The Early Edition: June 12, 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 approved a resolution yesterday allowing the House Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce two subpoenas related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. The resolution, which passed the chamber 229 to 191 along party lines, gives law makers clear authority to sue the Trump administration to force Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with congressional subpoenas that they have either completely or partly defied, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

“We will move forward with holding this president accountable,” Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told a news conference yesterday after the passage of the House vote, adding “we will move as quickly as possible to go to court against Don McGahn … and any subsequent witnesses who disobey a committee subpoena,” Reuters reports.

The resolution also reaffirms that other House committees can take civil legal action to enforce their subpoenas with the approval of a bipartisan group of House leaders and assistance of the House general counsel – without being required to hold votes in committee or on the House floor, Rebecca Shabad reports at NBC.

The White House will reportedly preview evidence behind Mueller’s report before the House Judiciary’s review, according to reports from two senior administration officials. Neither official confirmed whether the House Judiciary Committee is planning to use executive privilege to limit Nadler’s access to documents, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

Former National Security Agency (N.S.A.) Director Mike Rogers has said Mueller’s full report highlights the risk of electoral interference by foreign governments and shows just how important it is for the government to be “laser-focused” on stopping such inference. “That should be totally unacceptable, totally unallowable, and we ought to be focused on what are we going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again … because it’s not going to go away,” Rogers told reporters in an interview, Morgan Chalfant reports at The Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters yesterday that she is “done” with President Trump, but did not confirm whether she told Democrats behind closed doors that she would rather see Trump “in prison.” “I’m done with him … I don’t even want to talk about him … my stock goes up every time he attacks me … but let’s not spend too much time on that because that’s his victory, the diverter-in-chief, the diverter-of-attention-in-chief,” Pelosi commented, Clare Foran and Ashley Killough  CNN.

The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. is to appear today for a second Senate Intelligence Committee interview, as part of an agreement he made with leaders last month after the panel issued a subpoena for his testimony. Trump Jr. will return to Capitol Hill to be interviewed behind closed doors for an expected four hours, and will answer a “limited number” of questions – including queries about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising “incriminating information” about Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton – according to familiar with the matter, Karoun Demirjian and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.

Trump and his top advisers have discussed backing a primary challenge to Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) for becoming the sole Republican congressman to call for the president’s impeachment. Trump has raised the prospect of a primary challenge with Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, Alex Isenstadt reports at POLITICO.

Trump has vowed to take legal action if Democrats try to impeach him, threatening that he’ll “sue,” Ashley Parker reports at the Washington Post.

“The minute a story appears based on non-public documents [related to Mueller’s investigation] … Barr should release them to the public in their full context,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues, expressing hope that Barr is prepared to provide context when the “inevitable leaks” come.

Potential lines of further inquiry for Congress to pursue are set out by John T. Nelson at Just Security, who argues that Congress can cover what Mueller missed.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russia plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, according to Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov. Ushakov told reporters yesterday in Moscow “the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey are being fulfilled on time in the given context … there are no bilateral problems,” Reuters reports.

“Relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their most dangerous point in years,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said in an interview. Ryabkov, the diplomat responsible for relations with the U.S., also commented that resuscitating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty was unlikely, Ann M. Simmons reports at the Wall Street Journal.

CHINA, HONG KONG AND HUAWEI

Chinese Telecommunications giant Huawei has canceled the launch of a new laptop and paused production at its personal-computer business due to restrictions on buying U.S. components, according to a person familiar with the matter. The development mark Huawei’s first tangible setback caused by the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision in May to ban U.S. companies from selling supplies to the company, Stu Zoo reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region today postponed debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators flooded the area surrounding the central government complex. Supporters of the legislation claim it is necessary to stop Hong Kong becoming a haven for fugitives, but the protestors see the bill as the latest move by China seeking to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy, Justin Solomon and Alex Johnson report at NBC.

“These protests are exactly the sort of free expression that the U.S. should be championing,” Mark Dubowitz comments at NBC, arguing that neither Washington’s traditional China policy of “moderation through economic seduction,” nor the Trump administration’s “economic coercion without a focus on Chinese Communist Party repression” will be sufficient to provoke reform in Beijing.

