Early Edition: February 9, 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

Extremist groups have been “very aggressively” recruiting military service members to leave the ranks, Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby yesterday told reporters at the Pentagon. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The Biden administration is expected to request all 56 Trump-appointed, Senate-confirmed federal prosecutors to step down from their positions, except two: special counsel John Durham, US attorney for Connecticut, who is investigating the origins of the 2016 FBI probe into former President Trump and Russia, as well as David Weiss, US attorney for Delaware, who is leading a probe into the finances of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson is said to be holding a conference call today with the US attorneys who will be asked to resign. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICODurham will remain despite his expected resignation from his role as US attorney for Connecticut, according to a senior Justice Department official. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.

The New York Court of Appeals last week dismissed a criminal case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was pardoned by Trump in December. Manafort had his federal charges threw out by lower courts in 2019 and 2020 on double jeopardy grounds but Vance’s office hoped their argument that their case was substantially different would succeed, but it didn’t. The ruling is not expected to affect the separate case being brought against Steve Bannon, Trump’s former head strategist, who was pardoned by Trump last month. Kara Scannell reports for CNN.

A hacker breached a water-treatment plant in Oldsmar, FL, and attempted to poison the water supply by increasing to a dangerous level the amount of lye used to treat the water, authorities said yesterday. The attempt was thwarted by the plant operator Friday before the hacker’s intention could be realized. Arian Campo-Flores reports for the Wall Street Journal.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP 

Former President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial is set to start today. 

Trump’s lawyers are expected to focus their arguments around two issues: the First Amendment and challenging the legality of trying a former president, a 78-page brief submitted to the Senate yesterday revealed. Ann E. Marimow and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.

House impeachment managers said yesterday that the evidence against Trump is “overwhelming.” Mike DeBonis reports for the Washington Post.

An agreement has been reached on the rules and schedule of the trial, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced yesterday. Andrew Desiderio and Burgess Everett report for POLITICO.

Proceedings with will start with a vote on those rules, followed by a four-hour debate on the constitutionality of the trial which will then be voted on and is expected to pass with a majority vote. Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report for CNN.

The trial could be over within one week, the agreement reveals. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

Arguments will be presented over four days, with House managers and Trump’s legal team each having 16 hours over two days to present their arguments. Al Jazeera reporting.

Enhanced security measures will remain in force around the Capitol, particularly due to fear over potential violence by domestic extremists during the trial, although no imminent threat has been flagged to lawmakers. Zachary Cohen, Shimon Prokupecz and Whitney Wild report for CNN.

Trump’s lawyer withdrew his request for the trial to be paused on Jewish Sabbath this Friday, lawyer David Schoen wrote in a letter to Schumer and McConnell. Ali Zaslav, Lauren Fox, Ted Barrett and Manu Raju report for CNN.

Some of those accused of rioting at the Capitol have blamed Trump for “inspiring” the violence, court filings reveal. A lawyer for Emanuel Jackson, a man allegedly caught on camera striking officers with a metal baseball bat as rioters breached the Capitol, said in a filing for pretrial release that Trump “roused the crowd by telling them ‘we will stop the steal’ and ‘you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength, and you have to be strong … if you don’t fight like hell you are not going to have a country any more’”. As such, “the nature and circumstances of this offense must be viewed through the lens of an event inspired by the President of the United States,” Jackson’s lawyer, Brandi Harden, wrote. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Georgia secretary of state’s office has launched an investigation into the infamous Jan. 2 phone call between Trump and state election officials where the former is alleged to have pressured officials to “find” enough votes for him to win the election vote in the state. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state,” Trump said during the call, The Washington Post first revealed. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

US CAPITOL ATTACK

A national security warning system retooled after 9/11 and tasked to identify and prevent attacks failed ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “While the information was shared, this multipoint warning system broke down, failing to generate sufficient follow-up, as officials spotted and dismissed these signals while missing others entirely, according to interviews with current and former officials and a review of internal government documents,” report Rachael Levy, Dan Frosch and Sadie Gurman for the Wall Street Journal.

