The Early Edition: July 13, 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.

ROGER STONE

President Trump Friday commuted the 40-month prison sentence of Roger Stone, his longtime friend and confidant, who was convicted last year for lying to Congress and witness tampering in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “The simple fact is that if the special counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison,” the White House expressed in a statement Friday evening. Trump said Saturday in a post on Twitter: “Roger Stone was targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt that should never have taken place.” Katie Rogers, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Heather Murphy report for the New York Times.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller defended his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and castigated Trump’s decision to commute stone, in a rare op-ed for the Washington Post Sunday. “I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office,” Mr. Mueller wrote, adding, “The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes.”

Two Republicans denounced the commutation of Stone: Sen Mitt Romney (R-UT) described the move in post on Twitter as “unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.” Pat Toomey (R-PA) said that, “While I understand the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation, in my view, commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is a mistake,” adding, “He was duly convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of a congressional investigation conducted by a Republican-led committee.” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said yesterday that Trump’s decision “should be offensive to you if you care about rule of law and you care about justice.” Schiff added that: “I think anyone who cares about the rule of law in this country is nauseated by the fact that the president has commuted the sentence of someone who willfully lied to Congress, covered up for the president, intimidated witnesses, obstructed the investigation.” Regina Zilbermints reports for The Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday denounced Trump’s move as “an act of staggering corruption” and a “threat to national security.” Pelosi stressed that Congress intends to act to “prevent this type of brazen wrongdoing” and that legislation is required to “ensure that no President can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that President from criminal prosecution.” Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill.

A thorough analysis of whether the power to pardon is unlimited, is provided by Harold Hongju Koh, Rosa Hayes, Dana Khabbaz, Michael Loughlin, Nicole Ng, Ayoub Ouederni and Brandon Willmore for Just Security, who offer a look into the key legal cases on the issue. They conclude that the power is not unlimited and could in fact “constitute impeachable conduct.”

“Pardoning Roger Stone could itself be an unpardonable crime,” writes Sam Berger for Just Security, adding that: “If a conspiracy exists to obstruct an investigation, and part of that obstruction involves pardoning someone who hid evidence or lied to investigators, then the pardon itself is a continuation of the conspiracy.”

CORONAVIRUS

More than 12.9 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 569,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now over 3.3 million coronavirus infections in the United States and more than 135,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The number of daily coronavirus cases in Florida hit an all-time record Saturday, with California, Texas and Arizona reporting near-record daily Covid-19 cases. New infections in Florida exceeded 15,000, the largest daily record of any U.S. state, an increase of 10,000 from Friday’s number. Kate King and Jennifer Calfas report for the Wall Street Journal.

The World Health Organization reported yesterday a global record in coronavirus cases, with the total rising past 230,000. The main contributors to the increase were the U.S., Brazil, India and South Africa, according to a daily report. Reuters reporting.

The Trump administration has maintained pressure for schools to open in the fall, with Education Secretary Betsy Devos insisting yesterday that their re-opening is necessary, despite concerns over surges in new Covid-19 cases. Al Jazeera reporting.

Almost 100 cases of coronavirus have been reported at a US Marine Corps bases on the island of Okinawa, Japan. “The U.S. cases have primarily been Marines assigned to MCAS Futenma and Camp Hansen, and have been a mix of both travel related and those with origins we’ve yet to be able to identify indicating the potential of a reemergence of community spread,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Joel Carey said in a statement. A lockdown order was issued Saturday that bans all off-base movement, including U.S. military personnel, who must seek approval from a senior officer before being able to leave their base. Brad Lendon, Junko Ogura and Kaori Enjoji report for CNN.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) confirmed yesterday that he will grant a request by Democrats to call on former special counsel Robert Mueller, who led the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, to testify before the committee. Graham’s comments follow an op-ed by Mueller published Saturday, prompting the Chair to write in a post on Twitter: “Apparently Mr. Mueller is willing – and also capable – of defending the Mueller investigation through an oped in the Washington Post.” Allan Smith reports for NBC News.

President Trump’s planned executive order on immigration, which he claimed Friday would include the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme and a road to citizenship for immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” will not include amnesty for migrants who are in the US illegaly but arrived in the country as children, a White House spokesperson confirmed Friday. Reuters reporting.

21 sailors and fire crew were injured after a fire broke out Sunday aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego, according to military officials. The explosion was reported Sunday morning; however, spokesperson Mike Raney did not confirm where on the ship the explosion and fire occurred. Artemis Moshtaghian and Theresa Waldrop report for CNN.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution Saturday which approved aid deliveries to Syria via only one border crossing from Turkey – the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing – after the Security Council’s members voted 12-0, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining, a day after a previous 6-year-long humanitarian aid operations resolution expired. The resolution, submitted by Germany and Belgium, followed a week of drama between council members, in which Russia and China vetoed resolutions that intended to keep two crossings from Turkey open. AP reporting.

China and Iran have drafted a wide-ranging economic and security partnership, including billions of dollars of investment by China, which could deflect US economic pressure on Iran and help address Tehran’s global isolation. The initial 18-page deal would greatly expand China’s involvement in Iran’s banking, telecommunications and infrastructure, which in return will see China supplied with Iranian oil for the next 25 years. The document also highlights a new military cooperation between the countries. Farnaz Fassihi and Steven Lee Myers report for the New York Times. 

About the Author(s)

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)