Early Edition: November 20, 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

Two separate New York State fraud investigations into President Trump’s finances  one criminal and led by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the other civil and led by state Attorney General Letitia James — have expanded in scope to include tax write-offs and millions of dollars in consultancy fees, some of which are said to have gone to the president’s daughter, Ivanka, people familiar with the matter have said. Both offices have reportedly issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization for records related to the fees, those people said. “The subpoenas were the latest steps in the two investigations of the Trump Organization, and underscore the legal challenges awaiting the president when he leaves office in January. There is no indication that his daughter is a focus of either inquiry, which the Trump Organization has derided as politically motivated,” write Danny Hakim, Mike McIntire, William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess for the New York Times.

District attorney Mark Dupree has resigned from Trump’s police commission after sending a letter to Attorney General William Barr expressing that the Justice Department’s special law enforcement commission had been “smothered by a pernicious political agenda.” Reuters reporting.

The White House has indicated to House Democrats that Trump could drop his veto against renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders if lawmakers agree to repealing section 230, a legal shield for Internet companies, a Democratic House aide confirmed. The offer came from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and was sent to House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) in an effort to reach an agreement on negotiations on the annual defense policy bill. Maggie Haberman and Catie Edmondson report for the New York Times.

It is very unlikely that Trump will be able to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census count used to apportion each state’s share of House seats in Congress, after the Census Bureau indicated it would not be able to finish its state population count on the 2020 survey before Trump leaves office January 20, according to people familiar with matter. Tara Bahrampour reports for the Washington Post.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has declined to extend several emergency Federal Reserve emergency lending programs. “As a result, on Dec. 31 several novel Fed programs that have backed corporate credit and municipal-borrowing markets and that have provided loans to small and midsize businesses and nonprofits during the coronavirus pandemic will end,” report Nick Timiraos and Kate Davidson for the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND US ELECTION

A federal judge in Georgia and state judges in Arizona and Pennsylvania yesterday rejected election-related legal challenges from Republicans and the Trump campaign, the latest knockback to President Trump’s efforts to thwart the election result. “One of the judges, a Trump appointee in Georgia, called the attempt by Republican-allied lawyers to block election results “quite striking,” refusing their attempt to stop Biden’s win there … In Arizona, a state judge declined to audit votes in the state and delay the finalization of results, saying the lawsuit couldn’t be retooled and brought again. And in Pennsylvania, a state judge ordered the counting of more than 2,000 absentee ballots the Trump campaign wanted to exclude.” Kara Scannell, Katelyn Polantz and Caroline Kelly report for CNN.

Following yesterday’s spate of rejected election-related lawsuits by Trump, he “is now trying to remain in power with a wholesale assault on the integrity of the vote by spreading misinformation and trying to persuade loyal Republicans to manipulate the electoral system on his behalf.” Trump and his campaign’s relentless efforts to challenge the election result and sow distrust among voters was highlighted yesterday during a conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, in which “Trump’s attorneys [including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani] claimed without evidence there was a centralized conspiracy with roots in Venezuela to rig the U.S. presidential election.” Philip Rucker, Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

“That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest,” said recently fired Christopher Krebs, the former director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in a post on Twitter.

Republican Sens. Ben Sasse (NB) and Mitt Romney (UT) have both taken aim at the Trump campaign’s continued efforts to contests the election, with Sasse’s comments “perhaps the most pointed Republican rebuttal.” Sasse noted that none of Trump lawyers had actually alleged “grand fraud” in court, going on to say: “Wild press conferences erode public trust. So no, obviously Rudy and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute. We are a nation of laws, not tweets.” He further added: “When Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts under oath, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud — because there are legal consequences for lying to judges … Trump lost Michigan by more than 100,000 votes, and the campaign and its allies have lost in or withdrawn from all five lawsuits in Michigan for being unable to produce any evidence.” Romney said last night that the campaign’s moves on election officials amount to an attempt to “subvert the will of the people,” adding, “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.” Burgess Everett report for POLITICO.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) yesterday blasted the much-criticized performance by the campaign during yesterday’s conference. Ernst was asked during an interview with Fox Radio about Giuliani’s claim that Trump “won the election by a landslide,” in which she responded: “I would say there does have to be proof … I haven’t seen proof yet… I haven’t seen it personally.” She further added that while there are “a lot of allegations out there,” it’s necessary that the campaign’s legal team “present that information to a court of law.” She also denounced Trump attorney Sidney Powell’s comment that “we have no idea how many Republican or Democratic candidates… paid to have the system rigged to work for them,” describing it “an offensive comment.” Andrew Solender report for Forbes.

A fact-check on yesterday’s Trump campaign press conference is provided by Tara Subramaniam and Holmes Lybrand report for CNN.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION OF POWER

With President Trump refusing to concede to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, a strange national security predicament has arisen: Biden continues to be blocked from classified intelligence briefings, whereas his right-hand woman, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, has access to a lot of top-secret information, and can request intelligence briefings on specific topics, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The result is an awkward gap between what Biden and Harris know about the biggest national security threats facing the country, which the Biden White House will need to be prepared to respond to on Day One of the new administration. Harris is also legally prohibited from disclosing any classified information to Biden, leading to situations where she may have to censor herself when discussing sensitive foreign policy and national security issues around the president-elect.” A transition official yesterday pointed out that Harris’s position on the Intelligence Committee “is entirely separate from her role as the Vice President-elect. There is no co-mingling of those roles and responsibilities whatsoever.” They added that both Harris and Biden do “not have access to the [President’s Daily Brief] or other information to which she is entitled as Vice President-elect because of the [General Services Administration] GSA’s failure to ascertain the results of the election.” Natasha Bertrand report for POLITICO.

Biden will today meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) in Wilmington, DE, according to congressional aides. “The meeting will be the first in-person huddle since the election, and the trio will have plenty to talk about. Congress is stalled on coronavirus relief, the pandemic is getting worse, and Biden will have to begin charting out how to get his Cabinet through a narrowly divided Senate that could be under Republican control,” report Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris for POLITICO.

As the Biden transition team remains blocked from accessing around $10 million in federal transition funds, it takes alternative channels to generate the cash needed, ramping up fundraising efforts. The transition team has so far raised more than $8 million, according to three people familiar with the funds, but it is now increasing that by “several millions of dollars in anticipation of GSA not relenting before the inauguration,” said one person familiar with the matter. “A half-dozen Democratic donors, bundlers and others familiar with the transition’s fundraising efforts, granted anonymity to speak candidly about private meetings, described a palpable shift in urgency in recent days, driven by what they described as the increasing likelihood that … Trump wouldn’t relinquish the money before he leaves office in January, as well as the multiple crises facing the incoming administration,” report Elena Schneider and Theodoric Meyer for POLITICO.

Biden said yesterday that he had decided on whom will serve as Treasury Secretary for his administration and will make the announcement in the coming weeks. “You’ll soon hear my choice for Treasury, either just before or just after Thanksgiving,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, DE. Christina Wilkie reports for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 11.71 million and killed over 252,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have now been over 57.01 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.36 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, deputy undersecretary for policy at the Pentagon, has tested positive for Covid-19 after meeting with the Lithuanian Minister of Defense Raimundas Karoblis, according to a Pentagon statement, and will isolate at home for 14 days. Pentagon [spokesperson] Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that Tata met with Karoblis last Friday, and that the Lithuania Embassy told the Pentagon yesterday that Karoblis has from last week’s meeting since tested positive for the virus. Ryan Browne and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller  as well as Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite  also met with Karbolis Monday, but have all reportedly tested negative and do not plan to self-isolate. Aaron Mehta reports for Defense News.

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.

US RELATIONS

Iran’s “malign activities” and “destabilizing actions” over the past year have not only “continued, but they have increased in scope and severity,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie said in a virtual conference yesterday delivered to the National Council on US-Arab Relations, although he did make clear that U.S. deterrence against Tehran has been working. “Today I believe Iran has been largely deterred because the regime now understands we possess both the capability and the will to respond,” McKenzie said, adding, “I believe the Iranian regime recognizes if they get into an escalatory spiral with the United States, it will not end well for them. … So that’s why we’ve seen a recent decline in these tensions at sea, and attacks against us in Iraq and in other places.”

During that conference, McKenzie further spoke on the long-term threat ISIS poses in Iraq and Syria. “Unless the international community finds a way to repatriate, reintegrate into home communities, and support locally grown reconciliation programming of these people, … we are buying ourselves a strategic problem 10 years down the road when these children grow up radicalized. If we don’t address this now, we’re never really going to defeat ISIS,” McKenzie warned, adding, “Today, across vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, the systemic indoctrination of IDP and refugee camp populations who are hostage to the receipt of ISIS ideology is an alarming development with potentially generational implications.” AP reporting.

Gen. Hossein Dehghan, a military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned the US that if there is an American attack on Iran it could lead to a “fully-fledged war,” speaking during an interview with The Associated Press, in Tehran, Wednesday. “We don’t welcome a crisis. We don’t welcome war. We are not after starting a war … But we are not after negotiations for the sake of negotiations either,” Dehghan said. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not negotiate its defensive power … with anybody under any circumstances … Missiles are a symbol of the massive potential that is in our experts, young people and industrial centers,” he further commented. AP reporting.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have added to its naval fleet a warship capable of carrying aircrafts, missile launchers and drones to its naval fleet at sea, state media said yesterday, a move that comes amid growing tension between Washington and Tehran. Reuters reporting.

The Treasury Department said yesterday that it had sanctioned Russian construction company Mokran LLC and Korea Cholsan General Trading Corp, a North Korean company operating in Russia, over alleged involvement in exporting forced labor from North Korea, and warned those countries to send home the remaining North Korean workers. Al Jazeera reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Ethiopia’s rebel Tigray forces fired rockets at neighboring Amhara region’s capital last night, sparking fear that the conflict is growing in size. Amhara authorities have confirmed. Reuters reporting.

Azerbaijan’s army have said that it has entered the Nagorno-Karabakh district of Aghdam, the first of three regions agreed to be handed back by Armenia as part of the Russian-brokered peace deal to end the fighting in the region. Al Jazeera 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)