The Early Edition: July 28, 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.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

The Trump administration is sending at least 100 additional federal officers to Portland, Oregon, according to an internal email reviewed by The Washington Post and senior administration officials involved in the federal response, as confrontations between anti-racism protesters and federal authorities have intensified. Devlin Barrett, Nick Miroff, Marissa J. Lang and David A. Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post.

The mayors of six US cities, all Democrats, appealed to Congress yesterday to halt President Trump’s deployment of federal agents to their cities, saying the move has heightened tensions at anti-racism protests spreading across the country. “We call on Congress to pass legislation to make clear that these actions are unlawful and repugnant,” the mayors of Portland, Chicago, Seattle, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Kansas City, Missouri; and Washington, D.C., wrote in a letter to the leaders of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives.The request came on the same day the U.S. attorney for Oregon announced the arrest of 22 people on charges arising from clashes with federal and local police at the federal courthouse in Portland. Reuters reporting.

Protesters are suing the Trump administration over its use of force during peaceful nightly demonstrations in downtown Portland. A group of five women and two organizations, including longtime Black Lives Matter protesters and the yellow-clad Wall of Moms group that gathers nightly to stand between protesters and federal law enforcement officers, filed a lawsuit against several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Protective Service (FPS), whom they accuse of violating their constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and due process and conducting unreasonable seizures. Marissa J. Lang reports for the Washington Post.

An Army National Guard officer who witnessed protesters forcibly removed from Lafayette Square last month is directly disputing claims by the attorney general and the Trump administration that they did not hasten the clearing to make way for the president’s photo opportunity minutes later. A new statement by Adam D. DeMarco, an Iraq veteran who now serves as a major in the D.C. National Guard, also throws doubt on the claims by acting Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan that violence by protesters propelled Park Police to clear the area at that time with unusually aggressive tactics. DeMarco said that “demonstrators were behaving peacefully” and that tear gas was deployed in an “excessive use of force.” Tom Jackman and Carol D. Leonnig report for the Washington Post.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said yesterday that Democrats will press to add a provision to the next coronavirus relief bill that would tie down the Trump administration’s efforts to send federal agents to patrol major cities. Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the proposal, from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), would oblige police officers or federal officers during interactions with protesters to identify themselves and where they work and not to use unmarked vehicles. The proposal would also say that while federal agents can be on federal property, they can’t make the rounds on streets patrolling cities without consent from mayors and governors, Schumer said. Rebecca Shabad reports for NBC News.

The nation’s capital yesterday honored the late Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights leader whose nonviolent tactics helped bring in a landmark voting-rights law aimed at bringing an end to the Jim Crow era of political suppression of Black Americans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), her Senate counterpart Republican Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other U.S. lawmakers attended an invitation-only ceremony for Lewis in the rotunda. Siobhan Hughes reports for The Wall Street Journal.

What’s unfolding in Portland is “a dangerous step for DHS and for our democracy as a whole — worse than just mission creep,” writes former DHS and Defense Department spokesperson David Lapan in an analysis for Just Security.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR TESTIMONY

Attorney General William Barr is set to testify for the first time before the House Judiciary Committee today, a highly-anticipated hearing, which will address numerous issues and criticisms charged at Barr and his actions as attorney general. Barr is expected to be questioned over: his handling of many high-profile prosecutions of President Trump’s associates, including Michael Cohen and Roger Stone; the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice (DOJ); his role in the policing and clearing of peaceful protests outside the White House, particularly on June 1, when protestors were cleared by an excessive use of force in order for Trump to walk to a church and take photos, and more recently federal agents in Portland, Oregon. Ahead of Barr’s oral testimony today, he released prepared remarks yesterday, which accused Democrats of attempting to falsely portray and “discredit” him as a Trump loyalist. Kyle Cheney and Betsy Woodruff Swan report for POLITICO.

A comprehensive and detailed timeline on Trump and Barr and their proximity to the criminal prosecution of the Turkish bank Halkbank and its attempts to evade US sanctions against Iran is provided by Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin for Just Security, who make clear that there is evidence the president requested the attorney general to stop any prosecution against the bank and its associates.

“The signs that Barr is poised to weaponize criminal prosecutions are not subtle,” write Erica Newland and Kristy Parker for Just Security, who explain how politically motivated prosecutions violate DOJ attorneys’ constitutional, statutory and ethical obligations.

A new book set to be released today – “A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump” – will uncover one of Barr’s “most controversial and most consequential actions to date:” his “grossly misleading” summary of Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential. Ryan Goodman, for Just Security, provides a summary of the book’s pertinent points.