Six Senate committees yesterday jointly requested 22 different law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies to provide information on what intel they each had on the attack as well as a timeline of their response, and if and how they responded to calls for assistance. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.

Ethan Nordean, organizer of the far-right extremist group Proud and self-dubbed “Sergeant of Arms”, was ordered to be released by a federal magistrate judge in Seattle after prosecutors called for his detention pending trial – but prosecutors then appealed, with Judge Beryl Howell ordering Nordean to remain in custody pending the government’s appeal, with a hearing set for Feb. 15. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

“Michigan’s Republican Party last year welcomed the support of newly emboldened paramilitary groups and other vigilantes. Prominent party members formed bonds with militias or gave tacit approval to armed activists using intimidation in a series of rallies and confrontations around the state,” writes David D. Kirkpatrick and Mike McIntire for the New York Times, after armed militia last April entered Michigan Statehouse to protest a coronavirus-related stay-at-home order by the Democratic governor, which Trump addressed on Twitter by stating: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

SENATE CONFIRMATION OF BIDEN PICKS

The Senate yesterday approved President Biden’s nominee for deputy Defense secretary, Kathleen Hick. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Senate yesterday voted 87-7 to confirm Denis McDonough to head the Department of Veteran Affairs. AP reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 27.09 million and now killed over 465,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 106.54 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.32 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Democrats yesterday signaled widening stimulus payment eligibility: “House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) released legislation that would send the full stimulus payment to individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 per year. Congressional Democrats had explored curtailing that benefit to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples, a position embraced by Sen. Joe Manchin III, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia … The stimulus checks would be based on taxpayers’ 2019 or 2020 income returns, according to a summary of the proposal,” report Jeff Stein and Erica Werner 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.

US RELATIONS

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea Tuesday, including “a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” the U.S. Navy said, the first such joint operation in the region since July 2020. Se Young Lee reports for Reuters.

The US Air Force is deploying four B-1 bombers and around 200 personnel from Dyess Air Force, TX, to Norway, a strategic move to increase US presence in the Artic region in the event it needs to respond to Russian activities, officials say. Barbara Starr reports for CNN.

A year has passed with no combat-related deaths of US service members in Afghanistan. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

New York prosecutors are investigating Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez over allegedly protecting drug traffickers in exchange for brides, according to a new court filing in the case of Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, accused of conspiracy to smuggle drugs in to United States as well as murder. AP reporting

The State Department has called for reforms to the UN Human Rights Council and its “disproportionate focus” on Israel, following the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the human rights body as an observer. Reuters reporting.

US-IRAN RELATIONS

US officials are having a “real think” about how to deal with the growing tension with Iran after both sides show a clear reluctance to be the first to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – options include a full-scale return and also a gradual, step-by-step return, three officials said. Arshad Mohammed and  John Irish report for Reuters.

Meanwhile, Iran’s intelligence minister has warned that the country may be “pushed” to pursuing nuclear weapons if the West does not relieve its crippling sanctions. “Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” Mahmoud Alavi was quoted as saying. AP reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea continued to maintain and develop its nuclear missiles program last year, with $300 million of its funding stolen through cyberattacks, according to a confidential UN report sighted by Reuters yesterday. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.

Russian diplomats have been expelled from Germany, Poland and Sweden after diplomats from those countries were kicked out of Russian for attending a protest in support of Navalny. Reuters reports.

An ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny yesterday called for Russians to light candles on Feb. 14 in protests to Navalny’s imprisonment. Tom Balmforth and Anton Kolodyazhnyy report for Reuters.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif yesterday discussed how to push for a nationwide ceasefire and revival of the political process in Yemen, a United Nations spokesperson said. Michelle Nichols reports Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is introducing an overhaul to its judicial system in a step towards a completely codified law. Marwa Rashad reports for Reuters.

Colombia yesterday announced that it is launching an effort to provide close to a million undocumented Venezuelan migrants within its borders with the right to reside and work in the country for 10 years. Kejal Vyas reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Police forces in Myanmar’s capital fired gunshots in the air Tuesday to disperse crowds of protesters against the military coup, witnesses said. Al Jazeera 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)