Early Edition: January 5, 2021

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

A White House official confirmed yesterday that President Trump will soon present both Reps. Devin Nunes (CA) and Jim Jordan (OH) with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. AP reporting.

DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) yesterday mobilized around 340 National Guard troops to provide support to local police officers during pro-Trump demonstrations scheduled in the city this week. The move comes after Bowser made the request Thursday to Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, which received approval from acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller yesterday. Alex Marquardt, Barbara Starr, Alison Main and Devan Cole report for CNN.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers yesterday authorized the deployment of 500 state National Guard troops in advance of an expected decision on whether a Kenosha police officer will be charged for the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, Aug. 23. “The Kenosha County district attorney told the city’s mayor that he expects to announce his charging decision in the Blake case in the first two weeks of January, according to a common council agenda item seeking to declare a state of emergency in the city,” reports Joe Barrett for the Wall Street Journal.

The leader of the far-right group the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, 36, was yesterday arrested by D.C. police on a warrant charging him with burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a historic Black church during a pro-Trump demonstration last month,
 officials said. He was also charged with possession of what a police spokesperson said were two “high-capacity firearm magazines.” Rachel Levy reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador yesterday offered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum following a ruling by a British judge that held Assange could not be extradited to the US on charges of espionage. Obrador said he wanted his foreign minister to request Britain to release Assange to Mexico where he would be offered asylum. Daina Beth Solomon and Dave Graham report for Reuters.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that Assange is “free to return home” to Australia if the US’s bid to appeal the extradition decision fails in the British courts. “Well, the justice system is making its way and we’re not a party to that,” Morrison said in an interview with local radio station 2GB, adding, “And like any Australian, they’re offered consular support and should, you know, the appeal fail, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian … So, yes, it’s just a straightforward process of the legal system in the UK working its way through.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Louis Shenker, a man suspected of placing a hoax bomb in van at a mall in Queens, New York, yesterday morning is a right-wing conspiracy theorist who was as recently as last week arrested and accused of arson and who has been under investigation by NYPD for at least a week. The van was covered in Black Lives Matter signage, which law enforcement officials have said may have been an attempt to discredit the movement. Shenker was already being investigated by law enforcement officials and had twice been to arrested; last Wednesday he was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and two counts of low-level arson, accused of burning a poster affixed to a NYPD barricade, the Manhattan district attorney’s office confirmed. Tom Winter, Jonathan Dienst and Ben Collins report for NBC News.

Further hurdles emerge for the Trump administration’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census count used to apportion each state’s share of House seats in Congress  the Census Bureau was expected to announce new state population counts on Feb. 9; however, further irregularities in census records, which have not been detailed, may further delay that date, Justice Department attorneys John Coghlan and Diane Kelleher told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh yesterday during a court conference for the National Urban League-led lawsuit over the census schedule. Hansi Lo Wang reports for NPR.

US ELECTION RESULTS

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler (GA) intends to oppose the certification of the Electoral College results tomorrow, she confirmed in a statement released on Twitter yesterday evening, where she stated: “On January 6th, I will vote to give President Trump and the American people the fair hearing they deserve and support the objection to the Electoral College certification process.” Loeffler’s effort is separate to that of the near-dozen Republican senators who have already made clear that they will challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory during the certification vote, along with at least 140 House Republicans who also intend to object. Shortly after Loeffler’s announcement, fellow Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue also said that he is “encouraging” his colleagues to object. Caroline Kenny reports for CNN.

Trump’s recent call urging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results has raised difficult questions about the legality of his actions and whether prosecutorial action would be likely, if at all possible, with many election lawyers expressing skepticism over the difficulty in proving the requisite criminal intent requirement to hold Trump criminally culpable. Matthew Sanderson, an election lawyer in Washington, D.C., spoke on the hurdles posed if charges were sought: “[prosecutors] would need to demonstrate [Trump] knows he lost the election,” Sanderson said, adding, “I think that’s a tough case to bring against an individual who seems pathologically unable to recognize his own loss.” Trump “committed an act against the public trust” that was “egregious,” but “it doesn’t fit the structure” of the criminal laws, Sanderson added. Dareh Gregorian reports for NBC News.

“It would not be terribly difficult for an enterprising prosecutor, federal or state, to find a criminal statute that covers Trump’s conduct, although the loose talk about how Trump clearly committed a crime goes too far on too little information,” writes Ruth Marcus in an op-ed for the Washington Post, detailing what channels a prosecutor could follows to try and hold Trump criminally liable. Marcus discusses the difficulties in proving Trump’s intent for the purposes of both state and federal law, and poses that a more suitable avenue may be an investigation by Congress.

Reps. Ted Lieu (CA) and Kathleen Rice (NT) yesterday sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking him to open a criminal investigation into Trump and his call with Raffensperger: “As members of Congress and former prosecutors, we believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes,” the joint letter read, adding, “We ask you to open an immediate criminal investigation into the president.” Allan Smith and Alex Moe report for NBC News.

