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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.
BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION
President Trump’s proposal to release detained undocumented immigrants into so-called “sanctuary cities” yesterday seemed more likely, despite categorical dismissal by the administration just days ago. White House officials confirmed that the divisive plan was back in the picture, urging an immediate response to an increase of Central American migrants at the Mexican border, Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.
“It’s not political retribution,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters, adding “if anything, you should consider it on the Democrat side to be an olive branch.” Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration was “looking to see if there are options” that make the president’s proposal legally viable, describing the plan as “an option on the table” among other immigration enforcement measures, Shannon Van Sant reports at NPR.
The Trump administration is reportedly considering a new raft of immigration measures to put pressure on countries whose nationals it considers to overstay short-term visitor visas. The measures would target nationals of countries with high overstay rates of such visas, including Nigeria, Chad, Eritrea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with the White House also looking at tightening student and investor visas, Louise Radnofsky and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.
The president allegedly urged incoming Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to close the southwestern border to migrants last week, despite having publicly announced that he was delaying such a decision for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation. It was not clear what Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of following through on the plan; one of the people briefed on the conversation said it was possible Trump had intended the comments to McAleenan as a joke, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.
Reports of the McAleenan conversation have sparked an angry reaction from Democrats. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.,) said the report marked “another instance of the President’s contempt for law,” making the comments during an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.
Nadler and other Democrats have also leveled criticism at White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller. The Washington Post reported last week that Miller played a key role in Trump’s “sanctuary cities” plan; Nadler yesterday stated that “Miller, who seems to be the boss of everybody on immigration, ought to come before Congress and explain some of these policies,” though he conceded that Miller is likely to invoke executive privilege to avoid testimony, Mike DeBonis, Rachael Bade and Felicia Sonmez report at the Washington Post.
Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday that he expects the Pentagon will soon send additional troops to the border, even though the Defense Department (D.O.D.) has not yet received a formal request for support. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ll provide more support to the border,” Shanahan told reporters ahead of a meeting with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen at the Pentagon, adding “our support is very elastic, and given the deterioration there at the border, you would expect that we would provide more support,” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
“Miller remains unsatisfied,” Eileen Sullivan and Michael D. Shear write at the New York Times in an account of how immigration policy has led to a “bitter struggle within the administration.”
Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno yesterday defended his decision to overturn Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange’s asylum status, claiming in an interview that Assange had tried to set up a “center for spying” in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange had spent seven years hiding out at the embassy before his arrest last Thursday; “it is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadoran embassy in London to interfere in processes of other states,” Moreno commented, AFP reports.
WikiLeaks has been linked to an anonymous website that claimed Moreno’s brother had created an offshore company, leaking material that included private pictures of Moreno and his family. “We cannot allow our house … the house that opened its doors, to become a center for spying,” Moreno said in an apparent reference to the leaked pictures, adding “this activity violates asylum conditions … our decision is not arbitrary but is based on international law,” Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
President Trump was joking when commented during his presidential campaign that he “loved” WikiLeaks, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed yesterday. “Look, clearly the president was making a joke during the 2016 campaign,” Sanders told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace in comments relating to Trump’s past praise for the whistleblowing website, Allan Smith reports at NBC.
White House officials believe that the principal conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference will provide the president with a “powerful shield,” even while conceding that the nearly 400-page report that Attorney General William Barr is aiming to release this coming week will likely include compromising new details about Trump’s behavior. “This is a report where everybody already knows the outcome,” Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager David Bossie commented, adding that the president “just wants it out and over with,” Eliana Johnson, Daniel Lippman and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.
The Trump campaign sent a fundraising email and several text messages to supporters Friday misquoting Barr, claiming that the attorney general had confirmed the existence of “unlawful” spying on the 2016 Trump campaign. The email erroneously claimed that “Attorney General William Barr said what the president has thought all along: he believes ‘unlawful spying did occur’ against Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign;” although Barr did state that “spying did occur,” at no point did he conclude that the actions were unlawful, specifically stating that he could not make such a conclusion, John Bowden reports at the Hill.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Chair of the House Freedom Caucus Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) are pushing back on a Democratic probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process, writing a letter to Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) arguing that the panel should be looking into the practices of the Obama administration. Juliegrace Brufke reports at the Hill.
Chinese businesswoman Yujing Zhang – arrested last month at the president’s private Florida Mar-a-Lago resort – was indicted on Friday after a federal grand jury found there was sufficient evidence to hold her for trial. Yujing told the authorities she had come to the resort at the invitation of a Chinese group that was advertising opportunities to attend social events and mingle with political celebrities — a business operation that has raised questions about security at the exclusive private resort, Frances Robles reports at the New York Times.
