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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The Biden administration has halted an effort to install several former President Trump loyalists to Defense Department advisory boards, including Trump campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, who were appointed to the Defense Business Board in December, a Pentagon official said yesterday, stating the message had been delivered via email to advisory board members. “[Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] is reviewing current policies in place across the Department to determine if any changes are necessary, to include the advisory boards,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday, adding, “No final decisions have been made with respect to board membership. But we will make the information available should that change.” “It was not immediately clear whether the Pentagon planned to take any action against those who have been onboarded, but the Biden team is looking into whether it can replace dozens of Trump’s last-minute appointments to boards and commissions across the U.S. government,” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
President Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Alejandro Mayorkas, yesterday received 55-42 votes advancing his nomination past a procedural hurdle, setting his Senate confirmation hearing for Monday. Yesterday’s procedural vote was prompted after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) placed a hold on his Mayorkas’ nomination. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Biden has named Robert Malley as special envoy for Iran, senior State Department officials said last night. Lara Jakes and Michael Crowley report for the New York Times.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has hired the city’s first director of gun violence prevention, Linda Harllee Harper, and appointed Christopher Geldart as acting deputy mayor for public safety and justice, it was announced yesterday amidst a sea of personnel changes, including the departure of chief medical examiner Roger Mitchell Jr., who advanced treating crime prevention as a public health matter. Michael Brice-Saddler reports for the Washington Post.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has called for a permanent fencing around the Capitol, a step that drew condemnation from Mayor Bowser, city officials and some lawmakers. Michael Brice-Saddler reports for the Washington Post.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has revived a bill aimed at prohibiting members of Congress from carrying guns on Capitol grounds, a move likely to frustrate many Republicans who have refused to cooperate with security measures introduced since the Jan. 6 attack, including metal detectors at the entrance to the building. Meagan Flynn reports for the Washington Post.
Anti-Trump group the Republican Accountability Project yesterday launched a $1 million billboard campaign targeting 12 Republican lawmakers — including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — over their spreading of disinformation about the 2020 election that “incited the Capitol attack.” Juliegrace Brufke reports for The Hill.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court has rejected a bid to release the man photographed sat on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office chair during the Capitol insurrection. Howell granted the Government’s appeal against a lower court’s decision that Richard Barnett, 66, could be placed on home detention while he awaits trial for felony charges of entering the Capitol with a dangerous weapon, as well as misdemeanor charges of unlawful entry to a restricted building, disorderly conduct and theft. “This was not a peaceful protest. Hundreds of people came to Washington, DC, to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” Howell said during a court hearing yesterday, adding, “His entitled behavior that he exhibited in videos and photographs when inside the Capitol show a total disregard for the law, a total disregard for the U.S. Constitution … This violence disrupted a constitutional function of Congress.” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
“The enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside,” House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said at a news conference yesterday morning. Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis report for the Washington Post.
OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS
The Defense Department’s Inspector General (IG) is starting an inquiry into whether Special Operations Command has in place appropriate programs to ensure the laws of armed conflict are being followed, and whether troops who violate them are being reported and held accountable. The command, which oversees the Navy SEAL teams, the Army’s Delta Force, Marine Raiders and other elite commandos, will be the focus of the wath dog’s probe, it was revealed after the IG’s Office sent a memo Monday to the Joint Chief of Staff and to the command. Dave Philipps reports for the New York Times.
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith is expected to be sentenced today after he pleaded guilty last summer to altering an email the bureau relied on when seeking court authorization to surveil one of former President Trump’s initial campaign advisers, Carter Page, during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Prosecutors argue that he should be sent to prison for several months, while Clinesmith’s lawyers argue probation would be more appropriate. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.
