Early Edition: October 2, 2020

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

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

TRUMP: POSITIVE COVID-19 TEST

President Trump and the First Lady have tested positive for Covid-19, the president confirmed in a post on Twitter yesterday, which means he will not be present at events in the coming weeks. “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted. “We will get through this TOGETHER!” Rebecca Ballhaus and Catherine Lucey report for the Wall Street Journal.

“The Incapacitation of a President and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment: A Reader’s Guide,” has been republished by Just-Security, a scholarly analysis by Harold Hongju Koh, Phil Spector, Matthew Blumenthal, Sameer Jaywant, Chris Looney, Richard Medina and Nathaniel Zelinsky. The guide was originally published in Apr. 2018 and comprehensively explains what would happen if the president is removed, dies, is incapacitated, or, for some other reason, unable to fulfill their presidential powers and duties.

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump’s former national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, said yesterday that Trump is “aiding and abetting” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cast doubt on the US election system, speaking during an interview on MSNBC, in which he argued that by Trump refusing to call out Putin on what he’s doing – a “sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation, and denial” – Trump aids the Russian leader’s attempts to delegitimize the American electoral system. McMaster also said that Trump “missed an opportunity” to denounce White supremacism during the presidential debate Tuesday. “It should be super easy to condemn white supremacists,” he said. “I think these extremist groups bring more people in and draw attention because there’s this perception that they’re legitimate and not a fringe, hate-filled movement.” J. Edward Moreno reports for The Hill.

Trump yesterday denounced “all White supremacists,” including Proud Boys, two days after refusing to during the presidential debate. “I condemn the KKK, I condemn all White supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Trump’s condemnation followed comments Tuesday where he told the far-right group Proud Boys to “stand down and stand by,” refusing to publicly condemn White supremacists. Trump went on to say during his interview yesterday that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “should condemn also [anti-fascist group] Antifa. Antifa is a horrible group of people.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who was charged with espionage after releasing classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents related to US surveillance programs in 2013, has been ordered by a federal court to pay back more than $5 million he earned from his tell-all book and subsequent speaking opportunities, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down its judgement Tuesday, agreeing with the DOJ’s argument that Snowden’s book, “Permanent Record,” was published last year without approval from government, breaching contracts he signed with the CIA and NSA. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement that the court had also ruled that a constructive trust should be set up for the current and future royalties and earnings from the book and speeches to be put into. Jason Slotkin reports for NPR.

A group of leading Senate Democrats yesterday signed a letter demanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) release to the public a “widely distributed” Sept 3. bulletin by the agency’s Office of Intelligence and analysis (I&A) that alleged a foreign actor is attempting to undermine the legitimacy of mail-in votes in the upcoming election. The senators — including Minority Leader Charles Schumer (NY);  Mark Warner (VA), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Gary Peters (MI), the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar (MN); and Ron Wyden (OR), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee — sent a letter to DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf stating that: “The document has been marked ‘Unclassified/For Official Use Only,’ meaning that its release would not pose a risk to sources and methods and that it has already been widely distributed around the country through unclassified channels … It is now critical and urgent that the American people have access to this document so that they can understand the context of Trump’s statements and actions.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The House Intelligence Committee will today grill acting head of I&A Joseph Maher over a whistleblower complaint filed by Brian Murphy, the former I&A head, that accused the agency of downplaying Russian election interference and the risk of White supremacy, and will point specific allegations at Maher that his office has attempted to thwart Murphy’s hoped-for testimony before the panel by withholding documents and delaying security clearances for his attorneys. Today’s testimony follows subpoenas issued by the committee’s chair, Adam Schiff (D-CA), to the DHS in an attempt to force testimony and the handing over of documents. Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor, yesterday failed in his attempt to have a lawsuit between him and the Trump administration over his June memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” thrown out of court, with the court largely agreeing with the government’s argument that Bolton had signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to be privy to both classified information and sensitive compartmented information (SCI), which therefore required a prepublication review of the book before it could be published. In response to District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s ruling, Bolton’s lawyers have asked Lamberth to allow them to source documents that will prove that the administration’s attempt to block the book is not based on concerns over SCI but is an attempt to suppress information that would paint Trump in a bad light. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

Trump and his top aides yesterday indicated that they would oppose the Commission on Presidential Debate’s plan to change the format of the remaining presidential debates following the controversial clash Tuesday between Trump and Biden. In response to the commission’s announcement, Trump said in a post on Twitter, “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?,” signaling no intention to accept the changes. Trump campaigner manager Bill Stepien yesterday criticized several commission members for being partisan and anti-Trump and for making donations to Democratic candidates. Trump senior adviser Jason Miller called members of the commission “permanent swamp monsters” and likened them to Biden. Annie Linskey, Josh Dawsey, Chelsea Janes and Robert Costa report for the Washington Post.

