The Early Edition: April 30, 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

U.S. deaths from Covid-19 topped 60,000 yesterday, surpassing a previous White House projection. The 60,316 American deaths represent more than a quarter of the 227,800 fatalities globally, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There are now 1.04 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and 3.2 million cases worldwide. Talal Ansari and William Boston report for the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump said the White House will not be extending its coronavirus social distancing guidelines once they expire today — letting states decide what happens next. The “inconsistent patchwork” of state, local and business decision-making is precisely what could spur a second wave of the coronavirus — or potentially prolong the current outbreak, Joanne Kenen reports for POLITICO.

Hopes rose yesterday for remdesivir as a possible Covid-19 treatment after the top U.S. infectious-disease expert said the experimental drug had shown a clear benefit in an early trial. The trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), was conducted on over 1,000 people and showed that patients hospitalized with Covid-19 receiving the drug recovered up to four days faster than those treated with a placebo. Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described the trial’s results as “very optimistic” and said during a meeting with Trump, “The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.” Christopher Rowland and Laurie McGinley report for the Washington Post.

The government yesterday announced grim new economic numbers. The figures revealed the U.S. economy contracted at a 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter of the year – a precursor to far more bleak reports that are expected this summer from the severe recession sparked by the pandemic. Joan E. Greve reports for The Guardian.

The Trump administration is starting a project to significantly speed up development of a coronavirus vaccine, with an aim of making enough doses for most Americans by year’s end. Dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” the vast vaccination trial would convene private pharmaceutical firms, government health agencies, and military research departments. As part of the arrangement, taxpayers will bear much of the financial risk that vaccine candidates may fail, instead of drug companies. Jennifer Jacobs  and Drew Armstrong report for Bloomberg.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday announced the names of seven Democratic House members who will sit on a select committee to oversee the Trump administration’s coronavirus response efforts, including its handling of $3 trillion in relief funds. Pelosi had already declared that the committee will be chaired by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Joining him are three chairs of existing House committees: Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.); other appointments include Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Andy Kim (D-N.J.), a freshman from a competitive district. Kyle Cheney and Sarah Ferris report for POLITICO.

The acting secretary of the Navy yesterday ordered a deeper investigation into the circumstances around the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after the leak of a letter he sent detailing worries about a coronavirus outbreak on the ship, effectively putting to one side a top military adviser’s suggestion to reinstate him as head of the aircraft carrier. In a statement, James McPherson said he was ordering the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, to investigate, expanding a preliminary review that the Navy carried out and presented to Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week. “This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak aboard U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt,” McPherson said. Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.

The chair of the House Armed Services Committee yesterday said it is “perfectly legitimate” for the Navy to widen its probe into the coronavirus outbreak aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, but asserted the ship’s former commander should still be reinstated now. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

The U.S. Navy will stop publishing official information about the number of coronavirus cases aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S.S. Kidd, an abrupt policy change that was made “with no notice and no official explanation.” Both warships have experienced extensive outbreaks. Ryan Browne reports via Twitter.

A federal judge in Oregon declined to suspend Trump’s recent executive order that placed a 60-day ban on green cards for most immigrants due to the coronavirus outbreak. The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, who sided last fall with the same plaintiffs when they petitioned over a separate immigration decree issued by the president. Susannah Luthi reports for POLITICO.

Michigan’s stay-at-home orders do not breach citizens’ constitutional rights, Michigan’s Court of Claims held yesterday. The plaintiffs in the suit had claimed that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, among the toughest in the nation, encroached on their right to due process. The court refused their request for a preliminary injunction against the order and ruled against their charge that the Emergency Management Act was unconstitutional. “Those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society’s interests — society being our fellow residents,” wrote judge Christopher Murray. Blake Montgomery reports for The Daily Beast.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will shut all beaches and state parks starting tomorrow after thousands of people raced to the coast during last weekend’s heatwave. The statewide order is likely to be criticized as puzzling after six San Francisco Bay Area counties that imposed the first broad stay-at-home orders in California relaxed them slightly this week to allow for landscaping, construction, and other outdoor businesses, such as flea markets and nurseries to restart, if social distancing is kept up. AP reporting.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have bought and sold stocks “hundreds of times” during the coronavirus crisis — some of them moneymaking moves to invest in industries thriving in the pandemic and divest from sectors like restaurants and hotels that have bombed, according to a new analysis by the Campaign Legal Center (C.L.C.). From Feb. 2 to April 8 of this year, the nonpartisan watchdog group found 12 senators made a total 127 purchases or sales, while 37 House representatives made at least 1,358 transactions. In most cases, the lawmakers have not been accused of wrongdoing, but C.L.C. says “the frequency of such stock trades underscores the need for more transparency and ethics protections,” especially in a time of crisis. Alice Miranda Ollstein reports for POLITICO.

