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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
TRUMP ORGANIZATION AND TRUMP
New York prosecutors have unveiled a 15-count indictment charging the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. The charges relate to a conspiracy to avoid paying taxes and launch the first criminal case resulting from a multiyear investigation into former President Trump’s business affairs. Corinne Ramey, Deanna Paul and Rebecca Ballhaus report for the Wall Street Journal.
The charges accuse the Trump Organization and Weisselberg of “a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud more than one person and to obtain property from more than one person by false and fraudulent pretenses,” and can be read in full on The Hill.
Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to all 15 charges, which include tax fraud, conspiracy, grand larceny and falsifying business records. According to the indictment, “Weisselberg helped orchestrate a scheme to compensate himself and ‘other Trump Organization executives’ with unreported income …[and]… avoided paying taxes on about $1.7 million in income between 2005 and 2017,” Brett Samuels and Harper Neidig report for The Hill.
Although the indictments do not name Trump, the charges are still a “direct and personal hit” against Trump, Michael Kruse provides analysis for POLITICO.
The charges still threaten Trump and could deliver a blow to his finances, and “while there is no indication that…Trump himself will face criminal charges anytime soon, the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., has said that ‘the work continues,’ and the former president will remain the focus of the investigation as prosecutors exert pressure on… Weisselberg to cooperate,” Jonah E. Bromwich, William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Maggie Haberman provide analysis for the New York Times.
Key takeaways from the indictment against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg are provided by Erica Orden reporting for CNN.
Attorneys and representees for the Trump Organization have downplayed the criminal charges as prosecutorial overreach, however legal experts have said that the company and Weisselberg are in serios legal trouble. There is “just no legal defense” for some of the charges in the indictment, Daniel Shaviro, a professor of taxation at NYU Law, told NBC News, Dareh Gregorian and Gretchen Morgenson reporting.
Trump has sought to use the indictments as a political rallying cry, calling the charges politically motivated and an overreach designed to target him and his supporters. It is unclear whether the charges that his company evaded taxes will do any political damage to Trump who said in a statement released minutes after the indictments were unsealed that “the political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Democrats, with New York now taking over the assignment, continues. It is dividing our Country like never before!” Josh Dawsey reports for the Washington Post.
Trump offered to give House Democrats a glimpse at financial statements relating to his business empire before his 2016 presidential bid and contracts with his accounting firm but refused to divulge more sensitive source data or internal communications. “The disclosure of the offer, made in late June in unsuccessful court-ordered mediation, came as Trump urged a federal judge in Washington to end a stalemate and toss out a 2019 House subpoena for eight years of his financial records, calling the congressional demand unconstitutional and unenforceable,” Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
The last U.S. and NATO forces have left Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, which has been the center of the war against militants in the country for the past 20 years. BBC News reports.
Bagram airfield has been handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety, U.S. officials have said. “One of the officials also said the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, ‘still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces,’” AP reports.
An increasing number of local armed groups are forming to hold the line against the Taliban, as foreign forces withdraw. Lynne O’Donnell reports for Foreign Policy.
Aid agencies in Afghanistan are bracing for another round of displacement in Afghanistan as the Taliban gains territory and Western forces withdraw. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.
CNN provide analysis of Biden’s defense of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, amid warnings of the country’s collapse once U.S. troops have left. Kevin Liptak, Natasha Bertrand, Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen and Oren Liebermann reporting.
Talks with Taliban are making “very little progress,” Abdullah Abdullah, an Afghan official who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation, told CNN. Abdullah said that the talks were happening at a “very slow pace” and acknowledged that the Taliban has “gained momentum.” Sandi Sidhu and Anna Coren report for CNN.
Afghans are increasingly seeking to leave Afghanistan as they witness the final withdrawal of the U.S. military and NATO allies. Afghans are saying that “international forces are leaving a country deeply impoverished, on the brink of another civil war and with a worsening lawlessness that terrifies some more than the advancing Taliban insurgency,” Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Just Security is publishing a special series by a group of interdisciplinary scholars reflecting on Afghanistan on the eve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next piece in the series is an essay by Douglas London providing analysis on what can be expected in Afghanistan from U.S. intelligence once the U.S. troops have left.
