The Early Edition: June 3, 2020

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

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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

The eighth day of protests in response to the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers saw the largest number of demonstrators, tens of thousands, come out onto the streets last night, breaking state curfews, but with far less violence and chaos. The largest demonstration was in Houston, Floyd’s hometown and where he will be buried next week. BBC reporting.

The Pentagon has moved 1,600 active-duty troops to bases in the Washington D.C. area to be on standby for any escalating violence in protests in the state. “Active duty elements are postured on military bases in the National Capitol Region but are not in Washington, D.C.,” said Johnathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson. “They are on heightened alert status but remain under Title X authority and are not participating in defense support to civil authority operations.” Tal Axelrod reports for the Hill. 

Attorney General William Barr is personally responsible for the order that led to law enforcement officers in Washington using shocking levels of force against peaceful protests outside the White House and around Lafayette Square Monday, Department of Justice (D.O.J.) officials have said. Monday night saw officers, some mounted on horseback, use pepper balls, batons, smoke canisters and tear gas to clear groups before President Trump left the White House and walked a short distance to St. John’s Church where he took photos holding a bible – a move that has received widespread criticism. Carol D. Leonnig, Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Rebecca Tan report for the Washington Post. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has requested the Department of Defense (D.O.D.)’s acting inspector general Sean O’Donnell to investigate “the involvement of civilian and military Department of Defense (DoD) personnel in suppressing peaceful domestic protests.” Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the use of force against demonstrators in Washington Monday, stating: “This ‘ambush’ of American citizens who were protesting the killing of [George] Floyd was created to allow the President to partake in a blatantly political photo opportunity that included DoD Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Tal Axelrod reports for the Hill. 

Sen. Tim Kain (D-Va.) a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee announced yesterday he will introduce an amendment to the annual defense policy will that will attempt to block Trump from using the military against demonstrators. Kain said the amendment will be introduced next week when the committee addresses the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.), adding that: “I never thought we would have to use the NDAA to make clear that the U.S. military shouldn’t be used as an agent of force against American citizens who are lawfully assembling … I thought that would seem obvious to everyone. But as we take up the NDAA next week, I’m going to be pushing to ensure the president can’t treat the U.S. military as his personal palace guard to try to ward off peaceful protests.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill. 

Trump’s response to protests Monday has been condemned by Democratic leaders in Congress and two Republicans. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday: “Trump probably laid in bed pleased with himself for descending another rung on the dictatorial ladder … He probably wore out his remote control watching the clips of General Barr’s victory over the unarmed in the battle of Lafayette Square;” Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) warned Trump against being “a fanner of the flame;” and Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, stated: “I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the word of God as a political prop.” Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times. 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein described the death of George Floyd as a “national tragedy.” In a statement sent Monday to the Air Force’s staff, Goldfein condemned the murder, declaring: “The death of George Floyd is a national tragedy. Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020.” Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he was given no notice or details of the decision that saw Trump, Esper and other officials walk to St. John’s Church, where Trump has been criticized for using the tragedy as a photo opportunity. Esper said in an interview with NBC News last night that: “I didn’t know where I was going … I wanted to see how much damage actually happened … I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops.” A spokesperson for the Pentagon later clarified that although Esper did know the church was one of the intended locations to visit, he was unaware of Trump’s plans to take photos. Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report for NBC News. 

D.O.D. officials are becoming increasingly concerned with Trump’s political use of the military to respond to recent protests and other border security and law enforcement issues. “The decision to use active military forces in crowd control in the United States should only be made as a last resort,” voiced Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense under Trump, adding, “Active Army and Marine Corps units are trained to fight our nation’s enemies, not their fellow Americans. American cities are not battlefields.” One senior defense official said: “There is growing concern that this is not good for the role of the military going forward … Now you’ve injected the military into a moment in a political way. It just doesn’t seem right.” Lara Seligman and Bryan Bender report for POLITICO. 

Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights (M.D.H.R.) has launched an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies and practices over the last ten years and also filed a discrimination complaint, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D) announced yesterday. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR. 

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was lost for words when asked by reporters at a news conference yesterday his opinion on Trump’s response to protests, and after 21 seconds of silence he still did not address Trump’s actions specifically. Scott Neuman reports for NPR.  

