The Early Edition: March 29, 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

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to Attorney General William Barr regarding the conclusions of his investigation into Russian electoral interference is over 300 pages long, a Department of Justice (D.O.J.) official announced yesterday. The size of the report – delivered to Barr last Friday – suggests Mueller provided substantial evidence to substantiate his conclusions, raising fresh questions about how much of that evidence will be put before the public, Nicholas Fandos, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner report at the New York Times.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Barr yesterday over his handling of the report, appealing for the full release of the document as Trump and Republicans continue to claim victory. Pelosi argued that the summary Barr provided to lawmakers last weekend was far short of what Congress required; “we don’t need you interpreting [the report] for us … it was condescending, it was arrogant, and it wasn’t the right thing to do,” Pelosi said, Natalie Andrews, Warren P. Strobel and Byron Tau report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Mr. Attorney General … show us the report and we’ll come to our own conclusions,” Pelosi added, asking what Trump and the Republicans were afraid of and mocking them as “scaredy-cats.” Lisa Mascaro, Laurie Kellman and Mary Clare Jalonick report at the AP.

Trump and his allies have lashed out at House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.,) who maintains that there remains evidence of collusion with Russia, even if Trump will not be charged. Yesterday the committee’s Republican members formally called on Schiff to step down as chairman, submitting a letter declaring they had “no faith” in his ability to lead them, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.

The president claimed that Schiff had spent the past two years “knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking” about the Russia investigation, making the claim yesterday morning in a message sent on Twitter. Trump provided no evidence for his claim, also adding that Schiff “should be forced to resign from Congress!” Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

Schiff forcefully pushed back at calls for him to step down, defending his past comments and lambasting the president, his family and campaign over its links with Russia. At the opening of an Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia yesterday, Schiff listed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia that he described as being “not OK,” indicating that he would defend himself from the calls to end his chairmanship, Olivia Beavers and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

Trump was keen to claim victory last night at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., telling his supporters: “after three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead … the collusion delusion is over.” Trump continued: “Democrats will now have to decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit, partisan investigations … or whether they will apologize to the American people,” Danielle Kurtzleben and Tamaras Keith report at NPR.

An account of last night’s Grand Rapids rally is provided by Rick Wilson at The Daily Beast.

“The triumphalism of President Donald Trump and the building power struggle in Washington after Robert Mueller’s investigation show that … the bitter recriminations over Russian election meddling are likely to reverberate for months,” Stephen Collison comments at CNN.

Mueller’s most enduring legacy may be on K Street, where the special counsel’s successful prosecution of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and other lobbyists has sent a “frisson of fear” through Washington’s influence industry. Elias Groll explains at Foreign Policy.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Tensions are high in Gaza ahead of a planned protest tomorrow to mark the anniversary of mass rallies along its frontier, after a year in which Israeli soldiers have shot thousands of people. The U.N. has released fresh casualty figures indicating that 194 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been killed at the weekly demonstrations, while close to 29,000 have been wounded; only one Israeli soldier has been killed, Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel is prepared to wage a broad military campaign in Gaza if needed, after a two-day spate of cross-border fighting that has drawn attention to his security policies two weeks before he faces national elections. “All Israelis should know that if a comprehensive campaign is required, we will enter it strong and safe, and after we have exhausted all of the other possibilities,” Netanyahu said after visiting the Gaza frontier and meeting with Israeli commanders, Reuters reports.

The KINGDOM

The secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi fall short of international standards and should be open to the public and trial observers, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Agnes Callamard stated yesterday, calling on the kingdom to reveal the defendants’ names and the fate of 10 others initially arrested. The U.N. News Centre reports.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers yesterday he did not know whether any of the approvals he authorized for U.S. companies to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia were made after Khashoggi’s killing in October last year. The Department of Energy issued a statement later yesterday, clarifying that it had issued seven such approvals for companies wishing to participate in the kingdom’s civilian nuclear power program, but pointed out that they do not permit the transfer of “nuclear material, equipment or components,” Reuters reports.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition says more than 1,250 civilians were killed in 34,038 airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria during a more than four-year period. The coalition in a statement yesterday released the civilian death toll from the period between when the aerial campaign began in Aug. 2014 until Feb. 2019, the AP 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 KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with President Trump in Washington on April 11, his office announced today, with Moon striving to salvage his role as a mediator between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “The two heads of state will hold deep consultations with the aim of further strengthening the South Korea-United States alliance and building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization,” Moon’s office said in a statement announcing the upcoming meeting, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Kim showered Trump with praise in a letter sent to the White House before the leaders’ summit last month in Hanoi, while making clear he wished to negotiate only with the president and not his envoys, according to current and former U.S. officials. The letter appeared aimed at cutting out the U.S. envoy to North Korea Stephen Beguin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the discussions on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile arsenal, while attempting to appeal to the president’s ego, Dan De Luce and Courtney Kube report at NBC.

VENEZUELA

The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro yesterday announced a 15-year ban on U.S.-backed self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidló holding public office. Guaidó immediately hit back that the 15-year prohibition – announced on state television by Maduro’s Auditor General Elvis Amoroso – was invalid; “he is not auditor general…. the legitimate congress is the only one with power to designate an auditor general,” Guaidó commented, AFP reports.

Moscow yesterday responded to President Trump’s call for Russia to “get out” of Venezuela, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claiming that Moscow sent only “specialists” to the crisis-stricken nation who do not pose a threat. “Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region … Russia is not threatening anyone, unlike [officials] in Washington,” Zakharova added, Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation yesterday to create an advisory committee of cyber professionals that will assist the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) tackle cyber issues. The bill, introduced by Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), would create an advisory committee within D.H.S.’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (C.I.S.A.) to provide recommendations on new cybersecurity policies and programs, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

Congress should fulfill the promise of the USA Freedom Act to end bulk collection of Americans’ records, Sharon Bradford Franklin argues at Just Security.

A critique of tech giant Facebook’s attitude toward its customers is provided by Pilita Clark at the Financial Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The House yesterday stymied a move by the Trump administration to restrict transgender individuals from serving in the military. The House approved by 238-185 a a nonbinding resolution opposing transgender troop limits just weeks before the Pentagon’s new policy is set to take effect; “what this policy is primarily based on is ignorance and bias against the transgender community,” House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) stated, Connor O’Brien reports at POLITICO.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution yesterday naming terrorist financing a serious offence and demanding that all countries set up a domestic legal framework to combat the phenomenon. U.N.’s counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov claimed the resolution comes at a critical time, as terrorist attacks around the globe suggest that groups like Islamic State group and al Qaeda have ongoing access to substantial revenues, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of the substantial challenges that lie ahead for U.S. Representative to the U.N. Nations Economic and Social Council Kelley Eckels Currie, is provided by Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch 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).