Early Edition: August 26, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.                     

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.   

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION

President Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf may have both violated the Hatch Act yesterday when they took part in a naturalization ceremony at the White House for five new citizens yesterday in a pre-taped video that formed part of the Republican National Convention (RNC)’s televised program, a number of legal experts have argued. Many have said the ceremony seemed to be part of the convention, which would violate criminal provisions within the Act that prohibit: executive branch employees from participating in political activities in their official capacity; and federal employees from using their position and authority to influence presidential elections. Trump, as president, is exempt from a number of civil provisions derived from the Act but not from its criminal provisions. Two Marines in uniform also opened the door for Trump as he entered the ceremony room, which, according to the Department of Defense (DOD), is prohibited because service members are banned from engaging in activities that may associate the DOD with any partisan political campaign or election. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has come under fire after virtually delivering his “America First” speech for the RNC while in Jerusalem, which many argue may have been unlawful but certainly broke State Department rules that prohibit senior U.S. officials from partaking in clearly partisan events A congressional probe was announced yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee – “The Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain,” Joaquin Castro, the subcommittee’s chair said in a statement. Reuters reporting.

US DEVELOPMENTS

New York Attorney General Letitia James yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, the US Postal Service (USPS) and the service’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in the hope to block recent policy changes imposed by the USPS, which she argues are intentionally aimed at disrupting mail-in ballots in the upcoming presidential election. The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., asked the court to rule that recent changes to the service were unlawful and unconstitutional and to block any further changes that could impact elections. James said the legal action would be joined by the cities of New York and San Francisco and the states of New Jersey and Hawaii. “The agency eliminated or substantially altered a number of operational policies and practices that were mission-critical to the timely delivery of mail,” the suit argued, adding: “Specifically, the U.S. Postal Service removed hundreds of collection boxes and high-speed sorting machines; cut or curtailed overtime; prohibited needed late trips and extra trips; and began a pilot program in almost 400 localities that turned how the agency processes mail on its head.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

President Trump said yesterday that he would nominate Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Secretary Chad Wolf to permanently serve in the role, a role that was initially intended to be on an interim basis. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

DHS officials relentlessly tried to make Trump and the White House appreciate the threat posed by right-wing terrorism and violent domestic, but their calls fell on deaf ears. Elizabeth Neumann, DHS’s former assistant secretary, said that during her position it was clear that there was “not going to be anything substantive done on domestic terrorism.” Mile Taylor, Former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s chief of staff, said that she wrote a “dream draft” for the new national counterterrorism strategy but that final draft barely made any reference to domestic terrorism. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.

If the nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), is allowed to expire in February it could cost the US billions of dollars, a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) revealed yesterday, which was tasked with exploring the potential impacts expected depending of the approaches taken by the United States. “The report shows that the already excessive and unsustainable financial costs to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal could soar even higher if the treaty expires in five months with nothing to replace it and the United States choses to increase the size of the arsenal,” said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

US IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP

Tony Pham, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s principal legal adviser, will take over to lead the agency, officials announced on yesterday, replacing current acting director Matt Albence. Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

The US District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday ruled against a 2017 Pentagon policy that requires immigrant military troops to serve between six months to a year before they are eligible for expedited citizenship. The judges ruled that the minimum service requirement is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the Administrative Procedure Act. In order to qualify for an expedited process under the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, troops need a certificate from the Pentagon, which prior to 2017 was provided at the beginning of their service. “The United States has a long history of allowing noncitizens to serve in its military and providing those who serve with an expedited path to citizenship,” wrote U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle, adding, “But in recent years, despite its need for noncitizen enlistees to fill its ranks, the Department of Defense … had placed obstacles in that path to citizenship.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

New government rules came into force yesterday that will restrict and delay some asylum seekers from working in the US for at least one year. The rules were driven by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and have upended the procedures for obtaining “employment authorization documents” (EAD) that are essential for legal employment in the United States: instead of receiving their work authorization within 180 days, under the new rules asylum seekers must wait at least 365 days – even then, the court has no strict timeframe in which it must reach a decision on EAD, and the issuing of the document is now discretionary rather mandatory. The new rules are set to be challenged in court next week. Al Jazeera reporting.

