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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
A tentative bipartisan deal to toughen federal gun laws gained momentum yesterday after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lent public support to the framework. McConnell’s endorsement makes him the 11th Republican in the Senate to back the deal. Assuming all 50 members of the Democratic caucus vote in favour of the legislation, McConnell’s backing provides the deal with the 61 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster. The backing of McConnell also suggests a larger group of perhaps a dozen more Republicans is in play for the legislation, which would represent the most significant new federal gun restrictions since the mid-1990s. Mike DeBonis reports for the Washington Post.
The House has overwhelmingly approved legislation that would extend police protection to the immediate families of Supreme Court justices. The vote was 396 to 27, with all of the opposition coming from Democrats, who tried unsuccessfully to extend the protections to the families of court employees. The action sent the measure to President Biden for his signature. Carl Hulse reports for the New York Times.
Idaho police said they are receiving death threats following the weekend arrests of 31 people believed to be members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front. Coeur d’Alene police officers are still executing search warrants and gathering evidence against the suspects, who are charged with conspiracy to riot, Police Chief Lee White said at a press conference. The department has received anonymous calls and social media messages threatening to harm investigators or dox them by revealing officers’ personal information online, White said. Ginger Adams Otis reports for the Wall Street Journal.
New York’s highest court yesterday rejected former president Trump’s effort to avoid testifying in the state attorney general’s civil investigation into his business practices, clearing the way for his deposition next month. The state’s Court of Appeals said there was no “substantial constitutional question” that would warrant its intervention in the matter following an intermediate appellate court’s ruling last month enforcing a subpoena for Trump’s testimony. AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Public disagreement has emerged between members of the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack over whether it would consider referring criminal charges against former president Trump to the Justice Department. In comments to reporters late Monday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) cast doubt on whether it would make a criminal referral, saying that making such a referral was not the committee’s job. However, other committee members pushed back, with Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeting that the committee had “not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals.” Scott Patterson and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Lawyers for former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon will urge a federal judge today to dismiss an indictment charging him with contempt of Congress for failing to respond to a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee. They argue that prosecuting Bannon violates longstanding Justice Department policies concerning executive branch officials. They also maintain that the committee had no authority to issue the subpoena and that the law making contempt of Congress a crime is unconstitutional. Pete Williams reports for NBC News.
The Biden administration is loosening certain terrorism-related exemptions for Afghan evacuees who worked with or on behalf of the U.S. government so they can qualify for immigration benefits, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced yesterday. “These actions will also ensure that individuals who have lived under Taliban rule, such as former civil servants, those required to pay service fees to the Taliban to do things like pass through a checkpoint or obtain a passport, and those who fought against the Taliban are not mistakenly barred because of overly broad applications of terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds in our immigration law,” the department said in a statement. The exemptions will be on a case-by-case basis after going through screening and vetting, DHS added. Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.
The Biden administration has yet to set out its official position on the legality of Israel’s settlement construction, following the Trump administration’s 2019 declaration that America no longer considered Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being illegal. Biden’s refusal to reserve the Trump-era policy puts the U.S. at odds with most of the international community and suggests that Biden has “no serious interest in trying to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Nahal Toosi and Joseph Geden provide analysis for POLITICO.
As U.S. intelligence agencies ramp up their efforts against China, top officials acknowledge they may also end up collecting more phone calls and emails from Chinese Americans. This has sparked concerns from civil rights groups and advocates about the disparate effect of enhanced surveillance on people of Chinese descent. A new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence makes several recommendations to mitigate these concerns, including expanding unconscious bias training and reiterating internally that federal law bans targeting someone solely due to their ethnicity. Nomaan Merchant and Eric Tucker report for AP.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
After more than a month of heavy fighting, Russian forces now control the majority of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, according to an intelligence update by the U.K.’s defense ministry. Russia’s urban warfare tactics, which are reliant on heavy use of artillery, have generated extensive collateral damage throughout the city, it adds.
Up to 1,200 civilians may be holed up in the shelters of the Azot chemical plant in the city of Severodonetsk, a Russia-backed separatist has said. Russia yesterday said it dismissed a Ukrainian request for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians to Kyiv-controlled territory, citing the destruction of the last bridge across the Siverskyi Donets river which blocks the city’s eastern exits. Reuters reports.
Ukraine shows no signs of obeying a Russian ultimatum to surrender Severodonetsk. Russia had told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant in the shattered city to stop “senseless resistance and lay down arms” from Wednesday morning, pressing its advantage in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine. However, the mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, said after the early morning deadline passed that whilst Russian forces were trying to storm the city from several directions, Ukrainian forces continued to defend it and were not completely cut off. Pavel Polityuk reports for Reuters.
