The Early Edition: July 24, 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

Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s longtime aide and former top deputy Aaron Zebley will appear beside him during today’s highly anticipated hearing, following a last-minute request by Mueller’s team. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee agreed to allow Zebley to sit beside Mueller and advise him in answers, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The House Intelligence Committee has agreed for Zebley to be formally sworn in as a witness for its hearing later today, according to a committee aide, Rachael Bade and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

“VERY UNFAIR … SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED … a rigged Witch Hunt!” President Trump commented in a message sent on Twitter late yesterday in response to the decision to allow Zebley to appear beside Mueller. “Just got back only to hear of a last minute change allowing a Never Trumper attorney to help Robert Mueller with his testimony before Congress … what a disgrace to our system … never heard of this before,” the president wrote, Anna Kaplan reports at The Daily Beast. 

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) yesterday told Mueller that the Department of Justice (D.O.J.)’s request – that he remains within the boundaries of his 448-page redacted report – should have “no bearing” on his hearing. “The D.O.J. Letter attempts unduly to circumscribe your testimony and represents yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to obstruct the authorized oversight activity and legitimate investigations of the Committee,” Schiff wrote to Mueller in a letter yesterday evening, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) yesterday stated that Mueller should “ignore” the D.O.J.’s attempts to restrain his congressional testimony, asserting their instruction was “part of the cover-up of the administration to keep information away from the American people.” Nadler said Mueller does not have to comply with the D.O.J.’s letter, explaining “he doesn’t work for them … and that letter asks things that are beyond the power of the agency to ask even if he still worked there,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

House and Senate Democrats launched an attack yesterday on Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell over his continuing attempts to block congressional efforts to approve election security legislation. “The only people that are stopping these kinds of common-sense measures from becoming law of the land are … leader McConnell and President Trump,” Sen. Mark Warner  (D-Va.) stated during a Capitol Hill press conference, Martin Matishak reports at POLITICO.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“[Former special counsel Robert Mueller] will bring Republicans and Democrats together in shared frustration when he faces the hot seat [today],” Josh Campbell writes at CNN, warning that “if members of Congress ask open-ended questions, Mueller will likely pivot back to his report and refuse to expound further.”

“Simple connect-the-dots questions clearly posed … will correct the record [on Mueller’s report],” Neal K. Katyal argues at the New York Times, suggesting three yes-or-no questions Congress should ask the former special counsel.

A look at key questions Mueller could answer and subjects he could clarify – including “would he have charged President Trump if not for Justice Department policy?” is fielded by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

“‘High crimes and misdemeanors’ is a broad category that includes but is not limited to the most serious violations of criminal law … nor does it even require violation of a federal statute,” Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and John T. Nelson comment at Just Security, writing that today’s Mueller hearing “risks narrowing the range of impeachable offenses.”

“Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill [today] is a big moment … but that’s not the same as a game-changing one,” Frank Bruni comments at the New York Times.

A roundup of things to know ahead of the former special counsel’s testimony is fielded by Kadhim Shubber at the Financial Times.

A guide on 5 things to look out for in Mueller’s testimony today is provided by Aruna Viswanatha and Siobhan Hughes at the Wall Street Journal.

Key lawmakers to watch at the hearing, including Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas,) are suggested by Olivia Beavers and Morgan Chalfant at the Hill.

An updated public database of unsealed documents in Mueller’s investigation is available at Just Security.

Live context and analysis of Mueller’s testimony – with stream of the hearing, is available at the New York Times.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Mark Esper was sworn in as Defense secretary yesterday, bringing an official end to the Pentagon’s longest-ever period without a Senate-confirmed leader. The Senate confirmed Esper in a 90-8 vote, with President Trump commenting “that’s a vote that we’re not accustomed to;” the president added “I am confident that he will be an outstanding secretary of defense … I have absolutely no doubt about it … he is outstanding in every way … we’re honored to have you aboard,” Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump yesterday filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the House Ways and Means Committee from gaining access to his confidential state tax returns through a newly passed New York law. The suit requests the court delivers a judgment that the committee “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose for obtaining the President’s state tax information,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee has requested the release of records related to State Department spending at two properties owned by Trump – the Mar-a-Lago Club and the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland. In a letter sent yesterday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) expressed concerns that the payments may violate the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

The U.S. Department of Justice (D.O.J.) announced yesterday that it is opening a wide-ranging antitrust review of leading tech companies. The review will examine how the most dominant online firms have grown in size and might and will consider whether they “are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation or otherwise harmed consumers,” the DOJ said in a statement, Alina Selyukh reports at NPR. 

The D.O.J. did not disclose specific company names, however it is likely launching the review based on “new Washington threats” from companies including Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, Brett Kendall reports at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

“Iran will … secure the Strait of Hormuz and will not allow any disturbance in shipping in [the key oil transport waterway],” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday on a visit to Paris in comments carried by state news agency I.R.N.A., Al Jazeera reports.

Top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Ali Akbar Velayati – yesterday hailed Iran’s recent downing of a U.S. drone and capture of a British oil tanker as “milestones in the history of Muslims’ struggle,” the semi-official news agency Fars reported. “The recent events are a sign that Iranians and the resistance front stand against bullying by Zionism [Israel] and the United States,” Velayati was quoted as saying, adding that “Islamic countries and the resistance front are today stronger than before,” Reuters reports.

