The Early Edition: August 7, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.  explained  

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Former F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok – whose anti-Trump text messages led to his removal from the probe into Russia’s election interference – filed a lawsuit yesterday against the government over his firing, seeking to be reinstated and awarded back pay, claiming he was unfairly dismissed for criticizing President Trump. Strzok questioned why his texts were leaked to the media and rebuked the administration for only defending its employees’ free speech rights when they are praising Trump – a move the suit suggests is hypocritical, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

The lawsuit accuses the agencies of violating Strzok’s First and Fifth Amendment rights by terminating him and depriving him of due process to challenge his expulsion; Strzok was denied chance to appeal, Dareh Gregorian and Charlie Gile report at NBC.

Strzok’s lawsuit also alleges that “unlawful leaks to the press violated the Privacy Act;” “The concerted public campaign to disparage and, ultimately, fire Special Agent Strzok was enabled by the defendants’ deliberate and unlawful disclosure to the media of texts, intended to be private, from an F.B.I. systems of records, in violation of the Privacy Act,” the court documents state; the Justice Department and F.B.I. did not immediately comment, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Two former Homeland Security secretaries – along with other former top intelligence officials – established a non-profit group yesterday aimed at protecting presidential campaigns from foreign interference, including cyber attacks. The new U.S. CyberDome group’s Board of Advisors will be chaired by former Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served under former President Obama; other members of the board include former D.H.S. Secretary Michael Chertoff, former C.I.A. Director Michael Morell and former Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) Lt. Gen. James Clapper, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Trump yesterday ramped up his accusations against tech giant Google, claiming that the company attempted to thwart his 2016 presidential campaign, without offering evidence, and warning he was watching it “very closely” ahead of the 2020 election, making the remarks in a series of messages sent on Twitter.  A Google spokesperson brushed off the comments, saying “we go to great lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in ways that don’t take political leanings into account,” adding: “distorting results for political purposes would harm our business and go against our mission of providing helpful content to all of our users,” Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerold Nadler  (D-N.Y.) yesterday requested the National Archives turn over a trove of records related to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s time in former President George W. Bush’s White House, bringing fresh scrutiny to Kavanaugh’s past and reopening a debate over his nomination. In the letter to National Archivist David Ferriero, Nadler and Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) requested records from 2001 to 2006, noting that during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process last fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee only received “a small fraction” of information from Kavanaugh’s White House tenure before voting on his nomination, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

U.S. President Trump and the Republican National Committee (R.N.C.) yesterday filed a pair of lawsuits against officials in California challenging new legislation requiring presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to stand in primaries. The R.N.C. suit, filed in the Eastern District of California against Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) and the California secretary of state, called the law a “naked political attack against the sitting president of the United States,” arguing that it would “directly impede” Trump’s prospects of gaining the Republican nomination, the BBC reports.

The second lawsuit by the Trump campaign challenges the constitutionality of the new law, saying that states do not have the power to “supplement” the qualifications for the president set out by the U.S. Constitution. Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow described the law as an “attempt to circumvent the U.S. Constitution,” Annie Karni reports at the New York Times.

The pair contended that the documents were needed to inform the House Judiciary Committee’s efforts to provide oversight of judicial proceedings taking account of issues the Supreme Court is expected to handle over the next year. “In the coming year, the Supreme Court will again address important matters regarding civil rights, criminal justice, and immigration,” Nadler and Johnson said, adding “the Court may also review certain high-profile cases related to reproductive rights, the separation of powers, and the limits of executive authority — all topics within the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee,” Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe report at NBC.

Trump’s next Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) will “oversee and control the process for providing intelligence briefings to the Democratic nominee ahead of the presidential election,” Katrina Mulligan writes at Just Security, explaining that the role involves controlling “what classified intelligence information is provided to Trump’s opponent during those briefings, and what intelligence is withheld.”

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. has submitted his resignation to Trump, indicating the end of a two-year stint marked by growing friction between the two countries. Huntsman’s resignation takes effect Oct. 3, inciting speculation that the former two-term governor of Utah might make a third run for the office; it is not yet clear who might succeed him as ambassador, Carol Morello and Will Englund report at the Washington Post.

Huntsman’s resignation letter made reference to disputes between Russia and the U.S. while calling for continued dialogue. “Going forward, we must continue to hold Russia accountable when its behavior threatens us and our allies,” Huntsman wrote, adding “while much of what divides us is irreconcilable, there are common interests we cannot ignore,” Alex Leary, Michael R. Gordon and Georgi Kantchev report at the Wall Street Journal.