Trump was able to rally huge numbers of predominantly republican-led state National Guard troops to the capital to quell growing unrest and protests over systemic racial injustice and police brutality,an investigation by the Washington Post has revealed. The investigation has revealed that as civil unrest hit the streets of Washington, D.C., particularly outside of the White House, Trump and his officials drew on obscure laws that made it easier for state governors to voluntarily send state troops across state lines to support the D.C. National Guard, which Trump is the commander-in-chief of. Trump did not order, but requested, governors’ support, with red states reportedly jumping at the president’s request, although blue states did not; of the 3,800 troops sent to the capital, 98 percent were from Districts where the governor was a Republican. The investigation makes clear that this request, however, was very different, with a Department of Defense (DOD) official telling the Post that it was the first time that a specific provision of federal law — 32 USC 502(f) — was used to give federal funds to pay for travel costs of state guard troops, which has historically been used only to reimburse states when troops are required to travel for training exercises. Aaron C. Davis reports for the Washington Post.

A group of US human rights lawyers yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its June order that imposed economic sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) employees, arguing the order breaches the Constitution and has prevented them from acting on behalf of victims affected by international crimes. The filing, which was lodged by the Open Society Justice Initiative before a New York district court, names Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several other administration officials, and argues that the order violates freedom of speech rights, and has led them to have to cancel speeches and presentations, end research, and draw back on their legal advice and assistance to victims of war crimes. Julian Borger reports for The Guardian.

Trump yesterday vowed to overturn a decision by the Navy SEALs to make its ethos gender neutral, stating the order is “ridiculous.” His announcement follows reports Monday that the Navy SEALs and the Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen had amended their ethos and removed words like “man” and brotherhood.” Dareh Gregorian reports for NBC News.

The State Department has announced plans to limit the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the US to 15,000 in the next fiscal year, which started yesterday, setting new historic low for the U.S.’s refugee admissions program, a notification sent Wednesday from the department to Congress has revealed. The department said the new cap was the administration’s attempt at prioritizing the “safety and wellbeing of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” adding that it expects more than 290,000 asylum claims from people already in the United States this fiscal year. It committed to offsetting the new cap by its commitment to providing overseas humanitarian assistance and addressing “conflicts that drive displacement in the first place.” Michelle Hackman reports for the Wall Street Journal.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 7.28 million and has now killed close to 208,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 34.32 million confirmed coronavirus cases and now over 1.02 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

House Democrats yesterday approved a $2.2 trillion package of coronavirus relief, after a bipartisan deal between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again failed. The bill was passed by 214-207 votes, and will make its way to the Senate for consideration, although many are skeptical that it will be received favorably by the GOP-led Senate. Mike Lillis and Scott Wong report 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.

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN CONFLICT

Armenia’s foreign ministry confirmed today that it is open to engaging with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in order re-establish a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh,where a conflict with Azerbaijan has erupted since Sunday. Reuters reporting.

Democratic and Republican members of the Congressional Armenian Caucus yesterday put forward a resolution condemning Azerbaijan’s violence against Armenia. The measure was introduced by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and 32 other members. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper yesterday made a rare visit to Algeria in an effort to build new defense relations and counteract Russia’s growing power throughout Africa. Missy Ryan reports for the Washington Post.

EU sanctions against Belarus are expected to come into force tonight, following attempts by Cyprus to veto the move until the European Union acted against Turkey over the highly-disputed eastern Mediterranean waters that have seen a growing conflict between Tukey, Cyprus and Greece. European officials eventually released a statement yesterday supporting Cyprus and Greece, and Cyprus then lifted its veto. “There will be no impunity for those who are responsible for the crackdown on demonstrators and opposition politicians,” the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said. Jennifer Rankin reports for The Guardian. 

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)