The Early Edition: April 23, 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.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

The Trump Organization yesterday filed a lawsuit against Chair of the House Oversight Committee Rep Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the accounting firm Mazars U.S.A. L.L.P., seeking a court order to block a subpoena the panel filed last week against Mazars for eight years’ worth of President Trump’s financial statements. In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, attorneys for the Trump Organization said the subpoena issued by Cummings “threatens to expose Plaintiffs’ confidential information and lacks ‘a legitimate legislative purpose,’” Rebecca Ballhaus and Richard Rubin report at the Wall Street Journal.

“There is no possible legislation at the end of this tunnel,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the brief, regarding the Oversight Committee’s inquiry into whether Trump misled his lenders by inflating his net worth. “The Oversight Committee is instead assuming the powers of the Department of Justice, investigating (dubious and partisan) allegations of illegal conduct by private individuals,” David A. Fahrenthold, Rachel Bade and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

“We will not allow congressional presidential harassment to go unanswered,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow commented in a statement yesterday. Republicans have contended that the investigation is intended to embarrass the president, and claim the subpoena to Mazars issued last week amounts to an abuse of power, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

Former White House personnel security director Carl Kline has been instructed by the White House not to show up today for questioning by the House Oversight Committee. In a letter written yesterday to Kline’s lawyer, White House deputy counsel Michael M. Purpura instructed Kline not to show up as the committee had requested, claiming that the panel’s subpoena “unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests,” Tom Hamburger reports at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

House Judiciary Committee Chai Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) yesterday issued a subpoena to White House counsel Don McGahn for testimony and documents as part the panel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president and others. Nadler said in a statement that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference suggests that McGahn “is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report,” Rebecca Shabad reports at NBC.

“It now falls to Congress to determine for itself the full scope of the misconduct and to decide what steps to take in the exercise of our duties of oversight … legislation and constitutional accountability,” Nadler continued. The committee has apparently asked for McGahn to turn over documents and records related to the federal investigations into Trump by 7 May and to testify before his committee by 21 May, Lauren Gambino reports at the Guardian.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee – Rep. Doug Collis (R-Ga.) – yesterday announced he had reviewed a less-redacted version of Mueller’s report, after top House Democrats rejected an offer to do so. Collins lauded the version he reviewed in a secure Department of Justice (D.O.J.) room as giving further weight to attorney general William Barr’s interpretation of the report – that the president committed no wrongdoing, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

President Trump claimed yesterday that his aides do not routinely defy his commands, despite numerous examples of them doing so in Mueller’s report. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report read; nonetheless, Trump claimed yesterday that “nobody disobeys my orders,” in response to questions from reporters during a walkabout on the South Lawn for the annual Easter egg roll, Kevin Liptak reports at CNN.

D.O.J. attorney Zachary Terwilliger may end up prosecuting Wikileaks and its co-founder Julian Assange in charges relating to the Russia probe. Carrie Johnson explains how Terwilliger came to be involved at NPR.

An analysis of how Trump and his allies have turned on McGhan in the wake of the Mueller report release is provided by Michael S. Schmidt at the New York Times.

A guide to the “dozens of overlooked nuggets” buried in the Mueller report is provided by Darren Samuelsohn, Kyle Cheney and Natasha Bertrand at POLITICO.

SRI LANKA EASTER BOMBING ATTACK

Sri Lanka’s government has intelligence indicating the plotters of Easter bombings planned the deadly attack in retaliation to the New Zealand shootings that killed 50 Muslims in March, according to Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. Uditha Jayasinghe reports at the Wall Street Journal.

In the days leading up to the attack Sri Lankan security agencies had been monitoring the radical Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath, now thought to have carried out the bombings. Why the security agencies failed to act on the information before the attacks took place has now emerged as an “enormous question,” Jeffrey Gettleman, Mujib Mashal and Dharisha Bastians report at the New York Times.

At least four Americans were killed and several seriously injured in the bombings, a State Department official announced yesterday. “While details continue to emerge, approximately 290 people have been killed, including at least four U.S. citizens … several U.S. citizens were seriously injured in the attacks … we extend our deepest condolences to the friends and families of the deceased …we will continue to work to provide services and support to all U.S. citizens affected and their families,” the official told reporters, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will soon visit Russia for a summit with President Vladimir Putin, North Korean state media reported today, with a Russian newspaper reporting the two leaders will meet on Thursday in Vladivostok. There was no immediate comment on the report from the Kremlin, but spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday that Putin and Kim were on track to meet by the end of April, Reuters reports.

“North Korea has so far not gotten what it wants most from the recent flurry of high-level summitry between Kim and various world leaders … relief from crushing international sanctions,” Foster Klug writes at the AP in an explainer on the the upcoming Putin-Kim summit.

2020 CENSUS

The Supreme Court will hear extended arguments today on whether the Trump administration can lawfully add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census form that will be sent to every household in the U.S. Adam Liptak reports at the New York Times.

“The bigger question in Department of Commerce v. New York is whether executive officers must defer to a politically unaccountable bureaucracy,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on the case.

“An agency action deserves judicial scrutiny and rejection when it violates congressionally set process … dodges contrary evidence and the views of the agency’s own experts … and disregards Supreme Court precedent about agency obligations to follow the law,” William W. Buzbee comments at the New York Times, arguing that in light of those factors, the real test in this case “is of the Supreme Court’s integrity and politicization.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

 Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pushing for the Senate to hold vote overriding the presidential veto on his resolution to withdraw U.S. military forces from Yemen’s civil war. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

President Trump’s overtures to Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar should be scrutinized in light of Haftar’s war crimes, and “his willingness to broadcast them,” Editor-in-chief Ryan Goodman comments at Just Security.

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]

A federal appeals court has denied former intelligence operative Chelsea Manning’s request to overturn an order finding her in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury. Yesterday’s order rejected Manning’s argument that a judge improperly denied her request to say whether she was illegally electronically surveilled after she was convicted in 2013 for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks, Jacqueline Thomesn reports at the Hill.

The U.S. is threatening to veto a U.N. resolution on combatting the use of rape as a weapon of war because of the resolution’s language on reproductive and sexual health, according to a senior U.N. official and European diplomats. The German mission hopes the resolution will be adopted today at a special U.N. security council session on sexual violence in conflict, but the draft resolution has already been stripped of one of its key elements– the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities – because of opposition from the U.S. along with Russia and China, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian. 

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).