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump’s legal team is again attempting to block a grand jury subpoena for the president’s tax records, arguing that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s order to release documents is “overboard” and amounts to “harassment,” according to an amended lawsuit filed before a federal court yesterday. Vance is seeking to investigate alleged hush-money payments made to two women during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump’s civil action follows a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that made clear that the president was not immune from being investigated by local authorities; his lawyers now therefore seek to challenge the subpoena’s legality, arguing that the subpoena is too broad and “demands voluminous documents that relate to topics and entities far beyond the District Attorney’s limited jurisdiction under New York law.” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has recently conducted a declassification review of the fifth and final report by the Senate Intelligence Committee into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and has now returned the report to the Senate panel, meaning the much-anticipated report may be publicly released soon. The report, which focuses on the counterintelligence findings of their investigations, was sent by committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) to the ODNI in May and requested the office’s Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, to conduct the declassification review. The committee panel and ODNI will surely debate the review process and any redactions made over a few weeks. Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Election officials across the nation are vulnerable to cyberattacks originating through malicious phishing emails, a report released yesterday by cybersecurity group Area 1 Security found. The report found that over 50 percent of election administrators have “only rudimentary or non-standard technologies” in place to help protect against cyberattacks, with less than 30 percent using basic security protections to block phishing emails. It also pointed out that approximately 5 percent of election administrators use personal emails, which in itself is less secure, and that some use a custom email infrastructure that has been known to be targeted by Russian hackers during elections. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The $1 trillion GOP coronavirus relief package bill includes $1.75 billion for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and “the design and construction of a Washington, DC headquarters facility for the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” according to page 11 of the bill. The decision has been criticized; when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked about the rationale behind including such, he responded that reporters should ask the administration “why they instituted that be included,” adding, “Well regarding that proposal obviously we had to have an agreement with the administration in order to get started. And they’ll have to answer the question of why they insisted on that provision.” Jonathan O’Connell, Seung Min Kim and Erica Werner report for the Washington Post.

10 Democratic lawmakers are urging Anthony Tata, Trump’s controversial nominee for the position of undersecretary of defense for policy at the Department of Defense (DOD), to withdraw his nomination due to offensive and conspiratorial tweets he posted, according to a letter sent to Foreign Policy. The lawmakers, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, argue that the retired Army brigadier general has a record of “offensive and inflammatory comments” that render him unsuitable for the role. The urgent call comes following past reports that Tata had claimed former President Barack Obama was a “terrorist leader” and that former CIA Director John Brennan had tried to orchestrate an assassination of Trump; Tata did address his spurious claims and apologized in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.

Trump has tapped retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as the next ambassador to Germany,according to an announcement by the White House yesterday. The likely nomination has been celebrated by some as Macgregor is known for his constructively critical stance on military orthodoxy, whereas others have criticized him as an opportunist. “Colonel Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, author, and a consultant. Colonel Macgregor is widely recognized as an expert on force design and grand strategy,” the White House announcement states, adding: “He is a frequent radio and television commentator on national security affairs and his writings on military affairs have been influential in the transformation of United States ground forces, NATO, and the Israeli Defense Force.” Bryan Bender and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 4.3 million and killed at least 148,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been almost 16.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 654,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

More Americans have died of the new coronavirus than Union soldiers were killed in battle during the Civil War, a dire statistic that comes at a time when Confederate statues are being toppled across the country. Joe Murphy and Corky Siemaszko report for NBC News.

Senate Republicans yesterday released their roughly $1 trillion proposal for a fifth wave of pandemic relief aid, which includes a $400 cut in enhanced unemployment benefits, and sets the stage for negotiations with Democrats while Congress clambers to respond to the economic and public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The plan, which was introduced by GOP senators and committee chairpersons in a series of floor speeches yesterday evening, will include an array of component parts, including liability protections, a second round of direct payments to Americans and a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans meant to help keep the hardest-hit small businesses afloat. Clare Foran and Phil Mattingly report for CNN.

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, but the White House said in a statement there was “no risk” of Trump being exposed. O’Brien recently returned from a visit to Europe where he was photographed, without wearing a mask or social distancing, with several foreign officials, including his U.K. counterpart, Mark Sedwill; the U.K. ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn; and the French national security adviser, Emmanuel Bonne. Joan E Greve, Julian Borger and Ed Pilkington report for The Guardian.

Two of the most advanced experimental coronavirus vaccines entered the critical phase of their studies yesterday, with the first subjects receiving doses of vaccines developed by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. Researchers evaluating the vaccines plan to enroll 30,000 people in separate last-stage, or phase 3 trials, results of which will determine whether the vaccines work to prevent Covid-19, and whether they should be approved for widespread use. Peter Loftus and Jared S. Hopkins report for The Wall Street Journal.

China recorded 64 local cases yesterday, the biggest single-day rise since March, sparking fears the country faces another wave of the pandemic. Of those, 57 were found in Xinjiang, the Chinese region where authorities have been accused of widespread human rights abuses against Muslim minority people. Christian Shepherd reports for the Financial Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US 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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The Israeli military said yesterday that it had foiled a raid by a Hezbollah “terrorist squad” in a contested area along its northern border with Lebanon, resulting in an exchange of fire that capped days of building tension there. Isabel Kershner reports for the New York Times.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state television reported today, a drill intended to threaten the U.S. amid tensions between Tehran and Washington. The exercise, in a waterway through which 20% of all traded oil passes, highlights the lingering threat of military conflict between Iran and the U.S. after last summer saw a spate of incidents targeting oil tankers in the region. AP reporting.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un called his country’s nuclear weapons a solid security guarantee and a “reliable, effective” deterrent that could prevent a second Korean War, state media reported today. Kim’s remarks before war veterans marking the 67th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War again show he has no intention of abandoning his weapons as prospects dampen for restarting diplomacy with the United States. APreporting.

New Zealand has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following China’s imposition of a controversial national security law that gives it extensive powers over the semiautonomous city.Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said in a statement today that “New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” adding, “if China in future shows adherence to the ‘one country, two systems’ framework then we could reconsider this decision.” Al Jazeera 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)

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).