Early Edition: December 2, 2020

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

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump has reportedly discussed possible pre-emptive pardons for four people — including his three oldest children, Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, and personal and campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani. Conversations between the president and those potentially set to be pardoned were first reported by the New York Times, which said Giuliani discussed the matter with Trump last week, although Giuliani rejected the claims as “totally false.” The White House has not responded to requests for comment. Kristen Welker, Carol E. Lee, Peter Alexander and Hallie Jackson report for NBC News.

A court ruling from August, but publicly revealed yesterday, indicates that federal prosecutors have for some months been investigating a potential “bribery-for-pardon scheme” in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for someone whose name was removed from the public version of the heavily redacted ruling issued by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell. Prosecutors were given permission by Howell to examine emails involving a non-lawyer and what Howell described as an “attorney-advocate”, although that lawyer did not appear to be acting in a professional capacity for some of the messages and so may not benefit from attorney-client privilege. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr appointed US attorney John Durham as a special counsel on Oct. 19, tasked with investigating the origins of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election  but Barr has only just revealed the secret tap to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, stating that the delay in the announcement was because of its proximity to the election. The appointment is likely to ensure that the investigation continues on during the incoming Biden administration, a concern voiced by those close to Barr. “Designating Durham as a special counsel increases the political cost of removing him for a new administration, especially given that Democrats portrayed talk of removing Mueller as a step that would bring on a kind of political Armageddon. Language Barr placed in the order naming Durham as a special counsel also seeks to make it more likely that the final report of his investigation is made public,” report Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein for POLITICO.

Trump yesterday threatened to veto the new US defense bill unless lawmakers agree to repeal Section 230, a legal shield for internet and social media companies, the final and most contentious debate remaining on the $740 billion bill under the National Defense Authorization Act. “Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America that have it – corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” Trump said in a post on Twitter, adding, “Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk.” Tony Romm reports for the Washington Post.

The Congressional Oversight Commission, responsible for overseeing Covid-19 relief funds, has criticized the Defense and Treasury departments for failing to provide satisfactory answers for why a $700 million loan funded through the CARES Act, a main piece of legislation focused on coronavirus stimulus  was offered to shopping company YRC Worldwide in July, a company which was sued by the Defense Department for overpriced shipping charges. “The Department of Defense has yet to provide the Commission a satisfactory explanation for how YRC is critical to national security … [and the Commission] finds the Department of Defense’s delay inexcusable and its answers incomplete,” the commission said in its most recent oversight report. “The Commission is concerned that the Treasury may have put taxpayers in a precarious position,” the report added. Niv Elis reports for The Hill.

US District Judge Jeffrey White yesterday dealt a blow to the Trump administration’s October efforts to restrict H-1B high-skilled foreign worker visa, ruling that the administration’s actions were unlawful as it did not take the necessary time to consider the changes and their impact, nor did it seek public comment on the rule change which was expected to affect a third of applications to the program and make it more difficult for businesses to hire those working under the visa. Rebecca Rainey reports for POLITICO.

Rep. Mike Rogers (AL), who currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security, will serve as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee following his electton yesterday by the House GOP Steering Committee. Roger succeeded in the race against Republican Reps. Mike Turner (OH), the ranking member of the House Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rob Wittman (VA). Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND US ELECTION RESULTS

Attorney General William Barr has confirmed  following an investigation by US attorneys, FBI agents and related agencies  that there has been no evidence found that indicates widespread voter fraud which could have affected the outcome of the election, dealing another knockback to President Trump’s claims to the contrary. Responding to conspiracy theories spouted by former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, although not naming her, Barr said:  “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results,” speaking to the Associated Press, adding, “And the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and DOJ [Department of Justice] have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.” Barr’s announcement prompted Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis to respond: “with the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.” Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.

Following the certification of votes in Wisconsin after a recent recount, which saw President-elect Joe Biden’s victory officially confirmed, the Trump campaign has filed a last-ditch lawsuit before the state Supreme Court which seeks to throw out around 221,000 ballots from Democratic counties Milwaukee and Dane counties which encompasses the majority of the state’s Black voters. According to the lawsuit, the ballots sought to be rejected are: 170,000 in-person absentee ballots, 5,500 ballots which had a missing witness address, 28,400 who claimed they were “indefinitely confined” and 17,300 cast during “Democracy in the Park” events which took place in the city of Madison. Zach Montellaro reports for POLITICO.

US RELATIONS

The State Department on Monday notified Congress of an arms sales worth $1.55 billion to six nations, including Brazil, Croatia, Lebanon, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Congress has 30 days to block the potential deals, which will include: “torpedoes for Brazil, vehicles for Croatia and Lebanon, upgrades for Canadian aircraft, training for the Saudi military and weapons systems for South Korean ships.” The largest deal, $757 million, would be for Croatia to refurbish its military vehicles, and Saudi Arabia would pay $350 million for technical and advisory support for the kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The US and Turkey engaged in a spat during a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers yesterday, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Turkey of fueling tensions with fellow allies in the Mediterranean and of supporting the Kremlin by purchasing a Russian-made anti-aircraft system. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu responded by accusing Pompeo of contacting European allies in an effort to gain support against Turkey, supporting Greece without knowing the full situation behind the regional conflict, and refusing to sell Ankara U.S.-made Patriot anti-aircraft weapons. David M. Herszenhorn, Nektaria Stamouli And Rym Momtaz report for POLITICO EU.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 13.72 million and now killed over 270,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 63.95 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.482 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The UK becomes the first country to approve the emergency use of drugmaker Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines, with shots expected to be rolled out to the most vulnerable by next week. The two-shot vaccine is also currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with authorization expected to come later this month and be rolled out before the end of the year. The UK has ordered 40 million doses, which would vaccinate 20 million people. Bojan Pancevski, Jenny Strasburg and Jared S. Hopkins report for the Wall Street Journal.

Following Britain’s emergency authorization of the vaccine, the European Union’s Drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said that its longer vaccine approval process was safer than that chosen by the UK. “EMA considers that the conditional marketing authorization is the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency.” Reuters reporting.

Interpol has warned that organized criminal networks could be targeting Covis-19 vaccines and could even attempt to sell fake shots, with the international police coordination agency warning its 194-member countries and their law enforcement agencies that, “As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives,” Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock said. Reuters reporting.

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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Ethiopia’s rapidly growing conflict may be transforming into guerrilla warfare, experts said yesterday, despite claims by federal troops that they’ve been victorious in capturing the Tigrayan regional capital. Reuters reporting.

The Ethiopian government and the UN have signed a deal to allow unimpeded humanitarian aid to access Tigray. AP reporting.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is unlikely to act following the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Reuters 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)