The Early Edition: April 2, 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.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

The Trump administration overturned more than two dozen security clearance denials, according to the longtime White House security adviser Tricia Newbold, who told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that Congress was her “last hope” for addressing alleged misconduct. Rachael Bade and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

Newbold said that a background investigation into one senior official revealed “significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities … and personal conduct.” Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee have argued that Democrats on the panel have “cherry-picked excerpts” of Newbold’s interview to “manufacture a misleading narrative that the Trump White House is reckless with our national security.” Brian Naylor and Tim Mak report at NPR.

“And I want it known that this a systematic, it’s an office issue, and we’re not a political office, but these decisions were being continuously overrode,” Newbold told the Committee, according to a memo prepared for the panel. Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

A memo released by committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) yesterday stated that there were 25 initial security denials but did not identify the individuals. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill, providing an overview of nine current and former officials who have been prioritized for investigation.

Newbold’s allegations come amid concerns about the Trump administration’s approach to security clearances; in particular the circumstances surrounding the granting of top-level security clearance to Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Sabrina Siddiqui and agencies report at the Guardian.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to authorize a subpoena to obtain an unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into the Trump campaign and Russian election interference, with committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stating that Congress requires the full report “without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence” to ensure “maximum transparency.” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The Democrat-led committee will also consider subpoenas from five former aides to President Trump, including White House counsel Don McGahn, political adviser Steve Bannon, former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House deputy counsel Ann Donaldson. David Morgan reports at Reuters.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell yesterday rejected a request to name a foreign-government-owned company that fought Mueller’s team and argued unsuccessfully that it should not have to comply with a Mueller-requested grand jury subpoena. However, the ruling by Judge Howell suggested that the firm’s name may be disclosed in the future, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

An analysis of the rules governing grand jury secrecy, and Attorney General William Barr’s letters to Congress regarding the Mueller report, is provided by Barbara McQuade at Just Security.

BORDER WALL and IMMIGRATION

The Trump administration has been scrambling to coordinate its response to the increasing number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it does not appear that the administration is closer to acting on its threat to close the U.S.’ southern border. David Nakamura, Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff report at the Washington Post.

“Obviously, we have to help because Central American migrants pass through our territory and we have to bring order to this migration, make sure it’s legal,” the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said yesterday; while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was working with Central American governments and Mexico to deal with the “crisis.” Dave Graham reports at Reuters.

President Trump may make the dramatic move to close the border with Mexico despite the impact it would have on the U.S. economy and the humanitarian and diplomatic implications. Stephen Collinson provides an analysis at CNN.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Saudi Arabia has been paying thousands per month to the children of the murdered Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The AFP reports.

The Saudi trial of the 11 defendants charged with involvement in Khashoggi’s killing is shrouded in secrecy. There have been allegations that the Kingdom’s authorities have only been pursuing lower-level officials involved in the incident rather than those closer to the Saudi court, such as the close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani. Kareem Fahim explains at the Washington Post.

President Trump has failed to take serious measures to respond to Khashoggi’s killing, Fred Ryan writes at the Washington Post.

The Saudi-U.S. relationship will “remain broken” unless the crown prince takes ownership of the issue and “accepts blame for murderous deeds done in his name.” David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post, arguing that the gruesome affair may generate the impetus for reform in Saudi Arabia that Khashoggi so longed for.

N.A.T.O.

N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Trump are due to meet at the White House today ahead of the 70th anniversary of the alliance. Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of his visit that he expects Germany to fulfil its pledge to increase defense spending and that the alliance will be taking more measures to push back against Russian actions in eastern Ukraine. The AFP reports.

“I expect that the message from President Trump will be that the U.S. is committed to N.A.T.O. … but at the same time we need fair sharing of the burden,” Stoltenberg said ahead of his visit, making the comments following Trump’s criticism of European countries for their failure to hit two percent defense spending targets. Michael Peel and Tobias Buck report at the Financial Times.

“The strength of N.A.T.O. is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core tasks,” Stoltenberg also said ahead of his trip, playing down tensions in the alliance. Lorne Cook reports at the AP.

SYRIA

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) have said today that they are fighting with Islamic State group militants in eastern Syria, making the statement 10 days after the S.D.F. declared victory over the extremists. The AP reports.

The International Rescue Committee said yesterday that 31 people were killed in the final week of March as they were attempting to leave the final territory held by the Islamic State group in the Syrian town of Baghouz. 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]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall yesterday accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The visit came amid Palestinian anger over Brazil’s decision to open a new trade mission in the disputed city of Jerusalem. Ilhan Rosenberg and Lisandra Paraguassu report at Reuters.

A Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in an overnight raid in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian health officials – who said at least three others were injured. Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

At least eight members of Afghanistan’s security forces have been killed in an attack in northern Balkh province, with a provincial official stating that the attack was carried out by the Taliban. No one has immediately claimed responsibility, the AP reports.

Afghan peace talks must include representatives of all Afghans and the Afghan government in order to truly achieve a “dignified peace,” the former deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai writes at Foreign Policy, arguing that a durable ceasefire requires intra-Afghan dialogue and agreement.

IRAN

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated yesterday that U.S.-imposed sanctions have hindered the country’s efforts to rescue civilians affected by floods, accusing the Trump administration of “economic terrorism.” Nasser Karimi reports at the AP.

A senior Trump administration official told reporters yesterday that the U.S. is considering leveling additional sanctions against Iran, stating that the administration “just want a continued chilling effect.” Sanctions were re-imposed on Tehran last May when President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Jeff Mason reports at Reuters.

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has received support from Russia and Moscow’s involvement has caused headaches for the Trump administration. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

A feature on the tense atmosphere in Venezuela and fears that a war may break out is provided Annika Hernroth-Rothstein at The Daily Beast.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. has suspended the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey in protest over Ankara’s plans to buy the Russian s-400 long-range air defense system. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently warned the Lebanese government that Hezbollah and Iran had opened a new factory on Lebanese soil, according to anonymous sources. Barak Ravid reports at Axios.

The U.S. military has carried out eight airstrikes against al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen since January. Central Command reports.

The expiration of the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control treaty in February 2021 would create incentives for both countries to increase their nuclear arsenals, according to a study by CNA Corp released yesterday. Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay report at Reuters.

The U.S. has been uncharacteristically silent on the break-in at the North Korean embassy in Madrid, leading to increased speculation about U.S. involvement. Donald Kirk explains at The Daily Beast. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK