The Early Edition: June 24, 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. 

ROGER STONE

A prosecutor is set to tell Congress today that President Trump’s longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone received “favorable treatment” in the criminal case against him due to pressure from top Department of Justice (D.O.J.) officials, including Attorney General William Barr, on behalf of Trump. Aaron Zelinsky, former special counsel to Robert Mueller and one of the four prosecutors who quit the case against Stone, will today testify before the House Judiciary Committee and state that: “What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President … I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President,’” according to his prepared statement. Kyle Cheney and Leah Nylen report for POLITICO. 

Stone, who was convicted last year for lying to Congress and witness tampering in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, has asked a federal court to postpone for more than two months the 40-month prison sentence he is due to start June 30 because of concerns over his health and coronavirus. In a number of Instagram posts, Stone has warned that reporting to prison next week will lead to his likely or even “certain” death. “I’m fighting for my life … Incarceration at a facility with COVID-19 during a pandemic is a deep state death sentence. Roger Stone did nothing wrong. Justice for Roger Stone,” Stone wrote, adding, “this [is an] attempt to kill me.” Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO. 

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS 

President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told reporters that he would consider testifying against Attorney General William Barr before the House Judiciary Committee if House Democrats request his testimony. Bolton, who has recently been in a legal battle with the Trump administration over his White House Memoir, did express reservations over testifying, noting the House’s previous (mis)handling of the impeachment inquiry, but did assert that if he was called upon he would speak with his legal team. Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

65 professors and faculty staff from Barr’s former university, George Washington University Law School, have said in a letter yesterday that the attorney general has “failed to fulfill his oath of office to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States.’” The letter, which comes after growing criticism of Barr’s conduct and handling of numerous matters, rebuked the top legal official, stating his actions “have undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms, and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice.” Chandelis Duster reports for CNN. 

A lawsuit has been filed against the new U.S. Agency for Global Media C.E.O. Michael Pack after he fired numerous top broadcasting executives and advisory board members of federally funded international broadcasters. After only a week in his position, Pack dismissed the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the Open Technology Fund, and replaced their independent bipartisan advisory boards with five Trump administration officials and an attorney who works for a Christian legal defense and advocacy organization. The lawsuit, filed by four advisory board members, including Ryan Crocker and Karen Kornbluh, two former U.S. ambassadors in the George Bush and Barack Obama administrations, states: “Their independence from political interference is protected by a strict ‘firewall’ embodied in statutes, regulations, and binding contract provisions … Mr. Pack’s actions this past week constitute the most egregious breach of that firewall in history.” David Folkenflik reports for NPR. 

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who has been nominated to become the new undersecretary of defense for policy at the Department of Defense (D.O.D.), spread conspiracy theories that former C.I.A. director John Brennan tried to depose of Trump and even have him killed, newly found comments from radio and television interviews and social media have revealed. Em Steck, Andrew Kaczynski, Nathan McDermott and Zachary Cohen report for CNN. 

The Pentagon’s top research official and his deputy are resigning next month to take jobs in the private sector. Mike Griffin, the Pentagon’s first undersecretary of research and engineering, and his deputy, Lisa Porter, will leave July 10, according to an email sent to staff yesterday afternoon. Defense One reporting.

Trump yesterday warned that this year’s presidential election will be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” but yet continues to spread false claims and assertions about widespread voter fraud. Speaking to students in Arizona yesterday, Trump said: “The Democrats are also trying to rig the election by sending tens of millions of ballots using the China virus as the excuse for allowing people not to go to the polls.” Maegan Vazquez and Donald Judd report for CNN. 

The Trump family is seeking to block a book by the President’s niece Mary L. Trump that describes her uncle as the “world’s most dangerous man.” Trump’s brother yesterday filed a petition before the Queens County Surrogate’s Court, New York, seeking a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) against the tell-all book set for publication on July 28. The lawsuit has argued that Mary had agreed as part of her inheritance settlement that she “would not publish any account” of her relationship with Trump. Michael Kranish reports for the Washington Post. 

Congressional House members have called for cuts to the Pentagon’s 2021 budget in order to help fund the coronavirus pandemic. Several ways that this can be achieved “without jeopardizing national security” are provided by Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration, writing for Just Security. 

