Early Edition: February 23, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

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.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK

Key law enforcement officials who were responsible for security at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack will today face pointed questions during two public hearings before the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee. “In the Senate, the next investigative hearing, whose date has not yet been scheduled, will focus on the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the threat of domestic extremism, according to the senators and their aides,” reports Luke Broadwater for the New York Times.

Those who will testify include Former House sergeant-at-arms Paul D. Irving and former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael C. Stenger, both of whom resigned shortly after the riots, are expected to testify today, the first time either have spoken publicly on the matter. “Also expected to appear Tuesday are former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund,who has spoken to media outlets about his frustrations requesting assistance from Irving and Stenger ahead of the riot, and acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III, whose officers engaged in some of the most brutal clashes with rioters at the Capitol’s doors,” report Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian for the Washington Post.

“Chaotic decision-making among political and military leaders burned precious time as the rioting at the Capitol spiraled out of control” during the 115 minutes it took for the National Guard to be deployed following former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund’s highly-reported call to top law enforcement officials urging for assistance to be given. Mark Mazzetti and Luke Broadwater reporting for the New York Times.

Debates continue between Democrats and Republicans over the membership composition of the 9/11-inspired Commission set to investigate the Capitol attack. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to tilt the Commission’s membership in favor of a Democratic majority, but Republicans are insisting an equal representation. Heather Caygle and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

Speaking on his commitment to take forward investigations into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general, said during his first Senate confirmation that he was unsure what further resources the investigation might require, but made clear that this would be “first priority and my first briefing” if confirmed. He also said he would not rule out investigating funders, organizers, ringleaders, and aiders or abettors of the siege. Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rebecca Shabad report for NBC News.

“Google will lift its ban on political ads on Wednesday, ending a self-imposed prohibition that had been active since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol,” reports Elena Schneider for POLITICO, adding “Google announced the decision in an email to political clients Monday morning. The tech giant had also banned political ads on its platforms, including YouTube and Google search pages, after the 2020 election as part of a broader effort to clamp down on political misinformation. Google will now return ads from campaigns and ads on political topics to those sites, which have seen nearly $750 million in advertising since the spring of 2018, according to Google’s ad disclosure portal.”

TRUMP TAX RETURNS

The Supreme Court yesterday rejected former President Trump’s attempt to shield his financial records and tax returns from Manhattan prosecutors. The justices were unanimous in their decision and issued an unsigned order which ended the 18-month long legal battle between Trump and the office of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The office “will now have access to eight years’ worth of Mr. Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, as well as other financial records that Mr. Vance’s investigators view as vital to their inquiry into whether the former president and his company manipulated property values to obtain bank loans and tax benefits,” report Adam Liptak, William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser for the New York Times.

The next steps in the Manhattan inquiry, according to those familiar with the matter: investigators from Vance’s office will collect copious amounts of financial records, including digital copies of returns, financial statements and communications relating to Trump’s taxes, from Mazars USA, the law firm that represents Trump’s accountants; and the evidence will then be delivered to Vance’s office, where a team of prosecutors, forensic accountants and analysts will get to work on examining whether Trump, his company or his employees committed insurance, tax and banking fraud, as well other crimes. William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser report for the New York Times.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused to review lawsuits filed by Republicans challenging the presidential election result in Pennsylvania. For the court to accept a case for review, four justices must be in support; however, there were only three — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — who said the case deserved the court’s attention, even though the number of votes in dispute would not affect Biden’s victory. “A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election … But a decision would provide invaluable guidance for future elections,” Alito wrote. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.

Dominion Voting Systems Inc. (DVS), one of the U.S.’s largest makers of voting machines, yesterday sued pro-Trump supporter Mike Lindell, chief executive of Minnesota-based MyPillow Inc., and his company over allegations he defamed DVS when falsely claiming the company had rigged the 2020 presidential election in favor of President Biden. “In its complaint, the company cites a number of statements made by Mr. Lindell, including in media appearances, social-media posts, and a two-hour film claiming to prove widespread election fraud. Mr. Lindell said he helped produce the film, which he released online in early February,” reports Alexa Corse for the Wall Street Journal.

IMMIGRATION

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday agreed to examine the legality of the Trump administration’s immigration “public charge” rule which bars immigrants from obtaining legal permanent residency if they’re deemed likely to require government benefits. Andrew Chung reports for Reuters.

The case is included in Just Security’s new “Litigation Tracker: Major Decisions Facing the Biden Administration” at page 8.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 28.19 million and now killed over 500,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 111.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.47 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The House Budget Committee yesterday approved legislation for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with a full House vote expected later this week. Reuters reporting.

“The House is on track to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by the end of this week … But House Democrats aren’t expecting to get a single GOP vote for their aid package, which they’re taking up with the procedural maneuver known as reconciliation in order to win Senate passage without the threat of a filibuster,” reports Caitlin Emma for POLITICO.

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.

OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS

Chinese spies have used a code first developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) to further their hacking operations, researchers from Tel Aviv-based Check Point Software Technologies said in a report. The report noted “that some features in a piece of China-linked malware it dubs “Jian” were so similar they could only have been stolen from some of the National Security Agency break-in tools leaked to the internet in 2017,” reports Raphael Satter for Reuters.

