The Early Edition: April 5, 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

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) yesterday moved to defend its handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report as Democrats stepped up pressure to obtain the entire document by threatening to issue a subpoena in coming days if their demands are not met. A spokesperson for the D.O.J. said that every page of Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference was labeled with a warning that it may contain grand jury material – which is confidential and cannot be released without judicial approval, Byron Tau, Dustin Volz and Siobhan Hughes report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter … the attorney general decided to release the report’s bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately — without attempting to summarize the report — with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process,” D.O.J. spokesperson Kerri Kupec said. The full document, with redactions, is expected to be released by mid-April, Attorney General William Barr has previously indicated, Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) yesterday called on Barr to release any summaries of the special counsel report prepared by Mueller’s team. Nadler sent a letter to Barr citing media reports that Mueller’s team prepared their own summaries of the special counsel’s report, writing: “if these recent reports are accurate … then those summaries should be publicly released as soon as possible,”  Reuters reports.

President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he was “congratulated” by one of the president’s attorneys after giving false testimony to Congress about Trump’s Russia links during the 2016 campaign. The claim was reportedly made in a 12-page memo sent by Cohen’s lawyers to House Democrats yesterday in an effort to delay Cohen’s prison term in exchange for further assistance in Trump-related investigations; Cohen’s lawyers also reportedly hinted at new evidence, claiming Cohen could be of help by sifting “through millions of his documents” that were taken in a federal raid in April 2018, The Daily Beast reports.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) yesterday blocked a resolution calling for Mueller’s report to be made public, marking the fifth time Republicans have blocked the House-passed measure. Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) had asked for unanimous consent to pass the resolution, which cleared the House in a 420-0 vote earlier this year; “what we’re talking about is basic transparency, let’s make sure the full Mueller report is released to Congress … and then let’s make sure the American people see as much of this report as possible,” Warner said from the Senate floor, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers yesterday that he has not read Mueller’s report. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Several hundred people yesterday gathered outside the White House and in New York’s Times Square demanding the release of Mueller’s report, with the small rallies having been organized by liberal advocacy groups. Reuters reports.

Barr was reportedly invited to meet D.O.J. officials last summer on the same day he submitted an “unsolicited” memo that heavily criticized Mueller’s investigation; Barr, then a private attorney, did meet the officials for lunch three weeks later and was then nominated to serve as Trump’s attorney general about six months after that. The revelation raises fresh questions about whether the White House’s decision to hire Barr was influenced by private discussions he had about his legal views on the special counsel probe, Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports at the Guardian.

TRUMP-RUSSIA: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Attorney General William Barr’s “career legacy could be on the line,” Darren Samuelohn writes at POLITICO in an analysis of the response to Barr’s handling of the Mueller report.

“Barr’s handling of the Mueller report has confirmed the worst suspicions of his critics … and is doing further damage to the reputation of the Department of Justice,” Mimi Roach comments at The Daily Beast, arguing that the attorney general must immediately release the Mueller-prepared summaries and work with Congress to ensure that the whole report is disclosed.

“All of the cast members now seem to have assumed their predestined role in the Mueller report drama … Barr has summarized in his boss’ favor,” Jack Shafer comments at POLITICO Magazine in an account of the political and press reaction to the developments.

Despite Barr’s protestations to the contrary – “grand jury materials can be made public,” Elie Honig comments at CNN, also fielding a series of reader questions on the Barr/Mueller report developments.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Senior administration officials indicated yesterday that The White House could move to prevent the release of President Trump’s tax returns to Democrats, in a development that could lead to a constitutional challenge.   “They’ll speak to my lawyers and they’ll speak to the attorney general,” Trump said when asked about the Democrats’ request for six years of his personal and business tax returns, despite the fact that the Democrats directed their request to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein report at the Washington Post.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) indicated yesterday that he was to be briefed by the Secret Service about the security at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort after a woman carrying malware gained access there. “I just want to know what happened, get a status report on what happened, that’s all,” Cummings said, adding he wants to explore “whether there are things that we need to do to tighten up the Secret Service,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

An account of the “barrage of setbacks” undermining Trump’s celebrations in the wake of the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report  is provided by Anita Kumar and Andrew Restuccia at POLITICO.