The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) abandoned a possible Afghanistan war-crimes investigation Friday, saying the U.S. and others in the conflict would not cooperate. The court’s chief prosecutor had long sought permission to open a formal inquiry into civilian killings, torture and other alleged abuses in the conflict, including possible crimes by U.S. forces; in a ruling welcomed by the Trump administration, a panel of the court’s judges decided last week that the difficulties of obtaining evidence and witness testimony outweighed the benefits of a prosecution, Marlise Simons, Rick Gladstone and Carol Rosenberg report at the New York Times.
An explainer on the legal background to the I.C.C.’s Afghanistan ruling and an assessment of the decision is provided by former Ambassador Todd Buchwald at Just Security, writing that as “the U.S. continues to profess support for the fundamental principle that those responsible for mass atrocities should be held to account … it would do neither itself nor the rest of the international community a service by absenting itself when such important issues are discussed.”
Israeli planes targeted a military position near the Syrian province of Hama Saturday but Syrian air defenses intercepted and shot down some of the rockets, according to Syrian state television. S.A.N.A. news agency and Syrian state television reported that Israeli aircraft had targeted “one of our military positions towards the city of Masyaf,” with S.A.N.A. adding that “the enemy missiles were dealt with and some of them were shot down before reaching their target, resulting in the damage of a few buildings and the injury of three fighters,” Al Jazeera reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 52 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between March 24 and April 6 [Central Command]
The Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) has announced that it is investigating the fatal shooting of a Palestinian man by an Israeli civilian on April 3 near the West Bank city of Nablus. The inquiry coincides with yesterday’s announcement by Israeli rights group B’Tselem saying it found inconsistencies in the initial report that the Palestinian man was armed with a knife, the AP reports.
High-ranking former European politicians have condemned the Trump administration’s Israel-Palestine policy and written a letter calling on European powers to reject any U.S. Middle East peace plan unless it is fair to Palestinians. The letter, sent to the Guardian newspaper, the European Union (E.U.) and European governments, is signed by 25 former foreign ministers, six former prime ministers, and two former N.A.T.O. secretary generals, and states that “it is time for Europe to stand by our principled parameters for peace in Israel-Palestine,” Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.
More than 120 people have been killed since the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on the country’s capital Tripoli 10 days ago, prompting clashes with rival militias, the U.N. health agency reported yesterday. Samy Magdy reports at the AP.
“An increasingly unsavory cast” has joined the coalition fighting against Haftar, David D. Kirkpatrick explains at the New York Times.
Sudan’s ruling military council has announced a raft of concessions aimed at appeasing protesters calling for a civilian-led transition to democracy following the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. Council spokesperson Shams Eldin Kabashi yesterday pledged to restructure the widely feared National Intelligence and Security Service (N.I.S.S.), meeting a key demand from the political parties and movements behind the months-long protests that triggered Bashir’s overthrow, Al Jazeera reports.
The country’s powerful intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Gosh stepped down Saturday, in a move seen as intended to assuage demonstrators protesting against autocratic rule. Joseph Goldstein and Declan Walsh report at the New York Times.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has laid down an end-of-year deadline for the U.S. to agree to terms for a nuclear deal while signaling he may agree to a third summit meeting with President Trump. “It is essential for the U.S. to quit its current calculation method and approach us with a new one,” Kim was quoted as saying during a speech to his country’s Supreme People’s Assembly, Jesse Byrnes reports at the Hill.
“We of course place importance on resolving problems through dialogue and negotiations,” Kim stated, though he added that the “U.S.-style dialogue of unilaterally pushing its demands doesn’t fit us, and we have no interest in it.” Kim went on to say that “we will wait with patience until the end of the year for the United States to come up with a courageous decision … but it will clearly be difficult for a good opportunity like last time to come up,” the AP reports.
Tech giant Google is disbanding a London-based panel reviewing its A.I. work in health care, according to people familiar with the matter. Parmy Olson reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Assistant adjutant general for the California National Guard Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers has said that the gender identity of his soldiers “is the least of our concerns,” making the remarks shortly after the Trump administration’s policy barring most transgender people from serving in the military took effect Friday. Beevers told reporters that “anybody who is willing and able to serve state [and] nation should have the opportunity to serve … it’s unconscionable in my mind that we would fundamentally discriminate against a certain class of people based on their gender identity,” Aris Folley reports at the Hill.