The Early Edition: June 5, 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

House Democrats’ resolution to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt could accelerate their party’s lawsuit to obtain President Trump’s tax returns. The contempt resolution will include provisions designed to clarify House rules that could sanction lawsuits, according to a group of party leaders known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, Brian Faler reports at POLITICO.

House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is rejecting an offer from the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) to renew negotiations with his panel if the lower chamber revokes a vote to hold Barr in contempt next week. In a letter to Barr yesterday evening, Nadler insisted that the D.O.J “return to the accommodation process without conditions,” explaining that the House was not moving prematurely to punish Barr for failing to fulfil the committee’s demands, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The White House has instructed former Trump aides Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson not to provide documents to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. In a letter to Nadler, Hicks’s lawyer Bob Trout explained that the White House had advised him that documents from his client’s tenure in the administration “are potentially protected by White House confidentiality interests or subject to a claim of executive privilege,” Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

House Democrats yesterday announced they were willing to renew negotiations with the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) over access to Mueller’s full report and investigative files. However, they rejected a request to pre-emptively hold Barr in contempt, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) yesterday announced that his panel plans to hold a “series of hearings” on the first volume of Mueller’s report. “We have not been able to get a clear answer yet from the intelligence community or the F.B.I. as to whether that investigation is still open, whether that investigation mushroomed into a set of other counterintelligence investigations, whether it was closed at some time,” Schiff commented at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington, D.C., Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The Russian government is likely to release fake videos to try to influence the 2020 presidential election, according to a statement made yesterday by Schiff. Schiff said he was particularly concerned about the videos which could be easily introduced into social media and would be “hugely disruptive and hugely influential,” Julian E. Barnes reports at the New York Times.

Prosecutors do not have to disclose highly classified transcripts of Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn discussing sanctions with Russia’s former top diplomat Sergey Kislyak in late 2016, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled yesterday. The decision means that the exact words that Flynn and Kislyak exchanged during the presidential transition will remain secret, Adam Goldman reports at the New York Times.

Former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele has agreed to be questioned by U.S. officials about his relationship with the F.B.I. Steele – known for collating a dossier alleging salacious ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow – will meet with investigators in the coming weeks, Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

Top Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee yesterday called for hearings into Russian electoral interference on the back of Mueller’s statement made last week. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) wrote: “please hold immediate, thorough, and productive hearings regarding Russia’s ability to influence our elections … let us protect our citizens from this criminal behavior,” Reuters reports.

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort could end up in New York’s Rikers Island jail, according to his lawyer. Manafort was sentenced to 7.5 years on tax fraud and bank fraud amongst other charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation, Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld report at Reuters. Manafort will not be given “special treatment” beyond the measures needed for security when he is transferred to Rikers, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated yesterday. “He is going to be treated, as much as humanly possible, like any other inmate, and would have the same rights and responsibilities,” de Blasio commented at an unrelated press conference, Joe Anuta reports at POLITICO.

Convicted former personal lawyer to Trump – Michael Cohen – is being treated “like a celebrity” inside the federal prison where he is currently serving his sentence, Lachlan Cartwright writes at The Daily Beast, explaining that Cohen “is one of the most popular guys in the prison.”

House Democrats cannot stop talking about impeaching Trump – yet they refuse to do anything more than file another lawsuit, John Bresnahan, Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris comment at POLITICO.

Congress needs to “take responsibility and legislate” in order to reassert itself, Yuval Levin writes in an Op-Ed at the New York Times.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is “very much in charge” of the House and is “winning the impeachment fight,” Chris Cillizza comments at CNN, arguing that Pelosi’s control is misunderstood.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Congress is reportedly eager to get involved in scrutiny of Big Tech, following the announcement that the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) and Federal Trade Commission are launching antitrust probes. A guide to “the key lawmakers to watch as the debate unfolds on Capitol Hill,” is provided by Kristina Peterson at the Wall Street Journal.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) yesterday placed a hold on the State Department’s notification that it plans to establish a Bureau of Cyberspace Securities and Emerging Technologies (C.S.E.T.), describing its proposed mission as too narrow. “While Congress has pursued comprehensive, bipartisan legislation, the State Department has plowed ahead in its plan to create a bureau with a much narrower mission focused only on cybersecurity,” Engel claimed in a statement, adding “this move flies in the face of repeated warnings from Congress and outside experts that our approach to cyber issues needs to elevate engagement on economic interests and internet freedoms together with security,” Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Apple will ask developers to position a new “Sign on with Apple” button in iPhone and iPad apps above rival buttons from Google and Facebook, according to design guidelines released this week. Apple unveiled its login button on Monday in a move to emphasize user privacy, Reuters reports.

The National Security Agency (N.S.A.) is urging Microsoft Windows users and administrators to ensure are using an updated version of Windows amid “growing threats” of cybersecurity-related damage. An advisory released yesterday by the N.S.A. specifically references the “BlueKeep” vulnerability, which can be used by malicious actors to conduct “denial of service” attacks, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

“The very same agencies and legislators now screaming for blood have for decades ignored any sensible regulation of Silicon Valley,” Kara Swisher comments at the New York Times, arguing that the current political backlash against Big Tech mishandles the issue.

