The Early Edition: June 25, 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.

MICHAEL FLYNN

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that District Judge Emmet Sullivan must dismiss the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. during investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The court, in a 2-1 decision, sided with Flynn and the Department of Justice (D.O.J.)’s move to drop the case in May, stressing that to allow Sullivan to dismiss the D.O.J.’s decision would encroach on its prosecutorial powers. Judge Neomi Rao, a recent appointee to the court by Trump, wrote the judgement, stating: “Each of our three coequal branches should be encouraged to self-correct when it errs. If evidence comes to light calling into question the integrity or purpose of an underlying criminal investigation, the Executive Branch must have the authority to decide that further prosecution is not in the interest of justice … In this case, the district court’s actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the Executive Branch’s exclusive prosecutorial power.” Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

The court’s “deeply concerning” ruling in the Flynn case “is plainly wrong; rests on egregious legal errors; and will almost certainly be reversed by the en banc court of appeals if the case reaches that stage,” writes Marty Lederman for Just Security, adding: “everyone who cares about the state of the federal courts should take notice.”

The DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Department of Justice (D.O.J.) officials yesterday testified before the House Judiciary Committee (H.J.C.) and accused the department of being politicized. Aaron Zelinsky, a prosecutor and former special counsel to Robert Mueller and one of the four prosecutors who quit the case against President Trump’s longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone, told the House that senior D.O.J. officials had stepped in to seek a more lenient sentence for Stone, who “was treated differently because of politics … [and] because of [his] relationship with the president.” Senior official in the antitrust division John Elias said his supervisors had also abused their powers when investigating the marijuana industry and a deal between California and four leading automakers, as their investigations were prompted by Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal disliking for the industries – “Personal dislike of the industry is not a valid basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation,” Elias said. Nicholas Fandos, Katie Benner and Charlie Savage report for the New York Times.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), speaking before the H.J.C., called for Barr to be impeached because he is a “reigning terror on the rule of law,” a call that was then endorsed by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). Cohen’s comments come after a spate of criticisms aimed at Barr and his politically informed decision making, including the dropping of the case against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the leniency of the prison sentence against Roger Stone, and the ousting of both Inspector General (I.G.) Steve Linick and more recently U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman. Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

Barr will testify before the H.J.C. next month as the panel seeks to investigate the firing of Berman,D.O.J. spokesperson Kerri Kupec confirmed in a post on Twitter yesterday, just moments after the House heard evidence from D.O.J. officials. Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

POLICE REFORM AND ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

Senate Democrats yesterday blocked a G.O.P. policing reform bill because it did not go far enough to address racial inequality in the U.S, a move that comes after growing public concern and nationwide protests over police brutality in the black community. In a 55-45 vote, the bill, put forward by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), did not achieve its needed 60 votes, after Democrats said the bill was, in Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y)’s words, “partisan” and “irrevocably flawed.” Schumer added: “This bill lost because it was woefully inadequate …, It never would have passed and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.)] provided no path to improve it.” Republicans expressed they were willing to negotiate aspects of the bill but criticized the Democrats’ unwillingness to discuss it. Kristina Peterson and Aaron Zitner report for the Wall Street Journal.

400 unarmed National Guard troops have been activated and put on standby at an armory in Washington D.C. to “prevent any defacing or destruction” of monuments during continuing protests in the capital, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt confirmed yesterday, after protesters attempted to knock down a statute of former President Andrew Jackson in a park close to the White House. “They remain on standby at the DC Armory at this time. They will support U.S. Park Police at key monuments to prevent any defacing or destruction,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said, adding: “The National Guard personnel will not be armed, and will serve as a uniformed deterrence and crowd management capacity to maintain closures and restricted areas.” Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.

A grand jury yesterday indicted three white men over the February shooting and death of unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery whilst he was out jogging. Travis McMichael, his son Greg McMichael, and William Bryan were indicted at Glynn County Courthouse, Georgia, on charges including malice and felony murder. “This is another positive step, another great step for finding justice for Ahmaud, for finding justice for this family and the community beyond,” District Attorney Joyette Holmes said yesterday. BBC reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) announced yesterday that a new indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been handed down by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., accusing him of knowingly working with hackers associated with hacking groups LulzSec and Anonymous. The superseding indictment does not add any further charges to the 18 charges brought against Assange last year, but goes further in its allegations of him benefitting from hackers who provided WikiLeaks with classified information and documents. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Senate approved the 200th federal judge to be nominated by President Trump, the Republican-controlled chamber confirmed yesterday, a number not achieved by any other president at this stage of his administration in over 40 years.  The most recent nomination and confirmation was Mississippi judge Cory Wilson, who will now sit in the federal appeals court in New Orleans. Al Jazeera reporting.

Trump signalled yesterday that he will likely move some of the troops being withdrawn from Germany into Poland, following a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “Poland is one of the few countries that are fulfilling their obligations under NATO, in particular their monetary obligations … And they asked us if we would send some additional troops. They’ll be paying for the sending of additional troops, and we’ll probably be moving them from Germany to Poland,” Trump said in joint press conference with Duda in the Rose Garden, adding: “We’re going to be reducing Germany very substantially down to about 25,000 troops.” Alana Wise reports for NPR.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned yesterday that the U.S. will move to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran if the U.N. Security Council (U.N.S.C.) does not approve a resolution indefinitely extending the arms embargo on the country, which is due to expire in October. Pompeo, speaking ahead of video briefing to the U.N.S.C, told reporters that if the embargo is not extended, “Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapons systems and become an arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world. This is unacceptable.” AP reporting.

Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci was yesterday indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after Kosovo’s independence war with Serbia, the Special Prosecutor’s Office (S.P.O.) confirmed, accusing him and nine other suspects of being “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders.” Thaci will therefore no longer visit the U.S. as planned, prompting Richard Grenell, the special presidential envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations, to write in post on Twitter: “The President of Kosovo has just informed us that he has canceled his trip to Washington, D.C. following the announcement made by the Special Prosecutors Office … I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled.” Laura Kelly reports for the Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 9.44 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 482,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now over 2.38 million coronavirus infections in the United States and almost 123,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The U.S. sees a record number of daily coronavirus cases yesterday – nearly 37,000, according to John Hopkins University data. The new record surpasses the previous high of 26,739 cases on April 24. New York Timesreporting.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were yesterday making plans to quarantine visitors from states that have had recent Covid-19 outbreaks. The plans intend to require those entering from states that have seen rising cases to isolate for 14 days, and is expected to apply to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, 131 million people. Anna Gronewold reports for POLITICO.

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. 

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About the Author(s)

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)

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).