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.
NEW BIDEN ADMINISTRATION
Congress yesterday approved President Biden’s defense secretary pick, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, with the House approving the waiver on a 326 to 78 vote, and the Senate on a 69 to 27 vote. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
Biden has ordered Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines to conduct a full intelligence assessment of the unprecedented SolarWinds hack where several federal government agencies and departments were breached, which many have blamed Russia for. Biden’s move comes as intelligence officials have concluded behind closed doors that over 1000 Russian software engineers were likely involved in the operation, according to people involved in the investigation. Biden’s aides have reportedly expressed skepticism over US retaliation — “In part because the evidence amassed so far suggested the Russians used their covert access chiefly to conduct espionage — something that all nations engage in and that the United States conducts against Russia all of the time, often through software manipulation.” DNI Haines is now tasked with figuring out whether the Russian operation was limited to espionage or whether “back doors” have been hidden within government systems giving Russians new abilities to shutdown federal networks. David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.
Biden is also expected to request Haines to conduct a sweeping assessment of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2020 election, poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and bounties on US troops in Afghanistan, officials said. John Hudson reports for the Washington Post.
Biden has accepted Russia’s offer to extend the New START nuclear arms treaty, with the administration seeking a full five-year extension to the treaty which was set to expire Feb. 5, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Biden” intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing,” Psaki confirmed in a post on Twitter. Peter Alexander and Ken Dilanian report for NBC News.
The Biden administration has fired the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB)’s general counsel, Peter Robb, along with his deputy, Alice Stock, after both refused to resign, the White House said. Eli Rosenberg and Reis Thebault report for the Washington Post.
BREACH AT THE CAPITOL
Nearly 1 in 5 of those charged in connection with the Capitol breach Jan. 6 has some form of military history, according to NPR analysis, which says: “Of more than 140 charged so far, a review of military records, social media accounts, court documents and news reports indicate at least 27 of those charged, or nearly 20%, have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military. To put that number in perspective, only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.” Tom Dreisbach and Meg Anderson report for NPR.
Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s brother — who recently admitted that he was on a call with military officials who discussed military response to the violence at the Capitol — yesterday dismissed allegations that his actions were influenced by his relationship with his brother, a Trump ally who recently suggested that the former president declare martial law and use the military to oversee a “rerun” of the election. Flynn has maintained that he only remained in the room where the call was taking place for a few minutes, and said: “I do not recall saying anything in the conference, but I may have, and I just don’t recall saying anything to the audience on the other end.” Dan Lamothe and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.
A group of Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint yesterday against Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX), requesting the Senate Ethics Committee to probe if and how the senators’ objections to the Electoral College votes Jan. 6 played a part in inciting violence at the Capitol. The committee “should open an investigation into the actions of Senators Hawley and Cruz, and perhaps others as investigation may reveal, in order to protect the integrity, safety, and reputation of the Senate,” Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ron Wyden (OR), Tina Smith (MN), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie Hirono (HI), Tim Kaine (VA) and Sherrod Brown (OH) wrote in the complaint. “The question the Senate must answer is not whether Senators Hawley and Cruz had the right to the object to the electors, but whether the senators failed to ‘[p]ut loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department’ or engaged in ‘improper conduct reflecting on the Senate’ in connection with the violence on January 6,” the complaint continued, citing the Code of Ethics for Government Service and the Senate Ethics Manual. Caroline Kelly reports for CNN.
Riley June Williams, the woman accused of helping steal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop with the intention of selling it to Russians, was released from detention yesterday on the condition she stayed at her mother’s house and abided by conditions including avoiding contact with witnesses and victims of the Jan. 6 attack. Williams faces two felony charges as well as two misdemeanors, according to charging documents. An updated affidavit filed Tuesday accused her of filming and sharing a video of someone picking up a laptop from Pelosi’s desk. A user named “Riley” later posted on the social media platform Discord that they “stole s— from Nancy Polesi [sic],” the affidavit confirms. Amy Worden and Marisa Iati report for the Washington Post.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “are offering up to $75,000 for information leading to the location, arrest, and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for placing suspected pipe bombs in” DC on Jan. 6, the FBI said in a post on Twitter. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Prosecutors are seeking to detain both private defense attorney William Calhoun and former corresponding secretary of the California Republican Assembly, Jorge Riley, for their active, but unrelated, involvement in the attack on the Capitol. “Because of the corrupting and dangerous ideology that has poisoned this man’s mind, he has no respect for the laws of the United States or the people who enforce those laws,” Magistrate Judge Charles Weigle said in reference to Calhoun, adding, “I would be afraid for my life.” Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
Thousands of National Guard members have been permitted back into the Capitol complex after yesterday being banished to a parking garage, a move that received criticism from lawmakers. Guard troops will now be allowed to rest in the US Capitol Visitor Centre, a Guard member said. Units were apparently told to leave the building yesterday and were forced to rest is a nearby parking garage, with no internet, one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls — all to be shared between some 5,000 troops, according to a Guard member. Oren Liebermann and Betsy Klein report for CNN.
