The Early Edition: June 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

The House Intelligence Committee intends to hold an open-door hearing on the counterintelligence implications of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Wednesday. The hearing, which will be the first in a series of hearings the committee plans to hold on Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, will feature testimony from former F.B.I. officials Stephanie Douglas and Robert Anderson, both of whom worked in the bureau’s national security branch, the panel announced Friday, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said yesterday that he believes President Trump has committed crimes when he was asked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recent comment that she would prefer to see Trump “in prison” than see him impeached. “He did,” O’Rourke told A.B.C.’s “This Week,” when asked whether he thought the president had committed offences that could be prosecuted, adding  “I think that’s clear from what we have learned from [the Mueller] report, but I think those crimes might extend beyond what we’ve seen in the Mueller report,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ordered the release of certain sealed documents in a “mysterious” legal battle between a foreign company and Mueller.  Mueller’s grand jury had been seeking information from the foreign company, but the company had refused to comply with the subpoena; the three-judge panel Friday ordered that the federal government file redacted versions of court filings in the case by June 21, also ordering that the government submit proposed redactions to the transcript of one proceeding in the case by July 12, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

U.B.S. Vice Chairman Robert Foresman became a subject of Mueller’s probe due to a series of approaches the banker made to the Trump campaign team. A ‘factbox’ on how Foresman figures in the Mueller report is provided at Reuters.

Last week’s disclosure of the 2017 voicemail left by former Trump attorney John Dowd, asking lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn for a “heads-up” if he knew of information implicating President Trump, suggests that tantalizing questions about the president’s conduct went unanswered because investigators encountered obstacles or backed off on pursuing leads,” Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage write at the New York Times. Mueller’s investigators apparently declined to question Dowd about the message, citing “attorney-client-privilege issues.”

“William P. Barr is quickly emerging as the most influential figure in the second half of President Trump’s term,” Sharon La Franiere, Charlie Savage and Katie Benner write in an analysis of the Attorney General’s priorities and influence at the New York Times.

“Mueller’s findings leave no room for debate about the need to address the legal and institutional deficiencies that allowed a foreign adversary to tamper with America’s democracy,” the New York Times editorial board comments.

The White House’s attempt to launch a “wholesale attack on the legitimacy of congressional oversight” is inconsistent with prior precedent, Founding Editor Andy Wright argues in a legal analysis at Just Security.

A guide to “Four Disturbing Details You May Have Missed in the Mueller Report,” is provided by Lawfare Managing Editor Quinta Jurecic at the New York Times.

RUSSIA

Russian intelligence request for dating app Tinder to hand over data is the latest step in a “sweeping clampdown on free speech,” Amy MacKinnon argues at Foreign Policy, commenting on the country’s “vaguely worded laws that range from bizarre to draconian.”

Countries such as Russia and China are joining forces to counter the U.S., Samantha Vinograd comments at CNN, writing that President Trump’s “tariff temper tantrums” have cast the U.S. as an unreliable partner among its allies.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to meet at a G.20 summit late this month, according to U.S. treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin. The meeting would provide the opportunity to put trade negotiations back on track after talks hit a standoff a month ago, Chao Deng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

China is open for more trade talks with Washington but has not confirmed a possible Trump-Xi meeting, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang stated today at a daily news briefing in Beijing, adding that “if there is concrete news on this, China will release it in a timely manner,” Reuters reports.

Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) –Russell Vought – is seeking a two-year delay in implementing restrictions on companies that do business with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and nine members of Congress, Vought asked for the restrictions to take effect four years from the law’s passage, instead of the current two years. Dan Strump reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The delay would give companies more time to comply with the ban: “This is about ensuring that companies who do business with the U.S. government or receive federal grants and loans have time to extricate themselves from doing business with Huawei and other Chinese tech companies listed in the N.D.A.A.,” spokesperson for the White House O.M.B. Jacob Wood said in a statement, Felicia Sonmez and Damian Paletta report at the Washington Post.

China reportedly summoned officials from global technology giants for meetings after the Trump administration announced a ban on Huawei products in the U.S. The country arranged a meeting with company officials last week telling them that complying with the U.S. blacklist of Huawei products “would lead to further complications,” according to a source at Microsoft, Owen Daugherty reports at the Hill.

