The Early Edition: June 26, 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. 

CORONAVIRUS

The U.S. reported more than 41,000 new coronavirus cases yesterday, its biggest daily increase in fresh cases since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the second consecutive day with a record total, partly driven by spikes in Texas, California and Florida. Meanwhile, new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) showed more than 20 million Americans may have contracted the virus, far exceeding diagnosed infections (2.4 million). The C.D.C. estimates that only about 1 in every 10 Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has been identified, Director Robert Redfield said during a briefing with reporters yesterday. The New York Times reporting.

Almost 1 in 3 black Americans know someone personally who has died of Covid-19, far outstripping their white counterparts, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll that highlights the coronavirus pandemic’s deeply disparate impact. The nationwide survey finds that 31 percent of black adults say they know someone firsthand who has been killed by the virus; for white adults, the corresponding figure is 9 percent and for adults who are Hispanic, that number is 17 percent. Amy Goldstein and Emily Guskin report for the Washington Post.

More than 9.6 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including nearly half a million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Health and Human Services Secretary (H.H.S.) Secretary Alex Azar is continuing to retaliate against a whistleblower who spoke out about the shortcomings in the U.S. coronavirus response, the whistleblower claimed yesterday. Rick Bright, who was removed in April as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said in an amended complaint filed with a federal watchdog that Azar recently has tried to undermine Bright in his new role at the National Institutes of Health and has told employees not to cooperate with him. Dan Diamond reports for POLITICO.

Key members of the Trump administration continue to play down the pandemic while experts and data point to a resurgence, Amber Phillips writes in an analysis for the Washington Post, pointing to specific comments that risk minimizing the threat the country faces.

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. 

POLICE AND ARMY REFORMS

The House yesterday passed a sweeping police reform bill that would ban chokeholds, end the use of “no-knock” warrants, create a national registry for officers accused of misconduct, and make it easier to prosecute officers — one month after the killing of a black man by a Minneapolis police officer triggered a nationwide movement for systemic reforms of the criminal justice system. However, only three Republicans — moderate Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — voted for the measure, meaning the proposal has little prospect of becoming law amid partisan gridlock. Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report for POLITICO.

The Army will stop including photographs of troops on documents used when deciding to promote service members and for other personnel matters in an effort to root out racial bias in such decisions, senior Army officials said yesterday. The move — part of a new initiative known as Project Inclusion which will also include a review of any racial disparity in military justice cases — will be put into action starting in August and is intended to improve diversity across the force, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon. The effort is the Army’s first major change in response to reactions arising from the death of George Floyd. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The president’s executive order on policing and the Republicans’ “timid” bill prove Trump’s administration does not take reform seriously, Maya Wiley writes in an analysis for NBC News.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS 

The Supreme Court yesterday handed a win to the Trump administration on the president’s signature issue of immigration, ruling that some asylum seekers in the U.S. can be deported without additional court hearings. In a 7-2 decision, the court said immigrants who fail to make their case for asylum in an initial screening, by credibly claiming that they fear persecution at home, can be fast-tracked for expulsion and cannot challenge that outcome in federal court. Pete Williams reports for NBC News.

President Trump’s pick to take over the Manhattan federal prosecutor’s office after the abrupt firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman refused yesterday to say whether he would recuse himself from pending probes involving Trump’s interests and associates if confirmed for the job. Appearing before a House Financial Services subcommittee, Securities and Exchange Committee Chair Jay Clayton tried to deflect Democrats’ questions about his selection for the post and the circumstances under which Berman was ousted over the weekend, describing the Senate confirmation process as “way down the road.” But when pressed by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) to “commit, right here, to recusing yourself” from matters in which the president has a personal stake, Clayton hesitated; “What I will commit to do, which is what I commit to in my current job, is to approach the job with independence and to follow all ethical rules,” Clayton responded. Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

The president’s brother will file a law suit in the New York State Supreme Court in a bid to stop Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, from publishing a tell-all book about the family on July 2 after a Surrogate’s Court judge in New York yesterday turned down an effort to block release of the manuscript, ruling his court lacked jurisdiction in the case. Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.

