The Early Edition: April 22, 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

Trump allies moved to defend the president yesterday, assuming a confrontational stance on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and maintaining that it was biased even though it does not call for the president’s indictment. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani engaged in heated debates with hosts Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” while Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway also took to the air, using her interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz to shield the president and criticize the Mueller report, Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians … it depends on where it came from,” Giuliani stated on CNN. Meanwhile, Conway claimed that “the campaign I managed in those last few months did not welcome help from Russia …in fact, I don’t recall getting, being offered help from Russia … it would have been a ridiculous prospect,” Victoria Bekiempis and Martin Pengelly report at the Guardian.

Giuliani had already attacked the credibility of former White House counsel Don McGhan on Friday, claiming his account of how Trump told him to remove the special counsel was inaccurate. “It can’t be taken at face value,” Giuliani stated during an interview, adding “it could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or could be the product of something else,” Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Congressional Democrats took legal action Friday to gain access to all of the evidence from the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.,) issued a subpoena to the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) to hand over the full Mueller report and other relevant evidence by May 1: “my committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice … the redactions appear to be significant,” Nadler said in a statement, Reuters reports.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) yesterday hit back at Conway, who had criticized him for repeatedly raising the idea of “collusion.” Schiff defended his previous statements, saying there was “ample evidence of collusion in plain sight;” “I use that word very carefully,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week,” “because I also distinguish time and time again between collusion, that is acts of corruption that may or may not be criminal, and proof of a criminal conspiracy … in fact, every act that I’ve pointed to as evidence of collusion has now been borne out by the report,” David Cohen reports at POLITICO.

In the wake of the Mueller probe leading Democrats are divided on the question of impeachment.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has emerged as the most prominent presidential candidate to call for opening impeachment proceedings while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has said she does not support such a move, Joshua Jamerson and Ken Thomas report at the Wall Street Journal.

Focus amongst other Democratic lawmakers is shifting away from the Mueller investigation to other cases spawned by the probe. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are working on Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s campaign finance violations, while prosecutors in Washington are eyeing up a November trial for longstanding Trump associate Roger Stone, in a case Mueller handed over at the close of his probe, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Prosecutors are seeking an 18-month sentence for convicted Russian agent Mariia Butina, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. In a court filing late Friday, prosecutors argued that Butina gave Russia information of “immense” value ahead of the 2016 presidential election, adding “she undeniably worked in the United States to gather that information, provide it, and attempt to establish herself as a backchannel of communication …had she successfully done so, the risks to the United States would have included harm to this country’s political processes, internal government dealings, and U.S. foreign policy interests.” Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

Butina’s lawyers pleaded for leniency. “Although Maria has committed a serious offense, just punishment does not require additional incarceration,” her attorneys argued in a sentencing memo also filed Friday, adding that “she has been separated from her family, in a foreign country, for over nine months … she has languished for three of those months in administrative segregation – solitary confinement by another name — where she was enclosed in a small cell for 22 hours a day,” Reuters reports.

An in-depth account of how Mueller’s team went about uncovering whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia is provided by Rosalind S. Helderman at the Washington Post.

A word-searchable .pdf version of the redacted Mueller report is available at Just Security.

TRUMP-RUSSIA: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

The Mueller report suggested that the threshold for charging the president might have been breached had staffers not resisted Trump’s orders to engage in activities that would have impeded the investigation. A guide to “the people in Trump’s orbit who the Mueller report says ignored his orders” is provided by Jessica Taylor at NPR.

Giuliani’s “State of the Nation” interview yesterday was a “master class in deceit,” Dean Obeidallah comments at CNN.

The “unanswered questions” remaining on the issue obstruction are explored by Julia Ainsley at NBC, asking: would Mueller have charged Trump with obstruction had he not been the president?; did Mueller want Congress to rule on obstruction?; what were the disagreements between Mueller’s team and [attorney general William] Barr’s team over obstruction?; and what did Mueller mean when he talked about other “possible personal motives” for Trump’s behavior?

Russia experts claim that Mueller’s extensive detail about Russian activities reveals a great deal about Moscow’s game plan—and provides a road map for what U.S. counterintelligence officials should watch for in future elections from 2020. Amy McKinnon explains at Foreign Policy.

