The Early Edition: June 5, 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

The U.S. saw yesterday the tenth day of protests in response to the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Floyd’s memorial service was held yesterday at North Central University and was followed by thousands of protesters taking to the streets across states to demand justice for his death. “George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks … Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton whilst reading the eulogy at the Floyd’s memorial. Hannah Hagemann reports for NPR. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, with President Trump’s agreement, has “made the decision to return members of some of the active duty units in the capital region to their home base,” a senior defense official confirmed. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, who were never actually deployed onto the streets of Washington D.C. but remained on stand-by, have been sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and officials confirmed hundreds more are expected to return home today “if conditions allow.” AP reporting. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill yesterday that would limit presidential powers under the Insurrection Act. The bill will: include a requirement that the president consults with Congress before using the Act; limit its use to 14 days unless lawmakers agree by resolution to extend it; and allow citizens and state and local governments an expedited judicial review process to challenge a decision to use the Act. “I’m proposing urgently necessary reforms to impose oversight and accountability to the President’s broad, virtually unrestricted power … If the President uses military force against Americans at home, Congress should demand at least the same checks that apply to his use of force against adversaries abroad,” Blumenthal said in a statement. Jordain Carney reports for the Hill. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday called for Trump to provide a list of the all agencies involved in deploying law enforcement officers in Washington, after many officers policing the protests have been reported to have no identifying labels on their uniforms. In a letter sent to Trump, Pelosi said “Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority is the National Guard from other states operating in the capital … The practice of officers operating with full anonymity undermines accountability, ignites government distrust and suspicion, and is counter to the principle of procedural justice and legitimacy during this precarious moment in our nation’s history.” Cristina Marcos reports for the Hill. 

Attorney General William Barr yesterday defended the widely-criticized decision to forcefully disperse large crowd outside the White House Monday to allow Trump to make his way to a nearby church to take photos. “I think the president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation and should be able to walk outside the White House and walk across the street to the church of presidents,” Barr said at a Department of Justice (D.O.J.) news conference. “I don’t necessarily view that as a political act. I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do.” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO. 

The F.B.I. has wanted to separate itself from the firm approach Barr has taken to the protests. “They feel a strong need to delineate what they are and are not doing … You won’t see F.B.I. agents with a baton and shield,” said a source familiar with internal affairs at the Bureau. Christopher Wray, the F.B.I.’s director, also made clear his stance, stating at a Justice Department conference yesterday: “The protectors can quickly become the oppressors, particularly for people of color … Civil rights and civil liberties are at the heart of who we are as Americans.” Julia Ainsley and Michael Kosnar report for NBC News. 

Trump has threatened to oust Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) who endorsed former defense secretary Jim Mattis’ criticisms of Trump’s handling of the protests. After Murkowski called Mattis’ comments “true and honest, and necessary and overdue,” Trump responded: “Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the great state of Alaska … campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski,” speaking about the senator who faces re-election in 2022, adding: “Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” Demetri Sevastopulo, Katrina Manson and Patrick McGee report for the Financial Times. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is to announce Monday whether it will allow the submission of arguments against police “qualified immunity” which affords them a high-level of protection against lawsuits for excessive use of force and alleged civil rights violations. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post. 

Democratic senators yesterday voiced concern that the U.S.’s handling of protests could undermine the country’s critical response to China’s attack on Hong Kong, with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stating that: “in order for that judgment [of China] to stand, we must hold ourselves to the values of our own highest aspirations.” Sylvan Lane reports for the Hill. 

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Ret. Gen. Martin Dempsey yesterday denounced Trump’s handling of protests as “very troubling” and “dangerous.” “The idea that the president would take charge of the situation using the military was troubling to me,” Dempsey said to NPR. Steve Inskeep reports for NPR.  

New South Wales Supreme Court has today ruled that the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter demonstrations planned for tomorrow are illegal, after the police applied to the court to stop protests due to fears that it will spread coronavirus. Matilda Boseley and Daniel Hurst report for the Guardian. 

Civil rights groups and protestors yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its deployment of officers in Washington Monday and their “unprovoked charge into a crowd of demonstrators,” arguing that the excessive use of force violated protestors’ constitutional rights. “What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights,” said April Goggans, a leader of Black Lives Matter D.C., the lead plaintiff in the case. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR. 

Social media giant Twitter yesterday disabled Trump’s video tribute to Floyd, after receiving copyright complaints. Reuters reporting.

Trump yesterday shared a letter on Twitter that called protesters “terrorists.” A letter from veteran attorney and former Trump lawyer John Dowd, which appears to be addressed to Mattis, states: “The phony protesters near Lafayette were not peaceful and are not real … They are terrorists using idle hate filled students to burn and destroy. They were abusing and disrespecting the police when the police were preparing the area for the 1900 curfew.” Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN. 

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) is calling for U.S. attorneys nationwide to use federal courts — where more serious charges are possible — to prosecute those suspected of violence or property damage during the protests over Floyd’s death. Barr said yesterday that federal agents have detained 51 individuals for acts of violence since the protests started. Investigators said social media photos and videos have helped feds with some of the arrests. Pete Williams reports for NBC News.

Two of the former cops charged with aiding and abetting in the killing of George Floyd turned on the senior officer accused in the case, making for a remarkable court appearance yesterday afternoon. A third officer was cooperating with investigators, a sign that the four sacked officers “would not be presenting a united front.” Kim Barker, John Eligon, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Matt Furber report for the New York Times.

Six military dignitaries and defense experts comment on Trump’s call for the military to quash nationwide protests in a piece for Foreign Policy.

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

CORONAVIRUS

The United States continues to be, by far, the world’s coronavirus hot spot, accounting for 1.8 million of the 6.6 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 391,500 people have died globally from Covid-19, including 108,000 people in America. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Brazil documented a record 1,473 fatalities in a single day yesterday — overtaking Italy as the country with the third-highest Covid-19 related death toll after the U.S. and the U.K.. Tom Phillips reports for The Guardian.

A U.S. aircraft carrier ship whose captain was removed for searing remarks about a coronavirus outbreak onboard has returned to sea and is conducting military operations in the Pacific region, authorities said. Brett Crozier was stripped of his command in early April as punishment for the leak of a letter he sent to superiors seeking harsher action against the spread of Covid-19 on his ship, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. Reuters reporting.

Three of the authors of a study that halted global trials of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 because of fears of increased deaths retracted it yesterday, saying they could no longer vouch for the data’s accuracy. The retraction notice was released by the medical journal Lancet, which had published the study on May 22. Laurie McGinley reports for the Washington Post.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca has doubled manufacturing capability for its potential coronavirus vaccine to 2 billion doses in two agreements involving Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates that guarantee early supply to lower income countries. The deals with epidemic response group CEPI and vaccine alliance GAVI are supported by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and aim to put down concerns that the company was committing all initial supplies of the vaccine to the developed world. Reuters reporting.

Governments across the globe yesterday pledged $8.8 billion for international vaccines alliance Gavi to help immunization programs rattled by coronavirus, prompting calls for global cooperation to ensure a potential Covid-19 vaccine is available to all. The virtual meeting surpassed a fundraising target of $7.4 million to provide vaccines at a much lower cost to 300 million children worldwide over the next five years. AFP 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 AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The Republican-controlled Homeland Security Committee voted yesterday to give Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) broad subpoena power to seek documents from federal agencies and 35 Obama-era officials linked to the 2016 investigation into Russian election interference over Democratic opposition that the effort was a political mission for President Trump. The subpoena authority will allow Republicans to seek additional probes into the F.B.I.’s handling of “Crossfire Hurricane” — former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election interference and the Trump campaign. Senate committees granting such wide authority to chairs to compel testimony and records on any matter, much less on a purely partisan basis, is “rare,” Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times. The Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a similar vote for next week.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suspended a vote on authorizing subpoenas for over 50 individuals as Republicans step up their investigation into the Russia probe. Graham said he was putting off the vote to allow senators enough time to properly debate the issue, as the meeting brushed up against a pre-scheduled vote on the Senate floor. He said that “we’ll get to [a] conclusion next week” on the subpoena vote. Jordain Carney reports for the Hill.

A review of thousands of old case files by Ukrainian prosecutors found “no evidence of wrongdoing” on the part of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, the former prosecutor general, who had initiated the audit, told Reuters. Reuters reporting.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday that he is blocking two Trump administration nominees while he awaits further explanations for why the president sacked two federal agency watchdogs. Grassley will hold up the nominations of Christopher Miller to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Marshall Billingslea to be the undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department over the firing of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and State Department Inspector General Steven Linick. Lindsay Wise and Courtney McBride report for the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese and Iranian hackers sent sham emails to staff working for the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and President Trump, respectively, in an attempt to access sensitive information, tech giant Google said yesterday. Shane Huntley, head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, said in a Twitter post that a hacking group with ties to the Chinese government, dubbed APT31, targeted the campaign of Democratic nominee Biden with so-called “phishing emails;” another group backed by Iran, APT35, targeted Trump’s campaign, he added. The attempt is a reminder that foreign actors continue to seek to infiltrate presidential campaigns. Hannah Murphy reports for the Financial Times.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 28 pro-government forces and 33 civilians were killed during the last week of fighting in Afghanistan, Fahim Abed reports in a casualty report at the New York Times.

Overall violence in Afghanistan has diminished somewhat as large numbers of both Taliban and Afghan national forces have continued to informally observe a truce called during the Eid al-Fitr holiday — but Islamic State terrorists are already carrying out more massacres, including a roadside bomb in Kabul as well as an attack killing a well-known cleric. Emran Feroz reports for Foreign Policy.

LIBYA

The forces of the military leader Khalifa Haftar yesterday pulled back from their last footholds in the suburbs of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, ending his 15-month-old offensive to capture the city. David D. Kirkpatrick reports for the New York Times.

Forces aligned with the U.N.-backed government in Libya said today they reclaimed another key western town from opposition forces, a further blow showing how Turkey’s support has reversed the tide of the war in the oil-rich country. Mohamed Gnono, spokesperson for the Tripoli-allied forces, said their Turkish-backed units captured the town of Tarhouna, 72 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Tripoli. AP reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump expressed hope for progress with arch-rival Iran yesterday after the clerical regime freed a U.S. Navy veteran and the United States released two Iranians. Michael White, who had contracted the coronavirus while in Iran, flew out on a Swiss military aircraft to Zurich where he was met by a senior American official. AFP reporting.

Russia sent a batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets to Syria, Moscow’s embassy in Damascus said, with Syrian pilots already utilizing the planes to carry out operations within the country’s airspace. President Vladimir Putin last week directed Russia’s foreign and defense ministries to engage in talks with its close ally, Syria, to obtain more facilities and maritime access there, in addition to the two military bases it has already. Russia’s Embassy in Syria said on Twitter late Wednesday that the latest bundle of planes was for the Syrian military. Reuters 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)