The Early Edition: May 29, 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.  

GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS

Protests have spread nationwide in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minnesota police. Live updates at CNN. 

Social media giant Twitter has hidden a tweet by President Trump, saying it violates rules about “glorifying violence” in the midst of escalating riots. In a post on Twitter last night, Trump said warned people in Minneapolis demonstrating against the killing of Floyd that he would order the military to get involved if there was “any difficulty,” writing: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The message prompted Twitter to hide the tweet behind a warning message which stated: “This tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible.” Alex Hern reports for the Guardian. 

After CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, a black man, and his crew were arrested whilst reporting on the riots, his fellow CNN reporter colleague Josh Campbell criticized the Minnesota police for “opposite treatment,” stating that he is white and Jimenez is not. CNN reporting.

TWITTER

President Trump yesterday signed an executive order which seeks to limit the legal protections that federal law provides social media and other online platforms, a move he says will “defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers.” The order will encourage the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C) to reconsider the scope of section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act which currently spares companies like Twitter and Facebook from being held liable for most posts shared on their website and allows them a high degree of autonomy over blocking posts by their users. Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report for the Washington Post.

Trump also confirmed yesterday that he has directed Attorney General William Barr to work with individual states to help them enforce their own laws against social media companies. Reuters reporting.

The president’s announcement of the executive order is “both premature and misguided,” argues Henry Olsen for the Washington Post, adding the order “may not result in anything tangible.”

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS 

A bipartisan group of lawyers, including former prosecutors, judges and practising attorneys, have filed a brief to Judge Emmet Sullivan supporting the Department of Justice (D.O.J.)’s decision to drop the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The brief requests Judge Sullivan to allow the group to submit a formal amicus brief on the matter, stating: “The issue presented in this case is whether the court has discretion to deny a motion to dismiss to which the defendant consents, as Gen. Flynn has done here. The answer is no.” J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill. 

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will vote next week to decide if Chair Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) can issue subpoenas as part of the Republican-led investigation into the origins of the F.B.I. probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the ‘unmasking’ of government officials by former Obama administration officials. The announcement, sent out to members yesterday, stated that the committee will vote on a: “motion to authorize the Chairman to issue subpoenas for records and testimony to U.S. Government agencies and to individuals relating to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation, the DOJ Inspector General’s review of that investigation, and the ‘unmasking’ of U.S. persons affiliated with the Trump campaign, transition teams, and Trump Administration.” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO. 

A comprehensive and scrupulously detailed guide to all major aspects of the Michael Flynn case from 2016 until now, is provided by Marty Lederman for Just Security.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 5.8 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded across the world, led by the U.S. which accounts for about 30% of the worldwide total with over 1.7 million infections. At least 360,000 people have died globally from Covid-19, including 101,600 people in America, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation yesterday that would make it easier for small businesses to use funds under the new Paycheck Protection Program, Congress’s latest attempt to counter the economic fallout from the pandemic. The House bill would give businesses longer to have the loans forgiven and paid off by the U.S. government. But the measure’s future remains unsettled because Senate leaders have not yet indicated support. Erica Werner reports for the Washington Post.

The number of Americans who have lost their jobs in the last 10 weeks climbed to more than 40 million as the rate of unemployment continued to go up with 2.1 million people filing jobless claims last week, the Labor Department reported. The stunning job losses mark a bleak milestone in the economic crisis that has gripped the U.S. since the coronavirus prompted widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in an effort to curb the spread of the pandemic. Lauren Aratani reports for The Guardian.

U.S. hospitals confirm they have significantly reduced their use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the new coronavirus after numerous studies warned of its ineffectiveness and potential harms. Orders for the malaria drug, which has been touted by Trump as a treatment for the coronavirus, have dropped to ten percent of what they were in late March, Vizient Inc, a major drug buyer for half of U.S. hospitals confirmed. Reuters reporting. 

The Texas Supreme Court has blocked a push by Democrats in the state to expand voting by mail amid the pandemic, ruling that lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not qualify a person to apply for a mail-in ballot. “We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code,” the opinion delivered Wednesday by Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said. Rebecca Shabad reports for NBC News.

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.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

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

CHINA

President Trump said yesterday that he will hold a news conference today on China and its recent moves to force through new security legislation in Hong Kong. Reuters reporting. 

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam yesterday warned the U.S. not to get involved in its internal affairs, stating that withdrawal of the territory’s special status and “any sanctions are a double-edged sword that will not only harm the interests of Hong Kong but also significantly those of the U.S..” Al Jazeera reporting. 

China today threatened that its military will “resolutely smash” any attempt by Taiwan to become fully independent. “If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions,” said Li Zuocheng the chief of the Joint Staff Department and a member of the Central Military Commission. Anna Fifield reports for the Washington Post. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. authorities accused North Korea’s state-owned bank of evading U.S. sanctions laws and charged more than 30 people in its biggest crackdown on North Korea sanctions violations. In a 50-page federal indictment unsealed yesterday in Washington, D.C., the Justice Department accused 28 North Korean and five Chinese individuals of acting as agents of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank to help process “at least $2.5 billion in illegal payments via over 250 front companies and covert bank branches.” Reuters reporting.

U.N. agencies trying to help the millions at risk from the conflict in Yemen have nearly run out of funds, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said yesterday, announcing an initiative to raise some $2.4 billion next week to pay for the world’s biggest aid operation. The United Nations and Saudi Arabia will hold a virtual pledging forum for Yemen on Tuesday. Reuters reporting.

As U.S. federal spending rises amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s time for policymakers to scale back their interventionist strategies that require “aid programs, trade initiatives, diplomatic personnel and a large and expensive military,” Boug Bandow argues for Foreign Policy, commenting, “last year’s military budget was $676 billion [and] most of that is “defense” only in the sense of protecting allies, many of which can defend themselves and little of which can be considered essential for this nation’s security.”

The Office of Special Counsel (O.S.C.) has cleared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of violating the Hatch Act for trips he made to Kansas last year. The watchdog said in a letter sent to Pompeo dated Jan. 21, but released by Pompeo yesterday, that it found “no evidence to conclude that you violated the Hatch Act. Therefore, we are closing this matter without further action … but [the Office] reserves the right to reopen its investigation pending any new development.” Jordain Carney reports for the Hill. 

The State Department inspector general sacked this month by President Trump over suspected leaks to the media had been cleared of any wrongdoing earlier this year, long before his dismissal. An investigation by the Pentagon inspector general found no evidence that Steve Linick or anyone from his office shared details with the media about an inquiry into the State Department, two sources familiar with the investigation told CNN. Kyle Atwood reports for CNN. 

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

Associate 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)