An account of the “intrigue” surrounding the reported intrusion at Mar-a-Lago, and the resulting anxieties regarding Chinese espionage, is provided by Kadhim Shubber and Yuan Yang at the Financial Times.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND BORDER SECURITY

President Trump has backed down from his threat to shut down the U.S. Southern border as soon as this week, giving Mexico “a one-year warning” to address his concerns about its handling of immigrants traveling through the country on the way to the U.S., also demanding that the country cracks down on the flow of drugs. The president had proposed an immediate closure of the border in an attempt to curtail the rise in border crossings by asylum-seekers from Central America, but the announcement was met with intense resistance from Republicans and some business groups who warned there would be severe economic consequences, Ayesha Rascoe reports at NPR.

“The only thing … frankly … better and less drastic than closing the border is tariff the cars coming in … and I will do it,” Trump said, speaking to reporters after a meeting with the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, adding “I don’t play games.” The president warned: “if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars — the whole ballgame is cars … and if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border,” Annie Karni and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report at the New York Times.

N.A.T.O.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday urged N.A.T.O. allies to work together to confront a wide range of emerging threats from Russia and China, making the appeal at the opening of a N.A.T.O. meeting of foreign ministers in Washington to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary. “We must adapt our alliance to confront emerging threats … whether that’s Russian aggression, uncontrolled migration, cyberattacks, threats to energy security, Chinese strategic competition, including technology and 5G … [or] many other issues,” Pompeo said, Al Jazeera reports.

N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated yesterday that the alliance approved new surveillance measures and naval exercises in the Black Sea to back Ukraine and Georgia, aspiring members of N.A.T.O. that are facing Russian-backed separatist forces. Stoltenberg also urged Russia to return three Ukrainian navy vessels and its sailors which it seized in November near the Crimea, AFP reports.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday that Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems is a “done deal” and cannot be cancelled – despite tensions with N.A.T.O. ally the U.S. over the purchase.  Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the N.A.T.O. event, Cavusoglu said Turkey would still like to purchase Patriot systems the U.S. had offered as an alternative, but it would not back out of its deal with Russia, Reuters reports.

YEMEN

The House voted yesterday to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, in a rebuke of the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the country. Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to try and stop a foreign conflict by a 247-175 vote; the bill will now head to the president, who is expected to veto it, the AP reports.

The White House has already claimed that the resolution “would raise serious constitutional concerns to the extent it seeks to override the President’s determination as Commander in Chief.” According to an April 1 statement, if such a bill were presented to Trump, “his senior advisors would recommend he veto the joint resolution,” Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon report at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

Syrian government shelling has killed at least a dozen people in the northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib, in the latest bout of violence threatening a Russia-Turkey brokered truce in the region, according to opposition rescue group the White Helmets. Yesterday’s bombardment killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more in the town of Kafr Nabl where a missile hit a market, Al Jazeera 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]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan officials claim that a “massive”  Taliban siege of a government compound and army base in western Badghis province killed at least 12 troops in the past two days00. The  fatalities bring the overall casualty toll for the assault in the district of Bala Murghab to at least 32; according to soldiers inside the army base, roughly 2,000 Taliban fighters are involved in the attack, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has revoked the visa for the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) Fatou Bensouda, her office announced today, over a possible investigation of U.S. soldiers’ actions in Afghanistan. Bensouda would continue to pursue her duties for the Hague-based court “without fear or favor” despite the ban, her office said in a statement, AFP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Militias controlling the Libyan capital Tripoli have vowed to face down Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s promised attempt to seize the city, raising the prospect of renewed civil war. Haftar runs the self-styled Libya National Army (L.N.A.) based in the east, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its first official hearing on President Trump’s “Space Force” proposal next week, the committee announced yesterday. “A coherent space strategy is an integral part of our National Defense Strategy,” committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement, adding “I look forward to hearing from Pentagon leadership about what they see as the necessary capabilities of a space force, the costs and benefits associated with their solutions, and what our full range of options are,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Tech giant Google announced yesterday it was dissolving a council it had formed a week earlier to consider ethical issues around A.I. and other emerging technologies. The council ran into controversy over two of its members, Kelsey Piper reports at Vox 

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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).