The Early Edition: July 7, 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. 

IMMIGRATION

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco yesterday ruled against a 2019 Trump policy that blocked many migrants from seeking asylum in America if they had travelled through another country before arriving, with the three-judge panel upholding an earlier decision that the “third-country transit rule” was unlawful because the government, including the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security who jointly issued the rule in July 19, had done “virtually nothing” to ensure that another country was a “safe option” for those who were fleeing to the US. One judge dubbed that the rule “was perhaps the most significant change to American asylum in a generation.” The decision is, however, an interim step as the Supreme Court had last September already allowed the government’s rule until an appeals court could consider its legality and so until reconsidered by the Supreme Court or abandoned by the Trump administration, the rule will remain. Miriam Jordan reports for the New York Times. 

Foreign students whose courses are fully online may be forced to leave the US, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) confirmed yesterday. I.C.E.’s announcement that those on online courses and who have F-1 and M-1 visas “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status” comes amid growing concern by colleges of how to deliver teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, with the State Department expected to no longer issue visas to students on online-only courses and Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) not allowing them to enter at the border, a press release statement said. Priscilla Alvarez and Catherine E. Shoichet report for CNN. 

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime friend and confidant has again asked a federal appeals court to postpone his date to report to prison over fears that he would be at “considerable risk from serious health consequences [due to coronavirus], including death, if his surrender date is not extended.” Stone, who was convicted last year for lying to Congress and witness tampering in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was recently granted a short delay of two weeks by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, but Stone’s lawyers now argue in their motion to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that Jackson “failed to give adequate deference to the government’s uniform policy not to oppose surrender date extension motions due to the pandemic, and failed to consider authority from around the country on this issue under similar circumstances.” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO. 

A US soldier who was last month charged after being accused of sending information to an “occult-based neo-Nazi and racially motivated violent extremist group” known as Order of Nine Angles in a plot to attack his own unit and cause mass casualties has pleaded not guilty, although prosecutors initially said Ethan Melzer had admitted to his role and intention. Melzer, 22, pleaded yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan, via a virtual hearing. Reuters reporting. 

The House Appropriation Committee has proposed in its spending bill to prohibit funding from being used to conduct nuclear testing. The committee’s draft fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for the Energy Department would ban funding from being used to “conduct, or prepare to conduct, any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield,” text from the bill released yesterday reveals. “Critically, the bill would prevent the Trump administration from using any funds to carry out its dangerous and short-sighted plan to resume nuclear testing,” committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

President Trump’s niece Mary Trump is set to publish her new tell-all book on July 14, two weeks earlier than expected, her publisher Simon & Schuster Inc confirmed yesterday, following a New York court ruling last week that lifted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against publication granted to her father and brother of the president Robert Trump. The book, titled “Too Much and Never Enough, How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” reads on its back cover: “Donald is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information … Donald suffered deprivations that would scar him for life.” Michael Kranish reports for the Washington Post. 

Melania Trump’s former aide is set to release an “explosive” memoir on Sept. 1, according to reports. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former unpaid adviser to the first lady shortly after Trump won the 2016 election, was forced out of the White House amid allegations that her firm profited from Trump’s inauguration after receiving $26 million in payments to help organize the 2017 ceremony; Wolkoff maintains she “retained a total of $1.6m” and was not dismissed but “thrown under the bus.” The Guardian reporting.

Beth Sanner, Trump’s main intelligence briefer and a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, explained yesterday in a rare public remark what she has learned about adapting her briefings to a particular customer – Trump. Although never mentioning the president by name, Sanner, while speaking at event hosted yesterday by the non-profit, nonpartisan organization Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said that while she aims to be competent and fearless in her role, she must also tailor her briefings to the customer she is delivering to, adding: “Is this someone who reads? Someone who likes a story? Operates on visuals? … You figure out before you go in what that person needs from you.” Natasha Bertrand reports for POLITICO.

There’s a growing theory that Attorney General William Barr is a “lapdog or patsy” to Trump and his actions obstruct justice and undermine the rule of law;  however, “that theory of Barr’s motivation is misplaced, and it may leave many uniformed about what truly propels Barr, why he is unlikely to ever change course, and why he is less likely to select which of the president’s orders to carry out,” writes Caroline Fredrickson for Just Security. 