“Advanced U.S. weapons are almost entirely reliant on rare-earth materials only made in China,” Keith Johnson and Lara Seligman explain at Foreign Policy, commenting that this arrangement underscores potential national security vulnerabilities in the context of the Washington-Beijing trade war.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

President Trump yesterday teased what he claimed was a one-page deal with Mexico. “This is one page,” Trump told a group of reporters on the South Lawn, taking a folded piece of paper out of his blazer pocket and adding: “this is one page of a very long and very good agreement for both Mexico and the United States … without the tariffs, we would have had nothing,” Pia Deshpandee and Adam Behsudi report at POLITICO.

The document brandished by Trump laid out “a regional approach to burden-sharing in relation to the processing of refugee status claims to migrants,” and stated that Mexico had committed to review its laws immediately to enable implementation of the accord. Despite Trump’s insistence that the document was confidential, a bulk of the details had already been revealed by Mexican officials, who agreed to it in order to postpone the president’s threatened tariffs, The Daily Beast reports.

The president’s move came a day after Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard publicly denied that his country had reached an undisclosed immigration agreement with the U.S. Erbard yesterday restated that there was no additional deal beyond what both administrations had announced Friday, adding “we don’t have anything to hide,” Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

The teased document suggested that Mexico had agreed to a deadline at which point it would have to demonstrate that its attempts to halt the movement of migrants had worked. If the U.S. determined that the measures had “not sufficiently achieved results in addressing the flow of migrants,” Mexico would then take stronger legal action, the BBC reports.

IRAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected in Tehran today for a “rare” diplomatic mission, in a bid to ease tensions between Iran and the U.S. – a key Tokyo ally. Abe was expected to arrive in Tehran at around 11.20a.m G.M.T. and go straight into talks with President Hassan Rouhani, AFP reports.

Abe spoke to U.S. President Trump on the phone and exchanged views on Iran ahead of the trip, a spokesperson for Abe told reporters yesterday. The BBC reports. Rouhani claimed this morning that that U.S. pressures against his country are losing force. Making comments during a Cabinet meeting ahead of Abe’s arrival, Iranian state T.V. quoted Rouhani as saying that “America’s pressure on the Iranian nation … has reached its maximum … from today onward, the threats and pressures will lose their capacity and will be exhausted,”  the AP reports.

Sanctions on Iran are unlikely to bankrupt Tehran-aligned Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Emanuele Ottolenghi explains at Foreign Policy, noting that Iran has actually increased its contributions to the group despite Washington’s sanctions.

SYRIA

Syrian Air Defenses managed to frustrate an Israeli attack on the southern strategic hill Tal al-Hara, shooting down a number of missiles, Syrian state news agency S.A.N.A. reported early today. The missile attack caused no casualties, with Israel conducting an “electronic war” in which radars were subjected to interference, S.A.N.A. added, Al Jazeera reports.

A bombing campaign by Russian-backed Syrian government forces against a string of rebel-held towns and villages in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib has hampered food distributions, the World Food Program (W.F.P.) has warned. The W.F.P. and partners at times have had to “temporarily interrupt distributions in the southern parts of Idlib” due to the latest escalation of violence that erupted on April 30, the U.N. body announced in a statement yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Syrian industrialist Samer Foz for allegedly enriching President Bashar al-Assad. “This Syrian oligarch is directly supporting the murderous Assad regime and building luxury developments on land stolen from those fleeing his brutality,” U.S. undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence – Sigal Mandelker – announced in a statement yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The KINGDOM and YEMEN

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is today examining the role of senior official and former Raytheon Co. representative Charles Faulkner in the Trump administration’s decision last month to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. without seeking legislative approval. Edward Wong and Catie Edmondson report at the New York Times.

“The arms sale is unlikely to be blocked by Congress,” despite the “surge” of bipartisan support to block the sale, Marianne Levine writes at POLITICO.

Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels launched a missile strike on an airport in southern Saudi Arabia early today – wounding 26 people and causing “material damage,” according to a statement made by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition. The coalition said it would make a “firm” response, the AP reports.

SUDAN

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) and opposition groups have agreed to resume talks on the formation of a transitional council, Ethiopian special envoy Mahmoud Dirir announced yesterday, as opposition alliance Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (D.F.C.F.) said it was suspending its campaign of civil disobedience and strikes from today. The T.M.C. has also agreed to release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure, Dirir told reporters, Reuters reports.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (S.P.A.) opposition group that originally called the strikes in the first place backed the temporary suspension, urging people to return to work for the time being, the BBC reports.

