Early Edition: August 12, 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 Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday signaled that it will likely allow District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan to decide whether the case against President Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, should be dropped, the latest development in a long legal battle between: Flynn’s lawyers and the Justice Department, who requested for the case against Flynn to be dropped; and Sullivan, who refused to allow the case to be dropped so abruptly and instructed a retired judge to investigate the matter. The judges were being requested by Flynn’s legal team to grant a writ of mandamus; however, the judges made clear that Sullivan was not expected to just “rubber stamp” the dropping of the case, with Judge Nina Pillard stating: “What self-respecting judge would act without asking why the government wants to drop the case?,” adding: “Shouldn’t the judge be able to consider, in light of the strongest evidence on both sides, why the case should be dismissed?.” Pete Williams reports for NBC News.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY) said yesterday that the recently released report by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia clearly shows that Pompeo’s use of emergency measures was an abuse of this power. “No one ever doubted that the law provides for the authority to expedite the sale of weapons in the case of an emergency. The question was always, ‘Did the administration abuse that authority in order to ram through more than $8 billion in sales to Gulf countries?.” Engel said in a statement. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

An unredacted version of the OIG’s report reveals that Pompeo’s claim that an “emergency situation” warranted his hasty move is incorrect and that an emergency may not have existed at all. The public version of the report purports that an urgent issue required Pompeo to act quickly; however, the unredacted version makes clear that the State Department had deliberated over the issue for much longer than alleged. Jacqueline Feldscher and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has chosen California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, Biden announced in a post on Twitter yesterday. His announcement makes Harris the first African- American woman on a main U.S. party’s presidential ticket. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.

A man who was shot outside the White House yesterday by a Secret Service agent shouted threats to kill moments before he was apprehended, officials familiar with the matter have confirmed. Myron Basil Berryman, 51, remains hospitalized and in a critical condition. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham confirmed Berryman will be charged with assault on a police officer. Carol D. Leonnig and Peter Hermann report for the Washington Post.

Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) Ukraine investigations, part of his wider probe into the multiple investigations into Russian interference, “have become a conduit of Russian disinformation,” Ryan Goodman, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Asha Rangappa write for Just-Security, helpfully providing “a roadmap for understanding this disinformation operation currently in progress, using U.S. elected officials as a vehicle.”

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.1 million and killed more than 164,500 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been more than 20.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 742,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Lawmakers are pressuring President Trump to restore full funding for the National Guard and its ongoing response and support to handling the novel coronavirus in the US. Thirty-four senators signed a letter yesterday requesting restoration of the funds, pressing Trump to “re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories,” after the president earlier confirmed that the government would decrease its funding of deployment costs from 100 percent to 75 percent. Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Social media giant Facebook confirmed yesterday that in this year’s second quarter it removed 7 million posts for sharing disinformation or misinformation about the novel coronavirus, including promoting fake preventative measures and alleged cures. The data was released as part of Facebook’s sixth Community Standards Enforcement Report. Facebook will allow external bodies to independently review the data in early 2021. Rachel Lerman reports for the Washington Post.

Russia’s announcement yesterday that it had developed a coronavirus vaccine, dubbed Sputnik-V, has been met with scepticism and fear by experts, with Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, stating: “I think it’s really scary. It’s really risky.” Experts have expressed concerns that there is no evidence from large-scale clinical trials to support the rolling out of the vaccine as Russia is yet to complete necessary Phase III trials. Carl Zimmer reports for the New York Times.

Dr Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said yesterday that he seriously doubted announcements that Russian vaccine Sputnik-V was ready to be rolled out, stating: “Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” whilst speaking at a panel discussion with National Geographic. Justin Wise reports for The Hill.

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

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is investigating Aurora Police Department’s “patterns and practices,” a probe expected to be broad in scope and include the examination of police records on arrests, stops, searches, and use of force, and will interview residents and officials, according to the federal Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Jacey Fortin and Azi Paybarah report for the New York Times.

A video that showed protesters in Portland, Oregon, burning a Bible originated from a Kremlin-linked and financed news agency, according to reports by the New York Times. Analysis by the Times also points to a number of other stories by Russian news agencies that were clearly inaccurate. Matthew Rosenberg and Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.

BELARUS

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has called on the White House to withdraw its nominee to be the US ambassador to Belarus after a highly contentious and disputed presidential election there. Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is attempting to “steal” the election, adding that: “These tactics are unacceptable and signal the weakness of a leader who must resort to force in order to stay in power … While I support greater ties between the United States and the Belarusian people, now is not the time to be elevating the diplomatic relationship with Lukashenko’s government.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

The European Union “will be assessing the Belarusian authorities’ actions” in the recent presidential election and “conducting an in-depth review of the EU’s relations with Belarus,” Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the E.U. for Foreign Affairs and Security, said in a press release statement yesterday. He added that the E.U. may consider “taking measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results.”

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The United States yesterday revised its proposed resolution to extend the United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, with Council officials confirming the revised drafted may be finalized tomorrow and put to vote Friday. It has been reported that two provisions may have been removed, including one that allowed all U.N. member states to inspect cargo entering or transiting through their countries from Iran, if there was “reasonable grounds to believe the cargo” contained banned items. AP reporting.

Combustible materials, including cans of paint thinner, may have been the cause of the huge explosion in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, after accounts from port worker suggest that the materials had caught fire and then ignited the highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse in the port. Loveday Morris reports for the Washington Post.

South Korea’s defense ministry confirmed that the country plans to start building its first aircraft carrier next year, a “multi-purpose large transport vessel,” which will allow the country to better protect itself against threats and dispatch forces and equipment to needed regions. South Korea is expected to purchase U.S.-made F-35B fighter jets. Brad Lendon and Yoonjung Seo report for CNN 

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)