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton yesterday reminded North Korea of its leader Kim Jong-un’s commitment to U.S. President Trump “not to resume launches of intercontinental-range missiles” after Pyongyang carried out its fourth short-range missile test in less than two weeks and cautioned it might pursue “a new road.” “The president and Kim Jong-un have an understanding that Kim Jong-un is not going to launch longer range, intercontinental range ballistic missiles, and so I think the president is watching this very, very carefully,” Bolton told Fox News Channel yesterday, Reuters reports.

Kim said his country’s latest missile test was intended as a warning to the U.S. and South Korea over their joint military exercises that began this week, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (K.C.N.A.) reported today. Kim said the live-fire demonstration of newly-developed short-range ballistic missiles was “an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” according to K.C.N.A., AFP reports.

North Korea yesterday blamed the U.S. for “inciting military tension” by conducting joint military drills with South Korea and said Pyongyang would “take measures to defend itself.” “Although U.S. and South Korean authorities are playing every trick to justify this military exercise, they can neither conceal nor whitewash its aggressive nature in any manner,” North Korean diplomat in Geneva Ju Yong Chol told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, Reuters reports.

Germany has condemned North Korea’s latest test of two presumed short-range ballistic missiles, claiming they are “a violation of U.N. resolutions” and calling on the North to continue talks on disarmament. In a statement released yesterday, the Foreign Ministry said: “we call on North Korea to end such provocations, to comply with the resolutions of the Security Council, and to return to the negotiating table,” adding “we expect North Korea to take concrete and credible steps toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible termination of its ballistic missile program, and its program to develop weapons of mass destruction,” the AP reports.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

China yesterday issued a harsh warning to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters that “those who play with fire will perish by it;” at a press briefing in Beijing, spokesperson for Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Yang Guang said: “we would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it.” Yang declared the government still “firmly supports” both the Hong Kong police force – who have come under fire for their brutal tactics – and the city’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam, who protesters want to resign, cautioning: “don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness. .. don’t ever underestimate the firm resolve and immense strength of the central government,” AFP reports.

“President Trump has essentially given China’s rulers a green light to crush the pro-democracy protests,” Frida Ghitis comments at the Washington Post, arguing that “Washington should join with its democratic allies in urging restraint by Chinese authorities.”

IRAN

Two members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were killed today in conflict with militants in a northwestern region near the border with Turkey, according to Iranian state television, which reported: “the governor of Maku said two Guards were martyred in a clash with terrorists while defending the fatherland,” Reuters reports.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday declared that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” as tensions mount with the U.S. and other nations. Speaking at the Foreign Ministry, the president warned: “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

Rouhani repeated that if Washington would like to start negotiations with Tehran it needs to lift all sanctions against his country “before everything else,” making the comments during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Rouhani also asserted that U.S. sanctions on his Iran are an act of “economic terrorism,” Iranian state T.V. reported. The AP reports.

Iran yesterday asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “play an active role” and “push back” against the U.S. after it issued sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, labeling the move a “a dangerous precedent.” In a letter to Guterres, Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi accused the U.S. of a “brazen violation of the fundamental principles of international law,” writing: “coercing nations into complying with the United States’ illegal demands threatens multilateralism, as the foundation of international relations, and sets a dangerous precedent, paving the way for those who aspire to rather divide, not unite, nations,” Reuters reports.

“By sanctioning [Zarif] … the administration has probably blocked the best path back to mediation,” David Gardner argues at the Financial Times, commenting that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) “will not talk while under sanctions and the threat of regime change.”

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM 

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer yesterday ordered the departments of State and Defense to produce around 5,000 pages of records related to the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The judge in New York ruled that the information about Khashoggi’s disappearance and murder is of “considerable public importance;” the original request for release of the government’s documents was filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the legal arm of the Open Society Foundations, in January, Richard Gonzales reports at NPR.

The U.N. Human Rights Office (O.H.C.H.R.) has said that “intensified activity” in  Yemen by terror groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and I.S.I.L. is “deeply worrying” and has “seriously impacted” civilians over the past ten days. The spokesperson acknowledged that, during the period, the Office has confirmed 19 civilian deaths, and 42 injured, in districts of Taiz, Sa’ada and Aden, the U.N. News Centre reports.

Diplomatic attempts to reach a truce in Yemen between Saudi Arabia-led forces and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have wavered, knocking back U.N. efforts to prevent the four-year-old war from sparking wider regional conflict with Tehran, according to people familiar with the talks. Houthi forces in Yemen have carried out a number of rocket and drone attacks in recent weeks that Riyadh and Washington have blamed Iran for —allegations that Tehran denies, Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the U.S. is making progress on a planned safe zone in northeast Syria, stating that its military deployment plans are “complete,” state-owned Anadolu Agency reported today, Reuters reports.

