The Early Edition: July 9, 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

Attorney General William Barr accused House Democrats of seeking to put on a “public spectacle” by subpoenaing former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress next week about his investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. “I don’t really feel it’s a useful exercise [for Mueller to testify before Congress],” Barr said in an interview with the Associated Press (A.P.,) adding “I don’t see the point in subpoenaing him and bringing him up to testify if he’s going to stick with his report, which I think he will,” Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

The White House blocked former White House deputy counsel Annie Donaldson from answering over 200 questions as she provided crucial testimony regarding her cooperation with Mueller’s investigation. “The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based executive branch confidentiality interests that are implicated,” Donaldson reiterated over 200 times in written responses to the House Judiciary Committee, according to a transcript released yesterday, Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

Federal lawyers investigating Russian electoral interference have interviewed British intelligence agent Christopher Steele who wrote the “dossier” that claimed misconduct between Trump and Moscow, prompting the attorneys to extend their probe. The interview with Steele took place in early June, according to two sources with knowledge of the lawyers’ visit, Reuters reports.

The Senate is to receive a briefing on election security tomorrow, as Democrats are keen for Congress to pass new legislation in advance of the 2020 election. Senators will have a closed-door meeting with Trump administration officials, including briefers from the Department of Homeland Security, F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a senior Senate aide has stated, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Trump said the U.S. would “no longer deal” with the U.K.’s ambassador to Washington Kim Darroch after a diplomatic leak revealed Darroch’s highly critical comments about the president and his administration. “I do not know the ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S… we will no longer deal with him,” Trump stated in a message sent on Twitter, Saphora Smith reports at NBC.

Trump further criticized U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday over her handling of Brexit; “what a mess she and her representatives have created … I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way,” Trump commented in a message sent on Twitter, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Darroch continues to have May’s “full support” – notwithstanding Trump’s remarks, according to a Downing Street spokesperson. The spokesperson further commented today “we have made clear to the U.S. how unfortunate this leak is … the U.K. has a special and enduring relationship with the U.S. … the selective extracts leaked do not reflect the closeness of, and the esteem in which we hold, the relationship,” the BBC reports.

The government is right to back Darroch, according to Senior Conservative Party politician and former Foreign Secretary William Hague. “You can’t change an ambassador at the demand of a host country,” Hague told reporters., adding “it is their job to give an honest assessment of what is happening in that country,” Danica Kirka reports at the AP.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved two bills yesterday that will authorize the state to release Trump’s tax returns if they are demanded by the leaders of the three congressional tax-writing committees. Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow described the bills as “more presidential harassment,” Audrey McNamara reports at The Daily Beast.

The U.K. Foreign Office is “fighting fires both at home and in relations with the countries it most needs to cultivate,” the Economist argues, commenting thatBritain has a lot of catching up to do with the European Union (E.U.) – and damaging diplomatic leaks do not make the job any easier.”

2020 CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION

President Trump and Attorney General William Barr began working to find a way to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census just after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month, Barr said during an interview yesterday, adding that he believes that the administration can find a legal path to incorporating such a question. “The president is right on the legal grounds … I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified,” Barr commented, Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

House Democratic leaders plan to move forward with criminal contempt proceedings against Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas for documents related to the 2020 census, senior Democratic aides said yesterday. The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) has urged officials not to comply with the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoenas, which seek information related to the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.

“Trump’s fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is one he seems likely to lose,” Ted Hesson and Josh Gerstein write in an analysis at POLITICO, explaining that “to pass muster with the Supreme Court, the new D.O.J. team must find a rationale that the high court will rule consistent with regulatory law and also believable — a tough assignment given that the court said in its ruling that the previous rationale was not.”

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam today declared that the controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China is “dead” and admitted that the government’s work on the issue had been a “total failure.” “There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council … so I reiterate here, there is no such plan … the bill is dead,” Lam told reporters at a press conference, the BBC reports.

Lam did not confirm that the legislation have been fully withdrawn, but claimed that her decision to suspend as opposed to withdraw the bill or meet other demands “is nothing to do with my own pride or arrogance,” but rather “practical” responses that will allow Hong Kong to move ahead. The leader asked Hong Kongers to trust her administration, saying “give us the time and room for us to take Hong Kong out of the current impasse,” Shibani Mahtani report at the AP.

Anti-government protestors were not pacified by Lam’s announcements and accused the leader of playing with words. The group has threatened to organize more protests if Lam refused to meet their political demands, Lily Kuo and Verna Yu report at the Guardian.

The U.S. State Department has approved a potential arms sale to Taiwan – estimated to be worth $2.2bn. The deal, which includes 108 Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger missiles and related equipment, will “contribute to the modernization of the recipient’s main battle tank fleet,” improve its air defense system and “support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability [of Taiwan],” according to Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (D.S.C.A.), Al Jazeera reports.

China’s foreign ministry has called on the U.S. to “immediately cancel” the proposed sale. The country has filed formal complaints articulating “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the sale, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters at a press briefing, AFP reports.

