Early Edition: October 6, 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.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Eric Trump, the son of President Trump, was yesterday questioned under oath by the New York attorney general’s office as part of its civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization committed fraud. The president’s son has tried to delay the deposition by Letitia James, the attorney general for New York, until after Election Day but was yesterday questioned via a virtual hearing until around 5 p.m. over claims the family estate and the president “improperly inflated the value of Mr. Trump’s assets on financial statements in order to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits.” Ed Shanahan and William K. Rashbaum reports for the New York Times.

The State Department last month revoked the visa of Ukrainian fixer Andrii Telizhenko, who assisted Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuiliani’s efforts to discredit Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. His visa was revoked last month — shortly after the Treasury Department added Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach to its specially designated nationals list for being an “active Russian agent” supporting the Kremlin effort to interfere in the election — but was first reported on yesterday by Ellen Nakashima, David L. Stern, Natalie Gryvnyak and Paul Sonne for the Washington Post.

Marshall Billingslea, the top US envoy on arms control, yesterday met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Finland to discuss the countries’ disagreements over the expiring New START nuclear arms control treaty – and negotiations have reportedly made “important progress,” Billingslea wrote in a post on Twitter. Both sides have recently reached an impasse on the future of the treaty that is set to expire Feb. 2020 but which can be extended for five years; the United States has stood firm that it will only agree to an extension if Russia assists the Trump administration in agreeing an arms accord with China and if it agrees to include more classes of weapons in any future agreement. An administration official said: “This is the first time the U.S. has heard concrete proposals from the Russian Federation … We have an agreement on the way forward in terms of form. Where we have a lot of work to do is in terms of substance.” Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.

House Democrats are pressing ahead and broadening their investigation into several of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent speeches that they argue are highly politicized and unlawful. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Joaquin Castro (D-TX), chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter yesterday to the Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao and acting Legal Adviser Marik String requesting sight of the department’s legal guidance relating to three speeches Pompeo recently delivered, including one to the Wisconsin state legislature and a church in Texas last month and a speech Saturday at an event hosted by anti-abortion advocacy organization Florida Family Policy Council. “It is concerning that the Secretary is suddenly crisscrossing the country at taxpayers’ expense to speak with state legislators and private groups and that these events appear to be increasing in frequency as the November 3rd election approaches,” Engel and Castro wrote in the letter. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Lawyers for E. Jean Carroll, the woman who has claimed that Trump raped her in the 1990s, yesterday argued that the Justice Department’s decision to intervene in the defamation case brought Carroll was not supported by law, rejecting the department’s recent arguments that Trump had been acting within the scope of his office as President when he denied during interviews last year that he had raped Carroll in a New York Department store, thus could be defended by government lawyers and therefore funded by taxpayer money. “There is not a single person in the United States — not the President and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women who they sexually assaulted,” Carroll’s legal team wrote in a filing to a federal court, where they are seeking to argue that the department does not have the legal authority to support the president in the case against him. Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court yesterday reinstated the witness requirement for South Carolina mail-in ballots — a victory for Republicans — following a lower court’s decision that the requirement created a particular risk during the Covid-19 pandemic. The court issued an order yesterday evening that effectively restores the requirement for a witness to be present when a voter casts a mail ballot, although it did grant an exception for ballots already cast before the ruling and received within two days after. Although no Justices dissented, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were prepared to grant the request in full, which would have invalidated any unwitnessed ballots already cast. Zach Montellaro reports POLITICO.

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced yesterday that it would be kicking off the confirmation hearing for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, on Oct. 12, making clear that the recent outbreak of Covid-19 among senators and Trump officials would not knock the schedule off course. Committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the hearing would start at 9 a.m. EDT. Reuters reporting.

Two accused British ISIS militants, dubbed the “Beatles,” who have been detained by the US in Iraq over accusations they partook in beheadings of US hostages in Syria will be flown to the US this month, two government officials have confirmed. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by Kurdish-linked militia in 2018 and were eventually taken into custody by the United Stated where they remain detained in a military base in Iraq; they stand accused, among other things, of assisting in the kidnapping of U.S. aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Anna Schecter and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.

TRUMP: POSITIVE COVID-19 TEST

President Trump yesterday returned to the White House from hospital, suggesting that he had recovered from the coronavirus and that people should not let the virus dominate them, or allow themselves to be afraid. Scott Neuman reports for NPR.

Foreign adversaries are preparing to fill the information gap left open by the White House and Trump’s medical team about his current condition, taking advantage of a lack of transparency to spread disinformation, former and current U.S. national security officials have warned. Officials have expressed that foreign interferers will use Trump’s health and the public’s lack of certainty about briefings given on his condition to sow doubt about the government and the election process. Lara Seligman and Natasha Bertrand report for POLITICO.

A breakdown of Trump aides and allies that have tested positive for Covid-19, and what is known about their condition, is provided by Nick Niedzwiadek for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 7.46 million and has now killed over 210,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been close to 35.52 million confirmed coronavirus cases and now over 1.04 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The White House has blocked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s strict new standards on emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine that would have made it impossible for a vaccine to be authorized prior to Election Day, citing opposition from the pharmaceutical industry as the main reason for the move. The FDA’s guidelines would hold companies trialling vaccines to a higher standard of safety and effectiveness, and ultimately push the clearance of any vaccine back. Adam Cancryn reports for POLITICO.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday acknowledged that people can sometimes become infected by the novel coronavirus through airborne transmission, particularly in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation. The agencys announcement follows an update on its website last month which stated the virus is transmitted mainly through “aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes,” although it then quickly removed that, stating it had been posted in error and needed reviewing. The language has since changed, now instead acknowledging that transmission is possible, but reaffirming that spread of the virus is most common through close contact, which it defines as being within six feet of someone with the virus for over 15 minutes. Caitlin McCabe and Betsy McKay report for the Wall Street Journal.

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

A group of NGOs yesterday submitted a criminal complaint to a German federal public prosecutor on behalf of victims of sarin gas attacks in Syria, marking the first steps to holding Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government to account for attacks in 2013 and 2017 that saw over 1,600 gassed and killed. The filing accuses Syrian armed forces and government officials of being responsible for the attacks, and calls on the court to exercise its universal jurisdiction to prosecute these serious crimes and human rights violations. Beth McKernan 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)