The Early Edition: June 19, 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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday to block President Trump’s administration from ending an Obama-era program – the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals (D.A.C.A.) – that protects around 650,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers” from deportation. Trump, responding to the 5-4 decision, took to Twitter and said the decision along with an earlier decision this week to protect LGBTQ+ workers were “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.” The majority opinion, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing the judgement, clarified that: “The dispute before the Court is not whether [Department of Homeland Security] may rescind DACA … All parties agree that it may … The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.” John Kruzel reports for the Hill.

Former British spy Christopher Steele, whose contentious dossier roiled American politics, gained a major win yesterday when an appellate court upheld the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit against him by two influential Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs. The three-judge District of Columbia Court of Appeals gave its ruling late yesterday, upholding the lower local court’s dismissal of the suit against Steele and his investigative company, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, brought by Russians Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan. The Russian investment giants are the ultimate owners of Russia’s Alfa Group and had claimed that Steele had defamed them with his compilation of reports about then-candidate Trump and his possible links to Russia. Miami Herald reporting.

Social media giant Facebook yesterday took down Trump campaign ads against the anti-fascist group antifa which featured an inverted red triangle symbol used by Nazis to designate political prisoners as the advertisement violated its “policy against organized hate.” Responding to an ad that read: “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem. They are DESTROYING our cities and rioting – it’s absolute madness … Please add your name IMMEDIATELY to stand with your President and his decision to declare ANTIFA a Terrorist Organization,” Facebook said: “Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.” Julia Carrie Wong reports for the Guardian.

Twitter has labeled a post by Trump as “manipulated media.” Trump posted a doctored video on his Twitter feed yesterday that contained a fake CNN graphic that showed a white baby and a black baby running with each other with the caption: “Terrified todler [sic] runs from racist baby.” Twitter responded, stating: “We may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand their authenticity and to provide additional context.” Donie O’Sullivan reports for CNN.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation yesterday to address the laws on and protections of inspector generals (I.G.) after a spate of firings by Trump. The proposals, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would place a requirement on the president to provide a “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” before they could remove an I.G. from their position. “The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law,” Grassley said in statement; Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohia) added: “Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days while the Inspector General remains on the job to consider those reasons.” Jordain Carney reports for the Hill.

Top Pentagon official Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, handed in her resignation Wednesday, just a few days after Trump pulled her name as the nominee for deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed yesterday. Wheelbarger’s resignation will be effective from July 4. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.

The President is one away from his 200th judicial nomination and confirmation, a number not achieved by any other president at this stage of his administration in over 40 years. The confirmation by Senate vote of 51-42 for Justin Walker to become a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will be the 199th confirmation of a judge during Trump’s presidency, and has led critics to say: “This is all part of the broader Republican plan to take politically minded people and put them into judgeships, thereby making sure that the rulings that come out are going to be more political, more partisan and less committed to the rule of law,” said Chris Kang, a co-founder of the progressive group Demand Justice and former deputy counsel to President Barack Obama. Sahil Kapur reports for NBC News.

A list of questions that will lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s arguments – to be heard in court today – in support of an emergency application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the publishing of John Bolton’s White House Memoir, Trump’s former national security adviser, are provided by Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman for Just Security.

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

The two officers involved in the death of Rayshard Brooks turned themselves into authorities yesterday after being charged Wednesday by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe faces felony murder and 10 other charges after he fatally shot the 27-year-old black man in the back during an attempted arrest last week. The second officer, Devin Brosnan, faces four charges, including aggravated assault and violations of oath. Colin Dwyer reports for NPR.

The Air Force’s inspector general is launching a probe into whether the military improperly used a reconnaissance aircraft to conduct surveillance of the protests in Washington and Minneapolis this month, the Air Force said yesterday. The investigation was apparently prompted by lawmakers who voiced concern to Pentagon officials that the possible surveillance violated the civil liberties of mostly peaceful demonstrators protesting against racism and police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.

A top State Department official who has served in the Trump administration since its first day is resigning over President Trump’s response to the rising protests against racial injustice and police violence across the country. Mary Elizabeth Taylor, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote in a five-paragraph resignation letter yesterday that “The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions.” Seung Min Kim reports for the Washington Post.

Portraits of four former House speakers who served in the Confederacy were yesterday removed from display in the Capitol after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the House Clerk asking for the portraits to be taken down, the latest effort by Congress to review Capitol Hill’s relationship to Confederate leaders and symbols. Haley Byrd and Clare Foran report for CNN.

