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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.
JAN. 6 ATTACK – PUBLIC HEARINGS
At yesterday’s public hearing the Jan. 6 committee revealed how former President Trump’s tweets and public comments spurred far-right groups to violence. Witnesses at the hearing also described a heated argument on Dec. 18, 2020, in which Trump’s White House lawyers rejected claims of widespread election fraud by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other outside advisers. Then, in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, Trump tweeted: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Committee members said the tweet sparked far-right groups, including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, to start planning for a potential attack. Scott Patterson and Alexa Corse report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Dec. 18, 2020 meeting between White House lawyers, Trump and his advisors lasted for more than six hours and devolved into shouting and insults, the Jan. 6 committee revealed yesterday. Participants offered a series of jolting new details of the meeting – which became known as an “unhinged” event. “It got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there,” Eric Herschmann, a White House lawyer, told the committee in videotaped testimony. “I mean, you got people walking in — it was late at night, it had been a long day. And what they were proposing, I thought was nuts.” Maggie Haberman reports for the New York Times.
A man who took part in the Jan. 6 attack apologized yesterday to officers who protected the Capitol, after telling the Jan. 6 committee that he regretted being duped by former President Trump’s claims of election fraud. During a hearing before the committee, Stephen Ayres testified that he felt called by Trump to come to Washington. He described being swept up by Trump’s false claims and believing as he marched to the Capitol that Trump would join them there and that there was still a chance the election could be overturned. Michael Kunzelman and Alanna Durkin Richer report for AP.
Rep. Liz Cheney said yesterday that the Jan. 6 committee had been told that former President Trump reached out in the last two weeks to a witness in the panel’s investigation. “After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation, a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings,” said Cheney. The committee has informed the Justice Department of the approach. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
On the evening of Oct. 31, 2020, Steve Bannon told a group of associates that then President Trump had a plan to declare victory on election night even if he was losing, a leaked audio recording has revealed. Trump knew that the slow counting of Democratic-leaning mail-in ballots meant the returns would show early leads for him in key states. His “strategy” was to use this fact to assert that he had won, while claiming that the inevitable shifts in vote totals toward Joe Biden must be the result of fraud, Bannon can be heard explaining. Dan Friedman reports for Mother Jones.
The Jan. 6 committee has “started producing information” for the Department of Justice relevant to its request for transcripts of interviews conducted by the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said yesterday. “We have started producing information about who we have interviewed and that kind of thing pursuant to what they have requested. We are in the process, negotiating how that information will be viewed, whether it’s an in camera review, or what,” Thompson said. Annie Grayer reports for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law yesterday allowing victims of gun violence to file civil suits against the companies that manufacture the firearms used in crimes. “To the victims of gun violence and their families: California stands with you. The gun industry can no longer hide from the devastating harm their products cause,” Newsom said in a statement posted on Twitter. Cheri Mossburg reports for CNN.
A security video published yesterday by two Texas news outlets shows police officers retreating from the classroom where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The video provides the first view of a law enforcement response that has previously been called an “abject failure” by a Texas public safety official. Time Stelloh reports for NBC News.
The Justice Department yesterday announced a task force aimed at identifying ways to protect reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The Reproductive Rights Task Force, chaired by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, will “monitor and evaluate” state and local legislation and enforcement that might infringe on a person’s ability to seek reproductive care, ban abortion-inducing drugs or impose criminal or civil consequences on federal employees who provide reproductive health services that are legal under federal law. “The Court abandoned 50 years of precedent and took away the constitutional right to abortion, preventing women all over the country from being able to make critical decisions about our bodies, our health, and our futures. The Justice Department is committed to protecting access to reproductive services,” Gupta said in a statement. Hannah Rabinowitz and Shawna Mizelle report for CNN.
Top immigration officials are planning to instruct detention centers that women in custody are entitled to abortions and should be transferred to receive one if they are being detained in a state where abortion is now illegal. The directive is contained in an undated memorandum, which cites the recent Supreme Court decision that ended the federal right to an abortion. “This memorandum serves as a reminder of existing ICE policies and standards requiring that pregnant individuals detained in ICE immigration custody have access to full reproductive health care,” the memo states. “This is also a reminder that, pursuant to existing ICE policy, it may be necessary to transfer a detained pregnant individual within an area of responsibility (AOR) or to another AOR, when appropriate and practicable, in order to ensure such access.” Michelle Hackman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Twitter yesterday sued Elon Musk over the billionaire’s attempt to walk away from his $44 billion takeover bid, seeking to force him to honor the terms of the deal. The suit, filed in Delaware Chancery Court, comes days after Musk moved to terminate the acquisition, saying the company hadn’t provided the necessary data and information he needed to assess the prevalence of fake or spam accounts and was “in material breach of multiple provisions” of the merger agreement. Twitter said Musk had a change of heart as soon as market conditions soured, resulting in his personal wealth declining by more than $100 billion from its November 2021 peak. “Rather than bear the cost of the market downturn, as the merger agreement requires, Musk wants to shift it to Twitter’s stockholders,” the company said. Cara Lombardo and Sarah E. Needleman report for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Ukraine’s military says it has destroyed a Russian ammunition depot in the southern city of Nova Kakhovka, killing dozens of soldiers. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak attributed the attack to the U.S.-supplied Himars multiple rocket launcher and spoke of a “reality collision” for the world’s “second army”. A Russian-installed official in the southern Kherson region, Katerina Gubareva, accused Ukraine of bombing “peaceful cities with American weapons,” saying that homes and warehouses were hit, leaving seven dead and up to 80 injured. Paul Kirby reports for BBC News.