Virginia lawmakers are pushing forward on two bills to abolish the death penalty in the state — the bills yesterday won approval in the state General Assembly and have now been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to sign off on, which he is expected to do. “Virginia — historically one of the nation’s most prolific death penalty states — would then become the first in the South to abandon the ultimate punishment,” report Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Scheider for the Washington Post.

RUSSIA SANCTIONS

The Biden administration, alongside E.U. allies, is expected to roll out sanctions in the coming weeks on Russia over its alleged poisoning and then jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, according to people familiar with the plans. One official said: “we are considering available policy options,” adding, ““Suffice it to say … we won’t stand by idly in the face of these human rights abuses.” Natasha Bertrand reports for POLITICO.

Foreign ministers from European nations yesterday agreed to impose sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on top Russian officials. “Russia is drifting towards an authoritarian state and driving away from Europe … It is interested in confrontation and disengagement from the European Union,” E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said yesterday while announcing the sanctions. “He said the sanctions would target officials responsible for Navalny’s detention and prosecution. Although the final list is subject to confirmation, E.U. officials plan to target two prosecutorial officials, the head of Russia’s national guard and the head of Russia’s prison service, diplomats said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning,” reports Michael Birnbaum for the Washington Post.

Navalny’s aides have urged the E.U. to expand its sanctions and said that leaders should draw on case files from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to identify investigators, judge, and prosecutors who should be sanctioned for their roles. David M. Herszenhorn for POLITICO EU.

US-IRAN RELATIONS

The U.S. is “outraged by the recent attacks” on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who said the United States is still determining who was responsible and would not just “lash out.” Reuters reporting.

A U.S. official, speaking in response to a statement made by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday which warned Tehran may enrich its uranium up to 60% purity if necessary, said: “Until you get back to talks, both sides are going to take positions … to elevate the tone. But I don’t know that we need to focus on that. Let’s see whether they agree to come back to the table,” speaking on condition of anonymity. The official added: “There is no doubt that if we don’t reach an understanding, they will continue to expand their nuclear program … whether it’s what he says they will do – 60% – or something else … Both sides are now accumulating leverage, whether it’s them with their nuclear steps, or us with the sanctions that have been imposed. That’s not really helping either side.” Arshad Mohammed reports for Reuters.

Iran’s recent agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that allows the U.N. nuclear watchdog to continue some of its monitoring of Iran’s atomic program facilities “has momentarily eased a standoff between Tehran and Western nations and may provide a narrow opening for diplomacy as the Biden administration attempts to restart negotiations with Iran,” writes Kareem Fahim for the Washington Post, adding, “But a vote by Iran’s parliament Monday condemning the agreement served as a reminder of domestic head winds, in Tehran and Washington, that could hinder a speedy return to the nuclear deal between Iran and global powers.”

President “Biden deprioritizes the Middle East” and “the signals are not meant to be subtle, his advisers say,” write Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman for POLITICO, citing that: Biden has only made one call to a state leader in the Middle East — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week; the Biden administration announced an end to U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and introduced a freeze on some arms sales to the region; and the administration “has deliberately taken a back seat in responding to a recent deadly rocket attack in northern Iraq that targeted the U.S.-led coalition.”

MYANMAR COUP

Demonstrators in Myanmar yesterday gathered in mass to protest against the military rule, despite military leaders warning of deadly confrontations. “Hundreds of thousands gathered in cities and towns across the country, from the northern hills on the border with China to the central plains, the Irrawaddy river delta and the southern tip of the panhandle, social media images showed,” reports Reuters.

E.U. officials have agreed to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military over its coup earlier this month, which saw many political leaders imprisoned. Al Jazeera reporting.

The U.S. yesterday imposed sanctions on two top military leaders of Myanmar’s military junta and warned that further action may come. “The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the move took aim at General Maung Maung Kyaw, who is the air force commander in chief, and Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun, a former army chief of staff and commander of one of the military’s special operations bureaus which oversee operations from the capital, Naypyidaw,” reports Reuters.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Canada’s parliament yesterday approved a non-binding motion that describes China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority as a genocide. “The motion, sponsored by the opposition Conservative Party, passed by a vote of 266-0 in the House of Commons on Monday, though Trudeau and nearly his entire cabinet abstained,” reports Al Jazeera.

Facebook said yesterday that it would reallow the sharing and viewing of news links in Australia, following a fall out between the social media giant and Australia over a newly proposed code of conduct which would require the company to pay for news content that appears on its site. “Facebook had vigorously objected to the code, which would curb its power and drive up its spending for content, as well as setting a precedent for other governments to follow. The company had argued that news would not be worth the hassle in Australia if the bill became law … But on Monday, Facebook returned to the negotiating table after the Australian government granted a few minor concessions. Under several amendments to the code, Facebook would get more time to cut deals with publishers so it would not be immediately forced into making payments. The amendments also suggested that if digital platforms had significantly contributed to the Australian news industry, the companies could avoid the code entirely, at least for now,” report Mike Isaac and Damien Cave for the New York Times. 

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)