Even if there is a partisan divide as to Trump’s culpability – lawmakers across the political spectrum should unite to combat “sweeping and systematic” Russian electoral interference, the New York Times editorial board argues.

SRI LANKA EASTER BOMBING ATTACK

Explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed 290 people and injured more than 500 yesterday. The country’s government has stated that local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamaath carried out the attack, with suspected international assistance, Joanna Slater, Amantha Perera and Shibani Mahtani report at the Washington Post.

Authorities took 24 people into custody in connection with the bombings, making arrests in several locations in and near the capital Colombo, where the bombings were focused. Uditha Jayasinghe and Niharika Mandhana report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated yesterday that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in the series of bomb blasts. The White House in a statement yesterday condemned the attacks, saying the U.S. “stands with the Sri Lankan government and people as they bring to justice the perpetrators of these despicable and senseless acts,” Reuters reports.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres commented that he was “outraged by the terror attacks,” calling for the perpetrators to be “swiftly brought to justice,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea slammed U.S. national security adviser John Bolton as “dim-sighted” Saturday, after he claimed Pyongyang would have to show more evidence that it was ready to give up nuclear weapons before Trump would hold another meeting with its leader Kim Jong-un. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Saturday said on Saturday that U.S. diplomatic efforts will continue toward the goal of denuclearization of North Korea, a day after a North Korean official said the North longer wanted to deal with him in talks. “Nothing has changed … we’ll continue to work to negotiate; still in charge of the team … President Trump’s obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it’ll be my team,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington, Reuters reports.

CHINA

The C.I.A. has reportedly accused Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei of being backed by China’s state security apparatus. According to U.S. intelligence shared with the U.K., The People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission and a third intelligence organization gave financial support to the organization, Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

China’s first aircraft carrier will take part in a naval review tomorrow marking the People’s Republic navy’s 70th anniversary, and will reportedly be joined by latest-generation nuclear submarines, destroyers and fighter jets. A look at recent developments in the South China Sea is provided by Christopher Bodeen at the AP.

SUDAN

Sudan’s interim leader Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has claimed that the transitional military council in charge of the country is committed to handing power to a civilian authority in the wake of the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir – currently jailed in the capital, Khartoum. “The transitional military council is complementary to the uprising and the revolution … the council is committed to handing over power to the people,” al-Burhan told state TV yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The organizers of Sudan’s protests said however that they have suspended talks with the military council because it has failed to meet their demands for an immediate transfer to civilian government. Spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association Mohammed al-Amin Abdel Aziz stated yesterday that the political committee of the military council remains too close to al-Bashir, Fay Abuelgasim and Samy Magdy  report at the AP.

SYRIA

Islamic State group attacks on the Syrian army and allied militias in the country’s center have killed 35 soldiers over two days, U.K.-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported yesterday. The attacks constituted Islamic State group’s biggest military operation since losing its last territorial stronghold Baghouz, Reuters 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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Several airstrikes struck the Libyan capital of Tripoli Saturday night, marking in an escalation of the United Arab Emirate-backed assault on the city led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The strikes included the first alleged use of armed drones in the conflict, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has replaced the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, state T.V. reported yesterday, days after the U.S. designated the group a foreign terrorist organization. Brigadier General Hossein Salami was named as the Guards’ new leader, replacing Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Reuters reports.

Islamic State group yesterday claimed responsibility for a deadly raid Saturday on a government building in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, that killed seven people, including three police officers. Craig Nelson and Ehsanullah Amiri report at the Wall Street Journal.

The F.B.I. on Saturday arrested Larry Mitchell Hopkins – described as the commander of a right-wing armed group that has been detaining migrants in New Mexico, according to the state attorney general’s office. Phil Helsel, Natalie Obregon and Sumiko Moots report at NBC.

“Two years into U.S. President Donald Trump’s tenure … there is still endemic confusion about what … exactly … his foreign policy is.” Michael Anton seeks to provide some clarity in an Op-Ed at Foreign Policy. 

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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).