The Early Edition: April 17, 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.

YEMEN

President Trump yesterday vetoed a congressional resolution seeking to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, marking the second veto of his presidency. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate, Allie Malloy reports at CNN.

All Democrats and several Republicans — including Trump allies — in both Congressional chambers had backed the War Powers resolution amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the U.S-backed Saudi-led coalition are fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. Several lawmakers also supported the bill as a way to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the killing of Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

Trump defended the U.S. involvement, arguing: “it is our duty to protect the safety of the more than 80,000 Americans who reside in certain coalition countries that have been subject to Houthi attacks from Yemen.” He also appealed to members of Congress to instead focus their efforts on the pullout of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria, writing “Congressional engagement in those endeavors would be far more productive than expending time and effort trying to enact this unnecessary and dangerous resolution that interferes with our foreign policy with respect to Yemen,” Felicia Somnez, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash hailed Trump’s veto, sending a message on Twitter early today claiming that “President Trump’s assertion of support to the Arab Coalition in Yemen is a positive signal,” also describing the move as “timely and strategic.” The U.A.E. is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, Reuters reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to subpoena the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) for special counsel Robert Mueller’s complete report as soon as Friday, according to a spokesperson for the panel. Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has up until now refrained from issuing subpoenas for the report and the testimony of individuals questioned during Mueller’s investigation, but the panel’s Democrats have already made clear that the redacted document Attorney General William Barr intends to release tomorrow will lack the transparency and details that they demand, Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Federal District Judge Reggie Walton has expressed interest in reviewing the Mueller report redactions after they are released to the public tomorrow in order to expedite Freedom of Information Act requests for the highly anticipated report. “Obviously there is a real concern as to whether there is full transparency,” Walton said at a court hearing yesterday regarding a request from BuzzFeed News to have the Justice Department release the report quickly under F.O.I.A., adding “the attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned.” The Daily Beast reports.

Several current and former White House officials who cooperated with Mueller are reportedly worried that the version of his report expected to be made public tomorrow will expose them as the source of damaging information about the president, according to multiple witnesses in the investigation. Some of the officials and their lawyers have sought clarity from the D.O.J. on whether the names of those who cooperated with Mueller’s office will be redacted or if the report will be written in a way that makes it obvious who disclosed certain details of Trump’s actions; the D.O.J. has reportedly refused to cooperate, Carol E. Lee, Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker report at NBC.

The five key words to “control-F search” once the Mueller report is released are “collusion,” “dirt,” “junior,” “McGahn,” and “defer,” Elie Honig comments at CNN.

IMMIGRATION

The Trump administration has moved to deny bail to some asylum seekers at the southern border, amid a marked increase of Central American immigrant families that the administration has labeled a “crisis.” If the ruling issued by Attorney General William Barr yesterday takes effect, it could mean that asylum seekers could spend more time in jail while their cases are decided.  Louise Radnofsky and Alicia A. Caldwell report at the Wall Street Journal.

The ruling is set to be implemented in 90 days so that the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.,) can conduct additional operational planning, according to the D.O.J. Michael D. Shear and Katie Benne report at the New York Times.

U.S.S. COLE BOMBING

A federal appeals court has thrown out years of legal proceedings in the already postponed military commission case against Saudi defendant Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, charged with orchestrating the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 37.  An appellate panel in Washington said yesterday that Retired Air Force Col. Vance Spath improperly continued to preside over the case after he sought a job in the D.O.J. beginning in 2015, Mark Sherman reports at the AP.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Spath created “an intolerable cloud of partiality” over the military commission, delivering its findings in a “blistering,” unanimous opinion. The three-judge panel also accused Spath of a “lack of candor” for obscuring his pending job change by not disclosing it when he halted proceedings in the case in July 2018; Judge David Tatel ruled that under the circumstances, Al-Nashiri had “a clear and indisputable right to relief,” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

“Today’s decision was merely the inevitable result of years of hubris on the part of the commissions themselves and the government lawyers before them” Editor-in-chief Steve Vladeck comments at Just Security, going beyond Tatel’s “unanswerable” ruling to tease out two key implications of the al-Nashri case.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

Turkey “expects” the Trump administration to grant it waivers from U.S. sanctions related to its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian air defenses, Turkish presidential spokesperson and senior adviser Ibrahim Kalin said yesterday. Kalin told a news conference he could not be certain that the waivers would be granted, but that Ankara had made a strong case that should be taken into account by its N.A.T.O. ally, Al Jazeera reports.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said he had a “very constructive” talks with U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and their views have become more aligned on certain subjects, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported today. Akar had been visiting Washington with a large Turkish delegation for talks partly focusing on areas of discord between the allies, including the purchase of a missile-defense system and the Syrian conflict, Reuters reports.

LIBYA

Recent clashes between rival Libyan militias for control of the capital Tripoli have displaced nearly 20,000 people, the U.N. announced yesterday, prompting the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) Fatou Bensouda to warn that she could investigate and possibly prosecute new offenses. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army –aligned with a rival government in the east – launched a major offensive on April 5 to take Tripoli, igniting clashes with rival militias allied with the internationally recognized government, Samy Magdy reports at the AP.

Last night’s shelling in Tripoli killed two people and wounded eight, a Tripoli emergency department official announced today. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Week-old satellite images indicate movement at North Korea’s main nuclear site that could be associated with the reprocessing of radioactive material into bomb fuel, Washington-based thinktank Center for Strategic and International Studies has reported. Reuters reports.

Iranian lawmakers approved a measure yesterday designating U.S. forces in the Middle East as terrorists. The bill, which was “overwhelmingly” approved by the Tehran’s parliament, comes a day after the U.S.’s terrorism designation for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) officially took effect, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

The Afghan government has announced a list of 250 people – including around 50 women – who will travel to Qatar for talks with the Taliban later this week. Officials in Kabul released the names yesterday, despite the fact that the Taliban has refused to talk directly with President Ashraf Ghani’s, claiming it would recognize participants only as “ordinary” Afghans, Al Jazeera reports.

Military rulers in Sudan have sacked a further tranche of senior officials after pressure from protesters. The move marks the latest concession by the army-led transitional council, which took power last week following the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir; the council’s leader Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan yesterday fired the country’s prosecutor general, with the deputy public prosecutor, the head of public prosecutions and the head of the national broadcasting corporation also reported to have been removed from their posts, Jason Burke 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] 

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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).