The Early Edition: June 4, 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

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) yesterday upgraded the charges against Derek Chauvin – the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes – and also charged the other three officers involved. Chauvin is now to be charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, as opposed to third-degree, and the other officers – Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane – have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. Jacob Gershman and Deanna Paul report for the Wall Street Journal. 

Floyd’s 20-page autopsy report reveals he had coronavirus in the past, after medical tests produced a positive result for the virus’ genetic code RNA. The autopsy stated that Floyd was most likely asymptomatic from an earlier infection of Covid-19 when he died May 25. Tim Stelloh reports for NBC News. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday broke with President Trump over using military troops against protestors. Esper, speaking at a news conference at the Pentagon, said: “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times. 

Congressional Republicans have defended Esper’s comments that he does not support the use of the military in recent riots. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters that Esper “has the right to express his point of view, and the president has his;” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a post on Twitter: “I agree with Secretary Esper … At this time, there is absolutely no reason to use the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty U.S. forces … That is a tool that should only be used as an absolute last resort.” Scott Wong reports for the Hill.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis berated Trump for “dividing” America during protests. In a statement to The Atlantic, Mattis said he was “angry and appalled” after watching the events unfold and stressed that, “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand — one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.” Turning his focus to Trump’s handling of the demonstration, Mattis said: “Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.” Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post. 

21 democratic and independent senators yesterday expressed “grave concern” in a letter to the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) over President Trump’s threats to use the Insurrection Act to deploy active duty forces onto the streets of America. The letter, led by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), was sent to Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley – and stated: “We urge you to refrain from using the United States military to diminish or suppress the peaceful, free expression of Americans who are exercising their civil liberties in a call to hold government institutions to a higher standard in the fight for racial justice.” Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill. 

The chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith yesterday increased pressure on Pentagon leaders to answer concerns over the military being used to respond to protests. Smith, who the previous day had requested Esper and Milley to testify to the committee’s panel next week, wrote them a letter stating: “I write you today to express my continued, grave concern about the use of military forces in response to peaceful protestors in the District of Columbia, the movement of active duty troops to staging areas around the country’s capital and plans to deploy active duty troops around the United States should the president invoke the Insurrection Act.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill. 

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on police brutality on June 10, Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) confirmed in a statement yesterday, stating: “The House Judiciary Committee is working very closely with the Congressional Black Caucus to determine the best path forward to address police brutality and racial inequality … We are reviewing legislative proposals and will consider legislation in the coming weeks.” House democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus are also considering a package of proposed reforms to policing policies and practices which is expected to be presented to the committee at the end of June. John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle report for POLITICO. 

Former U.S. President Barack Obama called for police reforms and all state mayors to review their police department’s practices and policies, in his first live remarks on the protests. “We have seen in the last several weeks, the last few months, the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he said, adding, “I’m urging every mayor in this country to review your use-of-force policies with members of your community and to commit to reforms … Let’s go ahead and implement those. We need those in positions of power to say this is a priority.” Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO. 

China, Russia and Iran are using their state media outlets to criticize the U.S. over the killing of Floyd, although there is no evidence of a covert online influence like that of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a report released by Graphika, a private firm that uses artificial intelligence to analyze social media traffic. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a post on Twitter: “Tonight seeing VERY heavy social media activity on #protests & counter reactions from social media accounts linked to at least 3 foreign adversaries. They didn’t create these divisions. But they are actively stoking & promoting violence & confrontation from multiple angles.” Kem Dilanian reports for NBC News. 

The New York Times has been criticized by its own staff for allowing Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) to publish an op-ed calling for Trump to “send in the troops,” leading to numerous employees taking to Twitter to post: “Running this puts black staff in danger.” Mario Koran reports for the Guardian. 

Chauvin is now being represented by a new attorney, Eric Nelson of the Halberg Criminal Defense firm, according to Marsh Halberg, the firm’s chief executive. His legal representation is being provided by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (M.P.P.O.A.). Reuters reporting.

GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An expert explainer on the constitutional limits on the military’s use of detention, and nonlethal and lethal force in the George Floyd protests following former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ comments yesterday is provided by John Dehn at Just Security.

The federal government is putting law enforcement officers on the line without appropriate identification, including designation of agency and name — “a dangerous new factor” in an already shaky moment, Philip Bump writes in an analysis for the Washington Post.

The comments by Mattis and former President Barack Obama represent “an unprecedented revolt from the elite corps of ex-military leaders and presidents over [Trump’s] brazen response to mass protests and inflaming of racial divides,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson comments.

Trump’s recent actions are suggestive of how authoritarian regimes in countries the world over have responded to protest movements, Stephen Tankel argues in a piece for Just Security.

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

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 1.8 million coronavirus infections in the United States and at least 107,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 6.5 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 386,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The Trump administration has picked five companies as the most likely candidates to create a vaccine for the coronavirus, senior officials said, an important step in the White House’s effort to deliver on its promise of being able to start administering an injection to Americans by the end of the year. Four of the companies that made the list are U.S.-based: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer; the fifth candidate is U.K.-headquartered AstraZeneca, which is partnering with the University of Oxford. Each is taking a somewhat distinct approach. Noah Weiland and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.

The Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday giving small businesses up to 24 weeks to use Paycheck Protection Program loans created amid the coronavirus pandemic, up from the current eight-week deadline. The legislation, already approved by the House, is on its way to President Trump to sign into law. The program was created in March to prop up small businesses during the pandemic and encourage them to keep their employees. Reuters reporting.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) will restart its trial of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug researchers hope may treat Covid-19, after a study of the drug published in May by a major medical journal, The Lancet, prompted them to pause trials because of safety concerns. W.H.O. Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday the U.N. agency had reviewed the Lancet study and other findings about hydroxychloroquine and had resolved it was safe for its trials to continue. Melissa Davey reports for The Guardian.

Hydroxychloroquine was ineffective in preventing infection in people exposed to the coronavirus, according to a new large study released yesterday. Roughly 12 percent of people given the medicine tested positive for the virus or developed symptoms such as fever or breathing difficulties, compared with 14 percent of people given a placebo, according to the 821-person study published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers did not find any serious side effects associated with the drug’s use, including irregular heart rhythms or deaths; milder problems such as nausea or diarrhea were more common in patients who received hydroxychloroquine. Jared S. Hopkins reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the first epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, says it has tested almost 10 million residents in an unprecedented 19-day campaign to check an entire city. The effort detected just 300 positive cases, none of whom showed symptoms. None of the 1,174 people identified as close contacts of those patients was found to have the disease either, suggesting they were not passing it easily to others. Al Jazeera reporting.

Israel’s parliament postponed sessions scheduled for today after a lawmaker tested positive for the coronavirus, while some schools closed once again amid worries about fresh outbreaks. The 120-seat Knesset said non-essential employees have been asked to stay home and all of today’s committee meetings were suspended “pending an investigation of the ramifications” of lawmaker Sami Abou Shahadeh having contracted the coronavirus. Having moved aggressively against the global pandemic in March and seen a decline of new cases, Israel has relaxed curbs in recent weeks; but officials warn that public complacency could lead to a revival in cases. Reuters reporting.

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

Former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein admitted yesterday that, in hindsight, he would not have signed off on an application to continue monitoring a former Trump campaign adviser during the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and claimed he did not know of the significant flaws that have since been identified with it. The remark came at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the Russia probe, including failings in applications to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The Justice Department inspector general found multiple errors and omissions in the surveillance warrant applications, and the department has told a court it now believes it had “insufficient predication” to continue the surveillance. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

Former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe slammed Rosenstein for providing “completely false” testimony yesterday on the 2016 Russia probe. McCabe in a statement said that he never misled Rosenstein about elements of the investigation and suggested Rosenstein was seeking to protect the president rather than remain a fair arbiter of the law. Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

On at least four different occasions, Rosenstein challenged specific language by Trump and his allies about the Mueller investigation, Amber Phillips writes in an analysis for the Washington Post, noting Rosenstein openly disagreed both with Trump’s primary complaint that the probe was a “hoax” and Attorney General William Barr’s characterization of the criminal investigation as “corrupt.”

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate Intelligence Committee quietly adopted yesterday a measure that would oblige presidential campaigns to report offers of foreign election influence, including foreign nationals attempting either to make campaign donations or collude with a campaign, to federal authorities, a move taken in response to Russian election interference in 2016 and one that could attract the attention of President Trump, committee sources say. The committee approved the measure behind closed doors in a classified setting, adding it to the Intelligence Authorization Act, a bill laying down policy for the intelligence community. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.

Steven Linick, the State Department inspector general abruptly fired by Trump last month, yesterday told lawmakers that he was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for allegations of misusing government funds and that he had discussed the probe with at least three senior aides to Pompeo — including Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao, Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna and Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun. The disclosure increases the scrutiny on Pompeo and potentially undermines the secretary of state’s claim to have been unaware that Linick was looking into that matter when he asked the president to dismiss Linick. Josh Lederman reports for NBC News.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Troops loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government have today reclaimed control over Tripoli. The Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) military operations room said in a statement it had command over all borders of the Tripoli city administrative area. Separately, a military source in the eastern-based Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) said it would finish its withdrawal today from the Tripoli districts of Ain Zara, Abu Salim and Qasr Ben Gashir toward a town near its stronghold of Tarhouna. Reuters reporting.

“An Alaska man accused of laundering $1 billion held in South Korea for Iran funneled nearly all the money through the United Arab Emirates,” U.S. federal court documents disclosed early today show. The court documents, filed as part of a U.S. asset seizure effort, throw further light on how Kenneth Zong allegedly designed fake invoices to help Iran draw money held by South Korea in lieu of payment for oil loads. AP reporting.

An insightful piece on what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally has at stake in hindering the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.)’s probe into alleged C.I.A. war crimes in Afghanistan under his charge is provided by Haley S. Anderson and Randle DeFalco at Just Security.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to advance toward terminating the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s vast western Darfur region and replacing it with a civilian operation focusing on the country’s democratic transition, diplomats said. But the council did not set an end date for the mission, known as U.N.A.M.I.D., in the two accompanying resolutions that were adopted in writing last night under new rules initiated because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the diplomats said. 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)