U.S. troops will remain at the southern border through late next year, though the number of service members there will drop by roughly 1,500, the Pentagon announced yesterday. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request for military support from the Department of Homeland Security and authorized the deployment of 4,000 troops to the country’s border with Mexico through September 2021, according to a Defense Department statement. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

An important piece on Attorney General William Barr’s involvement in high-profile prosecutions of Trump associates — including those of his longtime fixer Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and longtime adviser Roger Stone — is provided by Benjamin Weiser, Ben Protess, Katie Benner and William K. Rashbaum for the New York Times, who write that the ouster of the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan last week was foreshadowed by a disagreement between Barr and Berman over the case against Cohen.

“The end of the Flynn case may also be the beginning of the end of other cases, too,” warns Nick Oberheiden in an analysis for NBC News of the “Flynn domino effect.”

The true revelation of John Bolton’s memoir is that he put Israeli and Saudi interests ahead of America’s — by successfully wrecking any U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran, Trita Parsi argues for Foreign Policy.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS 

The Trump administration is looking to end the decades-old practice of informally notifying Congress in advance on large arms sales to foreign countries, in a move that reflects rising tensions between the administration and Capitol Hill, officials and congressional aides told Foreign Policy. The proposal comes amid growing frustration from senior administration officials over informal holds from lawmakers on arms sales to nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two close U.S. allies in the Middle East. Lawmakers have attempted to block weapons sales to these countries over worries about human rights issues and the prospect of civilian casualties, particularly with the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch report for Foreign Policy.

Iranian authorities are investigating an explosion early this morning near a military base east of Tehran thought to have played a part in the country’s past nuclear testing activities. Videos and pictures posted on social media that were picked up by local news outlets showed a bright orange light flaring out across the sky over the city, followed by a large plume of smoke. While witnesses said the blast came from the direction of Parchin, a key military site, defense ministry spokesperson Davoud Abdi told state TV the explosion actually occurred at a gas storage facility in a “public area” of Parchin. The fire was brought under control and no casualties were reported, he added, but gave no details about the cause of the blast. The Guardian reporting.

Iraqi security forces raided a base belonging to a powerful Iran-backed militia in southern Baghdad late yesterday and arrested more than a dozen members of the group, government officials and paramilitary sources said. The raid, which targeted the Kataib Hezbollah faction, was the most brazen action by Iraqi forces against a major Iran-supported group in years and was the first sign that the government of Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, intends to follow through on pledges to take tough action against militia groups that have targeted U.S. installations. Reuters reporting.

The U.S. government has doubled, to $10 million, its reward offered for information on the whereabouts of new Islamic State leader Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla. [Central Command] 

The U.S. Senate yesterday passed by unanimous consent legislation that would place sanctions on Chinese officials who back efforts by China to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy, as well as the banks and firms that do business with them. Because it imposes mandatory sanctions, the bipartisan bill has drawn opposition from Trump administration officials concerned it could hamper their ability to conduct diplomacy with China and give Congress too much power over foreign relations, according to congressional, administration and industry officials. Lindsay Wise and Ian Talley report for the Wall Street Journal.

A U.S. watchdog warned that “systemic” corruption within the Afghan government is reducing its bargaining strength in upcoming peace negotiations with the Taliban, even as the insurgents said yesterday they were ready and had put together their agenda for the long-awaited talks. John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, said the Taliban and other militants highlighted the government’s corruption, using it to “undermine public support for the government, garner recruits to their cause, and weaken the government’s bargaining position during future peace negotiations.” AP reporting.

American Special Operations forces used a specially constructed secret missile to kill the chief of a Qaeda affiliate in Syria this month, dealing the terrorist group a serious setback with a weapon “that combines medieval brutality with advanced technology.” Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.

The reasons why President Trump issued an executive sanctions order against International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) personnel and their families that may never be implemented are explored by Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first Chief Prosecutor of the I.C.C., in an article for Just Security that analyzes the dynamics of the military-based policy the U.S. has pursued for the past nineteen years and its relationship to international justice. 

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).