The Early Edition: June 18, 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. 

JOHN BOLTON MEMOIR

The White House memoir of President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton claims Trump had asked China’s leader Xi Jinping for help getting re-elected in this year’s presidential election and also said that China’s mass detention of Uighur Muslims was “exactly the right thing to do.” Bolton says in his 592-page memoir that Trump has alluded “to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win … He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.” Josh Dawsey reports for the Washington Post. 

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) sought an emergency order last night to block the publication of Bolton’s memoir, which follows the Trump administration’s filing of a civil lawsuit Tuesday. The D.O.J., in its submissions to Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, argued that disclosure of the book and its classified information would damage U.S. national security. Bolton’s publisher described the court filing as “a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility. Hundreds of thousands of copies of John Bolton’s ‘The Room Where It Happened’ have already been distributed around the country and the world. The injunction as requested by the government would accomplish nothing.’’  Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post. 

The White House’s National Security Council (N.S.C.) has warned that the memoir contains “top secret” information that must be removed before publishing. In a letter to Bolton’s attorney following a preliminary review, N.S.C. senior director Ellen Knight wrote: the “manuscript appears to contain significant amounts of classified information … It also appears that some of this classified information is at the top-secret level … [and that the] manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information.” BBC reporting. 

Trump refutes Bolton’s claims made in his memoir, stating “he is a liar.” In an interview yesterday evening, Trump denied claims that he had given approval to China to build detention camps for Uighur Muslims, pointing out that he had signed legislation earlier yesterday that called for sanctions on China over the camps. Michael C. Bender reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer yesterday denied the claims that Trump had asked China for help winning the 2020 election. “Absolutely untrue. Never happened. I was there. I have no recollection of that ever happening. I don’t believe it’s true. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Lighthizer said at a Senate Finance Committee. Niv Elis reports for the Hill. 

A detailed assessment of the government’s civil lawsuit against John Bolton is provided by Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman for Just Security. They argue that the “government’s case is that it’s weaker than we expected.”

Key takeaways from Bolton’s memoir are provided by the Guardian and CNN. 

Exclusive excerpts from the 592-page memoir are detailed by the Wall Street Journal. 

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

The now-fired Atlanta Police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant has been charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and other offenses, the district attorney’s office said yesterday. The man, Garrett Rolfe, who was dismissed by the Atlanta Police Department after the June 12 shooting, faces a total of 11 charges, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said at a news conference. A second officer, Devin Brosnan,  who is a cooperating witness for the state, faces three counts, including aggravated assault and violation of oath. Ryan Young, Eric Levenson, Steve Almasy and Christina Maxouris report for CNN.

Democrats and Republicans yesterday adopted competing versions of legislation aimed at curbing police brutality. Both bills seek to respond to the public calls for sweeping action, but the parties remain at odds on whether Washington should mandate local police practices: the Democrats’ plan would ban chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants; the Republican bill does not prohibit those practices, but instead leverages federal money to encourage enforcement agencies to curtail such practices. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have provisionally scheduled votes on their respective proposals late next week, at which point the two sides could begin the first substantive bipartisan discussions on racial justice since George Floyd’s Memorial Day death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Paul Kane, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.

Three further self-identified members of the “Boogaloo” movement were indicted by both county and federal grand juries yesterday in relation to an alleged conspiracy to cause violence during Black Lives Matter protests in Las Vegas. The three defendants — Stephen Parshall, Andrew Lynam, and William Loomis — face state terrorism and explosives charges and federal charges of conspiring to cause destruction by fire and explosive, and possessing an unregistered destructive device, a “Molotov cocktail.” POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney reports via Twitter.

Live updates on the protests are available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 2.16 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 118,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Over 8.36 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including at least 449,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.  

There are “green shoots of hope” in the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in an online media briefing. He welcomed the news that the steroid drug dexamethasone has been successfully used to help save very ill patients. Reuters reporting.

The nation’s top public health expert has warned that the United States is “still in the first wave” of coronavirus infections and deaths, as six states document record highs of new cases amid continued relaxing of lockdown restrictions. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, voiced concern about new hotspots for infections in major U.S. states, while also advising that “personally, I would not” attend President Trump’s first political rally in months, due on Saturday, in Oklahoma, where huge crowds are expected despite climbing Covid-19 cases. Adam Gabbatt reports for The Guardian.