Trump could ease U.S. restrictions on Huawei if there were progress in the trade row with China, Mnuchin stated yesterday, clarifying that absent a deal, Washington would maintain tariffs to cut its deficit. “I think what the president is saying is, if we move forward on trade, that perhaps he’ll be willing to do certain things on Huawei if he gets comfort from China on that and certain guarantees … but these are national security issues,” Mnuchin commented, Reuters reports.

Huawei’s presence in African markets may help the company to survive Trump, Jordan Link writes at the Washington Post, commenting that in Africa, basic connectivity needs and lower prices may outweigh security concerns.

Trump’s Huawei ban may end up backfiring badly, Michael Jacobides comments at the Financial Times, arguing that putting “America first” could ultimately mean the U.S. finishes last.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

President Trump announced today the U.S. has signed another portion of an immigration and security deal with Mexico that would need to be ratified by Mexican lawmakers. The president did not provide details, but once again threatened tariffs if Mexico’s Congress did not approve the plan; “we have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years … it will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s legislative body,” Trump stated in a message sent on Twitter, Reuters reports

President Trump and his allies yesterday had declared victory in the tariffs fallout with Mexico after the administration claimed to have secured significant commitments from the Mexican government to reduce the flow of Central American migrants at the Southern border. Mexico announced Friday night that it would implement “strong measures” to stem the flow of migrants across its territory toward the U.S. border, including an unprecedented deployment of thousands of Mexican national guard troops, Felicia Sonmez, Mike DeBonis and Nick Miroff report at the Washington Post.

Mexico also agreed to take “decisive action” to tackle human smuggling networks. For its part, the U.S. agreed to expand its program of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico while they await reviews of their claims, while both countries pledged to “strengthen bilateral co-operation” over border security, including “coordinated actions” and information sharing, the BBC reports.

The deal consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the U.S over the past several months, according to officials from both countries who are familiar with the negotiations. The Mexican government had already committed to a deployment of the National Guard in March, during secret Miami talks between former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mexican Secretary of the Interior Olga Sanchez, Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

The president claimed yesterday that there were secret and undisclosed elements to the new immigration agreement, as he sought to offset criticism that he achieved less than he had touted.  “We have been trying to get some of these Border Actions for a long time, as have other administrations, but were not able to get them, or get them in full, until our signed agreement with Mexico,” the president wrote in a message sent on Twitter, adding “importantly, some things not mentioned in yesterday press release, one in particular, were agreed upon … that will be announced at the appropriate time,” Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

“Mexico will try very hard … and if they do that … this will be a very successful agreement for both the United States and Mexico!” the president claimed in an earlier Twitter spree Saturday, also citing National Border Patrol Council officials as describing the pact as a “huge deal” and launching a broadside against outlets he described as the “Fake and Corrupt News Media” who had criticized the agreement, Jesse Byrnes reports at the Hill.

Vice President Mike Pence yesterday praised the president for concluding the deal but called out lawmakers by saying that “now it’s time for Congress to step up.” In a message sent on Twitter, Pence claimed: “@POTUS’ strong stand got Mexico to do things they have never done before: 6,000 National Guard at their southern border, immigration checkpoints throughout Mexico & allow ALL illegal immigrants from Central America to remain in Mexico pending their asylum claims,” Bianca Quilantan reports at POLITICO.

“The deal the U.S. and Mexico struck to prevent the U.S. from imposing tariffs largely reaffirms the countries’ commitments to existing measures on immigration but will allow Washington to keep up pressure on Mexico,” Louise Radnofsky, Josh Zumbrun and Robbie Whelan write in an account at the Wall Street Journal.

“There are reasons to believe Trump may soon be frustrated” on his Mexico policy, Ishaan Tharoor argues at the Washington Post.

2020 CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION

 The House Oversight and Reform Committee – seeking information about efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census –has found itself unable to reach an agreement with Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and will move forward with a contempt vote next week for ignoring its subpoena. Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said last week that Barr and Ross had until Thursday to comply with subpoenas sent two months ago; the respective departments hit back that the documents sought  are part of litigation and therefore cannot be released, Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has appeared to give an indication as to how she might vote in the 2020 census case. Ginsburg said the case is “of huge importance,” then commenting that “last year, in Trump v. Hawaii, the Court upheld the so-called travel ban, in an opinion granting great deference to the executive … respondents in the census case have argued that a ruling in Ross’ favor would stretch deference beyond the breaking point,” Pete Williams reports at NBC.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

The Trump administration is putting pressure on Turkey over the country’s plan to buy a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, threatening to pull Turkey from participation in building and maintaining the F-35 Lightning II fighter, unless Ankara drops its plans to purchase the Russian system. “Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400 system … thus, we need to begin unwinding Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program,” undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord commented Friday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Pilots currently training in the U.S. must leave the country by Jul. 31, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told his Turkish counterpart in a letter sent Thursday. Lord stated at the Pentagon Friday that if the country receives the S-400 system before July 31, this “deliberate and measured” approach will be “greatly accelerated,” Lara Seligman reports at Foreign Policy.

