Early Edition: November 13, 2020

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

U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

On Thursday night, a handful of news outlets projected Joe Biden the winner in Arizona, including CNN, the New York Times, and NBC News. This brings Biden’s projected electoral votes to 290, as some news outlets still haven’t projected the winner in North Carolina and Georgia. He needed 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. Biden is also the first presidential candidate in U.S. history to surpass 78 million votes, and has won an estimated 5 million more votes than President Donald Trump. 

In a joint statement, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and its election partners concluded that the November election was “the most secure in American history.” “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the statement reads. 

The Trump campaign’s election lawsuits have little to no chance of success. “All told, Trump’s campaign has either filed or joined a dozen election-related lawsuits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, alleging that counties used faulty machines, improperly submitted ballots, violated election laws, tampered with ballots to make the votes legitimate and a host of other allegations that seek to discredit the voting processes in those states, particularly in largely populated counties that turned out for Biden … Legal experts have said it’s doubtful that any of these cases will result in an election victory for Trump.” Crystal Hill reports for Yahoo News

Trump continues to raise improbable and undemocratic scenarios for staying in the White House, while his advisers tell him he doesn’t stand much of a chance at overturning the election results. At a White House meeting on Wednesday, Trump asked his advisers “whether Republican legislatures could pick pro-Trump electors in a handful of key states and deliver him the electoral votes he needs to change the math and give him a second term, according to people briefed on the discussion.” Maggie Haberman reports for the New York Times

As his battle to overturn the election results continues, Trump is missing in action from his day job: president of the United States. Trump spent Thursday “sequestered from public view, tweeting grievances, falsehoods and misinformation about the election results and about Fox News’s coverage of him.” David Nakamura reports for the Washington Post

When Trump leaves office, he’ll lose any protection he has as president from being prosecuted and he becomes more vulnerable to pending criminal investigations, including “a pending grand jury investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the president’s family business and its practices, as well as his taxes.” William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser report for the New York Times

All eyes turn toward Washington, D.C., this weekend as demonstrations and rallies in support of Trump, and his refusal to admit he lost the election, are scheduled to take place in the city. “The events have been promoted by far-right media personalities, white nationalists and conspiracy theorists — several of whom announced plans to attend. Counterdemonstrations organized by anti-fascist and anti-racism groups are being planned nearby.Marissa J. Lang and Peter Hermann report for the Washington Post

The Trump campaign is sending misleading fundraising emails to its supporters that suggest the money raised will go toward Trump’s court battles against Biden’s election win, but that’s not what the fine print says. If you read closely, “much of the money donated to support that effort since Election Day has instead paid down campaign debt, replenished the Republican National Committee and, more recently, helped get Save America, a new political action committee Trump founded, off the ground.” Brian Slodysko reports for the AP

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION

Republican senators join the chorus calling for Biden to start receiving classified intelligence briefings. Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Rob Portman and James Lankford are among the latest to say the president-elect should have access to classified briefings, a typical step during the transition period. This is the “the latest indication that Republicans acknowledge the President-elect is likely on his way to the White House despite President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results.” However, when asked if the General Services Administration should sign off on the paperwork declaring there is a president-elect, Grassley said that “we ought to do what we did” after the contested 2000 election, even though the 9/11 Commission found that Bush’s shortened transition period contributed to the government’s lack of preparedness for the terrorist attacks. Manu Raju and Ted Barrett report for CNN

A group of over 150 former national security officials sent a letter to the General Services Administration calling for the administrator to start transition services for Biden. The signatories include former top officials from Democratic and Republican administrations, including the Trump administration. The letter ends, “Further delaying the Biden team’s ability to access the President’s Daily Briefing and other national security information and resources compromises the continuity and readiness of our national leadership, with immense consequences for our national security.” Natasha Bertrand reports for Politico.

Biden’s team is reaching out to former Defense Department officials who worked under Defense Secretary James Mattis to help with the transition and to talk about potentially serving in what is hoped to be a bipartisan DOD leadership team. Natasha Bertrand reports for Politico.

On Friday morning, China congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election win. “Speaking at a regular press briefing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China ‘respected the choice of the American people.’” Ben Westcott and Steven Jiang report for CNN. 

On Thursday, Biden spoke with Pope Francis, who congratulated the president-elect. A readout from the Biden transition team indicated the two men discussed, “caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.” Barbara Sprunt reports for NPR

With the Trump administration blocking any communication with the Biden team, the president-elect’s transition team members are “instead making contact with recently departed government officials and other experts to help them prepare for the new administration.” Trump’s refusal to work with the incoming team even means the Biden team has to “handle an influx of calls from foreign leaders — all without the benefit of a secure government line or language interpretation services provided by the current State Department.” Sean Sullivan, Lisa Rein, John Hudson, and Laura Meckler report for the Washington Post

CORONAVIRUS 

The United States once again broke records on Thursday for the number of new cases of COVID-19, as well as the number of hospitalizations. Public health officials announced more than 160,000 new coronavirus cases, the first day over 150,000 since the pandemic began. And there were 67,096 hospitalizations. The New York Times reports. 