Chinese-speaking hackers recently targeted the top tiers of the Afghan government, along with governments of nearby nations, research by cybersecurity group Check Point Research has found. According to the findings “a hacking group known as ‘IndigoZebra’ is involved in an ongoing espionage effort against the Afghan government through the use of malicious phishing emails,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
U.S. and U.K. national security agencies have accused Russia of a political cyber campaign focused on the U.S. and Europe. The agencies have accused Russian military hackers of being behind an ongoing cyber-campaign targeting hundreds of entities, including government and military organizations, energy companies, think tanks and media companies, to steal emails and other information. Gordon Corera reports for BBC News.
The campaign began in mid-2019 and is “almost certainly” ongoing the joint advisory from the U.S. and U.K. national security agencies said. The advisory stated that “hackers are using an amplified and anonymized version of what are known as ‘brute force’ access attempts – trying to log in to target networks by repeatedly guessing passwords,” Olivia Gazis reports for CBS News.
A group of Senate Democrats have repeated demands for the Justice Department and FBI to declassify intelligence related the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that victims hope to use to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the county’s alleged involvement. “Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are urging the Biden administration to review the decision by the Justice Department and FBI to withhold information under the ‘states secret privilege,’ which has blocked 9/11 victims and their families from accessing information as part of their lawsuits against the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the attacks,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
55 Central American officials have been blacklisted by the U.S. as part of a crackdown on corruption. The officials backlisted by the State Department for corruption, undermining democracy or obstructing justice, include presidential aides, top judges and former presidents of Guatemala and Honduras. Nelson Renteria, Sofia Menchu and Ted Hesson report for Reuters.
The blacklisted individuals will no longer be allowed to travel to the U.S., which has been described as a “good solid start” to supporting anti-corruption efforts in the region by a human rights think tank. Rafael Bernal reports for The Hill.
A Myanmar court has extended the pretrial detention of a U.S. journalist. Denny Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online news magazine in Myanmar, and was arrested on an incitement charge that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment in May as he was trying to board a flight to the U.S. to see his family. Grant Peck reports for AP.
The U.S. has ended its military academy program with Cambodia due to concerns about China’s military presence in the country. The ending of the program that sent Cambodian students to top American military academies, marks “the latest sign of strains in the relations between the two countries,” Prak Chan Thul reports for Reuters.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has left for the U.S. for a three week visit that includes a meeting with President Biden at the White House. A palace statement “said the monarch, accompanied by his wife Queen Rania, would attend an investors meeting followed by a private itinerary ahead of a working visit to Washington for talks with congressional leaders and administration officials,” Reuters reports.
JAN 6. ATTACK
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has named Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to serve on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. For Pelosi the nomination “represents a strategic choice, ensuring that Congress’s special investigation into the attack will be bipartisan, regardless of whether Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) fills out the committee roster with Republican members,” Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos report for The Hill.
McCarthy has called Cheney’s decision to accept the post as “shocking” and has implied that Cheney could lose her seat on the Armed Services Committee as payback. “I don’t know in history where someone would get their committee assignments from the speaker and then expect to get them from the conference as well,” McCarthy said. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
The newly created select committee into the Jan. 6 attack will launch its probe with witness testimony from Capitol Police officers who were on duty during the attack. The announcement was made by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chairman of the select committee, and did not specify when the hearing will occur or which officers the committee would call to appear. Mike Lillis reports for The Hill.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Attorney General Merrick Garland has imposed a moratorium on scheduling federal executions, after they resumed under former President Trump. The Department of Justice (DOJ) will review its policies and procedures on capital punishment, following several federal executions carried out under the Trump administration. Garland justified his decision in a memo to the DOJ saying that “serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases.” “Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers,” he added. Alana Wise reports for NPR News.
The Supreme Court has upheld a pair of Arizona voting rules against claims that Arizona discriminated against minority voters. The Supreme Court ruled that Arizona was not acting unlawfully in enforcing rules that prohibit third parties from collecting mail-in ballots and disallowing votes cast in the wrong precinct. The decision could make it more difficult to challenge state efforts to tighten election regulation. Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin report for the Wall Street Journal.
