Early Edition: November 12, 2020

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

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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

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed yesterday his commitment to ensuring that the US military remains apolitical, stating: “We are unique among militaries … We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual,” during a speech yesterday alongside the newly appointed Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. Milley stressed that military has a duty to defend democracy, and will protect and defend the Constitution “regardless of personal price.” AP reporting.

President Trump’s recent promotion of loyalists to the Pentagon has brought to the forefront officials in support of a more aggressive approach to a speedier withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Among those propelled into new roles was Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, who will now act as a senior adviser and who has been openly in support of ending the U.S.’s involvement in Afghanistan. “A precipitous and what appears to be near total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan — not on a conditions-based approach advocated by our military, political and intelligence leadership but rather on an old campaign promise by President Trump now carried out by hyperpartisan Trump loyalists installed in a last-minute purge of DoD — is both reckless and will not make America safer,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA senior operations officer. Three aides who were promoted to senior ranks — Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff, Anthony J. Tata as undersecretary for policy, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick as acting intelligence undersecretary — have raised concerns about any intentions to force a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; however, they are not believed to have the authority to force Milley, or Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, into kicking-off military operations. Officials have also said that the promotions may be more to do with rewarding Trump allies and allowing for their résumé to be strengthen, and less about any plans for major military policy changes. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.

Lawmakers are set to continue with their Trump-era investigations and legal battles after Trump exits the White House. Republicans are plotting to broaden and intensify their investigations into the former Obama administration’s investigations into the Trump campaign and Russia, and press further into President-elect Joe Biden and his son Hunter; while Democrats continue with their legal battles over Trump’s financial records and testimony from his first White House Counsel Don McGahn. Biden is expected to have significant influence of those GOP-led investigations and Democratic attempts to issue subpoenas, with some House aides indicating that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would ultimately be responsible for deciding the direction and continued existence of the probes, in consultation with Biden’s transition team and administration. However, Pelosi and Biden will apparently have no bearing on investigations by Manhattan and New York prosecutors’ investigations into Trump and his finances. Republicans have also suggested that a new spate of declassifications by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe is on the horizon in an attempt to discredit the Russian investigation. Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.

Trump aides are planning to implement a list of executive orders and regulations on immigration, trade, health care, China and school choice before Biden’s inauguration. On a call Monday arranged by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, he asked senior aides to set out their three main goals by the end of the week that could be implemented within the next ten weeks, according to two people familiar with the call. The breadth of plans is acute; however, how legally binding the orders will be is questionable. Nancy Cook and Gabby Orr report for POLITICO.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: TRANSITION OF POWER AND ALLEGED VOTER FRAUD

The State Department is refusing to give President-elect Joe Biden or his transition team dozens of messages that foreign leaders have sent to the department, some sent over the weekend with the view that they would land on Biden’s desk, according to State Department officials familiar with the messages. Although Biden has reportedly been in contact, via his own channels, with foreign leaders, he is not benefiting from the logistical and translation support that the State Department’s operations center usually provides. Although in the past presidents, including Barack Obama, have made these calls using their own phones, there has usually always been the support of the department and so an official government record has been kept. Kylie Atwood reports for CNN.

Republican Sen. James Lankford (OK), who sits on the Senate Oversight Committee, warned yesterday that if Biden is not given access to the President’s Daily Briefings (PDBs) by Friday he will intervene. Allowing Biden’s access to the PDBs “needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task,” Lankford insisted. Alison Main and Caroline Kelly report for CNN

Biden has named Ron Klain as the new White House chief of staff, the transition team announced yesterday, the first White House official confirmed by the incoming president. Ken Thomas reports for the Wall Street Journal.

With growing accusations of voter fraud by Republicans, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced yesterday that the state will recount by hand all votes cast, with Biden currently holding a 14,000-vote lead. Many have expressed that the hand recount will likely be less accurate, but costlier, and must be completed by Nov. 20. However, Raffensperger maintained that a by-hand recount will improve accuracy, adding, “This will help build confidence … It will be a heavy lift. We will work with the counties to get this done in time for our state certification.” Stephen Fowler and Barbara Sprunt report for NPR.

Donations under $8,333 made to Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund” for what donors have thought would support Trump’s election challenges will not actually go towards those challenges but instead fund to a new political action committee (PAC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) and cover the Trump campaign’s debts. Although Trump does have a fund aimed at financing his recount strategy, unless a donor pays more than $8,333, none of that money will be used for its intended purpose; instead, 60 percent of a donation up to that amount will go to a new PAC, and the remaining 40 percent will go to the RNC. The PAC is said to be legally barred from using any of the funds on recounting matters, whereas the RNC is permitted, but not obliged. Maggie Severns reports for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 10.4 million and killed over 241,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has now been over 52.25 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.286 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report 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 DEVELOPMENTS

White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien criticized China over the recent firing of four Hong Kong legislators following the passing of a Beijing-led resolution that disqualified any lawmaker that supports Hong Kong’s independence. O’Brien said: “Beijing’s recent actions disqualifying pro-democracy legislators from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council leave no doubt that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has flagrantly violated its international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and its promises to the people of Hong Kong, including those under the Basic Law.” Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.

Iran is producing uranium in excess of the limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a confidential document from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s watchdog, revealed. The documents show that Iran has stockpiled 2,442.9 kilograms of low-enriched uranium as of Nov. 2, an increase of more than 337 kilograms from the last report on Aug. 26. The JCPOA allows for only 202.8 kilograms of uranium. AP reporting. 

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)