The Early Edition: September 8, 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. 

LOUIS DEJOY: ALLEGED CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION REIMBURSEMENTS

House Democrats are opening an investigation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Trump and fund-raiser for the Republican Party, and called for his immediate suspension following accusations that he reimbursed employees for campaign donations they made to his preferred political candidates, an arrangement that would be unlawful. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement late yesterday that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which she chairs, would start an inquiry, saying that DeJoy may have lied to her committee under oath. Maloney also urged the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service to immediately suspend DeJoy. Amy Gardner reports for the Washington Post.

A New York Times review of campaign finance records reveals that over a dozen management-level employees at New Breed, DeJoy’s former company, would regularly donate to the same candidate on the same day, often signing checks for an identical sum of money. One day in October 2014, for example, 20 midlevel and senior officials at the firm contributed a total of $37,600 to the campaign of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) who was running to unseat a Democratic incumbent. Each official wrote a check for either $2,600, the maximum permitted donation, or $1,000. Catie Edmondson, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.

The allegations against DeJoy appear to break three federal laws, all of them serious, according to campaign finance experts, in addition to campaign finance laws in North Carolina, which is where New Breed was headquartered, Amber Phillips writes in an analysis for the Washington Post. 

US GENERAL ELECTION

President Trump suggested yesterday that China is interfering in the 2020 election and seeking to hurt his reelection bid by inciting race protests, sharing an article on Twitter penned by a columnist whose claims do not align with the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of Beijing’s efforts so far. These comments from Trump, and similar claims that have been made by many of his appointees, seek to achieve the same aim: hyping up the theory that China is meddling to get Biden elected, while downplaying substantiated reports that Russia is attempting to help Trump win again, like it did in 2016. Zachary Cohen reports for CNN.

An important piece about the prospects for US electoral violence — and how to preserve democracy and prevent a constitutional crisis, was written by Rosa Brooks, co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project, 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 JUSTICE REFORM

Several naked, or near-naked, protesters gathered yesterday in downtown Rochester, in upstate New York, wearing “spit hoods” over their head in a reference to the killing of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died there in March days after police placed a mesh hood over his head as he knelt naked and restrained on the street. The six demonstrators, some with “Black Lives Matter” written on their backs, sat silently with their hands behind them, on a rain-slicked street outside the city’s police headquarters. Reuters reporting.

The mayor of Rochester, N.Y., is pledging changes to the city’s police department after five nights of protests over the death of Daniel Prude after his arrest in March. At a news conference on Sunday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren promised to reform how the city and its police respond to mental health crises — including transferring some services out of the police department. Sarah McCammon reports for NPR.

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump, under fire for alleged remarks about veterans, has a long track record of disparaging military service, and many of his comments are memorialized in television interviews and the recordings of radio conversations with shock jocks, dating to his years as a private citizen and businessman. The president and his aides are vehemently denying a report in the Atlantic in which the president is quoted vilifying U.S. soldiers, including calling those killed in combat “losers.” Michael Kranish reports for the Washington Post.

Trump has long been dissatisfied with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and White House officials have spoken to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about taking the top Pentagon job should Trump decide to fire Esper, three senior administration officials said. Two senior administration officials said Trump discussed the post directly with Wilkie at the White House last month; two other senior administration officials said Wilkie had senior-level conversations with the White House about becoming Trump’s next defense secretary. Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube report for NBC News. 

White supremacists pose the gravest terror threat to the United States, according to a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security. Two later draft versions of the same document — all of which were reviewed by POLITICO — detail the threat from white supremacists in slightly different language. But all three drafts characterize the threat from white supremacists as the deadliest domestic terror threat facing the U.S., listed above the immediate danger from foreign terrorist groups. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.

A former senior F.B.I. agent at the center of the inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Trump campaign’s links to Russia defends the handling of the probes and declares President Trump a national security threat in a new memoir, while conceding that the bureau made mistakes that upended the 2016 presidential election. Peter Strzok who was removed from the special counsel’s team and later fired over several anti-Trump texts he’d sent, has mostly kept quiet as the president and his supporters have derogated him; however his new book, “Compromised,” is released publicly today. Adam Goldman reports for the New York Times.

Joe Dunford, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participated in a wide ranging interview with the Boston Globe to offer his perspective on some of the most critical national security challenges facing the United States — including the challenges facing the military, the US role in a changing geopolitical landscape, and the increasing military threat posed by China and Russia. Brian MacQuarrie reports for the Boston Globe.

In a new book being published today, Michael Cohen says Trump “admires” ruthless dictators and “openly mocks” the working-class Americans he has tricked into supporting him. Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, wrote  “Disloyal: A Memoir” during his jail term for Trump campaign finance violations. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

The UK AND BREXIT

The UK is working on new legislation that will override major parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty, risking the collapse of trade negotiations with Brussels. Sections of the internal market bill — due to be publicly released tomorrow — are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, according to three people with knowledge of the plans. The move would “clearly and consciously” subvert the agreement on Northern Ireland that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed last October to avoid a return to a hard border in the region, one person familiar with the plans said. Peter Foster, Sebastian Payne and Jim Brunsden report for the Financial Times. 

The head of the UK government’s legal department has quit over Boris Johnson’s proposal to override the Brexit divorce deal with the European Union. Jonathan Jones is the sixth senior Whitehall official to resign this year, amid rising tensions between the prime minister and employees at the top of the civil service. Sebastian Payne, George Parker, Peter Foster, and Jim Pickard report for the Financial Times. 

Boris Johnson privately told American diplomats that President Trump was “making America great again,” according to leaked meeting notes. The notes, taken during high-level UK-US meetings, also show that Trump pushed back on former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plea for solidarity from Trump over the 2018 Skripal chemical attack. Ben Riley-Smith reports for The Telegraph.

CORONAVIRUS

India yesterday surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, behind only the United States. India added 90,802 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its total past 4.2 million. Only the United States, with 6.2 million cases, has documented more. Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report for the Washington Post.

Chinese intelligence hackers pursuing coronavirus vaccine research conducted digital reconnaissance on the University of North Carolina and other schools carrying out cutting-edge research. Russia’s premier intelligence service, the S.V.R., targeted vaccine research networks in the United States, Canada and Britain, espionage efforts that were first discovered by a British spy agency monitoring international fiber optic cables. Iran, too, has drastically ramped up its efforts to steal information about vaccine research, and the United States has increased its own attempts to track the espionage of its adversaries and bolster its defenses. Julian E. Barnes and Michael Venutolo-Mantovani report for the New York Times.

Across America, states and cities have made various fiscal maneuvers to stay solvent and are planning more in case Congress cannot agree on an aid package after the August recess. Local officials are cutting funding for everything from education and health care to orchestra subsidies. Mary Williams Walsh reports for the New York Times.

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 

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting to avoid extradition to the US from Britain, failed yesterday in a bid to adjourn until January hearings that resumed after months of delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison on espionage charges. Reuters reporting.

Saudi Arabia has issued “final verdicts” against eight suspects in the murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 — sentencing them to prison terms between seven and 20 years, according to a statement by a public prosecutor spokesperson carried by the Saudi state-run news agency. The statement did not name the defendants, but they were all thought to be members of a 15-man hit squad that traveled to Turkey from Saudi Arabia in October 2018 before killing and dismembering Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The rulings came after a trial that was closed to the public and the news media and that was condemned by human rights groups as lacking transparency. Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been taken out of his medically  induced coma, doctors in Germany said yesterday, after the prominent Kremlin critic fell ill from poison on Aug. 20 during a flight from Siberia to Moscow. Matthew S. Schwartz reports for NPR.

President Trump and US Ambassador Richard Grenell essentially restated existing Kosovo-Serbia pledges and promoted them as a big new agreement, Majda Ruge writes in the E.U. edition of POLITICO, commenting, the main purpose of last Friday’s ‘deal’ “was not to advance dialogue but to advance Trump’s reelection campaign.” Although Grenell claimed that the U.S. had come up with something “new” and “creative,” most of the agreements already exist within the framework of the EU negotiations and Berlin process, or as independent initiatives — including infrastructure projects, regional cooperation, border crossing points, the recognition of diplomas and missing persons and IDPs.

A Belarus opposition leader has reportedly been detained at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border the day after her disappearance. Witnesses say Maria Kolesnikova yesterday was seized in central Minsk and bundled into a minibus. BBC News reporting.

The Philippine president has pardoned a US Marine in an unexpected move that will free him from imprisonment for the 2014 killing of a transgender Filipino woman that sparked uproar in the former American colony. Teodoro Locsin Jr, the Philippine foreign secretary, said in a Twitter post that Rodrigo Duterte had “granted an absolute pardon” to L/Cpl Joseph Scott Pemberton “to do justice,” but did not give further details. A leftwing human rights group, Karapatan, immediately criticized the pardon as a “despicable and shameless mockery of justice and servility to US imperialist interests.” AP reporting.

A US soldier was wounded in Somalia yesterday when al-Shabaab attacked US and Somali forces, according to the U.S. military. Al-Shabaab attacked the forces using “a vehicle employed as an improvised explosive device and mortar fire,” US Africa Command said in a statement. The wounded service member is in stable condition and is receiving treatment for injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening. The U.S. military also said three other Somali soldiers were injured and an al-Shabab extremist was killed during the attack. Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne report for CNN.

Greece said it will bolster its military with new arms, troops, and the development of its defense industry as a tense standoff with neighboring Turkey has triggered concerns of open conflict between the two NATO allies. Al Jazeera reporting.

China is launching its own initiative to set global standards on data security, responding to US efforts to persuade like-minded countries to ringfence their networks from Chinese technology. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the initiative today at a Beijing seminar on global digital governance, pointing to growing risks to data security and what he described as attempts to “politicize security issues and smear rival countries on technology matters” — in an apparent jab at Washington. Chun Han Wong reports for The Wall Street Journal. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).