds for his long-promised border wall. Yesterday, the Senate passed the Yemen resolution – cutting off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in that country – with seven G.O.P. votes; it is expected that an even larger number of Republicans may stand against Trump today on the emergency declaration, Burgess Everett, Eliana Johnson and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.
Talks within the G.O.P conference aimed at avoiding an “embarrassing” rebuke for the president collapsed yesterday, with Sen. Mike Lee (Utah.) joining four other Republican senators who have already said they will back the measure, Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill.
The U.S. military yesterday imposed a series of new restrictions on the ability of transgender people to serve in the armed forces, expanding the scope of ineligibility although stopping short of an outright ban. Under the new policy, gender dysphoria will be treated as a “mental health condition” with the potential to disqualify an applicant from service, the Pentagon announced, Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Director-at-large of advocacy and support group Sparta Pride – Captain Jennifer Peace – has said that she hopes Trump along with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan would be prepared to meet transgender troops in person to discuss the implications of the trans troop ban and its effects on existing personnel and on those wishing to enlist. Tim Teeman reports at The Daily Beast.
The U.S. plans to test-launch missiles this year banned under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty (I.N.F.) that Trump announced last month that the U.S. would withdraw from. According to unnamed defense officials, a cruise missile is expected to be flight-tested in August, while a longer-range ballistic missile is expected to be tested in November, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
“It’s more fun to talk about impeachment than … God forbid … budgets,” E.J. Dionne Jr. comments at the Washington Post, appealing to Trump opponents to shift their focus to Trump’s proposed budget – which according to the writer encapsulates the president’s objectionable values.
New York prosecutors yesterday filed mortgage fraud and other charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, with the new charges filed just moments after he was sentenced to an additional 43 months in prison in another case. Manafort now faces a total of 7.5 years in jail after going before two federal judges for tax crimes, bank fraud and conspiracy charges; although President Trump has previously floated the possibility of a pardon for Manafort, yesterday the president claimed that he has “not even given it a thought,” AFP reports.
The president did say that he feels “very badly” for Manafort and commented that his former campaign chair has been the victim of a “sad situation.” Carrie Johnson and Philip Ewing report at NPR.
Democratic lawmakers yesterday warned Trump against pardoning Manafort. Shortly after sentence was handed down, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) remarked that any presidential pardon “would be an obstruction of justice,” adding “pardoning Paul Manafort would in effect send a message that you can break the law, defy the justice system and then get rewarded by the president of the U.S.,” Courtney Buble and Dareh Gregorian report at NBC.
“I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today,” Manafort said at his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington. Reuters reports.
President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly spoke with a lawyer who agreed to reach out to the Trump’s legal team on his behalf, ahead of pleading guilty and assisting federal prosecutors last summer. The lawyer –Robert J. Costello – had about a dozen conversations with Trump’s current personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to a series of emails and documents in addition to interviews with people involved in the matter, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.
Costello on Monday dismissed as “utter nonsense” claims that Cohen only told his lawyers to explore the possibility of a pardon after it was raised by Trump representatives. “Does ‘dangled’ mean that [Cohen] raised it and I mentioned it to Giuliani, and Giuliani said the president is not going to discuss pardons with anybody? if that’s dangling it, that’s dangling it for about 15 seconds,” Costello remarked, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.
One of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s lead prosecutors – Andrew Weissmann—who built the case against Manafort, is reportedly stepping down from Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. The Daily Beast reports.
An account of “Paul Manafort’s very bad day” yesterday is provided by Lauren Dezenski at CNN.
Islamic State group fighters yesterday launched suicide attacks at U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in a “desperate” attempt to defend their last scrap of territory at the Syrian village of Baghouz after 3,000 of their fellow jihadists surrendered. Despite the attempted counterattack, the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) claimed in an evening statement that its fighters had advanced, conducting “a large-scale attack on terrorist positions,” AFP reports.
Russia has sent in aircraft to attack the north-western rebel-held province of Idlib in its first major assault for months, while foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to pledge as much $5bn to support countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey that have been exposed to an influx of people fleeing the Syrian conflict. The bombardment of Idlib by Russian and Syrian aircraft was the most extensive to date, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian
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]
The Senate yesterday approved a bill to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen. The bipartisan vote was 54 to 46, serving as an explicit rebuke to President Trump’s support of the Kingdom and its de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Trump has vowed to veto the resolution should it pass through the House, the BBC reports.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels today welcomed the Senate vote. Top negotiator and spokesperson for the rebel Mohammed Abdel-Salam described the vote as a “positive step,” as U.S. support for the coalition only “prolongs the conflict and the humanitarian crisis,” adding: “in reality, America is the one … selling weapons, and providing support” to the coalition, Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.
The U.S. no longer refers to the Golan Heights as an “Israeli-occupied” territory in its latest international annual human rights report, published yesterday, though the State Department insists the wording change doesn’t mean a policy change. The report now calls the area the “Israeli-controlled Golan Heights,” Al Jazeera reports.
China is “in a league of its own” when it comes to human rights violations, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday as he unveiled the report. Pompeo highlighted abuses in Iran, South Sudan and Nicaragua but singled out Beijing for its mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region, the Guardian reports.
Federal prosecutors in New York are pursuing a criminal investigation into data deals between tech giant Facebook and other large technology companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. The probe is part of a range of inquiries by U.S. authorities in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, in which the U.K. data company was accused of illegally accessing Facebook user data, Hannah Murphy and Khadhim Shuber report at the Financial Times.
The Senate yesterday voted to confirm Trump nominee Neomi Rao to replace Brett M. Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, bringing the president closer to his goal of securing a legacy through judicial appointments. Karen Zraick reports at the New York Times.