Russian missiles have destroyed an ammunition warehouse for weapons donated by NATO alliance countries in Ukraine’s western Lviv region, according to Russia’s defense ministry. Some of the ammunition was to be used for U.S.-produced M777 howitzers, a type of artillery weapon. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
NATO defense ministers are set to meet in Brussels today as they contend with widening rifts over how much military assistance to give Ukraine. The two-day gathering comes as the battle for eastern Ukraine enters a critical stage, with Russia grinding out steady gains and controlling most of the resource-rich Donbas region. However, despite growing anxiety amongst some NATO members who want to avoid a stalemate, a top Pentagon official repeated the standard American position yesterday that the U.S. would not pressure Ukraine into negotiating a cease-fire. The New York Times reports.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with defense leaders from some 50 nations today to discuss future military assistance for Ukraine. The meeting will take place in Brussels alongside a gathering of NATO defense ministers and will focus on, amongst other things, weapons handling training for Ukrainian soldiers. Amy Chen reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. expects more announcements of weapons and equipment packages to be sent to Ukraine to help in its fight against Russia, according to a senior U..S defense official. The official would not detail what countries would be announcing new security packages following today’s meeting in Brussels, or what those shipments would include, but noted that the US works “very closely” with allies to figure out what Ukraine’s armed forces need and then find those systems to send over. Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
President Emmanuel Macron has voiced a tougher line on Russia after visiting French and allied troops at a NATO base in Romania. The French leader has previously been criticised by Ukraine and eastern European allies for what they perceived as his ambiguous backing for Ukraine in the war against Russia. However, in recent days he and French officials have sought to strengthen public messaging. “We will do everything to stop Russia’s war forces, to help the Ukrainians and their army and continue to negotiate,” Macron told French and NATO troops at the Romanian military base. Manuel Ausloos and Luiza Ilie report for Reuters.
NATO must build “even higher readiness” and strengthen its weapons capabilities along its eastern border in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday. Responding to a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier yesterday for more long-range weapons, Stoltenberg also said he agreed that Kyiv should be supplied with more heavy weaponry, but provided no details. Stephanie van den Berg reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been transferred from the penal colony where he was serving his term to a higher security prison facility. The jailed politician was relocated to a maximum-security prison in Melekhovo in the Vladimir Region, according to Russia’s state media outlet TASS citing Sergey Yazhan, chairman of the regional public oversight commission. Karen Smith and Anna Chernova report for CNN.
Nicaragua’s Congress yesterday renewed a decade-long decree allowing Russian forces to train in the Central American country. The decision, which was expected given Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s ongoing support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has sparked criticism from the U.S. in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We consider this a provocation by the Nicaraguan regime,” Brian Nichols, who is in charge of western hemisphere affairs at the State Department, said. Ismael Lopez reports for Reuters.
The E.U.’s top aviation safety regulator has expressed concern about the safety of Western-made aircraft continuing to fly in Russia without access to spare parts and proper maintenance. The E.U. and the U.S. have moved to restrict Russia’s access to spare parts following its invasion of Ukraine. “This is very unsafe,” Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference, adding regulators do not have good data on many of the planes flying in Russia or if any have experienced safety issues in recent months. David Shepardson reports for Reuters.
The Russian invasion has forced a large majority of Ukrainian children to leave their homes, a regional director for the United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) has said. “Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children are displaced — whether displaced inside the country or those who have fled across borders as refugees,” Afshan Khan, regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said at a news conference in New York. As these numbers show, the war in Ukraine is a child rights crisis, and U.N.I.C.E.F. is working to support children and families wherever they are in the country,” Khan added. Richard Roth and Mick Krever report for CNN.
A Russian court yesterday extended the pretrial detention of the W.N.B.A. basketball star Brittney Griner on drug smuggling charges until July 2, pushing her jail stint past the four-month mark. The Khimki Court of the Moscow region granted the 18-day extension at the request of investigators, state news agency TASS quoted the court’s press service as saying. Neil MacFarquhar reports for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Last-minute legal challenges yesterday grounded a flight that was scheduled to take asylum seekers from the U.K. to Rwanda. A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights effectively halted the deportations, dealing a significant blow to a new hard-line migration policy from the U.K. government. In a statement, the home secretary, Priti Patel, said it was “very surprising that the European Court of Human Rights has intervened despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts.” She added: “We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans to control our nation’s borders. Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.” Stephen Castle, Cora Engelbrecht and Abdo Latif Dahir report for the New York Times.
The E.U. has launched new legal proceedings against the U.K. over its failure to implement parts of the post-Brexit deal it agreed with the bloc. The British government published plans earlier this week to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the deal designed to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open and avoid a return to sectarian violence. The European Commission said it launched the infringement proceeding because the U.K. has failed to implement the agreement “despite repeated calls” to do so. Ivana Kottasova reports for CNN.
Colombia’s police are on maximum alert after detecting plans by radical groups to reject the results of a second presidential election vote this coming Sunday. Colombians will go to the polls on Sunday to choose between leftist Gustavo Petro, who has vowed profound economic and social change, and construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez, a political outsider who has pledged to shrink government. Plans to cause violence and reject electoral results were discovered across social media, as well as on the deep web and dark web in posts published by false or anonymous accounts, according to top police official General Luis Vargas. Reuters reports.
Any Chinese military attack on Taiwan would have a greater impact on global trade flows than the Ukraine war, according to Taipei’s top trade negotiator, John Deng. “The disruption to international supply chains; disruption on the international economic order; and the chance to grow would be much, much (more) significant than this one,” he told Reuters. Emma Farge reports for Reuters.
Theary Seng, a Cambodian American lawyer and a human rights activist, was sentenced to six years in prison yesterday as part of Cambodia’s crackdown on opponents of the nation’s prime minister, Hun Sen. Theary Seng — a refugee who escaped Cambodia’s killing fields and who had returned from the U.S. to help build democracy — was convicted of conspiracy to commit treason, along with dozens of other critics and opposition politicians. Seth Mydans reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 85.76 million people and has now killed over 1.01 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 536.720 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.31 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout 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.