The Early Edition: August 9, 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.  

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Deputy Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) Sue Gordon will resign from her post on Aug. 15 in a shake-up of the top ranks of the agency, President Trump announced yesterday in a message sent on Twitter. Gordon, a career intelligence official who spent more than 25 years in the C.I.A., was next in line to serve as acting director after current director Daniel Coats announced his resignation effective Aug. 15, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

Trump disclosed in a later message that National Counterterrorism Center Director Joseph Maguire will serve as acting D.N.I.: “I am pleased to inform you that the Honorable Joseph Maguire … will be named Acting Director of National Intelligence, effective August 15th … I have no doubt he will do a great job!” the president’s message sent on Twitter stated. Maguire retired from the Navy after a 36-year career that included leading the Naval Special Warfare Command, and has led the National Counterterrorism Center, which is overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (O.D.N.I.,) since December, Nicole Gaouette and Kevin Liptak report at CNN.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released a statement yesterday describing the retirements of two top intelligence officials Coats and Gordon as a “devastating loss.” “These losses of leadership, coupled with a president determined to weed out anyone who may dare disagree, represent one of the most challenging moments for the Intelligence Community,” Schiff wrote, adding: “it will be up to the Congress to ensure that the Intelligence Community continues to provide independent analysis and judgement to policy makers, and always speak truth to power,” Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

Former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) and the F.B.I. arguing he was wrongly dismissed from the agency because he was not sufficiently loyal to U.S. President Trump. In his suit — filed in federal court in Washington — McCabe alleged that his firing was a “politically motivated retaliation” driven by Trump, who was angry at McCabe’s role in the investigation of his campaign’s links to Russia; McCabe was demoted in January 2018 and publicly fired in March 2018, Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

McCabe alleged his dismissal was the product of “Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove D.O.J. and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents because they were not politically loyal to him.” McCabe was among the first F.B.I. officials to call for an investigation into whether the 2016 Trump campaign had questionable ties to Russia and whether Trump himself had tried to obstruct justice, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

The lawsuit also lists as defendants Attorney General William Barr and F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray — although it claims Trump was ultimately responsible for the decision to have McCabe fired. “Trump, acting in an official capacity as President of the United States, is responsible and accountable for Defendants’ actions,” the suit states, adding “Trump purposefully and intentionally caused the unlawful actions of Defendants and other Executive Branch subordinates that led to Plaintiff’s demotion and purported termination,” Olivia Beavers and Jacqueline Thomsen report at the Hill.

John Gore —  the key Justice Department official behind the Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — is due to leave the department today. Gore is among the administration officials accused of providing false testimony and hiding evidence as part of the lawsuits over the citizenship question, claims which Gore denied in a recent court filing, Hansi Lo Wang reports at NPR.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said publicly for the first time yesterday that his panel is opening an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump and will determine by the end of the year whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the House floor. “This is formal impeachment proceedings,” Nadler said in a C.N.N. interview, adding: “we are investigating all the evidence, gathering the evidence … and we will [at the] conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor … or we won’t … that’s a decision that we’ll have to make … but that’s exactly the process we’re in right now,” Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

IMMIGRATION

U.S. immigration officials have temporarily released about 300 of the 680 people arrested Wednesday during a massive raid of Mississippi poultry factories — the largest immigration raid in a decade. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) spokesperson Bryan Cox said yesterday 270 people were released with notices to appear before federal immigration judges, the BBC reports.

U.S. authorities strongly defended Wednesday’s raids, insisting the secretive operation to detain undocumented immigrants was “successful.” “This was a textbook operation, carried out in a safe manner, and done securely,” I.C.E.’s acting director Matthew Albence said while traveling in Guatemala yesterday, adding: “officers were able to execute these warrants in a safe fashion,” Tim Craig, Scott Wilson and Nick Miroff report at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Turkey yesterday praised the deal it has reached with Washington to establish a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria – with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying it is a “good start.” Cavusoglu made the comments at a news conference in Ankara after the U.S. and Turkey announced Wednesday they agreed to form a joint operations center to set up the safe zone, Suzan Fraser and Albert Aji report at the AP.

Cavusoglu warned that Turkey will not allow efforts to establish the safe zone with the U.S. to stall in the same way that their arrangement on control of the Syrian town of Manbij has made slow progress. Cavusoglu explained he and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo devised the roadmap for Manbij in June last year, but, while it was supposed to be executed within 90 days, the U.S. “delayed this with many excuses, such as joint patrols,” Reuters reports.

Syrian government forces regained ground from insurgents in northwestern Syria yesterday, sources on both sides said, making progress on advances since the military announced an end to a brief ceasefire earlier this week, Reuters reports.