Live updates on the protests are available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now almost 2.2 million coronavirus infections in the United States and over 118,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 8.5 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including at least 454,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Nearly 27,000 Americans tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the biggest single-day increase since early May and driven by a record number of new cases in California (4,084), Florida (3,207), Arizona (2,519) and North Carolina (1,333). The increase of 26,956 fresh cases since Wednesday, according to data compiled by Covid Tracking Project yesterday, was the largest since May 8 and up more than 3,000 from Wednesday’s rate. Peter Wells reports for the Financial Times.

Californians are required to wear face masks in high-risk surroundings as the state continues to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the statewide directive yesterday following new advice from the California Department of Public Health that asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals can still spread the disease. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

New York City, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, will take its next steps toward reopening on Monday, with as many as 300,000 employees expected to return to their jobs as outdoor dining, in-store shopping and office work continue, Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday. The move brings the city closer to economic recovery from a crushing virus that killed over 21,000 residents and prompted one of the strictest shutdowns in the United States. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said later yesterday that the state would not make its final decision on relaxing more restrictions until today, but was still advising businesses to get ready for it, given recent testing and hospital data. Michael Gold reports for the New York Times.

Initial coronavirus testing data from a number of U.S. cities and states indicate that recent protests against racial injustices have not yet led to a marked spike in new cases. In Minnesota, where the police killing of George Floyd triggered protests there and across the nation, 1.8% of test results have come back positive as of Monday among 3,200 protesters who were tested at community sites, the state’s health department said. A further 8,500 Minnesota protesters have been tested through their health-care providers or at other sites, with a positivity rate of 0.99% so far, according to the department. Daniela Hernandez, Sarah Krouse, Brianna Abbott and Charity L. Scott report for the Wall Street Journal.

Germany has recorded its biggest Covid-19 outbreak since it began reopening its economy in early May, officials said Wednesday, as they connected the hundreds of cases to a meatpacking plant. A total 657 employees from the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck tested positive, the officials in the city of Guetersloh said, adding that they had received 983 test results. As a result, they immediately directed the closure of the slaughterhouse, as well as isolation and tests for all other workers at the site — putting roughly 7,000 people under quarantine. Andy Eckardt and Isobel van Hagen report for NBC News.

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.

IRAN

Iran test fired a new locally made cruise missile in a naval drill yesterday in the northern Indian Ocean and the Gulf, state media reported. The exercise comes as the United States is seeking an extension of a U.N.-imposed arms embargo against Iran, which is due to lapse in October under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. Washington withdrew from that accord in 2018. Reuters reporting.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post yesterday that “an agreeable solution is possible” for the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s request to gain entry to two nuclear sites in the country. France, Britain and Germany, all parties to Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, have sent a draft resolution to the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.)’s Board of Governors urging Iran to stop denying the agency access to two old sites and to “cooperate fully” with it, diplomats participating in an I.A.E.A. remote meeting said. Reuters reporting.

CHINA

President Trump yesterday renewed his threat to severe ties with China, a day after the countries’ two senior diplomats held discussions and his trade representative said he did not view decoupling the economies of the United States and China as a viable option. The top American diplomat for East Asia described U.S.-China ties as “tense” after their first high-level face-to-face diplomatic talks in months, although he said Beijing did recommit to the first part of a trade agreement reached this year and that the coming weeks would reveal if there had been progress. Al Jazeera reporting.

China has charged two Canadians with espionage, more than 18 months after they were arrested, in cases widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s role in helping U.S. law enforcement pursue a top Huawei executive. Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, had been detained in China since December 2018 without facing charges or receiving permission to see their lawyers, according to Canadian officials. Gerry Shih reports for the Washington Post.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul resigned yesterday amid growing tensions with the North. Further details of the resignation are reported by Colm Quinn for Foreign Policy.

Kenya was yesterday elected as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, following a second round of votes in which the country received the required two-thirds majority (129 votes), beating Djibouti for a seat designated for African countries. UN News reporting.

The U.S. has reduced its military troop presence in Afghanistan to 8,600, fulfilling part of its obligations under the February peace deal with the Taliban, a top American general confirmed yesterday. “We have met our part of the agreement,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command. “We’ve agreed to go to mid-8,000 range within 135 days. We’re at that number now.” Mujib Mashal report for the New York Times.

Top Democrats have introduced a bill intended to block president Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany. Senate Foreign Relations Committee leading member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced the bill, which would aim to stop funding for the withdrawal unless specific conditions are met. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

A “sophisticated state-based cyber-actor” has targeted all levels of political and private-sector organizations in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison disclosed today. The Australian government declined to state which country it believed was responsible, except to say it was “a state-based actor, with very significant capabilities.” Security experts believe China, Russia and North Korea are the only nations that fit Morrison’s description of wrongdoer. Daniel Hurst reports for The Guardian. 

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

Assistant 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)