The W.H.O. has halted testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19 after several studies showed no benefit. The U.N.  health body said in a statement yesterday that recent data “showed that hydroxychloroquine does not result in the reduction of mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.” Erika Edwards reports for NBC News.

China recorded 28 new coronavirus cases in the mainland yesterday, including 21 in Beijing, the country’s health commission said today. The National Health Commission said four of the 28 cases were so-called imported ones involving travelers from abroad, and that there were eight fresh asymptomatic coronavirus 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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS 

The heads of four organizations overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (U.S.A.G.M.) were all fired last night — a move likely to increase concerns that new Trump-appointed C.E.O. Michael Pack intends to transform the agency into a political arm of the administration. The heads of Middle East Broadcasting (MBN), Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the Open Technology Fund were all removed in what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre,” multiple sources told CNN. “They let go all of the heads of the networks … It’s unprecedented,” an agency source told CNN. A source familiar with the situation said at least two of the sackings — that of RFE/RL’s Jamie Fly and MBN’s Alberto Fernandez — were unexpected. Jennifer Hansler and Brian Stelter report for CNN.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s allegations of prosecutorial misconduct are “unfounded,” the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) argued yesterday in a court filing that still persists in the government’s rare attempt to abandon the criminal case he pleaded guilty to more than two years ago. “Flynn’s allegations are unfounded and provide no basis for impugning the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office,” Department lawyers said in the 49-page filing, implying that the government has other reasons for seeking to retreat from its case against Flynn. Flynn’s lawyers’ repeated their criticisms of prosecutor Brandon Van Grack in their own submission to the U.S. District Court in Washington. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

The D.O.J. is proposing legislation to rollback legal protections that online platforms have enjoyed for over two decades, in a bid to make firms more responsible for the content they carry. The proposal comes nearly three weeks after Trump signed an executive order to limit protections for tech companies after social media giant Twitter began placing fact checks on some of his tweets. “These reforms are targeted at platforms to make certain they are appropriately addressing illegal and exploitive content while continuing to preserve a vibrant, open, and competitive internet,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement yesterday. Avie Schneider reports for NPR.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has killed at least 18 Afghan government security personnel in two attacks at checkpoints in the north, officials confirmed yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting. 

A critical perspective on President Trump’s sanctions against the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) is provided by Akila Radhakrishnan and Elena Sarver for Foreign Policy, who write: “When it comes to human rights and international law, and especially institutions of accountability such as the ICC, exceptionalist ideology is particularly problematic. Although this administration may believe otherwise, no individual or government is above the law — a principle international institutions such as the ICC play a critical role in upholding.”

CHINA

G-7 foreign ministers yesterday urged China to refrain from imposing new security laws on Hong Kong. In a joint statement, the ministers argued that: “The proposed national security law would risk seriously undermining the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle and the territory’s high degree of autonomy … We strongly urge the Government of China to re-consider this decision.” Reuters reporting. 

President Trump has signed a bill calling for sanctions to be imposed on China for its forced labor detention camps targeting Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minority groups. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, approved by the House and Senate in May, was signed by Trump yesterday and will require him to submit a report to Congress, within 180 days, identifying specific individuals responsible. Trump said in a statement yesterday: “[The legislation] holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China.” Morgan Chalfant reports for the Hill. 

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Canada lost out to Ireland and Norway in its latest bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council notwithstanding an expensive and celebrated campaign. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invested heavily (around $1.74m) in the campaign, hired 13 full-time staff and invited diplomats to a Celine Dion concert in New York. In spite of that, Norway secured 130 votes, while Ireland got 128 and Canada garnered just 108. BBC News reporting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) took under consideration when updating the Commentary to the Geneva Convention III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GC III) the developments in the law as well as developments in technology and international human rights law on how POWs should be treated, Eden Lapidor writes for Just Security, following the launch yesterday of the updated commentary.

A helpful explainer on the new U.S. sanctions on Syria, which come into force today and target anyone who assists the government of ­President Bashar al-Assad or aides certain industries operating inside ­government-held territory, is provided by Sarah Dadouch for the Washington Post. 

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)