Moscow is reportedly developing a ‘sovereign internet’ that critics claim will enhance the state’s power to silence dissent.  Max Seddon and Henry Foy provide an in-depth account at the Financial Times.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

New tariffs against Mexico will come into effect next week, unless the White House is satisfied that Mexico’s government is acting with renewed speed to prevent stop migrants from crossing into the U.S., President Trump warned yesterday during his visit to the U.K.  “This will take effect next week … 5%,” Trump said during his visit to London, in a reference to the tariff hike, although he added that “I think Mexico will step up and do what they should have done,” Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

Republican senators warned yesterday that Trump does not have the political backing to impose tariffs on Mexican goods, and that the move could deal him an embarrassing pushback if he moves forward. “There is not much support in my conference for tariffs,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) commented, declining to address whether the Senate could hold a vote to oppose the Republican president, Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump claimed that the G.O.P. would be “foolish” to try to block his plan. “I don’t think they will do that,” Trump said, when asked about opposition within his own party during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Frank Thorp V, Geoff Bennett and Allan Smith report at NBC.

Mexico has reportedly increased apprehensions of Central American migrants hoping to reach the U.S. Around 23,600 migrants were apprehended by Mexico’s migration authorities in May – more than double the number detained in the same month last year, according to figures provided by Mexico’s migration agency, Santiago Pérez and Anthony Harrup report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan detained by Russia on suspicion of spying is being “illegally” isolated in a Moscow pre-trial detention center and prohibited from communicating with visitors, according to Russian rights activists and U.S. diplomats. Whelan, who faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted, believes that he was “framed” and that the case against him is “politically motivated revenge” for the U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia, Andrew Osborn reports at Reuters.

Russia yesterday intercepted a U.S. aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea three times in just under three hours, according to the U.S. 6th Fleet. “[T]his interaction was irresponsible … we expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents,” the 6th Fleet wrote in a statement, adding that “unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and potential for midair collisions,” Barbara Starr and Caroline Kelly reports at CNN.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Huawei Chairman Liang Hua said yesterday that the Chinese telecommunications giant is willing to sign a “no-spy agreement” with the U.S. to reassure officials in Washington concerned that the firm’s technology could be used for surveillance. The offer, coming after weeks of intense pressure from the Trump Administration, is similar to proposals Huawei has already made to the U.K. and Germany, Pallavi Gogoi reports at NPR.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived this morning in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The two former Cold War communist rivals in recent years have aligned their foreign policy positions at the U.N. and in relation to major international crises, the AP reports.

China will work with the international community to play a constructive role with conflict-stricken Venezuela, and help the country to get back on a normal development path as soon as possible, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Russian media yesterday. Reuters reports.

SUDAN

At least 60 people were killed and over 300 injured after troops stormed the main camp of pro-democracy protesters in Sudan’s capital Khartoum Monday, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (C.C.S.D.).  Julia Hollingsworth reports at CNN.

The Sudanese military reportedly instructed all hospital staff at Sudan’s Royal Care Hospital to evacuate all wounded protesters yesterday, proceeding to beat, shoot and arrest medical professionals thought to have assisted during the sit-in that was cleared on Monday. An account of the violence is provided at Al Jazeera.

The head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) – Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – said today that the council remains open to talks with opposition groups without any conditions. Al-Burhan announced yesterday that the T.M.C. was cancelling all agreements with a coalition of protesters and opposition groups and instead was going to national elections within nine months, a plan rejected by the opposition, Reuters reports.

Sudanese protest organizers are dismissing today’s call to resume talks. Live updates at the AP.

IRAN

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that Tehran will continue “resisting” U.S. economic and political pressure, amid raised tensions in the Gulf. Khamenei said that “standing and resisting the enemy’s excessive demands and bullying is the only way to stop him,” as he addressed crowd in Tehran yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of founder of the Islamic Republic –Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Al Jazeera reports.

“The U.S. president recently said Iran can achieve development with its current leaders … that means they do not seek regime change … but this political trick will not deceive Iranian officials and the Iranian nation,” Khamenei added in televised remarks. “In the missile program, they know we have reached a point of deterrence and stability … they want to deprive us from it, but they will never succeed,” Khamenei continued, Reuters reports.

Washington believes Russia may be more amenable than in the past to addressing U.S. and Israeli concerns about Iran’s influence when leaders including U.S. national security adviser John Bolton meet in Jerusalem this month, a U.S. official commented yesterday.  The senior Trump administration official described the meeting as an “unprecedented diplomatic opportunity” for discussions on Syria, adding that another goal of the talks will be “to see how we can potentially work together to get rid of the primary irritant in the Middle East, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Reuters reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday expressed concern over the tension in the Gulf, which he attributed to “extreme pressure” by the U.S. on Iran, also appealing to all sides to show restraint. “The development of the situation is worrying,” Xi said, according to a transcript published by the Chinese foreign ministry before Xi’s arrival in Russia, Al Jazeera reports.

Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group is no longer Iran’s most effective foreign proxy, Anchal Vohra writes in an analysis at Foreign Policy, noting that “domestic pressures in Lebanon have complicated [Hezbollah’s] participation, and Iran is shifting its foreign policy accordingly.”

IRAQ

Baghdad’s Green Zone area – the strip on the west bank of the Tigris River housing the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices – reopened to the public yesterday after 16 years. Maj. Gen. Jassim Yahya Abd Ali told reporters that the area is now open “twenty-four hours a day without any exceptions or condition,” the AP reports.

Bringing women and children home from Iraq and Syria is a humanitarian and human rights imperative, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin writes at Just Security, arguing that returning these families is both practical and achievable.

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

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is appealing to the U.S. to respect the needs of both Israelis and the Palestinians in any future Mideast peace attempts. Following a meeting between European Union (E.U.) leaders and President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner yesterday, E.U. officials stated that “the economic development of the whole region is crucial … it must be accompanied by viable political progress that takes into account the aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” the AP reports.

The Palestinian Authority could collapse by August, Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh has claimed in an interview in the West Bank city of Ramallah. A new Israeli antiterrorism law that withholds some Palestinian revenue has sparked a financial crisis that could bankrupt the authority – if such a situation were to occur, Shtayyeh warned, the authority would have to lay off its vital police officers, David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.

Israel expects to launch U.S.-mediated talks within weeks with Lebanon on setting their maritime border, a senior Israeli official said yesterday, naming a U.N. peacekeeper compound in southern Lebanon as a possible venue. Lebanon has not commented publicly on whether it would attend talks or on any possible timeline, while the U.S. has not announced a date or venue but said it is prepared to help the two sides resolve the dispute, Reuters reports.

The KINGDOM AND JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

The Trump administration has approved the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia on seven occasions – including twice after the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The approvals came on Oct. 18 – 16 days after Khoshoggi’s death – and Feb. 18, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

“It has taken the Trump administration more than two months to answer a simple question – when did you approve transfers of nuclear expertise from American companies to Saudi Arabia … and the answer is shocking,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) commented in a statement, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A bipartisan group of senators will try to force 22 votes blocking the Trump’s administration’s decision to sell billions of dollars of munitions to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. “We will not stand idly by and allow the president or the secretary of state to further erode congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)  commented in a statement, Catie Edmondson reports at the New York Times.

TRUMP-U.K. VISIT

Britain is “a very … very special place and I think it deserves a special place,” President Trump said at a joint news conference with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May as part of his three-date state visit to Britain; the New York Times proves an account of the president’s recent events and meetings, including those with politicians Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

Trump’s behavior on his U.K. state visit was “embarrassing,” according to former undersecretary of State and N.A.T.O. ambassador R. Nicholas Burns. “This was largely a ceremonial visit … we expect our president, any president, on a ceremonial visit, to represent all Americans with dignity, with grace, and the president hasn’t done that,” Burns said on M.S.N.B.C., Justin Wise reports at the Hill.

The “shock value” of Trump’s behavior is gone, The New York Times editorial board comments, explaining how “times have changed” since the president’s last visit to the U.K.

Live updates on Trump’s U.K. visit are provided by Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea will temporarily suspend its “Mass Games” displays from next week, travel agencies announced yesterday, after leader Kim Jong-un censured the show’s content. This year’s show had its premiere Monday and was expected to run until October, but Kim reportedly “seriously criticized” the performance creators for “their wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude,” AFP reports.

An in-depth account of the continuing violence in the Libyan capital of Tripoli is provided by Sudarsan Raghavan at the Washington Post.

Syrian air defenses responded yesterday to drones launched by opposition fighters near a helipad in Jubb Ramlah village in Hama province, according to Syrian state T.V. There were no reports of any casualties and no further details were available, Reuters reports.

“It is both possible and necessary to negotiate peace with the Taliban while ensuring that women’s rights are secured,” Masuda Sultan comments at the New York Times following a meeting with the Taliban in Doha last month.

A disagreement over control of biometric data between the World Food Program (W.F.P.) and Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels is stymieing humanitarian efforts and threatening to disrupt aid distribution in the famine-stricken country, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration’s nominee to lead its new U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) – Air Force Gen. John Raymond – yesterday warned lawmakers there would be “substantial” challenges in standing up such a branch of the military. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeal announced yesterday that its full 12-judge bench plans to revisit whether judges have the authority to disclose usually secret grand jury information in exceptional cases. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Just Security has obtained the draft Charter for the State Department’s proposed Commission on Unalienable Rights. Analysis of the draft suggests that “the concerns of human rights activists identified in the initial reporting on the Commission seem well-founded,” Rebecca Hamilton explains in an exclusive at Just Security. 

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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).

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).