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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
BREACH AT THE CAPITOL
A review by the Wall Street Journal of online cryptic communications between members of the far-right organization Proud Boys reveals that messaging repeatedly invoked President Trump’s rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. “The Journal’s review, which included now-deleted posts that have been archived by researchers, suggests the Proud Boys viewed Mr. Trump’s messages as a call to action,” report Georgia Wells, Rebecca Ballhaus and Keach Hagey for the Wall Street Journal.
At least four pro-Trump rioters have claimed that they joined riots due in part to Trump encouraging them to do so. Court papers and interviews have revealed that, “In the past few days, a retired firefighter charged with assaulting members of the Capitol Police force told a friend he went to the building following “the president’s instructions,” according to a criminal complaint, and a Texas real estate agent accused of breaching the building told a reporter that by protesting in Washington, she had “answered the call of my president.”” Also, a Virginia man told FBI agents that he and his cousin attacked the Capitol because Trump said “something about taking Pennsylvania Avenue.” The attorney acting for the so-called Q-Anon Shaman — who has appeared in many photos in the Capitol building in a Viking costume — claimed that Trump was culpable, and that he planned to ask the White House for a pardon of his client. Alan Feuer and Nicole Hong report for the New York Times.
The FBI has arrested several members of the extremist groups Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters for their involvement in breaching the Capitol. Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
The FBI is investigating whether foreign governments, organizations or individuals funded rioters to plan their siege of the Capitol, a former FBI official said. The bureau’s probe will look into bitcoin payments worth $500,000 which were sent to 22 different virtual wallets thought to belong to far-right activists. The sender of the bitcoin funds is a French computer programmer, who is reported to have committed suicide shortly after sending the cryptocurrency, French media reported. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The FBI is investigating claims that a female rioters who entered the Capitol Building stole House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and planned to sell it to Russians, it was revealed in an affidavit describing the criminal charges against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman who was caught in footage breaching the Capitol and close to Pelosi’s office. The FBI emphasized that the claim remains under investigation, but did not confirm if Williams has been arrested. “It appears that WILLIAMS has fled,” the affidavit read, which was signed yesterday and posted publicly just after 9 p.m., adding, “According to local law enforcement officers in Harrisburg, WILLIAMS’ mother stated that WILLIAMS packed a bag and left her home and told her mother she would be gone for a couple of weeks. WILLIAMS did not provide her mother any information about her intended destination.” The affidavit further added that a witness has spoken to authorities and claimed to have seen a video of Williams “taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office.” “[Witness 1] stated that WILLIAMS intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service,” the agent said. “According to [Witness 1], the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and WILLIAMS still has the computer device or destroyed it.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
“A joint threat assessment issued [last] week by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and various other federal and D.C.-area police agencies noted that since the Jan. 6 riot, “Russian, Iranian, and Chinese influence actors have seized the opportunity to amplify narratives in furtherance of their policy interest amid the presidential transition,”” reports Ken Dilianian for NBC News.
An Army reservist is among the latest to be charged for their involvement in Jan. 6 riots, although it’s unclear if he has been arrested; federal investigations say the reservist has secret-level security clearance and a history of posting extremist rhetoric online. Investigators said that an informant described Timothy Hale-Cusanelli as “an avowed White supremacist and Nazi sympathizer.” David Shortell and Paul P. Murphy report for CNN.
A police officer shook the hands of two rioters as they entered the Capitol building, telling them “it’s your house now,” Robert Bauer and Edward Hemenway, the two men arrested, claim, according to the FBI. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
SECURING THE US CAPITOL FOR INAUGURATION DAY
The FBI is vetting over 25,000 National Guard troops deployed to Washington DC for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration over fears of an insider attack or other threats from service members. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the AP yesterday that officials are aware of the threats and commanders had been warned to keep an eye out for any issues that may arise within their ranks, adding that so far no problems had been identified. Vetting Guard members has included running their names through FBI databases and watchlists, David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle, told the AP. The Army confirmed in a statement that it is working with the Secret Service to determine which service members require additional background screening. “The D.C. National Guard is also providing additional training to service members as they arrive in D.C. that if they see or hear something that is not appropriate, they should report it to their chain of command … There is no place for extremism in the military and we will investigate each report individually and take appropriate action,” the statement added. Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.