Syrian government forces seized two northwestern villages in an attack on the last rebel-held part of the country, according to reports today from opposition activists and state media, the AP reports.

PAKISTAN-INDIA RELATIONS

A bomb exploded yesterday in a market in the southwestern city of Quetta in the Baluchistan province in Pakistan – killing a minority Shiite Muslim and wounding 13 others, according to Pakistani police chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema, the AP reports.

Indian lawmakers approved a bill yesterday revoking the statehood from the Indian-administered portion of the disputed Kashmir region – downgrading Jammu and Kashmir into a union territory. The legislation follows a presidential order which dropped a 65-year-old constitutional provision that had granted limited political autonomy to the country’s only Muslim-majority region, Sheikh Saaliq reports at the AP.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday vowed his government would challenge India’s decision at the U.N. Security Council, denouncing it as a “breach of international law” and calling on the international community to “intervene in the crisis or risk regional destabilization.” Addressing a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament in the capital Islamabad, Khan stated: “we are thinking of how we can go to the [International Court of Justice] through the U.N. Security Council … we will talk to heads of States at every forum … we will raise it in the media and tell the world,” Asad Hashim reports at Al Jazeera.

China yesterday condemned India’s move to change the constitutional status of  Kashmir – saying it “undermined China’s territorial sovereignty.” “India’s action is unacceptable and would not have any legal effect,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement on the ministry’s website, Reuters reports.

India’s move to end the autonomous governing status of the disputed Kashmir region “threatens to complicate U.S. efforts” to broker a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The heightened tensions between Pakistan and India over the change of Kashmir’s status come as Taliban peace talks seem to have reached a “critical final stage,” Bill Spindle and Saeed Shah report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The onus is on New Delhi to handle the Kashmir powder keg with the utmost care,” the Financial Times editorial board argues, warning that “failure to do so would have the gravest repercussions for the region.”

A useful guide to the contested Kashmir province is provided by Claire Parker at the Washington Post.

VENEZUELA

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton yesterday declared Washington was prepared to issue sanctions against any international company doing business with the “illegitimate” regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a significant step up of U.S. pressure on the leader. “We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution,” Bolton said, addressing an international summit on Venezuela in the Peruvian capital Lima after the Trump administration imposed an economic embargo on the Venezuelan government yesterday, Reuters reports.

“We take this step to deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally,” Bolton stated at the summit, setting out the sanctions freezing Venezuelan state assets in the U.S.. He added: “we want to send a message … there is no need to risk your business interests in the U.S. for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying government,” Anatoly Kurmanaev and Lara Jakes report at the New York Times.

Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez slammed the latest U.S. sanctions a “global threat” and an attack on private property. “This order attacks the whole population of Venezuela, all its economic sectors,” Rodriguez stated in Caracas, adding “this looks to reduce the availability of money, intimidate allied countries and suppliers … it’s a massive violation of human rights,” Ryan Dube, Vivian Salama and Juan Forero report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The U.S. has to understand once and for all that they aren’t the owners of the world,” Rodriguez added. The vice president said the new measure were “likely to bring additional hardship to the Venezuelan people, who were already suffering from the effects of hyperinflation and a deep recession,” Al Jazeera reports.

Russia’s foreign ministry yesterday denounced Washington’s move to freeze all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. as “illegal,” saying it constituted “economic terror,” the R.I.A. news agency reported, Reuters reports.

U.N. migration agency I.O.M. yesterday praised Colombia’s decision Monday to grant nationality status to over 24,000 Venezuelan babies born inside the country after their parents fled across the border. “This resolution is a contribution towards regular and safe migration, which hopefully will facilitate the recognition of the fundamental rights of Venezuelan children, as well as contribute to their integration into the society,” I.O.M.’s Chief of Mission in Colombia Ana Durán Salvatierra said yesterday, the U.N. News Centre reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Israeli military yesterday revealed it had arrested three Palestinians accused of involvement in a Hamas plot to carry out a bombing in Jerusalem, the AP reports.

At least 14 people were killed and 145 others wounded after a car bomb exploded today outside a police station in the Afghan capital Kabul, Afghan officials have said. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP reports.

Mozambique’s president and the leader of the country’s main opposition group signed a new long-awaited peace accord – the Peace and National Reconciliation Agreement – yesterday, pledging to end years of fighting and facilitate elections in the fall, AFP reports.

The F.B.I. Agents Association (F.B.I.A.A.) yesterday urged Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime, saying “it would ensure that F.B.I. Agents and prosecutors have the best tools to fight domestic terrorism … [which] is a threat to the American people and our democracy,” Zack Budryk0 reports at the Hill. 

Filed under:
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).