The Early Edition: April 16, 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

Attorney General William Barr will release special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference Thursday morning, Department of Justice (D.O.J.) spokesperson Kerri Kupec announced yesterday. Barr will release the report after department lawyers redact secret grand jury testimony, classified information, material related to continuing investigations and other sensitive information, Kupec added, Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

Barr has claimed that he would color-code and explain his redactions, but the release of the document remains unlikely to satisfy Democrats’ demands for access to the full report. Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement comes following ongoing tension between Barr and Democrats, with Barr having missed the April 2 deadline for publication suggested by six House Democratic committee chairs last month. Julia Ainsley and Dartunorro Clark report at NBC.

It seems likely that the nearly 400-page report will be immediately scrutinized for insight into why Mueller did not establish conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow, as well as the special counsel’s reasoning for why he decided against making a determination on whether the president obstructed justice, Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the panel’s ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.,) last month issued a bipartisan request for the D.O.J. and F.B.I. to brief the panel on special counsel’s report, marking “a rare moment of unity for a committee marked by partisan acrimony.” Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The letter was sent on March 27 to Barr as well as F.B.I. Director Chris Wray and Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In addition to the request for a briefing, Nunes and Schiff asked for “all materials, regardless of form and classification, obtained or produced by the Special Counsel’s Office in the course of the investigation, including but not limited to any addenda or annexes to the full report, or separate intelligence or counterintelligence-related reports; scope-related materials regarding the investigation’s parameters, areas of inquiry, and subjects; investigative records and materials,” as well as raw reporting and finished analysis related to his work. The Daily Beast reports.

“How do you wring that juice out of a behemoth of a legal document … full of redactions … at the speed of social media?” Darren Samuelsohn provides an analysis at POLITICO Magazine, looking ahead to the Mueller report release from the perspective of various political tribes.

The implications of Barr’s commitment to “color-code” his redactions are explored by Founding Editor Marty Lederman at Just Security, in a follow-up to a previous legal analysis on the redaction process.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Congressional investigators have subpoenaed Deutsche Bank as Democrats intensified investigations into President Trump and his business operations. Subpoenas have been issued by both the House Intelligence and Financial Services Committees, with the panels also subpoenaing several other banks; Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) confirmed the development last night, describing the move as “a friendly subpoena to Deutsche Bank, which has been co-operative with the committees,” Khadim Shubber and Laura Noonan report at the Financial Times.

A federal judge yesterday denied bail to Chinese businesswoman Yujing Zhang – arrested after illegally attempting to enter President Trump’s private Florida Mar-a-Lago resort earlier this month. Federal Magistrate Judge William Matthewman said Zhang’s actions  indicate that “she was up to something nefarious” and that there would be an “extreme risk of flight” if she were released – “it does seem to the court that her alleged innocent explanation is refuted by what she left behind,” Matthewman added, Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against the agency’s newly appointed secretary David Bernhardt. Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate last week to head the agency, having played a central role in designing policies designed to implement President Trump’s policy of “energy dominance,” Coral Davenport reports at the New York Times.

JULIAN ASSANGE                                     

A federal judge yesterday ordered the release of previously sealed documents filed in the case against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, arrested last week in London at the request of U.S. authorities after the Ecuadorian government decided to revoke his asylum. The original affidavit and criminal complaint were made public in a Virginia federal court for the first time since they were filed in 2017, with the filings including chat logs between Assange and former U.S. intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

Assange and Manning had reason to believe that leaking U.S. military reports “would cause injury” to the country, federal prosecutors alleged in the affidavit, claiming that U.S. military reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq include information about the “identity and significance of local supporters of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan,” Reuters reports.

Ecuador announced yesterday that its public institutions have suffered 40 million cyber attacks since revoking Assange’s political asylum. Ecuador’s Deputy Minister for Information and Communication Technologies – Patricio Real – stated that the attacks which started Thursday, had “principally come from the U.S., Brazil, Holland, Germany, Romania, France, Austria and the U.K.,” as well as from inside Ecuador itself, AFP reports.