Trump yesterday appeared in Georgia to campaign for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in their fight for the Senate runoff elections in an effort to bolster the chances of Republicans retaining control of the chamber; however, Trump used this opportunity to further spread false claims of voter fraud. “Hello, Georgia. By the way, there is no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way,” Trump contended immediately after he took the stage. “That was a rigged election. But we are still fighting it,” he continued. Andrew Desiderio and Matthew Choi report for POLITICO.

As Trump took stage, attorneys for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger filed a legal brief against Trump’s latest election result lawsuit filed New Year’s Eve: “There have been numerous suits filed since the November 3, 2020, general election, challenging most of the issues set forth in [Trump’s] motion. In all resolved suits, the claims have been flatly rejected,” lawyers from Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr’s office wrote in the state’s brief, adding, the “plaintiff nevertheless seeks to disenfranchise millions of Georgia voters at the thirteenth hour — despite Plaintiff’s own dilatory and confusing actions.” Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.

Explainers to the Georgia runoff elections are provided by the New York Times and The Guardian.

US RELATIONS

President Trump was responsible for acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s decision last week which reversed bringing home the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier from the Middle East, according to a senior defense official. Miller had initially directed that the carrier be returned home in an effort to de-escalate tensions with Iran, a move that was in direct contradiction to advice by top commanders who stressed the carrier should remain in the region. However, three days after, he backtracked on that announcement and directed the aircraft to return to the region, citing “recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against Trump and other U.S. government officials.” The defense official said that following a meeting at the White House Sunday, Trump instructed Miller to reverse his decision to bring the ship home, with the official stating that the idea of de-escalation had not been adopted as a formal, approved policy. Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr and Nicole Gaouette report for CNN.

US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan, NY, yesterday issued a preliminary injunction against the White House from imposing sanctions on human rights lawyers for supporting the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The decision comes after an executive order from Trump last June warned that economic and travel sanctions would be imposed on ICC employees and supporters, a move that the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based human rights group, brought a lawsuit against last October, along with four law professor. Jonathan Stempel reports for Reuters.

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) yesterday confirmed that it has reversed its decision to delist China’s three largest telecommunications companies, citing “further consultation” with US regulatory authorities. NYSE initially announced plans to remove China Telecom Corp. Ltd., China Mobile Ltd. and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. after an order by Trump in November, with the trading ban set to take place Jan. 11, with investors given until November 2021 to get rid of their holdings. The announcement yesterday reversing its decision saw three telecom companies’ shares surge: “Shares of China Mobile, which is among the most valuable of China’s listed state-owned enterprises, closed 5.1% higher on Tuesday, while China Telecom and China Unicom jumped 3.3% and 8.5% respectively,” report Chong Koh Ping and Ben Otto for the Wall Street Journal.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 20.82 million and now killed over 353,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 85.78 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.855 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed yesterday that the state had identified its first case of the new UK variant of the coronavirus, joining Colorado, California and Florida. Brakkton Booker and Laurel Wamsley report for NPR.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday that England will from today enter a new national lockdown which is expected to last until mid-February, with all schools and colleges closing. BBC News 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.

IRAN-RELATIONS

Iran has issued an Interpol “red notice” request for the arrest of President Trump and 47 other US officials over their involvement in the US-led assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani last January, the second such request issued by Tehran for Trump’s arrest. Al Jazeera reporting.

Iranian officials said yesterday that Iran has resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment, a move that would contravene the 2015 nuclear agreement the United States left in 2018, which limited enrichment levels to 4 to 5 percent. Iran also seized a South Korean chemical tanker, citing “environment and chemical concerns,” a move that comes along side growing pressure on Seoul by Tehran to release $7 billion in funds frozen due to US sanctions. Ali Arouzi and Saphora Smith report for NBC News.

South Korea dispatched an anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz following Iran’s seizure of the South Korean-flagged tanker. “The Cheonghae Unit, which includes South Korean special forces, arrived in the strait on Tuesday aboard the 5,000-ton destroyer Choi Yong, according to the South Korean defense ministry,” report Jake Kwon, Gawon Bae and Zamira Rahim for CNN.

Seoul is also making diplomatic efforts to ensure the release of the tanker, the country’s foreign minister said. Reuters reporting.

The State Department also urged Iran to release the tanker: “The (Iranian) regime continues to threaten navigational rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf as part of a clear attempt to extort the international community into relieving the pressure of sanctions. We join the Republic of Korea’s call for Iran to immediately release the tanker,” said a State Department spokesperson on condition of anonymity. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Saudi Arabia has agreed to reopen land, air and sea links with Qatar, de-escalating a tension between the two nations that has divided the Middle East for over three years, Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, confirmed on state television. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill. 

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)