Early Edition: August 27, 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

Lt. Col Yevgeny Vindman, the brother of Alexander S. Vindman, a central witness in the impeachment proceedings, was the subject of retaliation from the White House after he raised concerns about President Trump’s link to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reported “multiple allegations” of ethical violations and sexist behavior by top officials, including national security advisor Robert O’Brien, according to a whistle-blower complaint Vindman’s lawyers submitted to the Pentagon’s watchdog earlier this month. The complaint was first revealed by House Democrats, who yesterday urged Inspector General (IG) Sean O’Donnell to investigate what they described as a “concerted effort” by the Trump administration to retaliate against the brothers. AP reporting.

House Democrats are pushing for a federal investigation into whether Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Secretary Chad Wolf violated the Hatch Act when he appeared with Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC) yesterday, where he partook in the naturalization of several Americans. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter yesterday to U.S. special counsel Henry Kerner to set out their arguments for Wolf’s alleged violations of the Act, which prohibits 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. A separate letter sent to Kerner by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Don Beyer (D-VA) urged the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to investigate any federal employees who may have appeared in their formal role to promote partisan political agendas during the RNC. Mike Lillis reports for The Hill.

The intelligence community has contradicted Trump’s warnings of voting by mail, concluding that it sees no signs of foreign countries attempting to undermine mail-in ballots and the upcoming presidential election. “We have no information or intelligence that any nation-state threat actor is engaging in any activity to undermine the mail-in vote or ballots,” a top official within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said yesterday, joining officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI in speaking to reporters on the issue, all speaking on condition of anonymity. Miles Park reports for NPR.

Navy officials are investigating whether a sailor is to blame for a fire that engulfed the USS Bonhomme Richard in July, defense officials have confirmed, pointing to arson as the possible cause of the blaze that burned for more than four days and injured over 60 military personnel and firefighters. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ national response team, is investigating. “The Navy will not comment on an ongoing investigation to protect the integrity of the investigative process and all those involved,” said Lt. Tim Pietrack, a Navy spokesperson, adding, “We have nothing to announce at this time.” Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill.

TRUMP FINANCIAL RECORDS

The House Intelligence Committee yesterday announced it had narrowed the scope of its subpoena to Deutsche Bank AG for President Trump’s financial records in-line with a recent Supreme Court judgement that stressed that subpoenas of Trump’s records must demonstrate a specific need for the information sought. Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a memorandum to lawmakers that his committee had whittled down its specific requests within the subpoena to a certain timeframe and type of information. Reuters reporting.

The FBI has done nothing to probe into Trump’s foreign financial ties, a legal analysis released by Schiff has argued. Schiff’s assessment was contained in a footnote and formed part of his wider probe into Trump’s finances. “Based on the Committee’s review, it does not appear that Special Counsel Mueller issued any grand jury subpoenas to obtain the President’s financial records. The Committee also has reason to believe, based on its oversight work, that the FBI Counterintelligence Division has not investigated counterintelligence risks arising from President Trump’s foreign financial ties,” Schiff wrote in his analysis, adding that Mueller had issued no subpoenas to pursue further details about the president’s foreign financial ties. Kyle Cheney and Zachary Warmbrodt report for POLITICO.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

The National Guard and federal agents were yesterday deployed to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in order to assist local law enforcement with responding to rioting and unrest in the region over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, the DOJ said in a statement yesterday. “We have assisted Wisconsin in the deployment of almost 1,000 National Guard and over 200 federal law enforcement personnel, which include FBI and U.S. Marshals,” White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said. Reuters reporting.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday that a federal civil rights investigation had been initiated into the shooting of Blake by officer Rusten Sheskey. “The federal investigation will run parallel to, and share information with, state authorities to the extent permissible under law,” the department said in a statement. Julie Bosman and Sarah Nervosh report for the New York Times.

A 17-year-old male from Illinois has been arrested and charged in connection with the fatal shooting of two protesters in Kenosha, according to the police in Antioch, Illinois. The accused, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been charged with first-degree intentional murder after shots were fired Tuesday during protests. Mark Guarino, Mark Berman, Jaclyn Peiser and Griff Witte report for the Washington Post.

US POSTAL SERVICE

The US Postal Service (USPS) spent over $500 million on questionable overtime, the Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service revealed in a new report. The watchdog’s report, dated Aug. 25, criticized the service’s handling of overtime, which totaled over $5 billion in the last fiscal year, and found that there had been approximately $522 million in questionable overtime costs, with 43 percent of staff logging unauthorized overtime. It also stated that over 4,000 employees last year made more money from overtime than from their normal pay. Paul Ziobro reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), chair of the House Oversight and Reform’s subcommittee on government operations, yesterday called for USPS’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to provide details on his recent communications with all those linked to President Trump’s re-election campaign, following DeJoy’s testimony before the panel earlier this week, where he said he expressed to friends “associated” with Trump’s campaign that the president’s attack on mail-in voting was “not helpful.” Connolly, in a letter sent to DeJoy, gave the USPS chief until Sept. 2 to provide all relevant communication information, whether via personal or official platforms. “As a threshold matter, it is concerning that you, in your capacity as Postmaster General, would be communicating secretly with anyone associated with the Trump campaign. You have testified repeatedly that, by statute, the Postal Service should be independent and removed from politics. Engaging in undisclosed contacts with Trump campaign officials directly undermines these goals,” Connolly wrote in his letter. Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.82 million and killed close to 180,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 24.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 826,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent announcement that those who have been exposed to someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus do not necessarily need a test was directed by the White House’s coronavirus task force. The CDC’s change in guidelines, which says a test is only required if symptoms emerge, has been the focus of criticism and denounced for causing public confusion, impeding contact tracing and potentially leading to an increase in coronavirus cases. Adm. Brett Giroir, who leads coronavirus testing for the Department of Health and Human Services and serves on the White House’s task force, acknowledged that the guidelines were reviewed and edited by members of the task force but stressed there was no political interference. Richard Harris reports for NPR.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of a coronavirus test that costs $5 and produces a result in 15 minutes without the use of lab equipment, with manufacturer Abbott stating it could produce 50 million antigen tests each month. The test is designed to be used within seven days of noticing symptoms and will provide a result on a small stick, similar to over-the-counter pregnancy tests. David Lim reports for POLITICO.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS          

Iran has agreed to give International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, access to two suspected former nuclear sites in the country, a joint statement by Director General of the IAEA and the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran revealed yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting.

US troops were injured Tuesday in a collision with a Russian military vehicle in northeast Syria, with at least four troops suffering mild concussion-like injuries, U.S. officials confirmed yesterday. “At approximately 10 a.m. (Syria Time), Aug. 25, a routine Defeat-ISIS Coalition security patrol encountered a Russian military patrol near Dayrick, in northeast Syria,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said in a statement yesterday afternoon, adding, “During this interaction, a Russian vehicle struck a Coalition Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) causing injuries to the vehicle’s crew.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

China yesterday launched an “aircraft-carrier killer” missile into the South China Sea, which many have said was a retaliatory move in response to allegations it made that U.S. spy planes had entered a “no-fly zone.” 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)