The Early Edition: June 11, 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 Department of Justice (D.O.J.) has struck a deal to start providing documents to the House Judiciary Committee after a dispute over a potential subpoena. Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced the agreement yesterday, stating that he will “hold the criminal contempt process in abeyance for now” in light of the D.O.J. cooperation, Olivia Beavers and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

Lawmakers are nonetheless reserving the ability to continue to pursue contempt litigation in the future. The committee’s staffers said nothing had changed about today’s plans for a vote that would authorize civil contempt lawsuits that could later target Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

The D.O.J. is “providing us with key evidence that the special counsel used to assess whether the president and others obstructed justice or were engaged in other misconduct,” Nadler announced in a statement.  Nadler said the D.O.J. would start sharing documents with the panel on Monday, and that both Republicans and Democrats would have access to them, although the exact scope of the probe could not be determined, Byron Tau and Sadie Gurman report at the Wall Street Journal.

“If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need … then there will be no need to take further steps,” Nadler’s statement continued. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies,” the AP reports.

The deal came just before the House Judiciary panel heard testimony from Watergate-era attorney John Dean. The president had taken to Twitter ahead of Dean’s four-hour appearance, sending a message slamming Dean as a “sleazebag attorney,” Reuters reports.

Democrats had hoped the hearing would draw attention to the substance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on obstruction of justice, but Republicans on the panel strove to keep focus on Dean’s role in Watergate more than 40 years ago, accusing him of profiting off his Watergate experience as a television commentator who frequently criticizes Trump. “How much money do you make from C.N.N.?” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked Dean, adding “Mr. Dean has made a cottage industry of accusing presidents of acting like Richard Nixon.” Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

The D.O.J. yesterday provided new information on what it termed a “broad” and “multifaceted” review of the origins of the Russia investigation, simultaneously seeking to reassure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Trump would nonetheless protect sensitive intelligence at its heart. Writing to Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the “review” would evaluate whether the counterintelligence investigation launched in 2016 into potential ties between foreign entities and the Trump campaign “complied with applicable policies and laws,” Mike Memoli reports at NBC.

Boyd said that the inquiry is being conducted predominantly by Connecticut attorney John Durham out of D.O.J, offices in Washington, D.C.. Boyd wrote that Durham is receiving assistance from a “number of U.S. Attorney’s Office personnel and other Department employees,” and that “the Department has made existing office space in Washington available for this work … Mr. Durham’s Review will be funded out of the U.S. Attorney’s Salaries and Expenses appropriation,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The president’s lawyers yesterday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn a ruling that his accounting firm Mazars LLP must turn over his financial records – from the period before he was president – to the Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee.  Trump’s attorneys told the court that if it affirmed U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta’s ruling, it would be endorsing a “limitless” view of the congressional power to investigate, Reuters reports.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) – the first Republican to publicly support impeaching President Trump – has stepped down from the House Freedom Caucus and its board. “I have the highest regard for them, and they’re my close friends,” Amash told C.N.N., adding “I didn’t want to be a further distraction for the group,” The Daily Beast reports.

“The conduct described in the [Mueller] report constitutes multiple crimes of obstruction of justice … supported by evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade says in her remarks to the House Judiciary Committee. A statement as prepared for testimony is provided at The Daily Beast.

A roadmap for how “Congress can reclaim its power” is outlined in an Op-Ed by Morton H. Halperin at Just Security.

An explainer on today’s expected civil contempt resolution against Barr and McGahn is provided at NPR.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Huawei executive John Suffolk was labeled a “moral vacuum” yesterday by Conservative Member of Parliament (M.P.) Julian Lewis in a U.K. parliamentary committee hearing. Suffolk – the company’s global cybersecurity and privacy officer – was questioned over the use of Hauwei technology in Chinese detention centers; “You’ve demonstrated a willingness to work with the Chinese government in a province where there are allegedly gross human rights abuses … that suggests a close working relationship with the Chinese government,” Chair of the Science and Technology Committee M.P. Norman Lamb stated, Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

Suffolk defended the company’s security practices, commenting that Huawei was “independent” and would never undermine the safety of its equipment to meet demands from Beijing. “There are no laws in China that obligate us to work with the Chinese government … there is no requirement,” Suffolk said during questioning, Adam Satariano reports at the New York Times.