The U.S. State Department’s top envoy for Africa – Tibor P. Nagy – is expected to travel to Sudan today to press the country’s military, in particular the Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries who control the capital, to cease violence against civilians and resume talks, Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

At least 19 children have reportedly been killed in Sudan and another 49 injured since the military backlash against protesters began earlier this month, prompting the head of the U.N. Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) Executive Director Henrietta Fore to express her concern “at the impact of the continuing violence and unrest in the country on children and young people.” “We have received information that children are being detained, recruited to join the fighting and sexually abused,” Fore commented in a statement, the U.N. News Centre reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Trump claimed yesterday he received a “beautiful” letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un amid the standoff on denuclearization talks. Trump described the letter as “very warm” and “very nice” and expressed confidence the two sides could eventually strike an agreement, Jordan Fabian and Brett Samuels report at The Hill.

“I can’t show you the letter … obviously,” Trump told reporters, Pia Deshpande reports at POLITICO.

Trump announced he would not have allowed the C.I.A to recruit Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, without confirming or denying the reports. “I know this: that the relationship is such that that wouldn’t happen under my auspices, but I don’t know about that … nobody knows,” Trump told reporters yesterday, Ben Westcott and Allie Malloy report at CNN.

VENEZUELA

Contradictory evidence has cast into doubt the Venezuelan administration’s case against opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s chief of staff Roberto Marrero, as the U.S. calls for his release – describing him as one of 800 political prisoners in the country. Reuters reports.

U.S. President Trump announced yesterday that he is exploring the possibility of granting temporary asylum to thousands of Venezuelan people who have fled to the U.S. amid the political unrest in their country. Trump said the situation in Venezuela was a “horrible thing” that has “been brewing for a long time” and his administration was looking at granting Venezuelans temporary protected status “very seriously,” Al Jazeera reports.

While many in Venezuela remain understandably skeptical of “dialogue” – “negotiation and compromise between the conflicting parties is key,” Professors Abraham F. Lowenthal and David Smilde write in an Op-Ed at the New York Times.

U.S MILITARY

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sent two memos intended to affirm the “apolitical nature” of the military yesterday. The move follows reports that the White House Military Office coordinated with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet to hide the U.S.S. John McCain from President Trump’s view during the president’s recent visit to Japan, Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.

The president appears to be having second thoughts about his choice of Shanahan as his next Defense Secretary and asked several confidants in France last week about alternative candidates, according to four people familiar with the conversations. Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Leigh Ann Caldwell report at NBC.

President Trump and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda will meet today to make what administration officials claimed would be a major announcement on troop deployments – a result of talks over a Polish push for a permanent U.S. military presence at a proposed “Fort Trump.” “It will be a significant announcement on the future of the security partnership,” a senior Trump administration official told reporters yesterday, describing the move as a “new facet of our military-to-military relationship” that will strengthen the U.S. commitment to N.A.T.O., Alex Leary and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith’s (D-Wa.) markup of the new Draft National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) is provided by Aimee Himes, Julia McKay and John T. Nelson at Just Security, who explain that even if “the chairman’s mark is far from the last word on next year’s defense programming …  it sets the baseline for the legislative debates and discussions to come.”

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].

Israel might eliminate areas of East Jerusalem amid concerns that Jerusalem will soon have a non-Jewish majority. According to a report by Jerusalem and Brussels-based International Crisis Group (I.C.G), Jerusalem could become a minority-Jewish city as early as 2045 if current demographic trends continue, Al Jazeera reports.

Egypt and Jordan along with Morocco have reportedly confirmed their attendance at the U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain that is part of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, Rachel Frazin reports at The Hill.

Facebook yesterday announced the launch of new app that will allow the tech giant to collect data on smartphone use in exchange for money. The new app – “Study” – is designed to give Facebook data on participants’ location, which apps users install, how much time they spend on those apps, what features they use, and type of device and network they are using, Salvador Rodriguez reports at NBC.

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) yesterday threatened to ask President Trump to invoke executive privilege over materials lawmakers have subpoenaed on the 2020 census citizenship question. In a letter sent to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that the administration should take that step if the panel votes today to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post. 

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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).