Early Edition: January 27, 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.

CAPITOL INSURRECTION

DC National Guard troops will remain in the region until March 31 over fears of “civil disturbance,” revealed a memo dated Jan. 25, signed by commander of the DC National Guard chief Maj. Gen. William Walker. The memo read that the Guard will remain on duty until the end of March “in continued support of District and Federal civil authorities during anticipated First Amendment demonstrations and Civil Disturbance in the District of Columbia.” Natasha Bertrand, Lara Seligman and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.

Pentagon officials restricted Walker’s authority as commander ahead of Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, requiring him to seek sign-off from more senior officials before deploying troops, it was revealed during a private briefing to the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. Although local state commanders generally have the power to take military action if seeking prior approval would be unfeasible in an urgent situation, Walker said that his authority was limited ahead of the insurrection, requiring approval from then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller before he could deploy troops. Paul Sonne reports for the Washington Post.

Acting chief of the Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman acknowledged before the House committee that the department “failed to meet its own high standards” and knew there was a “strong potential for violence.” He added that the department “did not do enough” to combat the “terrorist attack.” Melanie Zanona reports for POLITICO.

Lawmakers on the committee were left stunned by the testimony given: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) told CNN it was “pure dumb luck that elected officials, staffers and more Capitol policemen were not killed” and committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that members were “shaking their head in disbelief.” Annie Grayer reports for CNN.

Federal authorities have opened case files on at least 400 people suspected of riots at the Capitol and expect to bring multiple sedition charges “very soon,” said acting US attorney Michael Sherwin, adding that investigations are continuing into whether “militia groups [and] individuals conspired and coordinated the attack.” Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

Antony Blinken was yesterday confirmed by the Senate to serve as Biden’s secretary of State, kicking off his top diplomatic position by speaking on the phone with his foreign counterparts from Canada, South Korea, Japan and Mexico. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke yesterday for the first time, where they were penned to discuss the SolarWinds hack, extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty, alleged Russian bounties on US troops in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election as well as the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung report for the Washington Post.

Biden yesterday pledged his commitment to working with NATO “on the full range of shared security concerns, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Russia,” a White House statement said after a call between Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Biden yesterday signed executive orders requiring the Justice Department to phase out its use of private prisons and increase central government’s handling of discriminatory housing policies, the president’s latest move in promoting racial equity. Jim Tankersley and Annie Karni report for the New York Times.

TRUMP IMPEACHMENT

All but five GOP senators yesterday voted against impeaching former President Trump, supporting an objection that a trial is not constitutional, a worrying sign that Republicans may spare Trump from conviction for incitement of insurrection. Yesterday’s key test vote raises doubt over whether the requisite 17 Republican votes needed to convict Trump will be received once the trial starts Feb. 9. Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times.

Trump has added to his defense team, bringing onboard former prosecutor-turned-criminal defense attorney Deborah Barbier. Kara Scannell and Jeff Zeleny report for CNN.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who is set to preside of Trump’s impeachment trial, yesterday returned home after a short trip to hospital yesterday evening, a spokesperson said. “The Capitol Physician suggested that Senator Leahy go to George Washington University Hospital this evening for observation, out of an abundance of caution,” said spokesperson David Carle, adding, “After getting test results back, and after a thorough examination, Senator Leahy now is home. He looks forward to getting back to work. Patrick and Marcelle deeply appreciate the well wishes they have received tonight.” Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.

OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS

Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) displayed repeated support for executing Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019, a CNN KFile review of hundreds of posts and comments from Greene’s Facebook page revealed. Posts included endorsement of far-right extremist and debunked conspiracy theories, including QAnon conspiracy theories, as well as calling for a “bullet to the head” of House Speak Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the execution of FBI agents. Em Steck and Andrew Kaczynski report for CNN.

The Justice Department has formally rescinded the Trump administration’s highly controversial “zero tolerance” border policy which pushed for the criminal prosecution of adults who illegally crossed the US-Mexico border and led to the separation of thousands of families, it was revealed in a memo sent to prosecutors by acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson. “Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding — effective immediately — the policy directive,” Wilkinson wrote. Priscilla Alvares and Evan Perez report for CNN.

A Trump-appointed federal judge yesterday granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) on President Biden’s 100-day deportation “pause.” The order was sought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, with Judge Drew Tipton saying the state had demonstrated the likelihood of facing immediate harm from Biden’s decision, with the court order effective for 14 days while Tipton considers the case. Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.

US RELATIONS

The US and Russia have agreed to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty set to expire Feb. 5, the Kremlin said today, although the White House only went so far as to say that a conversation had been had and both sides were working towards an extension. Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Trevor Hunnicutt report for Reuters.

A group of bereaved Yemenis have filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights challenging US counterterrorism campaigns against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other militant threats. The petition, brought by UK-based human rights body Reprieve on behalf of a group of beavered Yemeni family members, claims that six drone strikes and one Special Operations raid targeting the country’s al-Bayda governorate during the Obama and Trump administrations caused catastrophic psychological damage to two families. “A decision from the [commission] concluding that the U.S. is responsible for a particular human rights violation carries legal and moral weight internationally. It is also an important tool in creating pressure and opportunities to engage the government on reforms,” said Lisa Reinsberg, the executive director of the International Justice Resource Center. Missy Ryan and Souas Mekhennet report for the Washington Post.

Companies are still planning to stop doing business with Yemen, despite President Biden temporarily lifting a ban on transactions with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis, the UN has warned. Following a decision by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to blacklist the rebel group, Biden announced that the US would be reviewing the matter and temporarily froze designations; however, UN officials have said the initial designation seems to thwarting commercial trade, deepening the country’s humanitarian crisis. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.

Acting US ambassador Richard Mills announced yesterday that the US will be restoring relations with Palestine and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a sharp reversal on the Trump administration’s policy. AP reporting.

The US will “thoroughly review” Trump administration sanctions placed on International Criminal Court officials over their investigation into US forces in Afghanistan, a State Department spokesperson said yesterday. Reuters reporting.

Israeli Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi yesterday warned that the country was revising operational plans against Iran and said it would be “wrong” for the US to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Al Jazeera reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 25.44 million and now killed over 425,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 100.37 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.16 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

“Black and Latino Americans are receiving the Covid-19 vaccine at significantly lower rates than White people,” CNN analysis states: “data from 14 states found vaccine coverage is twice as high among White people on average than it is among Black and Latino people. The analysis found that on average, more than 4% of the White population has received a Covid-19 vaccine, about 2.3 times higher than the Black population (1.9% covered) and 2.6 times higher than the Hispanic population (1.8% covered).” Nicquel Terry Ellis and Deidre McPhillips report for CNN.

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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Iran yesterday threatened to block short-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), demanding the US reverse economic sanctions before the country would comply with the 2015 deal. Reuters reporting.

A UN report has estimated that the Houthi rebel group diverted over $1.8 billion in 2019 to help fund its war, which was in fact designated for the government to pay salaries and provide basic needs for citizens, while the Yemeni government illegally diverted $423m of Saudi funds to traders which was meant to be used on a new development and reconstruction program. 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)