Several of the world’s largest tech companies – including InterDigital and Qualcomm – have asked their employees to cut off communications with Huawei in response to the U.S. blacklisting the Chinese telecommunications giant. “InterDigital has provided guidance to our engineers with regard to interaction with Huawei engineers at standards meetings, to ensure we comply with U.S. regulations,” the company’s Chief Communications Officer Patrick Van de Wille said in a statement, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Talks to create the U.S.’s first national data privacy law have stalled as senators are reportedly unable to agree on key terms of the bill. According to individuals briefed, the talks have reached a standoff – in particular, over the issue of whether individual citizens should have the right to sue companies for data breaches, Kiran Stacey reports at the Financial Times.

The digital future must be “safer” and “more inclusive,” according to a new tech report – “the Age of Digital Interdependence” – released yesterday by the U.N. High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The launch of the report, which urges social media companies to cooperate fully in responding to human rights concerns, included a “declaration of digital interdependence” by the study’s authors, The U.N News Centre reports.

Our faces will soon become someone else’s property if we choose to fly, Michael Skapinker writes at the Financial Times, in an analysis of the use of facial recognition at airports.

“It will soon be as easy to produce convincing fake video as it is to lie,” Regina Rini argues at the New York Times, in light of the emergence of “deepfake” technology.

It is worth re-examining the case for not regulating big technology, John Thornhill comments at the Financial Times, suggesting that competition rather than intervention may be the best way to tackled potential monopolies.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

President Trump has touted that his tariff threat worked and forced Mexico to stop the flow of migrants. In an interview on news network C.N.B.C. yesterday, the president also vowed to hit Beijing with more tariffs if it did not agree to the U.S.’s trade demands: “the China deal’s going to work out … you know why? Because of tariffs,” Ana Swanson and Jeanna Smialek report at the New York Times.

“As soon as I put tariffs on the table … it was done … it took two days,” Trump told C.N.B.C., adding that “if we didn’t have tariffs, we wouldn’t have made a deal with Mexico,” David Nakamura reports at the Washington Post.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard stated yesterday that no secret immigration deal existed between his country and the U.S., directly contradicting President Trump’s claim on Twitter that a “fully signed and documented” agreement would be revealed in the near future. Ebrard told reporters at a news conference in Mexico City that there was an understanding that both sides would assess the flow of migrants in the coming months, Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Members of Mexico’s newly formed national guard are to be sent to the country’s southern border this week, creating a force that will eventually reach 6,000 as part of the agreement with the U.S.. Ebrard told reporters that this use of the national guard was not new: “this was already planned … we agreed to deploy them faster, that’s all,” Kevin Sieff and Mary Beth Sheridan report at the Washington Post.

Mexico has actually been enforcing U.S. immigration policy for years now, Julio Ricardo Varela writes at NBC, commenting that Trump does not want the public to know that the real U.S. southern border has already been extended into the country for years.

It is obvious that Trump achieved very little in his recent “deal” with Mexico, Michelle Goldberg writes at the New York Times, arguing that the president is terrible at making deals but we pacify Trump with the illusion that he is winning so that he is not provoked.

IRAN

Iran has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium, Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) Yukiya Amano announced yesterday. “Yes, (the) production rate is increasing,” Amano told a news conference when asked if enriched uranium production had accelerated since the agency’s last quarterly report – which found Iran compliant with the 2015 nuclear deal as of May 20 –though Amano declined to quantify the recent increase. Reuters reports.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas yesterday called on Iran and the U.S. to de-escalate tensions. “The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious,” Maas said at a news conference in Iran alongside that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, adding “a dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on a visit to Tehran this week, in an attempt to ease U.S.-Iranian tensions. “Amid rising tensions in the Middle East, we plan to encourage Iran, a regional power, to move towards easing tensions at the top leaders’ meetings,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated today when formally announcing the visit, Reuters reports.

