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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: TRANSITION OF POWER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHALLENGES AND FOREIGN NATION RELATIONS
The General Services Administration (GSA) — which is in charge of federal buildings and government officials’ access to government funds — has yet to affirm President-elect Joe Biden and therefore allow for a formal transition of power to begin, sparking a number of former Republican White House officials and veterans to call on the government to hurry the process along. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has resisted affirming Biden’s win, with the agency releasing a statement Saturday stating: “an ascertainment has not yet been made. GSA and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law.” Until GSA and Murphy confirm that Biden is the president-elect, his transition team cannot access government funds or even communicate with federal agencies they will soon be staffing. GSA’s stalling has been explained by some as an attempt to remain non-partisan; however, Biden’s transition team, although initially respecting the agency’s position, has ramped up its pressure. “Now that the election has been independently called for Joe Biden, we look forward to the GSA Administrator quickly ascertaining Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the President-elect and Vice President-elect,” a transition spokesperson told POLITICO, adding, “America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.” The nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition’s advisory board said in a public statement yesterday: “While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin,” urging the administration to “immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act.” Alex Thompson reports for POLITICO.
The Trump campaign is planning a litany of messaging aimed at fueling its unsubstantiated claims that President Trump lost the election due to voter fraud and illegal ballot-counting, according to three sources familiar with the plans. One tactic will be to present obituaries of people the campaign will claim voted in the Nov.3 election and is toying with the idea of having campaign-style rallies to push the message that votes must be recounted, according to two sources, with son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, attorney Rudy Giuliani and campaign adviser Jason Miller urging the rallies to get underway. The messaging effort aims to create enough doubt about the results that secretaries of state in key battlegrounds feel obliged to initiate investigations or recounting of ballots, which will allow the Trump campaign more time to action its lawsuits. Pamela Brown and Sarah Westwood report for CNN.
The Trump campaign’s recent examples of voter fraud instances in Nevada actually center on members of the military and their families who legally voted after being transferred elsewhere. Trump’s campaign attorneys last Thursday sent Attorney General William Barr a list of over 3,000 unnamed individuals who “appear to have improperly cast mail ballots” in Nevada — however, a few hundred of these are connected with military members who have a new ZIP code because they were moved to another military base. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said the list includes changes of address to at least 129 Army/Air Post Office addresses, 13 Fleet Post Offices and 15 Diplomatic Post Offices, all of which are designations of military bases. Zusha Elinson and Sara Randazzo report for the Wall Street Journal.
Trump, his campaign and his team of lawyers have made clear that they do not plan to concede anytime soon, with a spate of lawsuits and political tactics expected to plague the coming weeks and months. “Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated,” Trump said Saturday, adding, “The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots.” Lauren Egan and Shannon Pettypiece report for NBC News.
Kushner and first lady Melania Trump have reportedly advised Trump to accept Biden’s victory, according to two sources, while Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, continue to press him to fight the results. Kaitlan Collins, Kate Bennett, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak report for CNN.
An explainer of the Trump campaign and GOP’s allegations of election irregularities in five key states, including lawsuits and public statements, is provided by David A. Fahrenthold, Elise Viebeck, Emma Brown and Rosalind S. Helderman for the Washington Post.
The Intelligence Community has said that it still has seen no evidence of foreign adversary attacks on mail ballots. “We have nothing new to add to our previous statements,” FBI spokesperson Carol Cratty said, while Dean Boyd, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said: “Our assessments have not changed.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
Biden and his transition team plans to roll out a number of day-one executive orders and actions aimed at undoing Trump policies. Their initial focus is expected to be the coronavirus pandemic, in which a task force is scheduled to be formally announced today. Next, focus will shift to a series of Trump’s foreign policy actions, including the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization (WHO), and the travel ban into the country for some Muslim-majority nations — Biden also plans to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to remain in the United States. Eric Bradner and Sarah Mucha report for CNN.
Biden receives congratulations from a number of world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
Iran’s leaders have expressed conflicting views on Biden’s victory: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for Biden to focus on diplomacy as key to better relations with the country, stating: “an opportunity for the next US government to make up for past mistakes and return to the path of adhering to international commitments with respect to global rules,” whereas Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a post on Twitter: “The situation in the US & what they themselves say about their elections is a spectacle! This is an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the US. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear, the definite political, civil, & moral decline of the US regime.” Al Jazeera reporting
An explainer of the implications of Biden’s victory for US-Iranian relations is provided by Maziar Motamedi for Al Jazeera.
The Chinese government today avoided answering questions on if and when it would congratulate Biden on his victory, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying only that China would act in “accordance with international practice.” Ben Westcott, Steven Jiang and James Griffiths report for CNN.
An explainer of the key challenges Biden is expected to face with foreign nations — including, China relations, Russia, the Middle East, Europe and the ongoing Brexit dispute, and North Korea’s nuclear threat — is provided by Rick Gladstone for the New York Times.
Trump will lose his special Twitter protections in January when Biden takes office Jan. 20 and will subject to the same rules as any other user, the social media giant confirmed last week. Elizabeth Culliford reports for Reuters.
Five takeaways from the battle for the Senate are provided by Alexander Bolton for The Hill.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 9.97 million and now killed over 237,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has now been over 50.49 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.257 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has announced its coronavirus task force, which will include Rick Bright, a former Trump administration whistleblower who alleged that his early warnings about the pandemic were pushed aside and ultimately led to his ousting. The task force will be chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University’s Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. Other members include Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Dr. Zeke Emanuel, an ex-Obama health adviser and one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act. Sarah Mucha reports for CNN.
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 US DEVELOPMENTS
The Supreme Court will tomorrow hear a case on potentially abolishing the Affordable Care Act, which if accepted will upend the health-care system in many ways and for many people. If the nation’s court overturns the Act: health insurance for over 23 million Americans will collapse; flu jabs, cancer screening and other preventative care, including administering coronavirus vaccines, once one exists, will no longer be free of charge. Amy Goldstein reports for the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is working with Israel to issue a “flood” of new sanctions against Iran, two Israeli sources briefed on the plans told Axios. U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela and Iran Elliott Abrams travelled to Israel yesterday and discussed the planned sanctions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and is also expected to discuss the plans this week with Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.
Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander of the Libyan National Army, faces a number of lawsuits in the US over claims he committed war crimes in Libya’s civil war — the suits target a number of US assets Haftar owns as the source of compensation for his alleged victims. Haftar has reportedly amassed 17 properties in Virginia alone, worth over $8 million, according to public property records, court documents, and an asset-tracing document. Jared Malsin and Beniot Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for the US to provide evidence to support its recent sanctions against prominent Lebanese politician Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, for his support of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. AP reporting.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev yesterday claimed that his country’s forces had taken Shusha, the second-largest city in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, although Armenian officials immediately denied the claim. David Gauthier-Villars and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
The defence ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region confirmed today that there has been a further 44 casualties among its military, upping the military death toll to 1,221 since the conflict with Armenian and Azeri forces broke out Sept. 27. Reuters reporting.
Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci will today appear before the Kosovo Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, after recently resigning due to being charged with alleged war crimes. AP reporting.