The US Capitol and state capitals were heavily fortified over the weekend following warnings by law enforcement officials that there was a possibility of protests and riots across states this weekend, which could see attacks on state buildings — however, such an assault never came. Small groups of right-wing protestors, some of whom carried rifles, gathered outside statehouses across the nation yesterday, but were heavily outnumbered by the some 25,000 National Guard troops. AP reporting.
An overview of the situation yesterday in different states is explored by Thomas Fuller for the New York Times.
A House impeachment manager confirmed yesterday that one reason for pressing ahead with impeachment proceedings against President Trump was to ensure he never tries to run for president again. “One of the other purposes of impeachment in this case is to make sure that President Trump is not able to run for federal office again, that he’s not able to seek the presidency,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” “The reason for that is that somebody who incited a riot, an attempted coup of the United States government, should not be president again,” he said, adding, “So it’s not just about making sure that there are consequences to his behavior. Certainly it’s that, but even after he’s left office, it’s also making sure that he can’t run for president again.” Nolan D. McCaskill reports for POLITICO.
Many Republican Senators may oppose impeaching Trump on a technical argument: that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to try Trump once he leaves office as he will be a private citizen, allowing them to vote against conviction without having to defend his actions, people familiar with internal discussions say. A report released Friday by the Congressional Research Service, the public-policy research arm of Congress, concluded that although the matter is open to debate, scholars and experts on the matter have insisted that former officials can be impeached and tried, with the report citing that the “principal precedent” is the 1876 impeachment and trial of Secretary of War William Belknap. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) yesterday sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asking him to support a vote to dismiss the House’s article of impeachment against Trump: “We will be delaying indefinitely, if not forever, the healing of this great nation if we do otherwise,” warned top Trump ally Graham, adding, “Our obligation to the people we represent is clear. History will judge us harshly, as it should, if we do not rise to the occasion of this historic moment in our history.” Nolan D. McCaskill reports for POLITICO.
Former FBI Director James Comey yesterday opined that Trump should be convicted by the Senate but should not face criminal prosecution for inciting insurrection. “The country would be better off if we did not give him the platform that a prosecution would for the next three years,” Comey told Sky News, adding, “Instead, turn off the camera lights … I’d like to see some of the lights go out and he can stand on the front lawn at Mar-a-Lago and shout at cars in his bathrobe and none of us will hear it,” he said. Yuliya Talmazan reports for NBC News.
DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned yesterday that Trump may be charged by city prosecutors under local codes for the city with “a misdemeanor, a six-month-in-jail maximum.” Racine told MSNBC, “Let it be known that the office of attorney general has a potential charge that it may utilize … It’s law in DC since 2011. It makes illegal the statements of individuals that clearly encourage, cajole, and otherwise, you know, get people motivated to commit violence.” Noting that his office does not have jurisdiction to try federal crimes, Racine said: “The federal charge carries far more jail time,” and that his office is “collaborating at a high level with the federal prosecutors.” “[Trump’s] conduct prior to the mob storming the Capitol is relevant. I think his conduct during that time and immediately thereafter is also relevant,” the attorney general said. Katelyn Polantz and Rebecca Grandahl report for CNN.
“Senate impeachment whip count: Where Democrats and Republicans stand,” is explained by Ashlyn Still and JM Rieger for the Washington Post.
TRUMP’S ACCESS TO INTELLIGENCE BRIEFINGS
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) yesterday insisted that President Trump should immediately be barred from receiving daily intelligence briefings and never receive one again. “There’s no circumstance in which this president should get another intelligence briefing, not now, not in the future,” said Schiff on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I don’t think he can be trusted with it now and in the future, he certainly can’t be trusted.” Sarah Cammarata reports for POLITICO.