SYRIA

Turkey killed 10 Kurdish militants in Syria’s Tel Rifaat region Sunday, the Turkish Defense Ministry stated today. The attack was carried out in retaliation to an earlier attack that killed a Turkish soldier, Reuters reports.

At least 25 people were killed in aerial bombardment carried out by Russian jet fighters in the Idlib region, during a sustained Syrian military offensive. Around 14 people were killed after Russian Sukhoi jets dropped bombs on the village of Jabala, while another 12 civilians were left dead in other villages following several raids by Russian jets, Al Jazeera reports.

SUDAN

Sudanese opposition leader Yassir Arman has claimed that soldiers for the country’s ruling Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) forcibly removed him to neighboring South Sudan, along with two colleagues, as a nationwide civil disobedience campaign enters its second day following violence last week. The three deported men are part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (S.P.L.M.-N.) opposition group – pushing for a handover to civilian rule, Al Jazeera reports.

The Trump administration is preparing to bring ex-diplomat Donald Booth out of retirement to serve as senior advisor to President Trump’s top diplomat on Africa, Tibor Nagy. The move comes as the administration faces growing calls to step up its efforts to stabilize Sudan, with critics accusing Washington of being “missing in action,” Robbie Gramer and Justin Lynch report at Foreign Policy.

A “number” of soldiers have been taken into custody following the killing of dozens of peaceful protesters in Khartoum last week, the T.M.C. announced today. Latest updates at Al Jazeera.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels launched at least two drones today, targeting southwest Saudi city Khamis Mushait. The drones were intercepted by Saudi Arabia’s air defense forces, the AP reports.

The drones targeted Khamis Mushait in the Kingdom’s south, causing no damage or casualties, according to a brief statement made by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen released early today by the official Saudi Press Agency (S.P.A.), Al Jazeera reports.

At least four Senate Republicans will join Democrats on 22 resolutions to condemn the Trump administration’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stated he now has enough votes to oppose President Trump’s decision to proceed with arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries worth $8 billion: “we have four Republicans now, which puts us over the threshold for passage,” Daniel Flatley reports at Bloomberg.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani has submitted his resignation amid differences within the Saudi-backed government over the management of a U.N.-led peace initiative in the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, according to two ministry sources, Reuters reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – Kim Jong-nam – was reportedly a C.I.A. informant before his assassination in Malaysia in 2017. An unnamed source familiar with the matter explained “there was a nexus” between Kim and the C.I.A., adding that many details of his relationship with the agency remain unclear, Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

South Korean agencies – including officials at the country’s National Intelligence Service and Unification Ministry – today said they could not confirm the report, the AP reports.

U.S. MILITARY

Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager will assume command of the 40th Infantry Division on June 29 at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, the California National Guard announced today, making Yaeger the first woman to lead a U.S. Army infantry division. The AP reports.

Top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas) will push to increase the defense budget to $750 billion when the panel debates the annual defense bill tomorrow. MacThornberry unveiled an amendment early today that would increase the headline figure in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) to $750 billion, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

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].

All countries must implement a U.N. arms embargo against Libya, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated yesterday. The appeal was made in a report, circulated ahead of the Security Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution authorizing for another year the inspection of vessels at sea headed to or from Libya, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. is yet to take up Turkey’s suggestion of creating a joint working group to try to defuse tensions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, Head of the Turkish Defence Industries Directorate Ismail Demir stated yesterday. “If the source of the concerns is a technical worry stemming from the S-400s being located in Turkey, we have said repeatedly that we are ready to discuss this,” Demir said, adding that “the other side has not taken any steps to form the technical team and discuss this,” Reuters reports.

Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Breyer has stated that it is “past time” to examine the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Breyer’s remarks, made in a two-page “statement,” came as the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Yemeni prisoner  Moath al-Alwi who has been held at the Cuban detention facility for over 17 years, Nina Totenberg reports at NPR.

“Nobody expects President Trump to be a genius,” Stephen M. Walt comments at Foreign Policy, outlining what a commonsense U.S. foreign policy might look like. 

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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).