The Early Edition: June 2, 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

President Trump yesterday threatened that he would deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” onto the street of Washington D.C. to respond to the violent protests the city is witnessing in response to the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump also told state governors to get tough on their response, stating: “if a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” and then referred to himself as “[the] president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant report for the Hill. 

The National Guard and police officers then suddenly proceeded to disperse peaceful protests outside the House and between St. John’s Church and Lafayette Park with an onslaught of tear gas and flash-bang explosions fired at demonstrators. Soon after, Trump left the Rose Garden and made his way for St. John’s Church, which was set ablaze Sunday, where he then took pictures with his officials. The move was met with criticism: “He did not pray,” said Mariann E. Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington. “He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years.” Tom Gjelten reports for NPR. 

The Pentagon is concerned by Trump’s threats to deploy the military, according to several defense officials. “I believe that we in America should not get used to or accept uniformed service members of any variety having to be put in a position where they are having to secure people inside the United States of America,” Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard, told reporters Sunday, further adding that although “while we are glad to do it and honored to do it, this is a sign of the times that we need to do better as a country.” Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Nicole Gaouette report for CNN. 

Custom and Border Protection (C.B.P.) troops have been deployed in Washington to “assist law enforcement partners,” C.B.P.’s Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a post on Twitter yesterday, denouncing the “protests” as “chaos & acts of domestic terrorism by groups of radicals & agitators.” Justine Coleman reports for the Hill. 

Over 100 journalists have reported being the target of violence by police officers during their reporting on the U.S.-wide protests, Joel Simon, executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed. “I have not heard previously in the United States of journalists consistently alleging that they have been targeted with violence even after identifying themselves as journalists,” Simon said. Benjamin Mullin reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

Floyd’s official autopsy report reveals that he died from asphyxia: “The cause of death in my opinion is asphyxia, due to compression to the neck – which can interfere with oxygen going to the brain – and compression to the back, which interferes with breathing,” said Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner, who conducted the autopsy. The family’s attorney also confirmed in a post on Twitter that the autopsy concluded the death was a homicide. BBC reporting.

A Las Vegas police officer was shot during protests last night, according to AP new agency. The condition of the officer has not been confirmed. Reuters reporting. 

Four St. Louis police officers were also shot amid last night’s demonstrations. Reuters reporting. 

New York plans to reform laws that enable police disciplinary records to remain hidden from public view. The Statute, referred to as 50-a, was discussed yesterday by Democrats who control the state Assembly and Senate, and lawmakers will meet next week to discuss plans further. Jimmy Vielkind and Ben Chapman report for the Wall Street Journal. 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison – who is leading the prosecution of the murder of Floyd – said he intends to charge all four officers involved to “the highest degree of accountability that the law and the facts will support.” Elisha Fieldstadt reports for NBC News. 

Most of the charges brought by officers against protesters in Washington have now been dropped by state prosecutors, after demonstrators appeared at D.C. Superior court on charges including burglary, destruction of property and violating a municipal curfew. Keith L. Alexander, Peter Hermann and Michael Laris report for the Washington Post. 

Whether trump can actually deploy military troops to U.S. cities, is explained by Zachary C. Wolf for CNN. 

“Trump didn’t warn us about this. He helped make this,” writes Joshua Geltzer for Just Security, refuting Trump’s claims that he had warned of “American carnage” back in 2016.

Live updates on the protests available at CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the BBC.

CORONAVIRUS

At least 1.8 million Americans have contracted the new coronavirus and over 105,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Nearly 6.3 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including at least 375,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Newly released data from the U.S. government show that more than 25,000 nursing home residents have died from Covid-19 and more than 60,000 have fallen ill. The virus also infected 34,000 facilities’ employees and took the lives of more than 400, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (C.M.S.), the federal agency that oversees the nation’s nursing homes. The figures represent the first official national accounting of deaths in the 15,000 nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. These numbers, however, do not account for all nursing homes across the country, as only about 80 percent of nursing homes nationwide reported data to the federal government, and they were required only to include cases that occurred since early May. Debbie Cenziper, Peter Whoriskey and Joel Jacobs report for the Washington Post.

The head of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said he learned of President Trump’s decision to cut decades-long U.S. ties with the agency through Trump’s press briefing on Friday. “The U.S. government’s and its people’s contribution and generosity toward global health over many decades has been immense, and it has made a great difference in public health all around the world. It is W.H.O.’s wish for this collaboration to continue,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the W.H.O., said at a press conference yesterday, offering no further remarks when pressed. Pien Huang reports for NPR.

Roughly 200 U.S. marines arrived in the northern Australian city of Darwin today for an annual military training drill, but will first undergo two weeks of quarantine, the Australian government said. The Northern Territory, which has no active Covid-19 cases, shut its borders to other parts of Australia in March and requires a quarantine period for all arrivals to help protect remote indigenous communities from the virus. The rotation of U.S. forces will be halved to 1,200, from a peak of 2,500 last year, and they will turn up in groups of 200 over eight weeks, a spokesperson for Australia’s defense minister Linda Reynolds said. Reuters reporting.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that he has not spoken to or met with Trump in two weeks. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a prominent member of the White House coronavirus task force, added that that his communication with the president has become “much less frequent.” Their last contact was May 18, when Trump invited Fauci to provide medical context during a teleconference with the nation’s governors. Jim Sciutto and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.