Mark Zuckerberg, C.E.O. of social media giant Facebook, stands by his decision not to take down or censure posts from Trump that have been criticized as promoting violence. According to Facebook employees, Zuckerberg said it was “a tough decision” but “the right action .. is to leave this up.” Dylan Byers and Emily Pandise report for NBC News. 

Clashes erupted between police and protesters in Paris yesterday after about 20,000 people defied a ban to rally over the 2016 death of a black man in police custody, spurred by U.S. protests against racism and deadly police violence. The demonstrators used mottos from the American protest movement to call for justice for Adama Traore, whose death four years ago has been a rallying cause against police brutality in France. AFP reporting.

Racial injustice and inequality at home fundamentally imperils our ability to protect U.S. national security abroad; the issue requires “serious attention and energy,” former U.S. officials Bishop Garrison and Jon Wolfsthal argue for Foreign Policy.

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

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 1.8 million coronavirus infections in the United States and over 106,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, nearly 6.4 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 380,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The nation’s top disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, expressed cautious optimism yesterday that multiple successful vaccine candidates would prove effective “within a reasonable period of time” to combat the novel coronavirus. But how long the protection from an eventual vaccine might go on for is “a big unknown,” he said during The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Health Conference that was held by video. A short duration of protection could present further challenges, Fauci said. Brianna Abbott and Peter Loftus report for the Wall Street Journal.

A top U.S. Army vaccine researcher said yesterday it was reasonable to believe that some form of coronavirus vaccine could be ready for use for part of the U.S. population by the end of 2020. Reuters reporting.

The Senate yesterday confirmed President Trump’s nominee to oversee the giant coronavirus economic rescue programs, filling a major oversight position Congress created as part of $2 trillion legislation in March. The Senate approved Brian Miller as Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery in a  51-40 vote. Miller will be in charge of reviewing how Treasury, in partnership with the Federal Reserve, uses $500 billion that Congress made available to support ailing companies during the Covid-19 outbreak. Zachary Warmbrodt reports for POLITICO.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said yesterday that he would not give Trump and the Republican National Committee (R.N.C.) a “guarantee” that the party could convene a full-scale assembly in Charlotte this summer, pointing to public health concerns amid the pandemic. “The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of Covid-19 will be in August so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity,” Cooper wrote in a letter to R.N.C. officials. The statement from Cooper could prompt Trump and the Committee to follow through on their threat to move the convention to another city if their demands for such an assurance weren’t met. Adam Engelman reports for NBC News.

Encouraged by promising initial findings, researchers are looking into whether drugs currently approved to treat heart disease can also prevent or reduce complications from Covid-19 and help hospitalized patients recover quicker. Treatments being assessed include blood-pressure drugs, blood thinners, statins, antiplatelets and a drug to lower triglycerides. Results from the studies, some of which could arrive as early as this summer, could offer doctors a new batch of drugs to treat patients infected with the coronavirus. Jared S. Hopkins and Betsy McKay report for the Wall Street Journal.

International donors have pledged $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid to war-torn Yemen, around $1 billion short of the fundraising target and only half the sum raised at the equivalent pledging conference last year. The U.N.’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said unless more funds were raised Yemen “will face a horrific outcome at the end of the year.” Dr Abdullah al-Rabiah, the head of the King Salman Centre for Relief and Humanitarian Aid in Saudi Arabia, which co-hosted the virtual summit, attributed the overall shortfall to the impact of coronavirus on national budgets and worries about the restrictions on aid streams imposed by the parties to Yemen’s five-year civil war. Patrick Wintour reports for 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.

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 federal appeals court in Washington announced yesterday that it will hear oral arguments next week to scrutinize Judge Emmet Sullivan’s refusal to immediately throw out the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will consider on June 12 “whether the judge has the power to examine and put on hold the Justice Department’s plan to drop its long-running prosecution of Flynn,” who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his 2016 interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Ann E. Marimow reports for the Washington Post.