President-elect Joe Biden’s White House chief of staff indicated that the new Biden administration would not rule out limiting Trump’s access to briefings. In response to a question about whether the administration would follow recommendations from a former intelligence official that advised Trump’s access to classified information be limited, Ron Klain, during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said: “We’ll certainly look for a recommendation from the intelligence professionals in the Biden-Harris administration once they’re in place and act on that recommendation,” adding, “So obviously, we don’t have those intelligence professionals in place yet. (I) hope the Senate moves to confirm them quickly and then we’ll look what they recommend in terms of intelligence sharing going forward.” Chandelis Duster and Jasmine Wright report for CNN.
Wendy Sherman, former key US negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as deputy secretary of state. Al Jazeera reporting.
Biden is expected to sign a number of executive orders undoing several Trump administration policies, including returning the United States back to the Paris climate accord, reversing a travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries, extending the ban on evictions and foreclosures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, extending the pause on federal student loan payments and interest, and requiring masks to be worn on federal property and during interstate travel. Scott Detrow and Roberta Rampton repots for NPR.
OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS
The National Security Agency (NSA) is “moving forward” to install Michael Ellis, a former GOP political operative and Trump ally, as its top lawyer, the agency confirmed yesterday, just days before Trump will leave office. The announcement reportedly came a day after acting defense secretary Christopher Miller ordered NSA director Gen. Paul Nakasone to immediately install Ellis to the position. Ellis will probably start work the day before Biden’s inauguration, an official said yesterday. Martin Matishak reports for POLITICO.
President Trump is preparing to issue around 100 pardons and commutations during his final day in office tomorrow, according to 3 people familiar with the matter, with those to receive clemency including white-collar criminals, high-profile rappers and others, although Trump is not expected to include himself. The White House had a meeting yesterday to discuss and finalize a list of pardons, two sources said. Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak, Jamie Gangel, Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins report for CNN.
China’s Foreign Ministry said today that sanctions will be placed on US officials who engaged in “nasty behavior” over Chinese-claimed Taiwan following Washington’s recent decision to lift curbs on exchanges between US and Taiwanese officials. Reuters reporting.
US troop numbers have been cut to 2,500 in Afghanistan and also in Iraq, the Pentagon confirmed in a statement Friday. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
The US has completed its withdrawal of US troops from Somalia. The troops are “being moved to other African countries such as neighboring Kenya and Djibouti, home of the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, but U.S. Africa Command spokesman Col. Chris Karns would not say how many are going where.” AP reporting.
When President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Turkey will again offer to form a joint working group with the US to address technical aspects of Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited as saying Friday. Reuters reporting.
“Only weeks after the U.S. election and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted a U.S. businessman on spying charges, a family friend said.” Dan De Luce reports for NBC News, adding, “The man, Emad Shargi, 56, who is Iranian American, was summoned to a Tehran court Nov. 30 and told that he had been convicted of espionage without a trial and sentenced to 10 years, a family friend said.”
The novel coronavirus has infected over 23.93 million and now killed over 397,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 95.12 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.032 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
“Video footage from Wuhan during the earliest days of the Covid-19 outbreak shows how the Chinese government could have done more to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, and its attempts to stop journalists from reporting on it,” reports Al Jazeera
A tracker for the number of people in the US who have received one dose of the vaccine is provided by the Washington Post.
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.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was last year poisoned with a toxic nerve agent, has been detained by Russian security forces and summoned to a court hearing today, a move that has received international condemnation. Robyn Dixon reports for the Washington Post.
Top UN official for Libya said Saturday that a breakthrough has been achieved in peace talks aimed at settling the country’s civil war; “an advisory committee for representatives of Libya’s different regions has proposed a way forward for choosing a transitional government that would lead the war-torn country to elections late this year,” reports AP.