The Early Edition: April 14, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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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.  

CORONAVIRUS

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide crept toward two million today, with 1.92 million cases, more than a quarter of them in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have now been over 23,600 deaths in America related to the pandemic, with 582,000 people infected. There were 1,584 deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. during the 24-period ended 8 p.m. last night, down slightly from daily peaks of more than 2,100 and 3,500, respectively, last week. Lucy Craymer reports for the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump declared in yesterday’s White House news briefing that he has “total” authority when it comes to lockdown rules during the coronavirus pandemic, contradicting governors and legal experts who say the federal government lacks the power to restart state economies. The president insisted in a pair of messages sent on Twitter earlier in the day that he was the only one who could open up parts of the economy brought to a standstill by social-distancing mitigation efforts. Quint Forgey and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.

Trump’s claim came hours after governors on the East and West coasts banded together to produce regionally coordinated plans for reopening their states on their own timetables. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island said they would work together to devise a plan on an eventual end to their states’ restrictions. On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington also announced a similar pact. Tim Craig and Brady Dennis report for the Washington Post.

The President has no plans to fire Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House said yesterday, after the nation’s top infectious disease expert on Trump’s coronavirus task force said earlier mitigation efforts could have saved more lives. Trump, who had retweeted a post containing the hashtag “#FireFauci,” said: “Today I walk in, I hear I’m going to fire him … I’m not firing him, I think he’s a wonderful guy.” Toluse Olorunnipa, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

Fauci said yesterday his remarks Sunday that his early advice for social distancing received “pushback” by Trump administration officials in the initial days of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak were a “wrong choice of words.” Fauci said at yesterday’s coronavirus press briefing that he wished to “clarify” his remarks in an interview with CNN on Sunday in which he said that if mitigation efforts had begun earlier, “obviously” more lives would have been saved. Fauci asserted during the briefing yesterday that Trump ultimately “listened to the recommendation” of enforcing social distancing measures to contain the spread of the virus. Emma Tucker reports for The Daily Beast.

If Trump had listened to the early critical warnings from his experts and advisors starting in early January and taken the appropriate steps, the U.S. could have avoided as much as 86 percent of the economic damage it is now facing, according to a new analysis by Robert Shapiro, a former commerce official, at the Washington Monthly.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) speculated yesterday that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in the state might be over, despite deaths topping 10,000. Cuomo said the number of people admitted to hospital and people being put on ventilators is down, indicating a “plateauing” of infections in America’s coronavirus epicenter. The governor said that 671 people had died in New York in the past 24 hours, compared to 758 the day before, but cautioned the outbreak could worsen if restrictions are eased too quickly. AFP reporting.

A sailor assigned to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt warship — the Navy ship in the middle of a controversy that led to the resignation of Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly — has died from Covid-19-related complications, the Navy said yesterday. The sailor, whose identity was withheld upon notification of family, had tested positive for coronavirus on March 30 and was taken Thursday to an intensive care unit after being found unresponsive. Erik Ortiz and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is requesting early release from prison due to the threat the coronavirus poses to his health. Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing made the plea to the federal Bureau of Prisons yesterday, asking that the 71-year-old lobbyist and political consultant be moved to home confinement to serve the rest of his seven-and-a-half year sentence for a string of convictions on charges of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts, witness tampering and engaging in unregistered lobbying for foreign interests. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

China has taken steps to block flare-up of coronavirus along its northern border with Russia. Measures include sealing the frontier and sending emergency medical units to the area. AP reporting.

President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia may need the army to help tackle the pandemic, as the country records its highest daily figure of new cases: 2,558. Putin told officials that the situation was “changing practically every day, and unfortunately not for the better … we have a lot of problems, we don’t have anything especially to brag about and we definitely mustn’t relax … [we must] consider all scenarios for how the situation will develop, even the most complex and extraordinary.” Helen Davidson reports for The Guardian.

Moscow has introduced a digital tracking system to help enforce COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. The recent enforcement measures will require residents of Moscow wishing to travel by public transport to download an App and declare any planned route and its purpose in advance, which will then produce a Q.R. code that can be checked by the police. Critics have said the tracking system represents an unprecedented threat to privacy – a ‘cyber Gulag.’ Mary Ilyushina reports for CNN. 

The Turkish government has confirmed that it will be temporarily releasing over 45,000 prisoners in an effort to fight the pandemic, with the country’s justice minister voicing concerns that prison overcrowding could exacerbate an outbreak across the country’s prison population. The steps have, however, been criticized as strategically excluding government opponents imprisoned on terrorism charges. Al Jazeera reporting.

E-commerce giant Amazon has fired a further two employees who have criticized the company’s working conditions during the pandemic. Amazon said it sacked the workers for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” adding, “we support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.” Reuters reporting. 

The President has so far made 350 false or misleading claims about the coronavirus pandemic, Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly write in an analysis at the Washington Post.

Why has New York been hit so hard by coronavirus? CNN’s medical analyst Kent Sepkowitz takes a look, citing “the chronically inadequate health care given to minorities and the poor throughout New York City” as the likeliest explanation for the high death rate.

As a pandemic ravages the globe, it is carrying with it a threat to civil liberties, Suzanne Nossel argues at Foreign Policy, commenting “The firing of Navy Capt. Brett Crozier for the crime of raising alarm bells over the spreading viral risk to the sailors under his command on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt is among the most vivid examples of a metastasizing trend of silencing and punishing speech, ostensibly  to protect public health and order.”

The authority to demand businesses shut in a public health crisis is what is a known as a “police power,” and it is reserved by the Constitution to the states, not to the federal government, Jane C. Timm and Pete Williams write in a fact check of Trump’s assertion that it is his call on when to reopen the country at NBC News.

A comprehensive timeline of the warning signals of COVID-19 and the U.S. response to the outbreak is provided by Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin at Just Security.

A timeline of the key alerts Trump received from health experts and intelligence agencies and and the “disinformation he was simultaneously spreading” is provided by Tee McSee at The Guardian.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz have confirmed that they have made “meaningful progress” in their attempt to form a joint government to tackle coronavirus, after jointly asking President Reuven Rivlin, responsible for overseeing coalition negotiations, for more time, “with the aim of completing negotiations to form a national emergency government.” AP reporting.  

Russia is ready to engage in talks with the U.S. about hypersonic missiles, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is reported to have said today. Reuters reporting. 

The Libyan Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) yesterday seized control of three cities from forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar, the ally of the House of Representations, confirmed Mohammed Gnunu, a spokesperson for the G.N.A. Al Jazeera reporting. 

North Korea fired multiple suspected short-range cruise missiles today into the sea, according to South Korea’s joint chief of staff. The firing of missiles, which analysts say was a demonstration by North Korea of its breadth of arsenal, comes on the eve of the 108th anniversary of the death of the founder Kim II Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un. Reuters reporting. 

The trial of ex-U.S. marine Paul Whelan has begun in Moscow after he was charged in December 2018 with spying. The Russian Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) allege they caught him in his hotel room with a U.S.B. stick containing secret information; however, the allegations have been characterized as a “mockery of justice” by the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow. Sarah Rainsford reports for BBC News. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).