The Early Edition: April 16, 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

More than 2 million cases of the new coronavirus have now been confirmed worldwide and deaths have surpassed 137,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. accounts for more than 629,000 cases, and 26,700 deaths. Brady Dennis reports for the Washington Post.

Trump again questioned the number of coronavirus cases and deaths reported by China, touting the U.S. was “reporting everything.” The President also fanned the flames of a media theory, which was disputed just one day earlier by the Pentagon’s top general, that the naturally occurring virus escaped a Chinese laboratory. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News yesterday evening the Wuhan virology lab was close to the wet market where the virus spread and said: “The Chinese government needs to come clean.” Graham Russel reports for The Guardian.

The U.S. has passed the peak of the coronavirus outbreak and will soon begin the process of reopening, Trump told the daily White House briefing yesterday. The President said he would announce new guidelines today for easing social distancing measures after he had spoken to state governors. “We’ll be the comeback kids, all of us,” Trump said. “We want to get our country back.” BBC News reporting.

Public health officials and political leaders warned yesterday that more testing needs to be in place before restrictions are lifted as Trump pushes to reopen the country. Although capacity has stepped up in recent weeks, supply shortages remain acute, and many regions are still limiting tests to people who meet specific criteria. Business executives, who participated in the first conference call of Trump’s advisory council on restarting the economy, told the President that a dramatic bump in coronavirus testing was needed before the public would be confident enough to return to work. Abby Goodnough, Katie Thomas and Sheila Kaplan report for the New York Times.

Trump threatened yesterday to force Congress into a formal recess so he can unilaterally install top officials whose nominations he claimed were being blocked by Democrats in the Senate, an unprecedented move that critics compared to a dictatorship. Trump said the Senate should either approve his nominees or adjourn so he can “recess appoint” them. “If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Trump claimed at the White House briefing, citing a never-exercised constitutional power. Sahil Kapur, Kasie Hunt and Leigh Ann Caldwell report for NBC News.

The president’s plans to formally shut down Congress likely would be obstructed by Senate rules. Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis report for the Washington Post.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced an executive order yesterday mandating that everyone in the state must wear a mask or face-covering in public when social distancing is not possible, as cases continue to grow in the state. The measure will take effect on Saturday. Elizabeth Joseph and Eric Levenson report for CNN.

The head of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said yesterday that he regrets Trump’s decision to freeze U.S. funding for the international organization, but said it “is getting on with the job” in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. During a news conference in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the W.H.O. would review the impact of the withdrawal of American funding, and “work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted.” Jacqueline Howard, Veronica Stracqualursi and Amanda Watts report for CNN.

The Navy may reinstate a captain who was removed from command of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month after asking for help with the coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship. Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, is reviewing the case of Capt. Brett E. Crozier with a view to bringing back the captain, who is viewed as a hero by his crew for putting their lives above his career. Some 615 Roosevelt crew members have now tested positive for the coronavirus; five are in hospitals, with one in intensive care, and one has died. Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.

Thousands of demonstrators drove past the Michigan state Capitol yesterday to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s extended stay-at-home order. The protest — called “Operation Gridlock” — was arranged by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and drew out militias, conservatives, small business owners, and loyal supporters of Trump, who describe the Governor’s order as a wrongful “power-grab.” Abigail Censky reports for NPR.

A look at how China is battling the coronavirus with a digital Q.R. code is provided by Nectar Gan and David Culver at CNN Business.

Guatemala’s Health Minister Hugo Monroy has said that deportees from the United States are driving up the country’s Covid-19 caseload, adding that on one flight some 75 percent of the deportees tested positive for the coronavirus. The health minister said that the United States had become the “Wuhan of the Americas” referring to the Chinese province where the pandemic began. The Guardian reporting.

Turkey has extended compulsory military service for its male citizens by at least one month, in a move aimed at averting the further spread of the coronavirus during the discharge period characterized by the mass movement of people across the country. Following a meeting with military commanders, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced in a statement late Tuesday that the year’s first draft period, due to take place in April, had also been delayed. Al Jazeera reporting.

Islamic extremists are using the coronavirus pandemic to “launch new attacks, motivate followers and reinforce their credentials as alternative rulers of swaths of unstable countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.” But the responses of different extremist groups have varied, Jason Burke reports for The Guardian, comparing the approach of the Islamic State (ISIS) to that of the Taliban.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Six key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing are provided in an analysis by Amber Phillips for the Washington Post.

A fact check on the president’s “standard false claims” during yesterday’s briefing is provided by Daniel Dale, Phil Mattingly, Maegan Vazquez, Liz Stark, David Wright and Em Steck at CNN.

“The fact that it is constitutionally superfluous for Trump to authorize states to open up suggests his real intent is an election-year political device that positions him as leading the resurgence and those who oppose him as laggards holding America back,” CNN’s Stephen Collins writes in an analysis.

The president’s halting of funding to the W.H.O. as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is a “vindictive exercise” of presidential authority and an abuse of American power, David Fidler, a top international health law expert comments in a peice for Just Security.

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.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The criminal trial of four associates of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has been postponed until after November because of disruptions in court proceedings due to the pandemic. Those on trial were charged last year with violating U.S. campaign finance laws by funneling funds from abroad and hiding their source. Josh Gerstein and Betsy Woodruff swan report for POLITICO.

Footnotes from the Justice Department (D.O.J.)’s independent Inspector General (I.G.) Michael Horowitz’s report about the F.B.I.’s Trump-Russia investigation have been declassified and indicate that Russia may be responsible for planting disinformation in documents used in the investigation. The newly revealed details also show that the D.O.J. permitted physical surveillance of former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, while he was abroad in addition to wiretapping him under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.). Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iranian navy vessels conducted “dangerous and harassing approaches” towards U.S. Navy warships in the North Arabian Sea yesterday. Scott Newman reports for NPR.   

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz have failed to form a government by the given deadline, potentially leading to a fourth election in one year. However, the country’s President has now asked parliament to choose a new prime minister within three weeks, and the rival leaders have confirmed they will continue towards forming an emergency government. Al Jazeera reporting. 

China may have conducted low-level nuclear tests at its Lop Nur testing site in 2019 said the U.S. State Department yesterday. An annual review, by President Trump’s administration, of international compliance with arms-control accords does not provide proof of the claims but details much activity that “raises concerns.” Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his Democratic Party were yesterday victorious in the country’s national assembly elections, receiving the biggest majority any party has received there since the country’s transition to democracy in 1987. Justin McCurry reports for The Guardian.  

Libya’s U.N.-recognized government yesterday said it will not continue negotiations with the Commander of the Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) Khalifa Haftar due to him exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to launch offensive attacks against the government. Al Jazeera reporting. 

The U.S. military has accused a Russian fighter jet of doing an “unsafe” inverted maneuver yesterday that put the crew of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane at risk; the U.S. military’s Space Command has also reported that Russia tested anti-satellite missile. Ryan Browne reports for CNN.

German prosecutors have arrested four suspected ISIS members originally from Tajikistan for plotting to attack U.S. air bases and other targets, with the country’s state interior minister Herbert Reul confirming that the group of men “had already bought weapons and ammunition [and] in addition, one suspect has knowledge how to make explosives.” Carlo Angerer reports for NBC 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).