A new wave of fighting around Syria’s jihadi-controlled enclave of Idlib is “threatening the lives of millions of civilians” and has triggered “total panic” among civilians in recent days, senior humanitarian adviser to the U.N.’s Syria Envoy Najat Rochdi said in a statement yesterday. The UN’s humanitarian chief for Syria Panos Moumtzis cautioned that a feared government offensive in the area was “playing with fire,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

“As Turkey deports Syrians and Arab leaders warm to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] … those who fled his regime have been left out to dry,” Kareem Chehayeb and Sarah Hunaidi argue at Foreign Policy, warning that “many countries are now simply turning a blind eye to human rights and the protection of Syrian refugees and civilians.”

AFGHANISTAN

At least 96 pro-government forces and 35 civilians were killed during the last week of fighting in Afghanistan, Fahim Abed reports in a casualty report at the New York Times.

The last stretch of negotiations between American and Taliban officials is proving to be a “difficult balancing act,” Mujib Mashal writes in an analysis at the New York Times, noting that “for both sides, the challenge is to craft a face-saving resolution for all the vested interests that also sets a path for stability in Afghanistan.”

IRAN

U.S. President Donald Trump yesterday accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Tehran over possible talks, following reports that Macron invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to this month’s Group of 7 (G.7) summit to meet Trump. “Iran is in serious financial trouble … they want desperately to talk to the U.S., but are given mixed signals from all of those purporting to represent us, including President Macron of France,” Trump stated, making the remarks in a message sent on Twitter, Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

“I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others … but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself … no one is authorized in any way … shape … or form … to represent us!” the message continued. The White House declined to comment, Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

“American sanctions have turned the business of selling Iranian oil into a high-stakes game of espionage and counterespionage,” Farnaz Fassihi writes at the New York Times, commenting that since Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian oil sales last year, “information on those sales has become a prized geopolitical weapon.”

PAKISTAN-INDIA RELATIONS

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday defended his decision to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its autonomy – saying the move was necessary to stop “terrorism and separatism.” Speaking for the first time since the move, Modi hailed it as a “historic decision” that would bring peace to the region, asserting the special status had “not given anything other than terrorism, separatism, nepotism and big corruption,” Bill Spindle and Rajesh Roy report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday urged India and Pakistan to exercise “maximum restraint” over the disputed regions of Kashmir and Jammu as the Muslim-majority territory remained under an unprecedented security lockdown and a near-total communications blackout for a fourth day. Guterres expressed concern over reports of “restrictions” in Indian-administered Kashmir, and warned that such actions could “exacerbate the human rights situation in region,” Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement, the U.N. News Centre reports. 

An analysis of whether India’s sudden decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy could “drastically alter the demographic composition of the disputed territory itself” and “come to resemble Israeli settlement in the West Bank,” is provided by Claire Parker at the Washington Post.

A transcript of Modi’s remarks in relation to Kashmir is provided by the editors at Foreign Policy.

Latest updates to relations between Pakistan and India are available at Al Jazeera.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels today declared that the Saudi-led coalition killed Ibrahim al-Houthi the brother of their leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, making the announcement on the rebel Almasirah website. The statement, which does not provide details or the timing for Ibrahim’s killing, said he was “assassinated by treacherous hands” of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led alliance fighting in Yemen, the AP reports.

The Houthis yesterday launched two drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s southern Abha airport, the rebel fighters’ spokesperson said.  A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition today declared that a Houthi drone targeting Abha had been intercepted and downed, Al Jazeera reports. 

CHINA AND HONG KONG

The U.S. State Department strongly condemned China for acting as a “thuggish regime” after disclosing personal details of American diplomat Julie Eadeh who met Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong. “Releasing any of that personal information of an American diplomat is completely unacceptable, that’s not a protest, that’s what a thuggish regime does,” state department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said; the strong response came after Chinese state broadcaster C.C.T.V. shared a social media post which showed Eadeh meeting Wong, accusing her of being a “black hand” behind the protests, building on China’s claims that the demonstrations were “the work of the U.S.,” Alice Woodhouse and Nian Liu report at the Financial Times.

A useful guide to the demonstrations in Hong Kong – including how they have evolved and the government’s response, is provided by Daniel Victor and Alan Yuhas at the New York Times.

VENEZUELA

U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet yesterday voiced concern over the latest unilateral U.S. sanctions on Venezuela – saying they were “extremely broad” and would “significantly exacerbate” the crisis in terms of people’s access to food and health, Reuters reports.

Bachelet said she feared that businesses and financial institutions were “likely to err on the side of caution and completely halt transactions relating to the Government of Venezuela.” Bachelet called on those with influence in Venezuela and the international community to try to reach a political solution, the U.N. News Centre reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska yesterday, according to a statement by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (N.O.R.A.D.) which said two U.S. F-22 stealth jets and two Canadian CF-18 fighters approached the two nuclear-capable Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers after they crossed into Alaskan and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne report at CNN. 

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).