The Early Edition: March 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

Attorney General William Barr is expected to miss House Democrats’ April 2 deadline for providing Congress the full report documenting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, increasing the likelihood that lawmakers will subpoena the Department of Justice (D.O.J.). House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) disclosed that during a phone call with Barr yesterday, the attorney general said it would be “weeks, not months” before lawmakers can see the report – Nadler commented that it is “apparent that the department will not meet the April 2 deadline that we set” earlier in the week, Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Nadler would not commit to whether he would immediately use a subpoena to compel Barr to provide the documents, despite the fact that he has referred to April 2 as a hard deadline and Democrats have threatened to use such power if their requests are not satisfied. “We will wait until after April 2, and we will make those decisions,” Nadler remarked, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The special counsel grand jury is “continuing robustly” despite the end of Mueller’s probe, a federal prosecutor said in court yesterday, indicating that the Mueller’s ongoing cases might still feature significant developments. Assistant U.S. attorney David Goodhand acknowledged the grand jury’s active status during a hearing in U.S. District Court, regarding an attempt to disclose the identity of a foreign state-owned firm that has been held in contempt for defying a Mueller subpoena, Charlie Gile and Dartunorro Clark report at NBC.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is reportedly seeking a decade’s worth of the president’s financial records from accounting firm Mazars. The Committee – Chaired by Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) – has penned a letter asking the firm for documents relating to Trump’s personal finances, with a particular focus on his failed bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills before he became president, marking a continued attempt to corroborate elements of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony before the panel last month, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is apparently keen to know whether the end of the Mueller probe heralds the end for the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence probe into the same matter. Schiff yesterday claimed that he has started negotiations with the intelligence agencies: “at this point, we don’t know whether any of the counterintelligence findings are part of the Mueller report,” Schiff commented, adding: “we have initiated discussions with the intelligence community to make sure that we obtain whatever is found in the counterintelligence investigation, or whether that [inquiry] is still ongoing,” Sam Brodey and Spencer Ackerman report at The Daily Beast.

President Trump has clashed once again with former F.B.I. Director James Comey after Comey expressed confusion earlier in the week regarding Mueller’s decision not to reach a stance on obstruction of justice. Yesterday, Trump blasted Comey as “a terrible guy” and described his former leadership team at the bureau as “not clean, to put it mildly,” making the remarks in the course of an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity,” Stephen Collinson reports at CNN.

An analysis of why Mueller “bypassed” a decision on obstruction is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times, noting that Barr’s letter offered “scant clues.”

While “the Mueller report may help Mr. Trump’s rating,” the most tactically savvy move for the administration is to move on from the probe, Karl Rove argues at the Wall Street Journal.

An in-depth account of reporting on the Trump-Russia developments through the course of the Mueller probe, including a first-hand account of receiving phone calls from the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is provided by Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO Magazine.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The U.S. yesterday faced a stern rebuke from 14 other U.N. Security Council nations for its decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights. The Security Council met yesterday at the request of Syria, which in a letter to the council had described the Trump administration’s Monday proclamation as a “flagrant violation” of U.N. resolutions, Al Jazeera reports.

The European Union Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement yesterday that it was the “unanimous position” of all 28 member states not to change their stance in line with U.N. resolutions identifying the Golan as occupied territory and reject the capture of land by force. The AP reports

An unofficial cease-fire between Israel and militant Palestinian Hamas group appeared to hold yesterday, as Egyptian mediators rushed to the Gaza Strip and Hamas’ supreme leader Ismail Haniyeh emerged from hiding. The Egyptian delegation sought to solidify the truce that ended two days of heavy fighting between the parties; the peace is set to be tested Saturday when Hamas is planning a mass demonstration to mark the one-year anniversary of weekly protests along the Israeli border, Aron Heller reports at the AP.

Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) soldiers shot and killed 18-year-old Palestinian medic Sajid Muzher after the army raided a refugee camp in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Muzher was shot in the abdomen and later died at the Beit Jala Hospital, according to Palestinian medical sources, Al Jazeera reports.

SYRIA

The Syrian military has claimed that Israel yesterday launched raids on an industrial zone in the northern city of Aleppo, causing damage only to materials, although opposition sources claimed the strikes hit Iranian ammunitions stores and a military airport used by Tehran’s forces. “The Israeli aggression targeted some positions in Sheikh Najjar industrial zone and a number of enemy missiles were brought down,” an army statement said; there has been no immediate comment from Israel, Reuters reports.

The Syrian government—with support from Moscow—is allegedly intensifying its bombing of schools and hospitals in the opposition-controlled northwestern province of Idlib, N.G.O. Amnesty International reported yesterday. The human rights organization said airstrikes and artillery are targeting civilian infrastructure as part of a concerted attempt to drive out the province’s 3 million inhabitants, The Daily Beast reports.

The humanitarian crisis arising from Syria’s 8-year war remains “far from over,” the U.N. Security Council heard yesterday. 11.7 million people are reportedly in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, while more than 5.6 million Syrians are living as refugees across the region, the U.N. News Centre reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 250 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between March 10 and March 23 [Central Command]

The KINGDOM

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that Washington will continue to work to identify those responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and “hold them accountable.” Pompeo was confronted by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about Khashoggi’s killing during a congressional hearing, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. Department of Energy has reportedly approved six authorizations for U.S. companies seeking to conduct nuclear related work in Saudi Arabia, according to two sources with knowledge of the approvals. Pompeo claimed the State Department is still looking into the assistance Saudi Arabia could receive from U.S. companies on nuclear development and how to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons, Erin Banco reports at The Daily Beast.

“Like it or not … Washington’s ties with Riyadh still matter,” John Hannah comments at Foreign Policy, urging that a positive relationship with the kingdom should be maintained despite its transgressions.

VENEZUELA

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence yesterday slammed Russian support for Venezuela’s incumbent president Nicolás Maduro, making the comments during an unscheduled meeting with Fabiana Rosales – the wife of opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó. “We are with you 100%,” Mr. Trump told Rosales, adding that Russian operatives need to leave the country; Pence accused Russia of an “unwelcome provocation” with its continued support of Maduro, Vivian Salama reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The power outage crippling Venezuela continues. AFP provides an account

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Tech giant Facebook announced yesterday that it plans to ban content that glorifies white nationalism and separatism, marking a major policy shift that will begin next week. “It’s clear that these concepts are deeply linked to organized hate groups and have no place on our services,” the company said in a statement, Sasha Ingber reports at NPR.

U.S. national-security officials have ordered a Chinese company to sell dating app Grindr, citing the risk that the personal data it collects could be exploited by Beijing in order to blackmail individuals with security clearances, according to people familiar with the situation. U.S. officials made the decision believing that Beijing Kunlun Tech Co. Ltd. – which acquired a majority stake in Grindr in 2016 – would have no choice but to share information on Grindr users if demanded by the Chinese government, Georgia Wells and Kate O’Keeffe report at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea’s activity on nuclear weapons and missiles is inconsistent with its pledge to denuclearize, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea – Gen. Robert Adams – commented yesterday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Reuters reports.

President Trump’s travel ban is under fresh legal pressure with new lawsuits bringing into play precedents that were not raised in the initial litigation. Robert L. Tsai provides an analysis at POLITICO Magazine. 

About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant 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).