The Early Edition: April 29, 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 AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Attorney General William Barr has threatened not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, stating concerns about the format of the hearing scheduled for Thursday. The panel has requested that it be able to discuss redacted sections of the report in a closed session and allow for committee staff lawyers to also ask questions, Alex Moe and Allan Smith report at NBC News.

“The witness [Barr] is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period,” the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said yesterday, warning that the committee would have to subpoena to the attorney general if he fails to comply with their requests. Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Laura Jarrett report at CNN.

“Democrats have yet to prove their demands anything but abusive and illogical,” Republicans on the panel said in a statement, claiming that the attorney general has shown “transparency and good faith” in his dealings with the committee. Sarah N. Lynch reports at Reuters.

The dispute over proposed questioning format comes amid increasing animosity between the White House and congressional Democrats over the Mueller report. Sheryl Gay Stolberg provides an overview of the feud at the New York Times.

“… [If] he were not the president of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction,” the former top Justice Department official Sally Yates said yesterday, also pointing to the broader questions raised by the report about the links between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. Reuters reports.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) yesterday contested Jared Kushner’s characterization of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, stating that the White House senior adviser and son-in-law to the president had underplayed the success of the Moscow hacking campaign and that “an attack on one party should be an attack on all.” Rachael Bade reports at the Washington Post.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the U.S. court sentencing of admitted Russian foreign agent Maria Butina an “outrage,” making the comments at the weekend after Butina was sentenced on Friday for her attempts to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) and influence U.S. conservative activists and Republicans.  Reuters reports.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) have signaled their intent to step up investigations into alleged F.B.I. spying on Trump’s 2016 campaign. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

“If Donald Trump were not now president he would have been indicted on multiple counts of obstruction of justice,” Mimi Rocah and Just Security editor Renato Mariotti write at The Daily Beast.

SRI LANKA EASTER BOMBING ATTACKS

Sri Lankan authorities have warned that there could be “another wave of attacks” by the Islamist militants behind the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, stating that militants were targeting five locations on Sunday or Monday and that the attackers could be dressed in military uniforms. Shri Navaratnam and Ranga Sirilal report at Reuters.

“We could have prevented all the blasts, or most of the blasts,” the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesignhe said at the weekend, adding that the intelligence services were not aware that the Islamist group’s activities had moved from “extremism to terrorism.” Chathuri Dissanyake and Stephanie Findlay report at the Financial Times.

Sri Lankan security forces raided the headquarters of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (N.T.J.) Islamist group on Friday killing the father and two brothers of the alleged mastermind behind the Easter Sunday bombings, Zahran Hashim. The N.T.J. have been blamed for the attacks but authorities believe they must have had help from a larger network. The BBC reports.

Investigators are trying to put together a full picture of the series of attacks that took place on Easter Sunday, with Sri Lankan police attempting to understand the level of direct involvement there was from the Islamic State group. Ben Otto, Saeed Shah and Uditha Jayasinghe report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Easter Sunday bombings show the “enduring ability” of the Islamic State group to inspire violence throughout the world, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post, providing an analysis of what the attacks say about the extremist group’s capabilities following the loss of its territorial “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

ARMS CONTROL

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said that his panel would hold a hearing on Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2013 U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, calling the president’s announcement on Friday a “politically motivated appeasement” of the National Rifle Association. Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.

Russian is open to the possibility of new arms control deals with the U.S., the Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said yesterday, but adding that the already-existing control agreements need to be honored. Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani today launched a four-day consultative grand assembly – known as Loya Jirga – in an attempt to build consensus for the government’s approach to peace negotiations with the Taliban; however, the Taliban, opposition leaders, critics and former President Hamid Karzai have boycotted the meeting. Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain report at Reuters.

The Loya Jirga risks being seen as a gathering of loyalists and the initiative comes as the U.S. appears to be growing increasingly impatient with Ghani. Kathy Gannon explains at the AP.

IRAN

Iran could consider withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.) in response to U.S. sanctions, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying yesterday by the state I.R.I.B. broadcaster, also telling I.R.I.B. that Tehran could pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if European powers do not take practical measures to support Iran-Europe trade. Reuters reports.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) has not seen a change in U.S. navy interactions in the Strait of Hormuz following the U.S. decision to blacklist the I.R.G.C. as a “foreign terrorist organization” and the U.S. efforts to halt all Iranian oil exports, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Baqeri said yesterday, adding that Iran does not intend to close the Strait “unless hostilities reach a level where this cannot be avoided.” Al Jazeera reports.

“We’re going to continue to reach out to our partners and friends in the region to ensure that we make common cause against the threat of Iran,” the U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie was quoted as saying by Sky News Arabia on Saturday, while on an official visit to the Gulf region. Reuters reports.

SUDAN

Gulf nations have been increasing their ties with Sudan’s military following the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir; taking the initiative to shape events in Khartoum as the U.S. fails to engage with the situation. Declan Walsh explains at the New York Times.

Gulf nations have seen the situation in Sudan as an opportunity to further their strategic interests, including keeping Iran out of the Red Sea, inhibiting Qatar and Turkey’s regional ambitions, and maintaining Sudanese military presence in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Summer Said write at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

The opposition Syrian National Coalition (S.N.C.) has been struggling to make its voice heard as President Bashar al-Assad regains control of Syria. The S.N.C. attempted to assert its relevance at the latest round of talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana and to push for a role in the creation of a new constitution – but it has little leverage to exact concessions. Raja Abdulrahim explains at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between April 6 and April 20 [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. signed a pledge to pay for the release of U.S. student Otto Warmbier from detention in North Korea but never made any payment, the White House national security adviser John Bolton said yesterday, responding to a report by the Washington Post claiming that President Trump authorized a payment of $2m for Warmbier’s hospital care in Pyongyang. Kate O’Keeffe reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Rear Adm. John C. Ring was fired from his position as commander of the prison at Guantánamo Bay for a “loss of confidence in his ability” to lead, the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement yesterday. Carol Rosenberg reports at the New York Times.

The Taiwanese defense ministry said today that two U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Street over the weekend. The U.S. action is likely to lead to objection from China as Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory, the AP reports.

House-to-house battles took place yesterday between forces backing Libya’s internationally recognized government and forces loyal to self-styled Libyan National Army leader Khalifa Haftar. Al Jazeera reports. 

About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK