The Early Edition: June 10, 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 revived his attacks on antiracism protesters yesterday, suggesting in a Twitter post that a 75-year-old man assaulted by police in Buffalo, New York, might be working for extreme anti-fascist group antifa. The president’s Twitter storm against Martin Gugino came as mourners packed a Houston church for the funeral of George Floyd, whose death while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 touched off worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. Demetri Sevastopulo reports for the Financial Times.

An Associated Press review of court records, employment histories, social media posts and other sources of information for 217 people arrested last weekend in Minneapolis showed little sign of so-called antifa links — or ties to other left-wing groups. Attorney General William Barr and Trump have repeatedly blamed anti-fascist activists for the violence that has erupted during demonstrations over George Floyd’s death. But social media posts indicate a small minority of those arrested are left-leaning activists, including a self-described anarchist, while “others had indications of being on the political right, including some Trump supporters.” AP reporting

Senate Republicans have tapped the lone black lawmaker in their ranks to put together a legislative package addressing the country’s policing system and racial injustice amid civic unrest and a dramatic shift in opinion about law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday that he had appointed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to lead the effort because he had experience “dealing with this discrimination that persists some 50 years” after the civil rights movement. “The best way is to listen to one of our own who has had these experiences,” McConnell said of Scott, who in a 2016 Senate speech recounted being racially profiled, including a time he was stopped by U.S. Capitol Police who challenged whether he was a lawmaker. Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim and Colby Itkowitz report for the Washington Post.

Trump last week was on the verge of sacking Defense Secretary Mark Esper over their diverging views on domestic use of active-duty military, before advisers and aides on Capitol Hill talked him out of it, according to multiple officials. The officials said Trump was enraged with Esper for not backing his inclination to deploy active-duty troops to stamp out protests in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and elsewhere following the killing of George Floyd. Trump conferred with several advisers, intent that day on removing Esper, his fourth defense secretary since taking office in January 2017; after discussions with the advisers, who warned against the move, Trump put aside the plans to immediately fire Esper. Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Defense Department has failed to meet a deadline to present to Congress the cost of deploying roughly 1,600 active-duty troops to the Washington, D.C., area amid protests last week, Foreign Policy has learned, another possible blow to congressional oversight of the Pentagon. The office of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), which also asked Esper to explain why he went back on a decision to redeploy several hundred U.S. troops out of Washington after an apparently heated exchange with Trump last week, told Foreign Policy that the Pentagon had not provided a response, which was due Monday evening. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.

The D.C. National Guard says that some of its members have tested positive for Covid-19 since it was activated to respond to the protests over George Floyd’s death in Washington, but would not reveal how many had tested positive because of what a Guard official called “operational security.” Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.

New York’s Senate has passed a bill to repeal a 40-year-old law that keeps police disciplinary records secret, a move intended to provide greater accountability for officers and improve transparency in the justice system. The regulation, informally known as 50-A after the section of the state civil rights law it derives from, has come under increased scrutiny amid protests over the death of George Floyd. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said that he will sign the bill into law this week. Zack Budryk reports for The Hill.

The Washington, D.C. City Council yesterday passed a sweeping slate of measures to reform police conduct in the city. The legislative package, which passed unanimously, included a ban on hiring officers with a history of serious misconduct in other police forces and requires the city to quickly share the names and body-camera footage of officers who are in situations where they use force against citizens. Julie Zauzmer and Fenit Nirappil report for the Washington Post.

Democratic lawmakers are demanding an investigation into the U.S. Park Police’s use of force in a largely peaceful protest near the White House to protest the killing of George Floyd. Park Police have acknowledged using chemical agents on June 1 to clear demonstrators shortly before Trump crossed Lafayette Square for a photo-op at a nearby church. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) have asked the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (O.I.G.) to set up a website where people who attended the protest can submit footage documenting the actions taken by police. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.

Republican senators introduced a resolution yesterday to formally dispute calls to “defund the police,” a notion that has gained traction with some activist groups. If approved, the non-binding resolution, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would put the Senate on record opposing efforts to defund the police while also calling for “justice” for George Floyd. Cotton will attempt to pass the resolution today by unanimous consent, according to his office, which will allow any one senator to object and block it under the chamber’s rules. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

The United Nations has reversed its ban on staff members participating in public anti-racism demonstrations, with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres informing employees by email that there is “no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.” The bar was introduced last week on the grounds that public shows of support for the protest movement would undercut the world body’s reputation for impartiality, according to a copy of an internal circular the U.N. ethics board sent to U.N. staff last week. Colum Lynch reports for Foreign Policy.

If Trump were to deploy the U.S. military to crack down on the protests, Attorney General William Barr would have lead responsibility for those military operations — not the Secretary of Defense, Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Steve Vladeck write in an illuminating piece for Just Security that touches on the Insurrection Act and the November election.

Live updates on the protests are available at CNN and NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now close to 1.98 million coronavirus infections in the United States and at least 112,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7.25 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 411,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

A “dysfunctional relationship” between members of the U.N. Security Council has hindered an effective global response to the new coronavirus, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres voiced during an interview with All Things Considered. With last weekend seeing a record number of new Covid-19 cases, Guterres criticized the lack of a unified global strategy, stating: “Each country went its own way, with the epicenter moving from country to country … We see that the very dysfunctional relationship that exists today between the United States-China, United States-Russia, makes it practically impossible for the Security Council to take any meaningful decision that would be fundamental.” Jolie Myers and Ari Shapiro report for NPR.

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over and will “no way” disappear through current public health measures, Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned yesterday while speaking at a pharmaceutical industry conference. He stressed that until a vaccine was found the pandemic will continue, stating: “I’ll guarantee there is going to be more than one winner in the vaccine field because we’re going to need vaccines for the entire world … Billions and billions of doses.” Hannah Kuchler reports for the Financial Times.

A Brazilian Supreme Court justice yesterday ruled that President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration must resume their publishing of official Covid-19 statistics, after the government suspended Friday its official website that published total virus cases and deaths, which attracted much criticism nationally and internationally. Tom Phillips and Caio Barretto Briso report for the Guardian.

Russian Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov yesterday defended Russia’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and dismissed claims that the virus had caused a political crisis for the country. “We are concerned about this pandemic, and we are concerned about the impact of this pandemic on the country’s economy … But President Putin has stated numerous times that he doesn’t care about his personal ratings, that in politics if you are real statesman, you should not think about your ratings — because if you think about your ratings, you won’t be able to take responsible decisions,” Peskov said. Matthew Chance Zahra Ullah and Nathan Hodge report for CNN.

The coronavirus pandemic has “pushed [Latin America] to the limit,” warned Dr Carissa F. Etienne yesterday, the director of the Pan American Health Organization. The New York Times reporting.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) yesterday clarified comments it made Monday that it seemed rare that an asymptomatic person would transmit the virus to another person. W.H.O. Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove, who made the initial comments, acknowledged yesterday that how the virus spreads between people remains “a big open question,” but did add that her assertion about asymptomatic people spreading the virus had been based on information and data from governments as well as “two or three studies.” Drew Hinshaw reports for the Wall Street Journal.

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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Senate confirmed yesterday Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. as the Air Force’s next chief of staff, the first black service chief in U.S. military history. Brown, who was unanimously voted in, will replace Gen. David L. Goldfein, and will be the first African American to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Colin Powell was chair from 1989 to 1993. “It is an absolute privilege for Sharene and I to serve our Airmen and families … We are committed to building upon our foundation and legacy to ensure we remain the most respected and capable Air Force in the world,” Brown said. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.

The U.S. State Department has asked government watchdog panel Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (C.I.G.I.E.) to investigate Steve Linick, the department’s inspector general who was fired by President Trump. In a letter sent to Michael Horowitz, the chair of C.I.G.I.E., Brian Bulatao, the department’s undersecretary for management, said: “the department has become aware that Mr. Linick may have hand-selected a potentially-conflicted investigator to look into possible misconduct by his own office and then withheld the resulting report … from State Department leadership, despite repeated requests for a copy of the report.” Jordain Carney reports for the Hill.

A thorough examination of “four remarkable arguments” put forward by the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) to the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of dropping the case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, is provided by Marty Lederman for Just Security.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee yesterday warned President Trump against withdrawing U.S. military troops from Germany. Led by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), 22 lawmakers argued in a letter to the president that reducing the number of troops will undermine the N.A.T.O. alliance and prompt aggression by Russia. “We believe that such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment,” they wrote, adding: “In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to N.A.T.O. will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.”  Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.

“The United States needs German bases more than Germany does,” argues Michael John Williams for the Foreign Policy, stressing the “critical necessity” of having U.S. troops based in Germany, as “Europe have always aided American hegemony more than local defense.”

Russia yesterday urged the United States to present a “positive” plan for action as the powers begin negotiations on a major disarmament treaty, warning that U.S. insistence on including China could tarnish efforts. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will meet in Vienna on June 22 with U.S. envoy Marshall Billingslea to open talks on New START, which lapses in February. AFP reporting.

Russia and China have started advancing the case at the United Nations against Washington’s assertion that it can bring about a return of all sanctions on Iran at the Security Council, with Moscow invoking a 50-year-old international legal opinion to argue against the move. Reuters reporting.

Congress is objecting to a batch of troubling new arms sales proposed by the Trump administration during the Covid-19 crisis; but if Congress wants to stop them, it needs to “flip the script and require that sales obtain affirmative congressional approval,” write Diana Ohlbaum and Rachel Stohl at Just Security.

Israel’s highest court yesterday rejected a contentious law that sought to retroactively legalize thousands of Jewish homes built on occupied West Bank land privately owned by Palestinians. Israel’s parliament passed the law in February 2017, but it was frozen because of a Supreme Court injunction issued shortly thereafter. The court’s decision was slammed by the ruling pro-settlement Likud party, but hailed by its coalition partners in the Blue and White party, exposing a split in the fragile new government. AP reporting. 

About the Author(s)

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)

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).