The Trump administration’s testing czar announced yesterday that he will be standing down from his role in mid-June. Adm. Brett Giroir told a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS that he will be “demobilized” from his role supervising coronavirus testing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) in a few weeks and going back to his usual post at the Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.). An H.H.S. spokesperson confirmed the plan for Giroir to step down and suggested that there are no plans to appoint a new “head of efforts” for coronavirus testing. Selena Simmons-Duffin reports for NPR.

The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban has been infected by Covid-19 and has possibly died while receiving treatment, according to Taliban officials. Confirmation that Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada had contracted the virus, which has sickened a handful of senior Taliban leaders, came yesterday from a top military official of the Islamist movement, Moulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed. Lynne O’Donnell and Mirwais Khan report for Foreign Policy.

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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

A lawyer hired by District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan yesterday argued that the Department of Justice (D.O.J.)’s abrupt move to dismiss the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was so “unusual” that it raised a “plausible question” about the legitimacy of the move and warrants further review. In a 36-page filing with the federal appeals court, the lawyer for Sullivan asked a three-judge panel not to cut short his scrutiny of the factual and legal issues surrounding the case, arguing that he needed to carefully consider the department’s “unprecedented” request. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.

In a separate court filing, the D.O.J. yesterday asked a federal appeals court to force a lower-court judge to dismiss the prosecution of Flynn. Judge Sullivan had refused to immediately throw out the case against Flynn, despite the Department’s move to abandon a charge — to which Flynn has pleaded guilty — that the Trump ally lied to the F.B.I. about his 2016 interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In the 45-page filing, the D.O.J. said the case should be ended because only prosecutors, not judges, can decide when to drop a criminal case; “The Constitution vests in the Executive Branch the power to decide when — and when not — to prosecute potential crimes,” the government wrote. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.

The D.O.J. yesterday urged the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision giving House Democrats access to redacted grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The filing serves as the Trump administration’s formal appeal of a March order to turn over secret transcripts and exhibits that Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee initially sought as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. John Kruzel reports for the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Taliban has maintained close links to al-Qaeda despite promising to break ties with the terror group under a preliminary peace agreement with the U.S., according to a United Nations report released yesterday. The report, prepared by the U.N.’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, says the Taliban assured al-Qaeda of continuing ties even as it negotiated with the United States. “Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network … and al Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” the report said, adding: “The Taliban regularly consulted with al Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honor their historical ties.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said yesterday he ordered the military to boost security in the occupied West Bank ahead of Israel’s pending annexation of parts of the territory, a plan that could stir Palestinian violence. Also yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with members of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace team, including Jared Kushner, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and envoy Avi Berkowitz. The Trump peace plan, which sided with Israel on key issues and has been rejected by the Palestinians, allows Israel to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank as long as the U.S. and Israel agree on a map. The annexation process could begin as early as July 1. Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber report for the Wall Street Journal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms will take place on July 1, setting a new date for a postponed referendum that could potentially extend his rule until 2036. Putin delayed the original ballot, which had been set for April 22, due to the coronavirus outbreak, but he assured a government meeting yesterday that the situation had “broadly stabilized” and the vote could go ahead. Reuters reporting.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in accepted President Trump’s invitation to attend the Group of Seven (G-7) nations summit, Seoul’s presidential office said yesterday, while Putin said he wanted more details before deciding whether to come. Andrew Jeong and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. said Libya’s warring factions have agreed to resume cease-fire talks, after weeks of heavy fighting near the capital Tripoli fueled by foreign arms. In a statement posted online, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (U.N.S.M.I.L.) said it welcomed their plan to restart talks based on earlier so-called 5+5 meetings, involving five senior officers appointed by each side. Reuters reporting.

Health officials have confirmed a fresh Ebola outbreak in Congo, the head of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said yesterday, the latest health emergency for a country already battling the world’s largest measles outbreak as well as Covid-19. Congolese health authorities have documented six cases in the north near Mbandaka in Equateur province, including four fatalities, W.H.O. director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a message sent on Twitter post yesterday. AP reporting.

A shooting early yesterday killed two airmen at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, military officials said, adding that the incident is under investigation. Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday hinted at impending action by the Trump administration aimed at countering the International Criminal Court’s probe of alleged war crimes committed by U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. In an interview on the “What the Hell Is Going On?” podcast, produced by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank, Pompeo said he is “very concerned” about the investigation being conducted by the Hague-based tribunal. “You’ll see in the coming days a series of announcements not just from the State Department, [but] from all across the United States government that attempt to push back against what the I.C.C. is up to,” he said. Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO. 

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)