“The Trump administration has done more for the millions in camps than any Islamic leader,” Azeem Ibrahim argues at Foreign Policy, commenting on the approach taken by the world’s most prominent Muslim leaders toward the minority Muslim Uighur group.

IRAN

Iran yesterday warned it will take further steps to breach the 2015 nuclear accord in early September if it does not receive relief from U.S. economic sanctions, as it started to enrich uranium above limits set out in the deal. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that the country is prepared to take harder and more steadfast measures than the modest steps it has recently taken to expand its nuclear program, Michael R. Gordon and Laurence Norman report at the Wall Street Journal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) confirmed yesterday that Tehran has exceeded the uranium enrichment level set by the 2015 nuclear deal. The Agency did not say to what purity level Iran is now enriching uranium but a spokesperson for Iran’s atomic energy agency claimed earlier in the day that the country had “surpassed the 4.5 percent” enrichment level. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

World powers will not be able to negotiate a better deal with Iran than the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed in a message sent on Twitter yesterday. “#B_Team sold @realDonaldTrump on the folly that killing #JCPOA thru #EconomicTerrorism can get him a better deal,” Zarif wrote, referring to the nuclear deal by its acronym, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.,) Reuters reports.

The European Union (E.U.) has strongly urged Iran to reverse its decision to breach the uranium enrichment level set by the deal. Spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said the bloc was extremely concerned after Iran announced that it was producing material with a fissile purity of 4.5%, adding “we strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments… we are in contact with the other J.C.P.O.A. participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the J.C.P.O.A., including a joint commission,” the BBC reports.

An explainer on “how the nuclear deal started to unravel … and what’s next” is provided by David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times.

“The slow unraveling of the landmark 2015 accord is a particularly brutal reminder of the [E.U.’s] limited ability to chart a truly independent foreign policy,” Robbie Gramer and Keith Johnson argue in an analysis at Foreign Policy.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan representatives concluded two days of talks with the Taliban yesterday in Doha, laying the ground for renewed negotiations between the U.S. and the militant group. The meetings ended with a joint statement pledging a “roadmap for peace” premised on establishing a monitored peace process, return of internally displaced people, and non-interference by regional powers in Afghanistan, AFP reports.

“Assuring women rights in political … social … economic … educational … cultural affairs as per within the Islamic framework of Islamic values,” also featured in the non-binding joint text.  Mujid Mashal reports at the New York Times.

Participants preparing to return to Kabul praised the cordial tone of the encounter, describing it as a watershed due to the inclusion of Afghan officials – allowed to participate as private citizens. The Taliban has repeatedly denounced the elected Kabul government as a U.S. puppet, Pamela Constable explains at the Washington Post.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Saudi Arabia says it has intercepted a drone launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels targeting “civilian infrastructure” in the kingdom. The announcement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency early today did not identify what the drone targeted, while the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite television station reported that the rebels sought to target Abha regional airport as well as a power station in Abha, the AP reports.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has announced it will reduce its troop presence throughout conflict-riven Yemen, purportedly moving from a “military-first” to a “peace-first” strategy in the country. The Gulf state pulled out some of its forces from areas including the southern port of Aden and the western coast, an unnamed U.A.E. official was quoted by news agencies as saying yesterday; the official added that “this is not really a last-minute decision … this is part of the process within the coalition that’s been discussed extensively with our partners, the Saudis.” Al Jazeera reports.

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro revealed he was “optimistic” yesterday after talks restarted between his government and the opposition in Barbados. “I am very optimistic … today they had a five-hour session, and I think that step by step, with strategic patience, we can find a path to peace,” Maduro commented in a broadcast on the state television channel V.T.V., saying that a “six-point agenda” was being deliberated with “the whole country in mind,” AFP reports.

“The rule of law has crumbled in Venezuela under the government of President Nicolas Maduro which has usurped the powers of the legislative and judicial branches,” international legal watchdog the International Commission of Jurists (I.C.J.) stated yesterday. The I.C.J. urged Venezuelan authorities to restore democratic institutions as part of a resolution to the political, economic and humanitarian crisis faced by the country, Reuters reports.

U.N. agencies have praised a new road map adopted by Latin American and Caribbean countries to improve the integration of refugees and migrants from crisis-hit Venezuela into new host societies, The U.N. News Centre reports.

An analysis of some policies the Trump administration could pursue to “ramp up the ongoing campaign to force Maduro’s ouster,” is provided by José R. Cárdenas at Foreign Policy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The purpose of the U.S.’ Middle East Peace Plan is to “to drive a wedge between the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) and the people,” Ronald R. Krebs writes in an Op-Ed at Foreign Policy, arguing that while “the wedge approach seems attractive on its face … it cannot work for three reasons.”

Sudan’s new peace agreement “is meant to provide some justice,” but many remain unhappy with it and “the transitional government has its work cut out,” the Economist explains. 

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About the Author(s)

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).

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).