IRAN

Head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie has stated he may recommend a return to a larger U.S. military presence in the Gulf after concluding that the deployment of aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham and other military assets helped curtail potential Iranian threats. McKenzie asked in early May that the carrier along with bombers, troops and an antimissile system be sent to the region after learning of “specific” threats against U.S. and allied forces and interests in Iraq and elsewhere, Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Iranian officials took aim at the Trump administration Saturday, following the announcement of new U.S. sanctions targeting the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi claimed that the new sanctions demonstrated that an invitation from U.S. President Trump earlier this month for Tehran to join the U.S. at the negotiating table was “hollow,” adding that “the American policy of maximum pressure is a defeated policy.” Reuters reports.

Iranians Foreign Minister Javad Zarif today warned the U.S. that it “cannot expect to stay safe,” after launching what he described as an economic war against Tehran, making the comments during a visit by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in an attempt to defuse tensions and preserve the 2015 nuclear deal. “Mr. Trump himself has announced that the U.S. has launched an economic war against Iran,” Zarif said, adding “the only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it,” Amir Vahdat and Jon Gambrell report at the AP.

Maas is set to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today. The meetings coincide with the anniversary of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the nuclear accord; in comments made in Iraq over the weekend, Maas maintained that “we Europeans are convinced that it is worth trying to keep the Vienna nuclear agreement with Iran,” Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

Qatar and other countries have been talking to both Iran and the U.S. about de-escalation, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani has stated, appealing to both sides to meet and find a compromise. “We believe that at one point there should an engagement; it cannot last forever like this,” al-Thani told reporters in London yesterday, adding “since they are not willing to engage in further escalation, they should come up with ideas that open the doors,” Al Jazeera reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israel has the right to annex “some” of the West Bank, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told reporters in an interview published Saturday. “Under certain circumstances … I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman told reporters, Tax Axelrod reports at the Hill.

Friedman accused Palestinian leaders of wrongheadedly using “massive pressure” to deter business leaders from attending the economic conference this month in Bahrain organized by the Trump administration. Friedman also commented that the long-awaited U.S. Middle Eastern peace plan – ostensibly intended at improving the quality of life for Palestinians – was unlikely to lead quickly to a “permanent resolution to the conflict,” David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates is considering filing a complaint against Friedman at the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) over his recent comments on the peace plan. In a press statement yesterday, the ministry described the U.S. Ambassador as “a threat to regional peace and security” and labeled his remarks “an extension of the policy of the US administration, which is fully biased towards the occupation and its expansionist colonial policies,” Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has stated that he will be holding meetings with Kabul officials today, in an attempt to kick-start a new round of Afghan-to-Afghan talks, which he describes as essential to resolving the country’s nearly 18-year conflict. The AP reports.

Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) is expanding its footprint in Afghanistan even after  the group’s territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the U.S. other Western countries, according to U.S. and Afghan security officials, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.

SUDAN

“Devastated but defiant” Sudanese protesters regroup underground after the military crackdown, Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

A mass civil disobedience campaign in Sudan has brought the country’s capital Khartoum to a standstill, with restaurants, banks and other businesses closed, in the latest escalation by protesters demanding an end to military rule, Eyder Peralta and Bobby Allyn report at NPR.

Sudan’s ruling military has blamed the country’s protest movement for an escalation as the second day of the opposition’s general strike begins today, Bassam Hatoum and Samy Magdy report at the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

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].

Former British nationals Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – two of the remaining members of the Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) cell known as “the Beatles” – have confessed their role in the ransoming of Western hostages in an interview with C.N.N., with one of the fighters offering an apology for his actions with the group. Nick Paton Walsh, Ghazi Balkiz, Salma Abdelaziz, Mohammed Hassan and Aqeel Najm report at CNN.

Wikileaks Co-founder Julian Assange might not stand trial in the U.S. for espionage, Joh T. Nelson writes at Just Security, explaining that the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty may strictly prohibit it. 

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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).