The year-long clandestine process that led to Assange being removed from the Ecuadorian embassy involved guarantees from the Trump administration that the Assange will not face the death penalty, according to reports. The Daily Beast reports.

LIBYA

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar tried to stage a coup when he issued an arrest warrant for Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, according to U.N. Special Representative Ghassan Salame. In an interview yesterday Salame claimed that Haftar’s decision to issue arrest warrants against Serraj and other top Tripoli officials – in the course of Haftar’s offensive on the capital Tripoli – “sounded more like a coup than counterterrorism,” Al Jazeera reports.

Haftar’s intended “lightning seizure” of Tripoli has stalled, but he is unlikely to face genuine pressure from abroad to pull back the offensive. Reuters reports.

A guide to the various militia groups poised to battle for power in the North African country is provided by Rami Musa and Samy Magdy at the AP.

SYRIA

The revelation that New Zealander nurse Louisa Akavi has been detained in Syria for five years has provoked tensions between the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) and the New Zealand government, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern criticizing the aid agency for releasing details of Akavi’s abduction. Eleanor Ainge Roy reports at the Guardian.

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]

YEMEN

A plan to withdraw forces from the frontline at the key Yemeni port of Hodeidah has been accepted by both pro-Government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council yesterday, though he cautioned that war shows “no sign of abating” elsewhere in the country. Griffiths said that after a “long and difficult process … both parties have now accepted the detailed redeployment plan for phase one”, with the U.N. now “moving with all speed towards resolving the final outstanding issues,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

The Sudanese forces fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen will remain in the Middle Eastern country, Sudan’s ruling transitional military council’s deputy head General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo announced yesterday. In a statement reported by Sudan news agency (S.U.N.A.,) Dagalo said: “we are adhering to our commitment to the coalition, and our forces will remain until the coalition fulfils its goals,” Reuters reports.

SUDAN

The Sudanese group that led protests against former President Omar al-Bashir yesterday called for the transitional military council that has taken power to be disbanded and for a new interim civilian ruling council to be formed. Representatives of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (S.P.A.) intensified pressure on the military commanders, issuing a long list of demands aimed at ending repression and economic chaos in the country, Reuters reports.

“Omar al-Bashir is gone—but he was never the key to Sudan’s oppression to begin with,” Rebecca Hamilton comments at Foreign Policy, arguing that “undoing this legacy means dismantling the self-serving institutions [Bahsir] fostered, taking power and wealth from those who are accustomed to it, and building a vision of governance that places the state in the service of all Sudanese.”

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday waved aside North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s demand for Washington to show more flexibility in denuclearization talks by the end of this year, with Pompeo saying Kim should keep his promise to give up his nuclear weapons before that deadline. “Our teams are working with the North Koreans … to chart a path forward so that we can get there … he said he wanted it done by the end of the year … I’d love to see that done sooner,” Pompeo told reporters, Reuters reports.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has said he will push for another summit with Kim as he seeks to reinvigorate the stalled diplomatic process over dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Returning from last week’s meeting with President Trump in Washington, Moon commented yesterday that preparations for the next inter-Korean summit should begin “in earnest” and that the “table is set,” Timothy W. Martin and Dasl Yoon report at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. has officially designated Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, according to a notice published in the U.S. Federal Register yesterday. Reuters reports.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met U.S. Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie in Riyadh to discuss cooperation between the two countries, Saudi Press Agency announced late yesterday. Reuters reports.

President Trump reportedly called former President Jimmy Carter for the first time this weekend, according to Carter. Earlier this year, Carter sent Trump a letter with some advice about managing the U.S.-China relationship – Trump allegedly called Carter to talk about it Saturday, Emma Hurt reports at NPR.

Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg oversaw plans to consolidate the social network’s power by treating its users’ data as a bargaining chip, according to about 4,000 pages of leaked company documents largely spanning 2011 to 2015, Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar report at NBC.

More women are needed in the male-dominated arenas of nuclear security and policymaking, Xanthe Scharff writes at Foreign Policy. 

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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).