The House Judiciary Committee has arranged for whistleblowers to testify about suspected political interference inside the Department of Justice (D.O.J.), committee aides told POLITICO yesterday, as Attorney General William Barr continues to reject efforts by the panel to reschedule testimony he committed to in March. The whistleblower hearing, which has yet to be officially scheduled, is part of a series of steps the panel plans to take in the coming weeks to push back against Barr, who they say has rebuffed renewed efforts to testify before the Democrat-led panel. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.

A federal appeals court yesterday debated whether to call Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to testify about her use of a personal email account and server during her tenure as secretary of state. The arguments went on for over an hour and a half and some of the comments by judges and lawyers reverberated the ongoing scrap over the Justice Department’s effort to drop its prosecution of Flynn on a false-statement charge. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The State Department inspector general who was sacked last month amid a probe into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s behavior will be interviewed today by lawmakers investigating his dismissal. The ousted watchdog, Steve Linick, will appear remotely before members and staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, according to an aide working on the investigation, as Democrats widen their investigation into Linick’s firing as they try to uncover more about the sidelining of independent watchdogs in multiple agencies. Carol Morello reports for the Washington Post.

A Washington-based advocacy group yesterday asked a U.S. judge to quash an executive order on social media firms President Trump signed last week claiming it violates the First Amendment. The Center for Democracy & Technology filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington after Trump ordered a Commerce Department agency to petition the Federal Communications Commission to write regulations seeking to limit social media companies’ legal protections in making content decisions. The center’s chief executive, Alexandra Givens, said the “government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the president’s whims.” Reuters reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

A bomb went off inside a well-known mosque in Kabul’s fortified Green Zone yesterday, killing two people and wounding two others. A spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said the bomb targeted the Wazir Akber Khan Mosque at around 7:25pm local time yesterday when worshippers had assembled for evening prayers. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Jazeera reporting.

The U.S. military is ending a decades-long policy of categorizing the Middle East as an area safe enough for the families of American soldiers to live, a sign that the U.S. is scaling back part of its presence in the region, officials said yesterday. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved a plan to terminate what is known as “accompanied tours” in Bahrain, Qatar and elsewhere U.S. military families live on the Arabian Peninsula, slowing canceling the practice over the next two years, officials said. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.

The Philippines has turned around on its decision to terminate a key military agreement with the United States as territorial tensions with China rise in the South China Sea. President Rodrigo Duterte had decided to preserve the Visiting Forces Agreement (V.F.A.), which grants U.S. military aircraft and ships free entry into the Philippines and relaxes visa restrictions for U.S. troops, “in light of the political and other developments in the region,” according to a social media post yesterday by the Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary. The Philippine government gave America 180 days’ notice to end the accord in February, suggesting that Manila needed to depend on its own resources for its defense. Yesterday, the U.S. hailed the change of heart. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.

“Because so much of Syria’s economic health hinges on the government procuring financial backing from Iran, the country’s future — and, by extension, President Bashar al-Assad’s future as president — depends on the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election,” Iyad Yousef argues in a piece for Foreign Policy, commenting: “if Trump wins a second term, Syrians can expect much of the same [but] if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins … the United States will likely pivot back toward diplomacy … [and] lift some economic sanctions on Iran, allowing it to again focus its resources abroad.”

The president of the U.N. General Assembly declared yesterday that elections for new members of the U.N. Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and his successor as chief of the 193-member world body will be held together on June 17. AP reporting.

The United States does not have visibility on how Egypt is utilizing U.S.-provided weapons in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a State Department audit obtained by Foreign Policy, a blind spot that Congress fears could limit the Trump administration’s ability to look into human rights abuses in the ongoing battle against the Islamic State group (ISIS). The State Department said that Egypt has only provided U.S. forces stationed in Sinai with occasional access to monitor allegations of human rights abuses, and that Cairo has recently started to purchase Russian and French weapons in greater numbers, limiting American visibility. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.

The United Nations said yesterday it anticipates “things to get moving in the next few days” following the agreement by Libya’s warring parties to restart cease-fire negotiations after days of intense fighting. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said acting U.N. envoy Stephanie Williams and the U.N. mission remain in “direct contact” with the U.N.-backed government in the capital Tripoli and Khalifa Haftar’s east-based forces “to figure out the next steps and the logistics about the resumption of the talks.” AP reporting. 

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)