Although barricades around the Capitol building are being dismantled, security in the area seems to be still be on high alert — the Guard has been requested to remain on “standby” until Jan. 30 in an effort to present an “enhanced posture to deal with the threat of white extremism” in area, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said yesterday, although Guard troops numbers were expected to slowly dwindle over the next few days. The District’s “homeland security director, Chris Rodriguez, added that the city is working with the U.S. Secret Service and the Biden administration to evaluate security tactics and strategies, such as whether all joint sessions of Congress should be designated National Special Security Events.” Emily Davies, Michael Brice-Saddler and Peter Hermann report for the Washington Post.
FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-KY) has proposed to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that the Senate give Trump’s legal team two weeks to prepare for the impeachment trial once the Senate receives impeachment articles from the House — and has asked to delay starting the trail until mid-February. “We received Leader McConnell’s proposal that only deals with pretrial motions late this afternoon. We will review it and discuss it with him,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesperson for Schumer. Kristina Peterson and Rebecca Ballhaus report for the Wall Street Journal.
More than a dozen GOP senators have revealed broad support for the claim dismissed by scholars that the Senate has no constitutional authority to try Trump now that he has left office; the issue was reportedly discussed during a Senate GOP conference call yesterday, according to multiple senators. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Trump has hired South Carolina-based lawyer Butch Bowers to lead his defense for the trial, an attorney known for his leading role in litigating political and election matters for North and South Carolina Republicans. Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw report for POLITICO.
Pro-Trump Republicans, including candidates, donors and local party officials, are plotting a “revenge” against 10 House Republicans who supported impeaching trump, reports Alex Isenstadt for POLITICO.
Social media giant Facebook has referred its indefinite suspension of Trump’s account to its external oversight board, whose decision will be binding and cannot be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Sarah E. Needleman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is reportedly launching an investigation into the unexpected resignation and replacement of US attorney Byung J. Pak following the much-reported phone call between Trump and Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger (R) where the then-president pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes. “In the same conversation, Trump cited a ‘never-Trumper U.S. attorney’ in Georgia — seemingly a reference to Pak — and hinted vaguely and baselessly that Raffensperger’s refusal to act on his unfounded fraud claims constituted a “criminal offense.”” The investigation by Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz appears to be in its early stages, and investigators have not yet spoken to Pak; it is also unclear how broad the probe will be, people familiar with the matter said. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, yesterday posted on Twitter a picture resembling Trump on one of his golf courses, with the word “revenge” and a shadow of a stealth aircraft overhead. John Bowden reports for The Hill.
OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS
US Capitol Police are investigating a report that Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) attempted to bring a concealed gun on the House floor yesterday, setting off the recently installed metal detectors, a department spokesperson said. Annie Grayer reports for CNN.
William Evanina has stepped down from his position as director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). “I am honored and humbled to have been surrounded by amazing, dedicated, and vigilent [sic] professionals serving around the nation, and the globe, protecting our great nation. I want to especially thank the women and men of NCSC, and the Intelligence Community, for being the best in the world,” he said in a LinkedIn post yesterday announcing his retirement. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) yesterday rolled out a new public awareness campaign which “includes working collaboratively with our public and private sector partners to understand, develop and share timely information about the varied and disruptive ransomware threats.” The campaign will reportedly focus on K-12 institutions and organizations involved in the Covid-19 response, educating them on ransomware attacks and how to counter or prevent them. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The US Embassy in Kabul will begin “a phased resumption” of interviews to restart processing thousands of halted special visa application of Afghans who have aided US forces, after interviews stalled because of the pandemic. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 24.63 million and now killed over 410,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 97.61 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.09 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
“The Director of National Intelligence will lead an assessment of ongoing cyber threats and foreign interference campaigns targeting COVID-19 vaccines and related public health efforts,” the White House said in its national strategy document. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
“Here’s What’s in Biden’s Executive Orders Aimed at Curbing the Pandemic,” reports Noah Weiland for the New York Times.
An explainer on Biden’s new pandemic plan is explained by Amy Goldstein, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Laura Meckler for the Washington Post.
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.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons — entered into force today, hailed by some, including Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, as “a really big day for international law, for the United Nations and for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” However, none of the world leaders — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — have ratified the treaty yet. AP reporting.
The UN has set out a tight schedule for its Libya mission, with nominations for leadership of a new unified transitional government expected within a week and voting on candidates to start early Feb. Reuters reporting.
“Construction on an enormous trench across Libya, dug by Russian-backed mercenaries Wagner, is raising fears that foreign fighters will not withdraw from the country by Saturday, as a UN-brokered peace deal insists.” Nick Paton Walsh and Sarah El Sirgany report for CNN.