Early Edition: August 11, 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

President Trump was yesterday escorted by the Secret Service after a shooting outside the White House, interrupting Trump’s televised coronavirus briefing from the White House Briefing Room. The president was quietly told by a secret agent that, “we have shots fired outside,” before being escorted to the Oval Office with a number of his officials. Trump shortly returned and stated that someone armed had been shot outside the White House by a Secret Service officer; however, law enforcement officials have confirmed that no weapon was found at the scene. Clarence Williams, Anne Gearan, Carol D. Leonnig and Martin Weil report for the Washington Post.

The State Department said yesterday that an inspector general report has found no concerns that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke the law or did not follow procedures when he hastily pushed through over $8 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, the report, which the department is currently refusing to release, did make clear that the department: had failed to fully assess the effects such sales could have on the current humanitarian crisis in Yemen; and did not take the necessary and excepted steps required to minimize civilian casualties. Unclassified parts of the report are to be sent to the Congress today. Edward Wong and Michael LaForgia report for the New York Times.

The FBI has been subpoenaed by the chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), as part of his probe into the bureau’s Russia investigation. In a subpoena addressed to the bureau’s director Christopher Wray, Johnson stated he wanted records related to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including previous records given to the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz as part of his probe into Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump’s former campaign aide Carter Page. Tom Hamburger and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.

Trump’s legal team have insisted in court papers filed yesterday that the Manhattan grand jury subpoena over the president’s tax records was “overbroad” and issued “in bad faith,” after Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance filed a motion to dismiss the president’s latest challenge to the subpoena. Al Jazeera reporting.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will today hear oral arguments about whether it should order the dismissal of the case against Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn. The main issues the court must grapple with during the hearing are provided by Joshua Geltzer writing for Just-Security.

Trump confirmed yesterday that he may postpone the G-7 meeting until after the November presidential election, again pushing back the initial date. Trump is currently the chair of the Group of 7 and has confirmed that the White House has not yet formally invited other members of the group. Sarah Westwood reports for CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 5.1 million and killed nearly 164,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been more than 20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 736,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Trump is considering banning America citizens from re-entering the US if they are suspected of having coronavirus, a newly drafted regulation has revealed. The regulation, which draws on existing powers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), holds that the U.S. can prohibit a citizen or legal resident from crossing the country’s border if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease,” also making clear that any decision to block someone re-entering the country must “include appropriate protections to ensure that no constitutional rights are infringed.” Michael D. Shear and Caitlin Dickerson report for the New York Times.

US governors raise concerns about implementing Trump’s coronavirus relief executive orders and call on Congress to rectify the issue. A statement was issue by the National Governors Association, which pointed to “significant administrative burdens and costs” for individual states is the executive orders are executed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York (D), whose comments have been echoed by other governors, said: “When you are in a hole, stop digging. This executive order only digs the hole deeper.” He also added that Trump’s orders would cost the state of New York in excuses of $4 billion. The New York Times reporting.

Russia has approved the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed today whilst speaking at a government meeting on state media television. The vaccine has been developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Russia and expects tens of thousands of vaccinations to follow. “I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,” said Putin. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Carolyn Y. Johnson report for the Washington Post.

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.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

Chicago has seen an unprecedented number of protests, riots and violence in the city over the past few months, with more than 100 people arrested Monday after unrest and chaos escalated following the shooting of a man by a police officer Sunday. Police superintendent David Brown said the unrest “was not an organized protest” but instead “an incident of pure criminality.” Al Jazeera reporting.

A reflection on the Department of Homeland Security’s public narrative and rhetoric compared with its internal communications during its response to protests in Portland, Oregon is provided by Jeffrey Michaels for Just-Security.

LEBANON

The Lebanese government resigned yesterday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab confirmed, commenting that the explosion in the country’s capital, Beirut, was “the result of endemic corruption.” “Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change,” Diab said, adding: “In the face of this reality … I am announcing today the resignation of this government.” Reuters reporting.

A US contractor had knowledge of the explosive material stored in Beirut since at least 2016 and had made their concerns known, according to a U.S. diplomatic source. The source confirmed that the contractor, who has been working with the U.S. Army, had known about the ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port for over four years, after chemicals were reported by an America port security expert. Officials who work in the region have said that the contractor would have been expected to communicate its findings to the U.S. Embassy or Pentagon. Maria Abi-Habib and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.

The resignation of Lebanon’s government is “not nearly enough” – the Lebanese people need justice, answers and accountability, argues Anchal Vohra for Foreign Policy.

IRAN

President Trump pledged Sunday that he would achieve a speedy deal with Iran if he were to be re-elected in November, promising to reach a deal “within four weeks.” Gabby Birenbaum reports for The Hill.

The United Nations Security Council will vote this week on a US proposal to extend the arms embargo on Iran, a vote and move that many have expressed scepticism and concern over. Any extension of the embargo, which is set to expire in October, has been opposed by Russia and China. Reuters reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Issued a decree yesterday afternoon for the release of over 400 prisoners, a condition set by the Taliban as part of ongoing peace talks. “It is signed,” a source from the Afghan presidential Palace confirmed yesterday evening. Reuters reporting.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas has expressed his “dismay” to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over threats made by three Republican senators against a German port operator and its involvement in a pipeline project with Russia, a project that the U.S. has long opposed. Maas confirmed yesterday that he spoke to Pompeo yesterday about a letter sent by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Tom Cotton (AR) and Ron Johnson (WI) to contractor company Faehrhafen Sassnitz GmbH, but didn’t provide any further details. AP 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)