Early Edition: September 4, 2020

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

US GENERAL ELECTION

In a memo on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence branch warned federal and state law enforcement that Russia has sought to amplify concerns over the integrity of U.S. elections by promoting allegations that mail-in voting is linked to significant fraud. The memo found with high confidence that Russian actors have sought to undermine confidence in absentee voting since March through disinformation about unaccounted for ballots, outdated voter rolls, and the risk that the U.S. Postal Service would be overwhelmed by widespread mail-in voting. The warning came one day after it was reported that DHS withheld a July bulletin warning of Russian misinformation regarding the mental health of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. President Donald Trump and administration officials have frequently repeated claims about the vulnerability of mail-in voting and Biden’s mental health. Josh Margolin and Lucien Bruggeman report for ABC News.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and 10 fellow Democratic senators sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin requesting immediate sanctions on individuals and agencies acting on behalf of Russia and other countries to interfere with the 2020 election. The letter references intelligence findings that Russia has promoted efforts to portray Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as mentally or physically unfit for office. The letter cited legislation and executive orders authorizing sanctions against those who seek to interfere with a U.S. election “as an agent or on behalf of a foreign government.” Tom Hamburger reports for the Washington Post.

Several social media companies, including Facebook, announced moves on Thursday to limit political advertising, misinformation, and confusion surrounding the November election. Facebook said that it would bar any new political ads on its site in the week before Election Day, and would strengthen enforcement measures against posts that seek to suppress voting. Facebook also announced that it plans to quash any attempts by candidates post-election to falsely claim victory or question the validity of results by redirecting users to accurate information. CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned of an increased risk of civil unrest in the wake of the election. Critics noted that the announcement does not address misinformation shared in private Facebook groups or in posts by users. Mike Isaac reports for the New York Times

Attorney General William Barr stated on Wednesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had indicted a man in Texas for fraudulently collecting, filling out, and submitting 1,700 mail-in ballots; however, prosecutors involved in the case said “That’s not what happened at all.” In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Barr argued that mail-in voting was “very open to fraud and coercion” and cited the Texas case as an instance of such fraud. The former prosecutors who handled the case said that the investigation of possible voter fraud had initially suspected up to 1,700 fraudulent ballots but had instead uncovered one instance of a man attempting to collect ballots door to door, possibly for later alteration by others. Lawyers involved in the case estimated that the man might have collected a maximum of 12 ballots in a day. A spokesperson for DOJ stated that Barr had relied on a memo prepared by DOJ staff when making his comments, and that the memo had contained “an inaccurate summary” of the case. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide for voting by mail and voting in person is provided by NBC News.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

On Thursday night, federal law enforcement agents shot and killed an apparent antifa supporter, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, in an attempt to arrest him in the fatal shooting of a right-wing activist who was part of a pro-Trump caravan in Portland. “Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers. Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene,” the U.S.Marshals Service said in a statement. Hallie Golden, Mike Baker and Adam Goldman reporting for the New York Times.

Seven police officers involved in the asphyxiation death of Daniel Prude last spring have been suspended, according to Rochester, N.Y. mayor. Prude died after officers took him into custody using a hood and other restraints; his family had called police for assistance managing a mental health crisis. Public protests were sparked on Wednesday when the body camera footage of the circumstances of his arrest was released following a public records request from the family’s lawyer. Ben Chapman and Shan Li for the Wall Street Journal reporting.

A group of Tulsa residents, including a 105-year-old survivor, has filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the city and other government entities for ongoing damages from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The suit estimates damages from the massacre at between $50 million and $100 million and relies on precedent from the 2019 opioid-related judgment against Johnson & Johnson to argue that the massacre was a public nuisance with ongoing impacts. Brakkton Booker reports for NPR

US DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration has appointed Matthew Klimow, the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, as acting inspector general for the State Department. Klimow has previously served in the White House, NATO command, and the U.S. Army. Klimow’s role was made effective as of Aug. 31, but was not announced by the State Department until it was reported on Thursday by POLITICO. Klimow takes over the role of acting IG after President Donald Trump fired Steve Linick at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and then Linick’s replacement resigned after less than three months in the position. Linick had been conducting two investigations related to Pompeo’s actions as Secretary. Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will file an antitrust suit against Google within weeks at the urging of Attorney General William Barr, who has accelerated the timeline for bringing charges over the objections of several Justice Department lawyers working on the case. The DOJ is investigating Alphabet, the parent company of Google, Youtube, and numerous other products, for antitrust violations related to its dominance of online search, advertising, video sharing, and email platforms. The DOJ opened its inquiry in June 2019, and action against Alphabet’s dominant market position is supported by a wide coalition of lawmakers and states. However, Barr’s imposition of a September deadline for the filing of charges raised concerns among career DOJ lawyers that he is seeking an announcement of a popular enforcement action in order to provide political advantage to the Trump administration before the November election. Katie Benner and Cecilia Kang report for the New York Times