Army officials are investigating Maj. Andrew Calvert, a chaplain with the 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade at Fort Hood, TX, after he wrote on the Army Times’s Facebook page Monday that transgender soldiers were “mentally unfit” and “unqualified to serve.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Facebook’s new Oversight Board yesterday overturned four of the first five cases before it, which considered a range of issues challenging the social media giant’s moderation policies. The board will consider Trump’s suspension, although a decision is not expected for some months. Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report for the Washington Post.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) yesterday introduced a bill, the Vote at Home Act, pushing for all registered voters to be able to cast mail-in ballots if done before Election Day. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Pakistan’s government has today appealed to the Supreme Court to review its decision to release British-born Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh and his three co-accused for kidnapping and beheading Daniel Pearl, journalist at the Wall Street Journal, in 2002. “We have filed three review petitions,” prosecutor Faiz Shah said, adding that the petitions were seeking a reversal of the acquittal and for Sheikh’s death penalty to be reinstated. Syed Raza Hassan and Asif Shahzad report for Reuters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed that the US is “prepared to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said in a Justice Department statement: “[the department] reiterates that the United States stands ready to take custody of Sheikh to stand trial here on the pending charges against him.”
US FOREIGN RELATIONS
The Taliban has not fulfilled its obligations under last year’s US-Taliban deal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stressed yesterday, adding that the Biden administration is committed to the deal and that no decision have yet ben mad about troop levels in Afghanistan. “The Taliban have not met their commitments … Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces, and by dint of that the Afghan people, it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement,” Kirby said, “But we’re still committed to that, there’s no question about that … The secretary’s been clear in testimony that we need to find a reasonable, rational end to this war, and that it’s got to be done through a negotiated settlement that includes the Afghan government,” he continued. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill. `
Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem today accused the US of violating the peace agreement: “almost every day they are violating it,” he told news reporters today. “They are bombarding civilians, houses and villages, and we have informed them from time to time, these are not just violations of the agreement but violations of human rights,” Naeem said. Al Jazeera reporting.
The Biden administration may meet with Chinese leaders at a World Economic Forum meeting in Singapore in May, the organization’s president today confirmed. “The special annual meeting could be a place where you could see the new Biden administration and China meet,” Borge Brende said at a virtual meeting with Singapore’s prime minister. Reuters reporting.
Speaking on the growing tension between China and Taiwan, Kirby reaffirmed US support for Taiwan and stressed that confrontation between the two Asian nations was unnecessary. Reuters reporting.
Iran will not succumb to US demands for it to halt its nuclear weapons program before US sanctions are lifted, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today, stating the demand “is not practical and will not happen.” Reuters reporting.
The Biden administration will review the Trump administration’s US policy on Cuba, the White House yesterday. “Our Cuba policy is governed by two principles. First, support for democracy and human rights – that will be at the core of our efforts. Second is Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. So, we’ll review the Trump administration policies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing. Reuters reporting.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 25.76 million and now killed over 433,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 101.56 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.19 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The first two cases of the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa was reported yesterday in South Carolina, state public health official said yesterday. Benjamin Din reports for POLITICO.
US vaccine development company Novavax’s new Covid-19 vaccine is 89 percent effective at protecting against the virus – it also provides protection against other variants, but is was less effective for the new variant first identified in South Africa, data from a clinical trial conducted in the UK indicated. The vaccine “was found to have been 95.6% effective against the original novel coronavirus, and 85.6% effective against the variant first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, based on results from a Phase 3 trial conducted in the UK. The study included efficacy estimates by strain based on PCR tests performed on variants from 56 Covid-19 cases in the trial. But the vaccine appeared to be less effective against a variant first identified in South Africa. The shot showed 60% efficacy among those without HIV in a separate Phase 2b study conducted in that country. The efficacy dropped to 49.4% when HIV-positive people were included,” reports Jacqueline Howard, Isa Soares and Lauren Said-Moorhouse for CNN.
“An official in the Pentagon has just signed a memo approving the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine to the detainee population in Guantánamo,” said prosecutor Clayton G. Trivett Jr., involved in the case against five prisoners accused of conspiring in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The 40 detainees will receive the first of the two required doses “on a voluntary basis” as soon as Monday, Trivett said in a letter to defense attorneys. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
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 Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), Colombia’s special tribunal mandated to try war atrocities, has accused eight former rebel commanders of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country’s long-running civil conflict. Yesterday’s decision is the first against the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) following a peace accord agreement signed in 2016 which established of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, comprising of the SEP, its judicial component, a truth commission, a search unit for missing persons, and the possibility to grant reparation measures and ensure guarantees of non-recurrence. Juan Forero reports for the Wall Street Journal.