Russia’s defense ministry said yesterday that Russian forces shot down four Ukrainian military jets in Ukraine. Russian forces destroyed an Su-25 and Su-24 – both Soviet-era jets used by the Ukrainian air force – over the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine along with another Su-25 and a Mig-29, another Soviet-designed fighter aircraft, in the Mykolaiv region of southern Ukraine, the defense ministry said in a daily briefing. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
A Russian military delegation has arrived in Istanbul to meet their Ukrainian and Turkish counterparts and U.N. officials for talks on resuming exports of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea port of Odesa. Turkey has been working with the U.N. to broker a deal after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent prices soaring for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer. “We are working hard indeed but there is still a way to go,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday. “Many people are talking about it. We prefer to try and do it.” Reuters reports.
NATO and E.U. states are pushing for better tracking of weapons supplied to Ukraine in response to fears that criminal groups are smuggling them out of the country and on to Europe’s black market. A number of NATO member states are discussing with Kyiv some form of tracking system or detailed inventory lists for weapons supplied to Ukraine, two western officials briefed on the talks said. The issue of arms trafficking from Ukraine was also discussed at a meeting of E.U. interior ministers this week, while on Monday the European Commission launched an “E.U. Support Hub” in neighboring Moldova to provide expertise and co-operation to combat issues such as weapons smuggling. Henry Foy, Sam Fleming and Roman Olearchyk report for the Financial Times.
One of Islamic State’s “top five” leaders has been killed during a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Syria. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) identified the senior IS official as Maher al-Agal, describing him as the leader of the group’s Syrian province and as a critical liaison between IS core and its affiliates around the world. In a statement yesterday, President Biden praised the strike for sending “a powerful message.” Jeff Seldin reports for VOA News.
President Biden will arrive in Israel today for his first trip to the Middle East. While most presidents have centered their visits to Israel around trying to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are no indications from Biden administration officials that there are plans to do anything more than reaffirm Biden’s support for a two-state solution. Instead, much of the emphasis ahead of the trip has been focused on improving relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors as part of Biden’s wider efforts to bring stability to the region and counter Iran’s growing nuclear threat. After two days in Israel and a visit to the West Bank, Biden plans to travel to Saudi Arabia. Shannon Pettypiece reports for NBC News.
On his first trip to the Middle East Biden will embrace the Trump-era Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries. U.S. officials have been working to deepen Israeli-Arab security coordination and broker agreements that will inch Israel and Saudi Arabia — which do not have diplomatic relations — closer to normalization. People familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia is expected to announce this week that it will allow all commercial flights to and from Israel to use its airspace and allow Israel’s Muslim minority to take charter flights directly to Saudi Arabia to participate in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Biden will also fly directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel, a moment that he called a “small symbol of the budding relations” between the two countries. Jeremy Diamond and Natasha Bertrand report for CNN.
Just Security has published a piece by Philip Mousavizadeh, Katherine Fang and Clara Apt giving context to President Biden’s Middle East trip.
A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near a disputed South China Sea island chain on Wednesday challenging the restrictions imposed by China and others on transit through the area. Lt. Nicholas Lingo, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet headquartered in Japan, said it was the second so-called freedom of navigation operation in the Paracel Islands — known as the Xisha Islands in China — so far this year, and the third targeting Beijing’s “excessive maritime claims” in regional waters during the same period. The operation by the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold challenged not only China but Vietnam and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which also claim the islands, as all three governments require military vessels to seek permission or give advance notice of “innocent passage” through the area, Lingo said. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
Cybersecurity experts argued yesterday that the U.S. is falling behind the European Union when it comes to being a leader in the realm of cyber security. Panelists at a virtual Council on Foreign Relations event called the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation, a law governing privacy and security rules, the global standard. Experts at the event, including former Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), said that, amongst other things, the U.S. needs to build cyber coalitions with allied nations, create a digital trade agreement and create an international cybercrime center. Stephen Neukam reports for The Hill.
Mexico agreed yesterday to invest $1.5 billion in technology at its border with the U.S. following a meeting between President Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In a joint statement released by the White House, the two leaders said they would fund a joint infrastructure effort to improve security and efficiency at the southern border. The U.S. will also contribute $3.4 billion to 26 modernization projects at land ports of entry. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has fled Sri Lanka on a military aircraft for the Maldives, according to the country’s air force. Rajapaksa, who was due to resign following mass protests, leaves behind a deepening economic and political crisis. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed acting president- although he is also a target of protesters’ ire, and previously said he would resign once a new unity government was in place. Mahendra Patnaweera and John Reed report for the Financial Times.
The U.N. Security Council has reauthorised cross-border deliveries of aid to rebel-held Syria for six months. Ireland and Norway put forward the resolution, which renews humanitarian deliveries through the Bab-al Hawa border crossing through January and calls for an additional six-month extension which will require another separate resolution. Twelve countries voted in favor, while three nations – France, the United Kingdom and the United States – abstained. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the outcome: “Today’s approval for an initial 6-month period will help us continue working to save lives and alleviate suffering,” he said in a tweet. UN News Centre reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 88.75 million people and has now killed over 1.02 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 556.586 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.35 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.