The recent Supreme Court case of DHS v. Thuraissigiam has reopened “settled questions about the Habeas Corpus Suspension Clause of the Constitution,” after the court was tasked with deciding if “expedited removal” proceedings of refugees, which preclude a person’s right to judicial review, including by habeas corpus, violated the Constitution, writes Gerald Neuman for Just Security. Neuman explains that the concern was just how broadly the court would uphold preclusion of judicial review, in which he argues that: “Justice Alito not only rewrote and marginalized prior precedent on habeas corpus, but reached out to decide an important procedural due process issue that his own analysis had rendered irrelevant.” He also makes clear that the decision affects not just refugees but all U.S. citizens.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 5.78 million and killed over 178,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 23.92 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 820,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week revised its guidance, stating that those who have been exposed to someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus “do not necessarily need a test” if they are not experiencing symptoms. The change has attracted a lot of criticism, with health experts arguing that many people who show no symptoms are responsible for spreading the virus. Erika Edwards reports for NBC News.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Commissioner, Stephen Hanh, apologized yesterday for overstating the benefits of convalescent plasma for treating hospitalized Covid-19 patients, after the FDA announced Sunday that it was authorizing the emergency use of the plasma. Hahn touted the treatment as life-saving and said the treatment would save 35 percent of the lives of those who receive the treatment, echoing similar comments made by President Trump, which prompted backlash from the experts. Richard Harris reports for NPR.

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

Two people were killed and one wounded during the third night of protests and unrests in Kenosha, WI, over the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, the Kenosha Police Department confirmed in a statement yesterday. It is unclear who shot the first man, but crowds were seen chasing a White man who fled the scene with a rifle in hand, which resulted in a struggle between those who tried to take the rifle and the assumed perpetrator, causing another to be shot from close range. Reuters reporting.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant yesterday scheduled a trial for October to decide if Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam can remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert R. Lee. Scott Calvert reports for the Wall Street Journal.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

China has accused the US of sending a U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone to “trespass” on live-fire exercises being conducted by the People’s Liberation Army’s Northern Theater Command yesterday, Wu Qian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Defense Ministry, said in a statement. “The trespass severely affected China’s normal exercises and training activities, and violated the rules of behavior for air and maritime safety between China and the United States, as well as relevant international practices,” Wu said, adding, “The U.S. action could easily have resulted in misjudgments and even accidents.” Brad Lendon reports for CNN.

President Trump’s administration is considering officially classifying the treatment of China’s Uighur Muslim minority community by the Chinese government as a genocide, two administration officials have revealed. Discussions are in their infancy and involve officials from the State Department, the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security, according to officials that spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity. Daniel Lippman and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.

“There are a number of distinct and cumulative actions the United States, its partners and allies, and other members of the international community can undertake—alone and in concert with each other” to address the “human rights tragedy” and treatment of Uighur Muslims and influence China to stop its actions, argues Beth Van Schaack for Just Security. Schaack provides a helpful explanation of how the United states and other “can mount a robust response to confirmed persecution against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.”         

ALEXEI NAVALNY

The Kremlim has denied any involvement in the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and rejected calls from Western leaders for an inquiry into the matter. The Russian government did say that it would be willing to open an investigation if it is presented with evidence that Navalny was actually poisoned. “We don’t understand on what grounds our German colleagues are in such a hurry to use the word poison … A substance has not been identified,” Russia’s presidential spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said during a conference call with reporters. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday expressed support of an EU probe into Navalny’s alleged poisoning. “The United States is deeply concerned by reported preliminary conclusions from German medical experts that … Navalny was poisoned,” Pompeo said, adding, “If the reports prove accurate, the United States supports the EU’s call for a comprehensive investigation and stands ready to assist in that effort.” Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US has proposed removing Sudan from its terrorism list in exchange for $330 million compensation to American victims of al-Qaeda, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the country to discuss the countries’ diplomatic future, sparking outrage within Sudan. The Guardian reporting.

The UN Security Council’s president, Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, yesterday rejected the Trump administration’s demand to snap back sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers. Djani said that the Security Council was “not in the position to take further action” as there was no consensus among the 15-member body. Courtney McBride reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE is set for next week, and aboard the will be Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser, and national security advisor Robert O’Brien. The trip signifies further progression between the two nations, with the flight reported to be the first ever direct flight from Israel to a Gulf Arab country. 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)