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ruled that the DOJ had the right to deny public access to large portions of FBI reports on witness interviews from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, finding that the information withheld by DOJ was properly exempted from public disclosure under the attorney work product privilege. Buzzfeed and CNN forced disclosure of thousands of pages of notes from witness interviews and other preparatory material under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year, but have reported that excessive redactions from these materials were unjustified. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO

The Department of Defense has restarted many domestic projects which were stalled or defunded to pay for a wall along the southern border. The decision to restore funding for 22 out of the 34 construction projects from which funds were diverted comes as several Republican incumbent senators whose districts lost planned military construction projects seek to defend their seats from challenges in the November election. The funds to revive the projects were secured by diverting funds from overseas projects, including some designed to improve defenses against Russia. Projects were revived in North Carolina, Colorado, and Arizona. The Pentagon said in a statement that the process to determine which projects should be executed in 2020 “obviously did not consider, nor was influenced by, the political affiliation of Members of Congress in whose district or state these projects reside.” Paul Sonne reports for the Washington Post

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals questioned DOJ attorneys about the Trump administration’s decision to exclude undocumented immigrants from census data when apportioning congressional seats. A coalition of state attorneys general and immigrants’ rights groups brought a challenge to the July decision to exclude undocumented immigrants, arguing that the decision violates legal and constitutional requirements to include all persons present in the United States in the census count, regardless of legal status. The judges on the panel appeared concerned about the process and rationale for excluding undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, since census forms do not ask for citizenship information. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill

President Trump has disparaged the intelligence of American military service members, asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades, and described service members who died in war as “losers,” “suckers,” and other insults. According to multiple unnamed senior aides who witnessed the remarks, in 2018 Trump declined to visit a cemetery where American war casualties were buried because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and remarked “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” On the same European trip, Trump described marines killed in battle as “suckers” for having lost their lives. A White House spokesperson categorically denied the report, as did the president in a series of tweets. Jeffry Goldberg reports for The Atlantic. The Associated Press’s James La Porta and the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz, Alex Horton, and Carol D. Leonnig confirmed parts of The Atlantic’s reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

One day after new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance was issued instructing states to prepare for distribution of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of October, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the vaccine development taskforce, stated that the possibility of having a vaccine ready for distribution by October or November was “extremely unlikely.” In a separate interview, the former director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC confirmed that it was highly unlikely that a vaccine would be available by November, and clarified that the guidance was not a prediction about a timeline but rather a policy to ensure that, when a vaccine is ready, states will be prepared to distribute it quickly. Christianna Silva 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.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

The European Union urged the United States to reverse financial sanctions targeting two senior officials of the International Criminal Court. “The International Criminal Court (ICC) plays an essential role in delivering justice to the victims of some of [the] world’s most horrific crimes…. The sanctions announced by the United States administration on 2 September against two Court staff members, including its Prosecutor, are unacceptable and unprecedented measures that attempt to obstruct the Court’s investigations and judicial proceeding,” said the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in a statement. Emma Anderson reports for POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS       

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu privately acquiesced to U.S. plans to sell arms to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite his later public opposition and claims that he had not assured the United States of Israeli cooperation. Officials familiar with the negotiations reported that Netanyahu chose not to block the deal in the context of the broader diplomatic negotiations which led to normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE last month. Mark Mazzetti, Edward Wong, and Michael LaForgia report for the New York Times

One month after the devastating explosion in Beirut, a Chilean rescue team identified possible signs of life under the rubble of a collapsed building. The rescue team was alerted to the presence of at least one body and one possible survivor by their search dog. Residents of the neighborhood said they had previously reported a smell of decomposition emanating from the building, but security forces and rescue teams failed to search the rubble for bodies or survivors. Security forces briefly forced the Chilean team to cease their rescue operations, saying that the necessary equipment could not be secured, but after intense public pressure and private efforts to secure equipment, the rescue efforts were resumed overnight. Timour Azhari reports for Al Jazeera.  

A repeatedly stalled prisoner exchange between the Afghan government and the Taliban was largely completed on Thursday, according to an Afghan government official. The completion of the exchange opens the door for direct negotiations between the government and the Taliban after the United States committed to securing the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in its deal with the insurgents in February. The few remaining prisoners are accused of killing American, Australian, or French citizens in Afghanistan; their release has been blocked by lobbying from these countries, though other American officials pressured the Afghan government to speed the release of the prisoners. The Afghan government initially resisted the prisoner exchange, but relented under pressure from the Trump administration. Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi report for the New York Times 

The Trump administration is expected to nominate foreign policy expert and Naval Reserve officer William Ruger to the post of ambassador to Afghanistan. Ruger has called for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and his expected nomination could signal Trump administration plans to further reduce U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Ruger previously served in Afghanistan and is currently vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. Rebecca Ballhaus reports for the Wall Street Journal.

A Russian national, Gregory Duralev, living in California with his American family is facing deportation proceedings due to what experts say is a politically motivated request by Russia for his arrest. Moscow used Interpol’s “Red Notice” arrest process to effectuate the request. Natasha Bertrand reports at POLITICO. 

About the Author(s)

Tess Graham

Postgraduate Fellow at Just Security; Research Scholar at NYU School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@tess_e_graham).