China’s rapid buildup of its nuclear arsenal is “concerning,” a State Department spokesperson has said. Recent reports and developments, including reports that China had begun constructing more than 100 new missile silos in a desert area in the western part of the country, “suggest that the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] nuclear arsenal will grow more quickly, and to a higher level than perhaps previously anticipated,” the spokesperson said, calling on Beijing to engage with the U.S. “on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races.” David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis report for Reuters.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has waived off Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warning to China’s adversaries at a speech in which he said that China will not be “bullied, oppressed, or subjugated by the people of any country.” In an interview with CNC, Raimondo pledged that the United States would continue to operate as normal and stated that “we’ll do everything we can to make sure that our U.S. companies are treated fairly and are able to have access to the Chinese market,” and that the U.S. will work with allies to “stand up” to China when it comes to the country’s human rights abuses. Tyler Clifford reports for CNBC.
The newest pro-MAGA free-speech social media platform, GETTR, is linked to a Steve Bannon-allied Chinese billionaire. Prior to being revealed as a pro-MAGA app yesterday, GETTR had existed for nearly a year as a Chinese-language social media network linked to Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who runs a Chinese-language media network with Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and on which anti-Chinese Communist Party content had been promoted on a regular basis. Tina Nguyen reports for POLITICO.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Israel has hit Gaza with airstrikes after Hamas fired an incendiary balloon into Israeli territory. Security sources with Hamas said the strikes hit training sites. There were no injuries reported. A statement from Israel’s army said: “in response to the arson balloons fired towards Israeli territory today, (military) fighter jets struck … a weapons manufacturing site belonging to the Hamas terror organization.” Agence France-Presse reports.
Iran has been restricting the access of U.N. nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, citing security concerns after what Iran says was an attack on the site by Israel in April, diplomats say. “They are provoking us,” said one Western diplomat, adding that the IAEA should be able to have full access next week. Iran officials were not available to comment, and the IAEA declined to comment, citing its general policy of not commenting on inspection matters. John Irish and Francois Murphy report for Reuters.
The Ethiopian government has denied blocking humanitarian aid to the Tigray region and that it was doing all it could to rebuild infrastructure. “The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as weapon of war is beyond the pale,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats in Addis Ababa. Dawit Endeshaw reports for Reuters.
Ethiopia’s government has urged Tigrayan rebels to join the government’s unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray conflict, as hostilities persist and aid agencies struggle to reach hundreds of thousands of people facing famine. Reuters reporting.
Pro-democracy protests have continued in Eswatini with growing reports of state violence against demonstrators. The South African government has urged calm and restrain in Eswatini where “protesters are demanding democratic reforms and accuse King Mswati III, who has ruled the tiny mountain kingdom for more than 30 years as an absolute monarch, of repression,” Mogomotsi Magome reports for AP.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has reiterated calls on the Myanmar military to release all those “arbitrarily detained” in the aftermath of the February military coup, including disposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former president Win Myint. The demand comes after Myanmar released more than 2,000 activists and journalists. Eri Kaneko, a spokesperson for Guterres, said in a statement that “we remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests, by the security forces.” Doyinsola Oladipo reports for Reuters.
U.N. backed talks aimed at paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in December in Libya are expected to end today with a statement, but no press conference, a U.N. spokesperson has said. Reuters reporting.
A Jordanian military court has rejected a defense request to have the Jordan Prince Hamza and others testify as witnesses in a case against former royal officials accused of conspiring to destabilize the monarchy, a defense lawyer has said. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports for Reuters.
Women are protesting in Turkey after the Turkish government withdrew from a European treaty aimed at combatting gender-based violence. “Turkey signed the treaty, called the Istanbul Convention, in 2011. In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an unexpected decree announcing Turkey’s intention to withdraw from the treaty, which he and members of his Islamist party have framed as part of a Western plot aimed at harming conservative notions of family and encouraging homosexuality. Ankara’s exit from the treaty took effect Thursday,” Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.
Erdogan has defended Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention saying that it is not a step backwards. “Some circles are trying to portray our withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention as a step backwards in our battle with violence against women,” Erdogan told an action plan meeting in Ankara. “Our battle did not start with the Istanbul Convention and it will not end with our withdrawal from the treaty,” he said. Reuters reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.65 million and now killed over 605,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 182.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.95 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. 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.