The Early Edition: April 30, 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

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ­yesterday submitted a resignation letter indicating that he will leave the job in the next two weeks. During his two years as the No. 2 official at the Department of Justice (D.O.J.,) Rosenstein was responsible for overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign,  Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

“I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve … for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations,” Rosenstein wrote to President Trump, also expressing his gratitude for “the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education and prosperity.”  Current No. 2 official at the Transportation Department Jeffrey Rosen is awaiting a likely confirmation by the Senate as Rosenstein’s successor, Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

 “Our nation is safer … our elections are more secure … and our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts and schemes to commit fraud … steal intellectual property, and launch cyberattacks,” Rosenstein wrote in what appeared to be a “vague allusion” to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Rosenstein’s tenure has been marked by repeated attacks from the president over his handling of the probe, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

President Trump has sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One in an attempt to stop the banks from handing over financial records in response to congressional subpoenas issued by Democrats. Trump filed the suit late yesterday in a federal court in New York to prevent the banks giving Congress years of records about his business dealings. Khadim Shubber reports at the Financial Times.

The suit — filed by the president as well as his children and several Trump properties claims that the subpoenas “have no legitimate or lawful purpose.” “The subpoenas were issued to harass President Donald J. Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the president and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage,” it alleges, adding “no grounds exist to establish any purpose other than a political one,” Alex Johnson reports at NBC.

Deutsche Bank intends to begin producing documents in response to the subpoena on May 6, and Capital One feels obligated to comply before May 6 absent court intervention, according to the lawsuit. Zachary Warmbrodt and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

The House Judiciary Committee is moving ahead with a Thursday hearing to question Attorney General William Barr about the Mueller report, even if Barr opts not to turn up. The panel yesterday formally announced plans to hold a Wednesday morning vote that would authorize its Democratic and G.O.P. counsels to divide up an hour of additional questioning regarding the Mueller probe, Darren Samuelsohn and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

Trump is escalating his attacks on Mueller in an apparent appeal to his base in advance of the 2020 election race. The president yesterday sent a message on Twitter suggesting that Mueller was “a great HERO to the Radical Left Democrats” but that the party is abandoning him because of the report’s core findings, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Can Congress force Barr to testify? An outline of the “three methods at its disposal to seek compliance with a subpoena by holding a witness in contempt,” is provided by Ken Dilanian and NBC.

A detailed guide to the Mueller Report’s evidence on collusion including a summary and analysis of the major findings is provided by Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security.

Trump’s attempts at rapprochement with Moscow have failed, Amy Mackinnon comments at Foreign Policy, arguing that the president’s stance has long been at odds with that of his administration.

SYRIA

The video shows a man purporting to be Baghdadi appeared to be wearing a casual outfit, sitting on the ground next to an assault rifle and stating that the “battle for Baghouz is over,” in a reference to the patch of land in eastern Syria formerly held by I.S.I.S as its last remaining redoubt, Bianca Britton and Hamdi Alkhshali report at CNN.

“Our battle today is a battle of attrition … and we will prolong it for the enemy … and they must know that the jihad will continue until Judgment Day,” the man in the video continues. Little is known about where and how al-Baghdadi has spent the last five years: he has rarely appeared in public, and although he released occasional audio messages he never appeared in videos, Ben Hubbard reports at the New York Times.

“The real rhetorical weight of Baghdadi’s resurfacing is not so much in what he says but rather Baghdadi himself,” Rita Katz comments at The Daily Beast.

An illustrated account of the situation at the eastern Syrian towns formerly held by I.S.I.S. is provided by Ben Hubbard and Ivor Prickett at the New York Times.

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]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israel Defense Force (I.D.F) has claimed that it is scaling back the permitted fishing zone off the Mediterranean coast of Gaza following a rocket attack from the strip the previous day. The I.D.F. announced today that fishing would only be permitted up to 6 nautical miles until further notice, the AP reports.

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo has warned that the worsening Palestinian financial crisis poses a growing risk “of a financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority,” telling the Security Council yesterday that “a sustainable resolution” to the authority’s funding crisis is desperately needed, the AP reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday convened a rare assembly of prominent Afghans to agree on a framework for peace talks with the Taliban, marking the latest attempt by the U.S.-backed government to influence the peace process. “Today we listen to an Afghanistan that hasn’t been heard,” Ghani told the gathering of 3,200 people, Craig Nelson and Ehsanullah Amiri report at the Wall Street Journal.

The four-day consultative grand assembly is known as a Loya Jirg, traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances to build consensus among various ethnic groups and tribal factions. “It is a proud moment for me to have representatives from all over the country here and today we are gathered to speak about the peace talks,” Ghani said in an opening ceremony in huge tent set up for such assemblies in central Kabul, Reuters reports.

IMMIGRATION

President Donald Trump is appealing to top immigration officials to take steps that will toughen and accelerate the process for seeking asylum in the U.S. In a memo issued yesterday evening the president ordered the development of regulations to prevent certain asylum seekers from obtaining work authorization, level fees on applications, expedite court decisions and limit access to other forms of relief, Ted Hesson and Wesley Morgan report at POLITICO.

Trump did not call for immediate implementation, instead calling on the secretaries of the Homeland Security and Justice departments to “take all appropriate actions” to implement the restrictive goals within 90 days, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Caitlin Dickerson report at the New York Times.

The Pentagon will send another 320 military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border for roles that include “monitoring the welfare of individuals” in Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) custody, according to a Department of Defense (D.O.D.) statement released yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar have intensified their air attacks around the Libyan capital of Tripoli over the past two days.  Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) launched its operation to take the capital from the country’s U.N.-recognized government on April 4; yesterday the force reportedly targeted the Nawasi brigade in the Abu Salim district, located roughly four miles from central Tripoli, Al Jazeera reports.

Boeing has been awarded a $5.7 billion U.S. defense contract for post-production requirements for the KC-46 Pegasus aircraft, the Pentagon announced yesterday. Reuters reports.

The Trump administration’s refusal to engage with U.N. human rights monitors risks undermining standards around the world and will embolden repressive regimes, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (N.J.) has alleged in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Menendez’s comments come following the State Department’s failure to respond to any of the U.N.’s official complaints since May 7, Ed Pilkington reports at the Guardian.

Global military spending last year rose to $1.8trn —the highest level in real terms since reliable records began in 1988 – according to a new report published yesterday by think-tank the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (S.I.P.R.I.) The Economist reports.

“Today … the U.S. and Russia are at a perilous crossroads … they must stop and think,” former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev writes in an Op-Ed on nuclear deterrents at the Wall Street Journal. 

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).