CORONAVIRUS

More than 9.2 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 477,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now 2.3 million coronavirus infections in the United States and over 121,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Officials called on residents to stay home, wear a mask and keep their distance after new coronavirus cases spiked in several U.S. states. California and Texas each reported a striking 5,000 new infections yesterday, breaking previous daily records they had set. Arizona saw 3,591 fresh cases in a day — also a new record. Talal Ansari reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said yesterday that the federal government is trying to increase testing, not slow it down as President Trump has claimed in recent days. In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked about the president’s recent remarks and whether he agrees that it seems sensible to limit the number of Covid-19 tests. “It’s the opposite. We’re going to be doing more testing, not less,” said Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force. Rebecca Shabad and Allan Smith report for NBC News.

The European Union (E.U.) may bar Americans from entering its member countries as the bloc plans to reopen its borders on July 1 and the U.S. continues to see more infection surges, according to draft lists of acceptable travelers reviewed by The New York Times. The E.U. guidance will be based on how origin countries are faring with the coronavirus pandemic. Including the United States now, European officials involved in the talks said, would represent a total flouting of the bloc’s  reasoning. But they said the United States could be added later to the list, which will be amended every two weeks based on updated infection rates. Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports for the New York Times.

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. 

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

Senate Democrats said yesterday that they plan to block a Republican police reform bill from coming to the floor today, calling it “irrevocably flawed” and setting up a stalemate in the Senate over how to address police violence amid national protests. The legislation requires the support of at least 60 senators to pass, meaning seven Democrats would have to join all Republicans. But Democrats are dubious about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)’s intentions in advancing with the G.O.P. bill, speculating that he is putting forward a “half-baked” effort. Unlike the Democratic version, the Republican bill does not call for an outright ban on chokeholds or mention the defense of qualified immunity, and it would gather data on entries using “no-knock” warrants instead of banning them. Leigh Ann Caldwell and Julie Tsirkin report for NBC News.

The Louisville police chief yesterday officially sacked one of the three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman. In a letter released by the city’s Police Department, Police Chief Robert Schroeder said he was firing Detective Brett Hankison effective yesterday. He said he took the action following a pre-termination hearing held earlier in the day and his audit of an investigative file by the department’s public integrity unit. Arian Campo-Flores reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Social media giant Twitter yesterday put a warning flag on a post by President Trump threatening “serious force” against protesters if they tried to establish an autonomous zone in the U.S. capital, the second time it has used the label since it started challenging Trump’s tweets in May. Twitter said the president’s message breached its policy against abusive behavior. Reuters reporting.

Live updates on the protests are available at CNN.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS 

The Trump administration introduced a much-anticipated U.N. Security Council draft resolution extending an arms embargo on Iran that is due to lapse in October, paving the way for a great-power clash and likely veto in the U.N.’s principal security body, according to a copy of the draft obtained by Foreign Policy. The U.S. draft resolution would require countries, including the United States, to take active steps to block Iran from “supplying, selling, or transferring” arms to other nations, unless the Security Council committee overseeing U.N. sanctions authorizes such transfers. The measure would also oblige all U.N. member states to inspect cargo passing through their territory to check for illicit arms imports or exports from Iran, and give them power to seize and destroy such weapons. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.

Sixty-seven member states of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) have thrown their weight behind the body, after an unprecedented U.S. move to place sanctions on its staff. In a joint statement drafted by Costa Rica and Switzerland, over half of the 123 of the I.C.C.’s members showed their “unwavering support” for the tribunal and the Rome Statute that established it, according to Judge O-Gon Kwon, who is president of the Assembly of States Parties and represents South Korea. “We reconfirm our unwavering support for the court as an independent and impartial judicial institution,” the statement said, adding the Hague-based I.C.C. is an “integral part” of the international judicial order and “a central institution in the fight against impunity.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The Syrian army responded to Israeli attacks on southern, central and eastern Syria in which two soldiers were killed, the army said yesterday, in what military defectors and intelligence sources said was a spate of raids that targeted Iranian bases. The army said late yesterday that Israeli jets struck an army outpost in Salamiya and another in Sabura towns in Hama province just hours after missiles hit other military fixtures in Deir Az Zor province along the border with Iraq and in southern Syria near the border with Jordan. Reuters reporting.

Kim Jong-un has suspended plans for “military action” against South Korea, in a surprise move that comes after weeks of heightening tensions on the peninsula. The North Korean leader vetoed measures that are thought to have included the redeployment of soldiers near the border between the two countries, apparently in retaliation for Seoul’s inability to stop defector groups from sending propaganda leaflets into the North. Justin McCurry 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

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)