In the Upper Midwest, there are “fears that the region’s medical system will be completely overwhelmed in the coming days.” The region’s surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths “is a preview of what the rest of the United States can expect in the coming weeks as winter approaches, experts say.” Annie Gowen and Holly Bailey report for the Washington Post

As cases spike, Trump appears to be completely disengaged from responding to the crisis. “Public health experts worry that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation’s ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.” Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller report for the AP

U.S. Representative Don Young — the 87-year-old Republican congressman from Alaska, who once ridiculed coronavirus — now says he has it. Yereth Rosen reports for Reuters

North Dakota’s governor says asymptomatic, COVID-positive health care workers can “continue working in COVID-19 units at hospitals and nursing homes,” in an attempt to alleviate staffing concerns. “North Dakota’s hospitals have reached their limit, and the coming weeks could push them past their capabilities, Gov. Doug Burgum said at a news conference on Monday, Nov. 9.” Jeremy Turley reports for the Grand Forks Herald

Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson, has run out of ICU beds. “Across the entire state, only 106 ICU beds remain available out of 888 total. For two days in a row, the state has reported more than 1,200 new cases, including 1,271 today.” There is no statewide mask mandate in place. Ashton Pittman reports for the Mississippi Free Press

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito told the Federalist Society on Thursday night that the pandemic has resulted in previously “unimaginable” restrictions on individual liberty. Alito also used the speech to repeat his criticism of the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which granted same-sex couples the right to marry. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL PURGE

Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has told people he expects to be fired. “Krebs, one of the few Trump administration officials with widespread bipartisan support and admiration, has been expecting to be fired since just after Election Day, according to three people familiar with his thinking.” Eric Geller and Natasha Bertrand report for POLITICO.

Bryan Ware, the assistant director for cybersecurity for DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is leaving the government after being asked to resign. Christopher Bing reports for Reuters

DHS assistant secretary for international affairs Valerie Boyd has also resigned amid pressure from the White House. Alex Marquardt and Geneva Sands report for CNN

The post-election purge of senior national security officials has many wondering what’s really going on? The “most likely explanation for the Pentagon firings is the president’s petty vengefulness,” writes Kori Schake for The Atlantic

CONFLICT IN ETHIOPIA 

Reports of mass killing emerge in Ethiopia as conflict breaks out, sending thousands of refugees into Sudan. “Ethiopia’s military has defeated local forces in the west of Tigray state, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, accusing his foes of atrocities during a week of fighting that threatens to destabilise the Horn of Africa. Rights group Amnesty International said scores and possibly hundreds of civilians were stabbed and hacked to death in the region on Nov. 9, citing witnesses. It said it had not been able to independently confirm who was responsible, but said the witnesses had blamed fighters loyal to Tigray’s local leaders.” Giulia Paravicini reports for Reuters

“About 11,000 refugees have fled into Sudan, where authorities are preparing for up to 100,000, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday. Half of the refugees are children.” Cara Anna reports for the AP

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

Five Americans were among seven international peacekeepers killed when their helicopter crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The cause of the crash appeared to be an accident and “mechanical in nature.” Luis Martinez and Matt Seyler report for ABC News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to visit the Golan Heights and an Israeli settlement in the West Bank during an upcoming visit to Israel. These will both be firsts for a U.S. secretary of state. “All previous U.S. administrations have treated the West Bank and Golan Heights as occupied territory.” Barak Ravid reports for Axios

Trump’s outgoing envoy to Syria, Amb. Jim Jeffrey, admits to misleading senior leaders about the actual number of U.S. troops deployed in the country. “‘We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,’ Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is ‘a lot more than’ the two hundred troops Trump agreed to leave there in 2019.” Katie Bo Williams reports for Defense One

A Justice Department investigation concluded that federal prosecutors involved in a controversial non-prosecution deal, which deprived Jeffrey Epstein’s victims of an opportunity to get justice, exercised “poor judgment” but did not break the law. This included ex-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who brokered the deal. “Americans ought to be enraged,” Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said about the conclusion reached by DOJ’s investigation. Epstein was indicted in 2019 for sexually exploiting, trafficking, and abusing dozens of minor girls. He died in his jail cell later that year. Sarah Fitzpatrick, Tom Winter, and Pete Williams report for NBC News

The Trump administration has issued a new order barring American investment in Chinese companies that are determined to have ties to the country’s military. The ban, which goes into effect in January, “could affect some of China’s biggest publicly-listed firms, including China Telecom and tech firm Hikvision.” BBC News reports.  

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).