Early Edition: August 6, 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.

US DEVELOPMENTS

The Manhattan district attorney’s office subpoenaed President Trump’s longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, last year as part of its far-reaching criminal investigation into the president’s business practices. The investigation, which was initially focused on hush money payments made to two women alleging they had had an affair with Trump, has now been revealed to be more wide-ranging than initially expected, with a court filing this week stating: “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” has been unearthed, suggesting that prosecutors would investigate potential crimes involving bank and insurance fraud. David Enrich, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser report for the New York Times.

Acting State Department Inspector General (IG) Stephen Akard has resigned less than three months after Trump and Pompeo came under fire for ousting Akard’s predecessor, former IG Steve Linick. Akard’s last day is officially tomorrow, with his deputy, Diana Shaw, stepping up to fill the position. Pompeo provided little in response to the news, stating: “He left to go back home. This happens … I don’t have anything more to add to that.” Abigail Williams, Garrett Haake and Josh Lederman report for NBC News.

“Threat of cyberattacks by foreign adversaries and other sophisticated entities is real” and continues to grow and target the US electric grid, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said yesterday during a committee meeting on cyber threats to the grid. Murkowski added that the coronavirus has created a “unique opportunity” for cyber criminals to attack the United States’ “critical energy infrastructure.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged US companies to remove untrusted Chinese Apps from App stores and prevent their own apps from featuring in Chinese App stores, warning of the risks to U.S. security. Pompeo’s calls are part of the State Department’s “clean networks” initiative, which is focusing on ensuring American companies do not do business with untrusted and potentially harmful Chinese businesses. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

A Russian fighter jet yesterday intercepted two US reconnaissance planes that were approaching the Russia border over the Black Sea, news agencies have reported Russia’s defence ministry to have said. Reuters reporting.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE INVESTIGATIONS              

The much-anticipated investigation and report by John Durham, US Attorney for Connecticut, into the Trump-Russia investigations may be nearing its conclusion, those familiar with the matter have said. The investigation was ordered by Attorney General William Barr and requested Durham to look into the CIA’s and FBI’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Durham has requested to interview former CIA Director John Brennan, which Brennan has accepted. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

The CIA has resisted requests to testify before senators as part of a Republican-led probe into presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to sources familiar with the situation. The probe, which is led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and is investigating Hunter’s role on Ukrainian energy company Burisma’s board, has received a lot of criticism from the intelligence community and Democrats, with some describing Johnson as “toxic.” Andrew Desiderio and Natasha Bertrand report for POLITICO.

Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have refuted Democrats’ accusations that the Republican-led probe into the Bidens is plagued with the spreading of disinformation. The two GOP chairs wrote a letter dated yesterday accusing Democrats of using foreign election interference concerns to “knowingly and recklessly promote false narratives for political purposes.” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

A report released yesterday by the US State Department has identified sophisticated disinformation and propaganda campaigns conducted by Russia’s government, using Kremlin-linked new sites to spread disinformation on the coronavirus pandemic. The report, produced by the department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), does not address potential Russian propaganda in relation to the upcoming election, as this is outside the center’s mandate. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress yesterday that Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had secretly “neutered” Obama administration sanctions against Russia and advised a Russian diplomat that the Trump administration would “essentially neutralise” any US sanctions. Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) probe into the origins of the FBI’s and Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russian interference. Devlin Barrett reports for the Washington Post.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs said yesterday that more details are to be released concerning foreign election interference. Krebs said that a statement from a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) last month, which stated Russia, China, and Iran were interfering in the 2020 elections, is the “beginning” of communications with the U.S. public. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

US ELECTIONS               

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (SD) has disagreed with President Trump’s warning that mail-in-voting will lead to mass election fraud, instead encouraging voters to use the method in the wake of a surely fierce presidential election. Thune made clear: “I don’t want to discourage — I think we want to assure people it’s going to work. It’s secure and if they vote that way, it’s going to count.” Manu Taji and Clare Foran report for CNN.

Ending the Census Bureau’s population count a month early “hurts everyone. Even Trump,” the New York Times editorial board argues, explaining the damning effect it will have on Trump supporters.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

A charter commission has decided an amendment to disband the Minneapolis police department will not feature on the November ballot, after the commission said more time is required to thoroughly consider the city council’s proposals. Members of the commission are clearly of the opinion that the police department must change but believe the proposed amendment is flawed and must be carefully considered. Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill.

The former Atlanta police officer who was charged with the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks is suing the city’s mayor and the interim police chief over his firing from the department. Garrett Rolfe, who faces 11 charges, including felony murder, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and interim police Chief Rodney Bryant, arguing that his use of force had been justifiable and “was proper and in compliance with Georgia law.” His lawyers argue that Rolfe was fired “without an investigation, without proper notice, without a pre-disciplinary hearing, and in direct violation of the municipal code of the city of Atlanta.” Minyvonne Burke reports for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 4.8 million and killed more than 158,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there are close to 19 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 708,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The White House and Congressional Democrats have reached an impasse on key issues in the fifth coronavirus relief package, with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows yesterday making clear that negotiations have yet to reach an agreement on the sum of money to be devoted to the package, “trillions of dollars apart in terms of what Democrats and Republicans [want].” Some of the key policy differences that cannot be agreed upon include: the $600 weekly federal benefit for people who lose their jobs; the package’s price tag, with Senate Republicans offering $1 trillion and House Democrats offering $3.4 trillion, the latter bill being passed in May; and the amount of funding to be sent to states and local governments. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

Twitter and Facebook have removed a post shared by Trump that falsely claimed that children are “almost immune” from coronavirus. Twitter temporarily suspended Trump’s election campaign account from further posting until the “harmful Covid misinformation” was removed. BBC News reporting.

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.

BEIRUT EXPLOSION

The massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon has so far caused close to 150 deaths and over 5000 injuries, after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate has been identified as the probable cause. The large amount of potentially explosive material has been reported to have arrived in and been stored at the Beirut port since 2013 after a Russia vessel dropped the material off. Mary Ilyushina, Katie Polglase and Ali Younes report for CNN.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirms yesterday that “most believe” the huge explosion in Beirut Tuesday was “an accident,” contradicting President Trump’s earlier comments that the blast was an “attack.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Trump yesterday modified his claims of an attack on Beirut, accepting that the cause of the explosion is unknown.  “Whatever happened, it’s terrible,” Trumps said, adding: “I don’t think anybody can say right now [the cause]. We’re looking into it very strongly.” Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.

“The Beirut blast Is Lebanon’s Chernobyl,” argues Oz Katerji for Foreign Policy.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

US intelligence officials have warned against Saudi Arabia’s efforts to increase its ability to produce nuclear fuel that could be used for nuclear weapons. Classified documents have been circulated in recent weeks that indicate Saudi Arabia may be working with China to build facilities to produce nuclear fuel that could potentially be used to develop nuclear weapons. Mark Mazzetti, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad report for the New York Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that the US would next week advance a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an extension of the arms embargo on Iran. 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)