Yemen has recorded its first two coronavirus deaths, the health minister said late yesterday, after the war-torn country confirmed five new cases, stoking fears of a major outbreak. Reuters reporting.

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng said Trump’s demand that the country should compensate the world for the coronavirus pandemic is “preposterous.” “Those claims are preposterous; they present an out and out political farce,” Le said through an interpreter in an interview with NBC News. J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill.

China announced yesterday that its previously postponed national legislature session will be held in late May, in a sign of confidence that its novel coronavirus epidemic has finally been brought under control. It was not immediately clear whether the roughly 5,000 delegates would come to Beijing for what is the biggest political meeting of the year, or if it would be held virtually through video conferencing. Anna Fifield reports for the Washington Post.

While emergency measures may be needed to tackle the spread of the virus, some governments “appear to be using Covid-19 as a cover for human rights violations, further restricting fundamental freedoms and civic space, and undermining the rule of law,” Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement this week. Joanna Slater, Anthony Faiola and Niha Masih report on the “disturbing trend” amid the global pandemic at the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of President Trump’s recent rhetoric on testing is provided by Glenn Kessler for the Washington Post.

“Bluetooth contact tracing Apps could be a tool for society to use in returning to some version of normal, but only if policymakers keep in mind the technology’s limitations, and build in robust safeguards now, during the development stage,” Lauren Sarkesian comments in a piece for Just Security, weighing the advantages and potential effectiveness of Bluetooth technology against the intrusion on privacy and other risks.

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

Turkey vows to defend Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) against Libya’s eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar’s coup d’etat, accusing him of seeking to “create a military dictatorship.” In response to Haftar calling the 2015 United Nations-brokered agreement to unite the country “a thing of the past,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said: “Haftar has once again demonstrated that he does not seek a political solution to the crisis in Libya, does not support international efforts in this regard … [Turkey] will definitely continue to stand by the brotherly Libyan people in defending the Government of National Accord.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is responsible for the death of eight civilians in a drone strike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli, Libya in November last year, the Human Rights Watch (H.R.W) revealed in a report yesterday. The watchdog’s acting Middle East and North Africa director said that the U.A.E.’s “failure to verify that the workers there were civilians and that there was no legitimate military target would show recklessness and bad intelligence.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

A prisoner exchange of over 1,000 people could take place between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, the United Nations (U.N.) and International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) confirmed yesterday, although I.C.R.C.’s regional director for the Near and Middle East said in a post on Twitter that: “we are only “potentially” ready because we still wait for a “potential” green light from all parties to proceed with the overdue release of detainees.” Discussions for both sides to release prisoners started during talks in Stockholm in December 2018, but disagreements over the implementation of the exchange has continually halted progress. Al Jazeera reporting.

The U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Barry sailed near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea yesterday – an area which Beijing is adamant is its own – on what the U.S. Navy has called a “freedom of navigation operation.” Who the area belongs to has long been contested by China, Vietnam and Taiwan – and other Asian states – with the Chinese military accusing the U.S. of “proactive acts” that “seriously violated international law and China’s sovereignty and security interests.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

Newly released documents by the U.S. Justice Department reveal how F.B.I. officials debated over their approach to investigations into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, which Flynn’s lawyers submit is “smoking gun” evidence that the F.B.I. intended to entrap their client, and will be used to support their client in seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges that he had lied to the F.B.I. in an interview in January 2017 about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.; however, the documents, which a federal judge was made aware of yesterday, included a handwritten note by an unknown author that states: “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Spencer S. Hsu, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post.  

The former acting Attorney General of the U.S. Stuart Gerson has warned of the politicization and weaponization of the Department of Justice in 2020 presidential election, in which the current Attorney General Bill Barr “has acted in conscious parallel to the president’s states interest.” Stuart M. Gerson and Kirsty Parker write for Just Security. 

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).

Siven Watt

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)