CORONAVIRUS

More than 130,000 people in the United States have died from the new coronavirus and nearly 3 million Americans have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, at least 11.6 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including at least 538,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

250,000 fresh coronavirus cases were reported across the United States in the first five days of July alone. The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, warned yesterday in a National Institute of Health livestream interview that the country was still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic, noting, “within a period of a week and a half, we have almost doubled the number of cases.” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said the current state of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States “is really not good” and that the more than 50,000 new cases a day recorded several times in the past week were a “serious situation that we have to address immediately.” Joe Murphy and Corky Siemaszko 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.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian. 

RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM 

The Pentagon is working on a policy that would ban the display of Confederate flags at military bases or public spaces by service members and civilian personnel. The policy, which has not yet been finalized or signed off by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, comes amid large-scale protests and a national debate over racial injustice sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody in May and also comes as President Trump earlier in the day decried NASCAR’s decision to ban the flag at its events. AP reporting.

House Democrats have inserted text in a federal funding bill directing the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol, setting the stage for a clash over the issue later this year. The fiscal year 2021 legislative branch funding bill unveiled yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee includes a provision ordering the Architect of the Capitol to pull down statues or busts “that represent figures who participated in the Confederate Army or government, as well as the statues of individuals with unambiguous records of racial intolerance,” according to a summary released by the panel. The language of the bill alludes to the statues and busts of four individuals in particular: Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision; former North Carolina governor and segregationist Charles Brantley Aycock; former U.S. vice president, senator from South Carolina and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun; and former Arkansas governor and senator James P. Clarke, who held racist beliefs. Felicia Sonmez reports for the Washington Post.

The House spending bill for military construction would also block funds for activities at bases named after Confederate leaders unless the properties are in the process of being renamed. The fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs would prohibit money from going to military building projects “located on a military installation bearing the name of a confederate officer, except in the case that a process to replace such names has been initiated,” according to draft text released by the House Appropriations Committee. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

A monument to the 19th Century US black activist Frederick Douglass has been toppled in New York state. It appears to have been vandalized on 5 July — the anniversary of a renowned speech the former slave delivered in 1852. In it he said Independence Day commemorations were a sham in a country that still enslaved its black citizens. His statue, in the city of Rochester, could have been targeted in response to attacks on monuments connected to slavery, activists said. BBC News reporting.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is activating up to 1,000 National Guard troops after a series of shootings and protests in Atlanta over the weekend. Five people died, including an 8-year-old girl, and at least 30 people were wounded. The Republican governor issued an executive order yesterday that would dispatch the National Guard to protect the state Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the Department of Public Safety’s headquarters, where roughly 100 demonstrators set fire to part of the building early Sunday morning. Stephen Fowler reports for NPR.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS 

The Trump administration issued a statement yesterday hailing a set of sanctions imposed against alleged human rights abusers by the British government, praising the United Kingdom’s “global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the sanctions penalties yesterday under a 2018 law against money laundering signals “the beginning of a new era for UK sanctions policy and cooperation” between the U.S. and U.K.. John Bowden reports for The Hill.

A huge explosion and fire at a highly sensitive Iranian nuclear facility last week was probably an act of sabotage, intelligence officials and weapons experts said yesterday, but analysts were at odds over the severity of the damage to Iran’s nuclear program. Joby Warrick, Souad Mekhennet and Steve Hendrix report for the Washington Post.

A group of Uighurs in exile has filed evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling for an investigation into top Chinese officials, including Xi Jinping, for genocide and crimes against humanity. The submission made yesterday by lawyers based in London on behalf of two activists groups represents the first time advocates have tried to utilize international law against China over allegations of widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, the far north-western territory of China where Uighur and other minority groups are detained and surveilled en masse. Lily Kuo reporting for The Guardian.

A leading Iraqi authority on ISIL (ISIS) and other armed groups was shot dead in Baghdad yesterday after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias, security and interior officials said. Hisham al-Hashemi was attacked by unknown gunmen near his home in the Zeyouneh region of Baghdad and pronounced dead at a hospital, the officials said. AP reporting. 

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)