The Early Edition: April 11, 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.

JULIAN ASSANGE

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange has been hiding out in the embassy for seven years, in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped, the BBC reports

The U.K.’s Metropolitan Police announced that Assange was arrested for failing to surrender to the court. Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno said his country withdrew Assange’s asylum after his repeated violations of international conventions. Reuters reports.

Assange had violated international agreements by “intervening in the internal affairs of other states” through WikiLeaks, Morenao claimed, citing WikiLeaks’s leaking of Vatican documents in January as the most recent example. Assange’s arrest opens a path for a possible extradition request from the U.S, although it is unknown what charges Assange might face, Paul Hannon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Assange’s legal team has claimed that expelling him from the Embassy would be “illegal” and would “violate international refugee law.” In a statement released today, lawyers for Assange claimed: “it will be a sad day for democracy if the U.K. and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration’s determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information,” Ana Maria Canizares, Gremaud Angee, Samantha Beech, Claudia Rebaza and Hilary McGann report at CNN.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Moscow hopes that Assange’s rights will not be violated following his arrest. Reuters reports.

The “dramatic” expulsion follows a “year of ratcheting tension between Assange and his Ecuadorian hosts,” culminating in the publication of hundreds of thousands of hacked emails stolen from the inboxes of Moreno and his wife, Kevin Poulesen explains at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Attorney General William Barr has stated that will establish a team to examine the origins of a 2016 counterintelligence investigation that conducted “spying” on people affiliated with the Trump campaign. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Barr announced that the new team would investigate the background to the F.B.I.’s probe of the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia that was later taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. Byron Tau, Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.

“I think spying did occur … the question is whether it was adequately predicated,” Barr said, later clarifying “I’m not saying improper surveillance occurred … I am looking into it.” President Trump also announced that he had spoken to Barr about the new investigation, describing the Mueller probe as “an attempted coup” and adding that Barr is “doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started,” the BBC reports.

Obama-era White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig is expected to be indicted in the coming days on charges related to his work for the Russia-aligned government of Ukraine. The case against Craig stemmed from an investigation initiated by Mueller’s office; Craig would become the “first person who made his name in Democratic Party politics” to be charged in a case linked to the special counsel’s investigation, Kenneth P. Vogel reports at the New York Times.

It is appropriate for Barr to investigate the investigators, Rich Lowry argues at POLITICO Magazine, writing that the Mueller probe was a “national trauma” and that “a key question is indeed whether there was “improper surveillance” of the [Trump] campaign.”

The Southern District of New York appears to have significant evidence that Trump may have been involved in a criminal conspiracy to make hush money payments, and the president should be duly worried that the eventual release of the Mueller’s report is likely to “raise the public’s expectation that federal prosecutors may well be able to state whether they conclude the President committed a crime,” Editor-in-chief Ryan Goodman comments at Just Security.

BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION

President Trump said yesterday he would have to mobilize more of the military at the Southern border after listening to stories about migrants crossing the border from people attending a Republican fundraiser. “I’m going to have to call up more military,” Trump said, claiming that some of the people crossing the border were landing up dead on U.S. citizens’ ranches, Reuters reports.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has reportedly approved a request to identify places to potentially house up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, the Pentagon announced yesterday. Reuters reports.

Neither political party is getting it right on immigration, The Washington Post editorial board writes. The Post proposes that Trump “could offer a deal to legalize “dreamers,” … could expand legal immigration … [and] could redouble U.S. efforts to improve living conditions in migrant-producing countries rather than cut off their aid, as he recently said he would,” rather sticking to the hardline policy he has doggedly pursued so far.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

The Treasury Department will not meet House Democrats’ deadline of Wednesday to hand over President Trump’s tax returns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced. In a letter to Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Mnuchin said the Treasury was continuing to review the Democrats’ request in light of “serious issues” about whether the request is legitimate; Neal issued a brief statement stating only that he had received the letter and that he was consulting with legal counsel, promising a response “in the coming days,” Al Johnson reports at NBC.

“We have completed the necessary groundwork for a request of this magnitude … and I am certain we are within our legitimate legislative … legal and oversight rights,” Neal had said last week. In his letter yesterday, however, Mnuchin claimed that “the legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power,” Jeff Stein and Damian Paletta report at the Washington Post.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to stay in office for a record fifth term after his most significant election challenger Benny Gantz admitted defeat yesterday. With almost all ballots counted, both men’s parties have pulled in an almost identical share of the vote – but a coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud and smaller right-wing and religious parties could form a 65 seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, the BBC reports.

President Trump claimed yesterday that Netanyahu’s reelection victory increases the chances for a Mideast peace deal. “Everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians … I think we have a chance and I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won,” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo erroneously told senators Tuesday that there is an “international law doctrine” justifying why the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights was good but the Russian seizure of Crimea was bad. Asked for clarification about the “doctrine” the State Department issued a statement that made several arguments but no legal ones, Julian Borger writes at the Guardian.

Netanyahu’s apparent re-election as prime minister “attests to a starkly conservative vision of the Jewish state and its people about where they are and where they are headed,” David M. Halbfinger writes in an analysis at the New York Times.

LIBYA

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli because of fighting between eastern-based forces led by General Khalifa Haftar and troops loyal to the country’s internationally recognized government. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (U.N.O.C.H.A.,) at least 4,500 individuals have been displaced since the clashes erupted six days ago, Al Jazeera reports.

European Union states will call on Haftar to halt his forces’ offensive, according to a draft statement, amid disagreements between France and Italy over policy towards the North African state. Reuters reports.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said there was still time for a “bloody battle for Tripoli” to be avoided, despite the continuing fighting in and around the Libyan capital, making comments to reporters outside the Security Council in New York last night. The U.N. News Centre reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

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]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened to deliver a “telling blow” against the U.S. if it continues to impose sanctions on his country, marking a return to the more bellicose language of the past. The Daily Beast reports.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence yesterday warned that Venezuela under President Nicolás Maduro “is a failed state … and failed states know no boundaries,” making the comments at the U.N. General Assembly. “With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, you shouldn’t be here,” Pence said in remarks targeted at Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.N. Samuel Moncada, adding: “you should return to Venezuela and tell Nicolás Maduro that his time is up,” Rafael Bernal reports at the Hill.

“The digital world is not designed to keep women safe … new regulations should be,” Emily Chang comments in an Op-Ed at the New York Times. 

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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).