The Early Edition: July 14, 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

Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime friend and confidant, gave his first post-clemency interview yesterday, after he was commuted last week by the President after being convicted to a 40-month prison sentence for lying to Congress and witness tampering in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Stone hurled criticisms at what he called “a fixed [criminal justice] system,” in which he contends that in his case he faced a “biased judge,” a “stacked jury” and “really sadistic, arrogant, politically motivated [prosecution team].” He went on to say that, “This is the most horrible experience you can have … I see immediately why 99 percent of the people who choose to plead not guilty and go to trial lose when you’re up against the horrific and deep-pocketed resources of the federal government.” Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Stone continued with his Fox News interview by praising Trump and the relationship they have: “I have deep, deep affection for Donald Trump because I’ve known him for 40 years,” Stone said. “He’s a man of great justice and fairness, he’s a man of enormous courage … He saved my life. And, at least on paper, he gave me a chance to fight for vindication.” Daniel Strauss reports for The Guardian.

Trump’s executive decision to grant Stone clemency not only commuted his sentence but also spared him large fines and supervised release. The latest details come after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson set the Trump administration a deadline for today to produce the clemency order and to clarify whether the order also commuted Stone’s expected two-year supervision. Jackson received the order, which stated, inter alia, “I commute the entirety of the prison sentence imposed upon the said Roger Stone, Jr. to expire immediately … I also commute the entirety of the two-year term of supervised released with all its conditions, and finally, I remit any unpaid balance of the $20,000 fine imposed.” Al Jazeera reporting.

“Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence is even worse than it looks,” writes Chris Cillizza in an analysis for CNN. He argues that Trump’s clemency order “represents not just a misuse of presidential power but also will have long-term impacts on the ways in which future presidents consider their pardon and commutation powers.”

“The Department of Justice still has a path to vindicate the rule of law by putting Mr. Stone before a grand jury,” writes Andrew Weissmann for the New York Times.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Prior to recalling President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, back to prison last week, Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials in New York gave their seniors in Washington a heads up, law enforcement officials have said, confirming that the decision to detain Cohen was made by the B.O.P.. “Nobody in B.O.P. ever discussed what his conditions should be,” the official said, adding, “Nobody gave direction on how to handle Michael Cohen as far as BOP was concerned.” Mark Morales and Kara Scannell report for CNN.

House Rep. John Katko (R-NY) introduced yesterday three new pieces of legislation intended to improve cybersecurity in the US, with a particular focus on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bills proposed, which follow a Cyberspace Solarium Commission report in March, cover a broad array of issues, including: helping to strengthen leadership within the D.H.S.’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (C.I.S.A.) by elevating the position of the agency’s director and extending their term to five years; and a requirement that C.I.S.A. conducts reviews of its operations in a bid to improve coordination and transparency. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) yesterday revealed her plan to create the “House Appropriations Committee Advisory Panel on Equity and Justice,” an announcement that comes amid Schultz’s hopes to become the next leader of the House Appropriations Committee. Addressing current issues of police brutality and racial injustice, Schultz, currently the chair of the Military Construction and Veteran Affair subcommittee, said that House appropriators face a “rare window” of opportunity to tackle these deep-rooted issues and “help address a longstanding crisis that has been given new urgency: systemic racism, bigotry and injustice.” Caitlin Emma reports for POLITICO.

A New York Supreme Court judge ruled yesterday that President Trump’s niece can release and discuss her tell-all book on the President, following a recent decision by a lower court that placed a temporary restraining order (TRO) on publicizing the book. Addressing the disputed confidentiality agreement signed by Mary in 2001, Judge Hal Greenwald said the agreement had “too many words, with too many meanings. The cost of the litigation that was settled should have been finalized with more specifics, more clarity, if the current situation was even comprehended, at the time the Agreement was signed.” Chris Bastardi, a spokesperson for Mary, said in a statement yesterday: “Now that the unconstitutional gag order has finally been lifted, we are sure the White House and America are looking forward to finally hearing what Mary has to say.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

The US Supreme Court earlier today allowed the Justice Department to continue in its plans to resume the first federal executions in nearly two decades. Following a preliminary decision yesterday by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan that blocked four planned executions, the Supreme court, in a 5-4 ruling, held that “the plaintiffs have not established that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim” and “that claim faces an exceedingly high bar.” Mark Berman and Tim Elfrink report for the Washington Post.

US Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Michael Kratsios has been tapped on the shoulder to serve as the new Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced yesterday. Juliegrace Brufke reports for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 13.1 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 573,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now over 3.36 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 136,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The White House has been criticized by public health experts, scientists and Democrats for its targeting of Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force. Following statements by the White House over the weekend that pointed towards “mistakes” Fauci had made, many came to his defence, holding that, “When you begin to discredit scientists like Fauci, who are national treasures, you are in serious trouble,” according to Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Laurie McGinley and Yasmeen Abutaleb report for the Washington Post.

California will reimpose a raft of restrictions amid Covid-19 surge, California Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed yesterday. Rolling back reopening plans, Newsom has ordered restaurants, wineries, movie theaters and museum to halt all indoor activities. Some counties most affected will also see a shutting down of malls and hair salons. BBC reporting.

17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s administration yesterday hoping to block a new policy that strips international students of their visas if their courses are entirely online, a move that has been vehemently criticized in the midst of a pandemic. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and criticizes the government’s new federal rule as “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement announcing the legal action, “The Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses.” Chandelis Duster reports for CNN.

Los Angeles and San Diego announced yesterday that the new school year will commence online only,as coronavirus cases in the areas see a marked rise. The joint statement stated: “The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control … Therefore, we are announcing that the new school year will start online only. Instruction will resume on Aug.18 in Los Angeles Unified and Aug. 31 in San Diego Unified, as previously scheduled. Both districts will continue planning for a return to in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year, as soon as public health conditions allow.” Anya Kamenetz repots for NPR.

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.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

China yesterday imposed “corresponding sanctions” on GOP Senators in response to Washington’s sanctions on senior Chinese officials over the mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. The sanctions will target Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), all of whom have sponsored legislation that aims to address human rights violations in China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that the latest U.S. actions “seriously interfere in China’s internal affairs, seriously violate the basic norms of international relations and seriously damage Sino-U.S. relations,” adding: “China will make further responses based on how the situation develops.” Reuters reporting.

The US formally rejected ‘most’ of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea yesterday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating: “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.” Pompeo indicated that the U.S. will formally align itself with a decision in 2016 by an international tribunal that rejected China’s claim to the huge area. “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo continued in his statement, adding, “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.” Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Taliban yesterday killed 11 people and injured many more in a car bomb attack outside the entrance of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate, officials have confirmed. Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim report for the New York Times.

An Israeli court has dismissed Amnesty International’s legal claim to stop NSO Group from exporting its surveillance software, after Amnesty were unable to prove NSO’s products had been used to spy on the organization’s members. Amnesty’s Israel branch has said a “mountain of evidence was ignored” and criticized the court for what they called “a rubber stamp to the Defence Ministry’s impunity to human rights violations.” Reuters reporting. 

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)