A fleet of drones has allowed Iran to survey every U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf region and develop a “complete archive” of their daily movements, Iran’s top naval commander Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi said in an interview published yesterday. “Our drones have significant ranges and have no limitations in communication links … we have a complete archive of images of American vessels approaching from very far distances,” Khanzadi told interviewers; the comments came days after Tehran released a video allegedly proving its version of events following President Trump’s claim that a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian drone – claims which Iran has denied, Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami insisted again today that no Iranian drone “has been brought down.” “We showed the body of the (U.S.) drone that we brought down,” Hatami said in comments carries by I.S.N.A. news agency, adding “if anyone claims they brought down our drone, show it,” Reuters reports.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran is ready for “just” negotiations – but only if they do not result in “surrender:” “As long as I have the responsibility for the executive duties of the country, we are completely ready for just, legal and honest negotiations to solve the problems,” Rouhani stated, adding “but at the same time we are not ready to sit at the table of surrender under the name of negotiations,” Reuters reports.

Rouhani also indicated that Iran would be willing to release a British oil tanker if the U.K. takes similar steps to release an Iranian ship seized off Gibraltar earlier this month, the AP reports.

Trump and the Iranian regime are both running out of options,” Ishaan Tharoor writes in an analysis at the Washington Post, commenting on the “tit-for-tat strikes.”

A look at how the Trump administration could “kick-start” nuclear negotiations with Iran is fielded by Esfandyar Batmanghelidj at Foreign Policy, who argues that “a little movement on oil sales could be all it takes to give diplomacy a second chance.”

CHINA AND HONG KONG

China today declared that that it would “not tolerate protesters’ efforts to threaten the central government’s authority” in Hong Kong and indicated that it would be prepared to mobilize troops in the People’s Liberation Army stronghold there to preserve order, Steven Lee Myers reports at the New York Times.

The Chinese ministry yesterday blamed U.S. officials for recent violence in Hong Kong and cautioned against further interference. “We can see that U.S. officials are even behind such incidents,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing, referring to violence related to recent mass demonstrations, adding “the U.S. should know one thing, that Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, and we do not allow any foreign interference … we advise the U.S. to withdraw their black hands,” Lily Kuo reports at the Guardian.

“If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country … China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty … unity … and territorial integrity,” Chinese Defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told a news briefing today.  The Chinese ministry also said the U.S. had “provoked intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure … and undermined global strategic stability,” Reuters reports.

The Trump administration expects to deal with applications from tech firms seeking waivers over Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s blacklisting within the next few weeks, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “We will deal with them very promptly … there are 50-some-odd applications from 35 companies that have been received, and within the next couple of weeks we expect to have verdicts,” Ross told reporters yesterday, Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

At least two people were killed and 29 others wounded after a bomb exploded in a market on the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Quetta yesterday, the AP reports.

The Taliban attacked a checkpoint in the western Farah province late yesterday – killing at least four police and wounding another two, according to an Afghan official. The AP reports.

The Afghan government issued a statement yesterday asking for clarification of U.S. President Trump’s comments a day earlier that he could end the war in Afghanistan “in a week” and have the country “wiped off the face of the earth.” “The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate,” spokesperson for the President of Afghanistan Sediq Sediqqi said in the statement, adding “given the multifaceted relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the US President’s statements,” Veronica Stracqualursi, Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette report at CNN.

The Taliban also issued a statement saying Trump’s claim that he could wipe out Afghanistan is “irresponsible and we condemn it in the strongest terms.” The AP reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Russia is seeking an investigation into South Korea’s announcement yesterday that one of its military planes violated South Korean territorial airspace, a senior lawmaker said today, quoting Russia’s Acting Ambassador Maxim Volkov. A Russian official said the jet’s intrusion into South Korea’s airspace was not intentional, blaming a technical glitch and expressing “deep regret” over the incident, the BBC reports.

Japan yesterday condemned South Korea for taking action against a Russian plane over what Japan maintains is its airspace. “Takeshima is Japan’s territory,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told a news conference, referring to an island claimed by both South Korea and Japan, Reuters reports.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton today met with South Korean officials to discuss key bilateral issues, including denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, ways to boost South Korea-U.S. alliance and yesterday’s regional air space dispute, Reuters reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

“The war in Yemen is eminently resolvable,” U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters yesterday in Geneva. Griffiths explained that all fighting sides and the international community back a U.N. peace accord struck last December: “both parties continue to insist that they want a political solution and the military solution is not available, they remain committed to the Stockholm agreement in all its different aspects,” Al Jazeera reports.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) will maintain military presence in Yemen, notwithstanding continuing withdrawal and redeployment of Emirati forces, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash stated. “Just to be clear, the U.A.E. and the rest of the coalition are not leaving Yemen,” Gargash said in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post, adding “in accordance with international law, we will continue to advise and assist local Yemen forces,” Al Jazeera reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An alleged Israeli missile attack targeted Syria’s southern province of Daraa early today, causing “material damage,” according to reports by Syria’s state media S.A.N.A. The news agency did not report any casualties, Al Jazeera reports.

The House approved a resolution yesterday condemning the global boycott Israel movement as one that “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace.” The controversial measure, which passed via a 398-17 vote, is a non-binding expression of congressional sentiment; Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the House’s two most vocal backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (B.D.S.) —did not contribute to the floor debate, Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports at the New York Times.

The Trump administration has threatened tougher sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, giving Maduro “a set amount of time” to leave power and warning of further consequences if the president refuses to step down, according to a report by Spanish news agency E.F.E.. Rafael Bernal reports at the Hill.

Only 35 people were arrested during the recent series of highly publicized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) raids, acting I.C.E. Director Matthew Albence revealed yesterday. Albence recognized the low number, telling reporters “this is just the beginning of the operation,” adding “we’re patient, and we will continue to pursue these cases … this is just a small snapshot of this time frame,” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill. 

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).