The Early Edition: May 10, 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

President Trump stated yesterday that he would allow Attorney General William Barr to decide whether special counsel Robert Mueller can testify to Congress. “I’m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general,” Trump said when asked during an impromptu news conference at the White House about the possibility of Mueller testifying, in an apparent reversal from his position Sunday, when the president argued that Mueller “should not” appear before Congress, Annie Karni and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report at the New York Times.

The president added that he was “very surprised” to learn his eldest son Donald Trump Jr. had been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify as part of the panel’s investigation into Russian election interference. The congressional subpoena issued by the Republican-led panel marks the first to a member of the president’s family, and the move has angered Trump associates, directing their ire toward the committee’s Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Kate Galioto reports at POLITICO.

“This would not go forward without Republican complicity,” Trump ally Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding “I think it’s a mistake for Republicans to keep putting the Trump family through this, and I really think they ought to drop it.” Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she agrees with House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that the U.S. now entered a “constitutional crisis” — but said she still wants her party to be “methodical” in their investigations of Trump, rather than rush to launch the impeachment process. “Yes, I do agree with Chairman Nadler, because the administration has decided that they are not going to honor their oath of office,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference, Rebecca Shabad reports at NBC.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he plans to travel to Ukraine in the coming days in an attempt to push for investigations that he says could benefit the president. Kenneth P. Vogel reports at the New York Times.

Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein – who oversaw Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference – yesterday wrapped up his tenure at the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) Rosenstein spoke at a farewell ceremony, shortly after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved No. 2 official at the Department of Transportation – Jeffrey Rosen – to replace him as Barr’s deputy, Reuters reports. Rosenstein’s send-off was a “Trump-Russia reunion,” Betsy Woodruff comments at The Daily Beast, noting that the event “brought together a mix of eclectic officials that reflected [Rosenstein’s …] controversial …. time as the D.O.J.’s main manager.”

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S. has seized a North Korean cargo ship, alleging sanctions violations by Pyongyang, the D.O.J. announced yesterday. The ship, the M/V Wise Honest, was used to haul valuable coal from North Korea that was sold abroad, according to the department; the U.S. and the U.N. have previously stated that North Korea has used illicit sales of its coal to fund the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program, David Shortell and Tammy Kupperman report at CNN.

North Korea fired a number of unidentified projectiles yesterday, according to the South Korean military. “North Korea fired unidentified projectiles eastward” from Sino-ri in North Pyongan province, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, with the reported launch coming just days after Pyongyang carried out a military drill and fired multiple projectiles, AFP reports.

President Trump said that the U.S. was looking very seriously at the missile launch and that while North Korea wants to negotiate with the U.S., he does not believe it is ready to do so. “We’re looking at it very seriously right now … they were smaller missiles, they were short-range missiles,” Trump told reporters at the White House, adding “nobody’s happy about it but we’re taking a good look and we’ll see,” Reuters reports.

U.S. MILITARY

President Trump will nominate acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as U.S. Secretary of Defense, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in a message on Twitter sent yesterday. Shanahan – who spent virtually his entire adult life working at Boeing Co., – “has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job,” Sanders claimed in her tweet, Tom Bowman reports at NPR.

“The long-awaited appointment of Patrick Shanahan allows Pentagon leaders to finally move forward on filling key positions,” Lara Seligman writes in an account of the development at Foreign Policy.

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday advanced a bill that would prohibit using military construction funds on a border wall. The prohibition is included in the fiscal 2020 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill, which the committee advanced in a largely partisan 31-21 vote, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

IRAN

President Trump yesterday suggested that he would be willing to resume nuclear talks with Iran, claiming that he can help the country’s economy get “back to great shape.” “What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me,” Trump said in comments to reporters, just days after the U.S. redirected warships toward the Iranian coast and leveled new sanctions on Tehran, Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

European governments yesterday rejected Iran’s 60-day ultimatum to help it circumvent U.S. sanctions, stating they viewed Tehran’s threat to abandon some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with great concern. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton last week participated in a meeting at C.I.A. headquarters to discuss Iran with the Trump administration’s top intelligence, diplomatic and military officials. The meeting was unusual insofar as national security meetings are usually held in the White House Situation Room, and senior White House officials and Cabinet members do not typically attend meetings at the C.I.A., Courtney Kube, Ken Dilanian, Dan De Luce and Carol E. Lee report at NBC.

An in-depth analysis on the implications of Iranian President Rouhani’s announcement earlier this week – that his country will no longer adhere to certain commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal – is provided by Senior Editor Tess Bridgeman at Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have wrapped up their sixth round of peace talks with “some progress” made on a draft agreement for when foreign troops might withdraw from Afghanistan, according to spokesperson for the insurgents. Al Jazeera reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between April 21 and May 4 [Central Command]

Tech giant Facebook should be broken up, its co- member Chris Hughes argues in an Op-Ed at the New York Times. 

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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).