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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 & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
Justice Department prosecutors are preparing to fight in court to force former White House officials to testify about then-President Trump’s conversations and actions around Jan.6 according to people briefed on the matter. At issue are claims of executive privilege that prosecutors expect the former president to make in order to shield some information from the federal grand jury. Trump’s attempt to maintain secrecy came up most recently in the federal grand jury testimony of Marc Short and Greg Jacob, close aides to former Vice President Mike Pence. Before their testimony, prosecutors, along with lawyers for Short and Jacob, outlined some questions they would avoid in order to steer clear of potential privilege issues, with the expectation that they could return to those questions at a later date, the people briefed on the matter said. Neither would answer questions about their direct interactions with Trump when they testified in the criminal investigation in recent weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter. The extent of a former president’s executive privilege to shield testimony in a criminal investigation remains unsettled law and confronting the privilege issue reflects the care the Justice Department is taking as it faces the unusual situation of investigating a former president for actions taken while in office. Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
Former Justice Department staffer Ken Klukowski, who worked with Jeffrey Clark at the agency, is cooperating in the department’s Jan. 6 criminal investigation, after investigators searched and copied his electronic records several weeks ago. Klukowski’s proximity to Clark suggests investigators are seeking more information about the former Justice Department lawyer. Trump had sought to install Clark as attorney general in the days before the Jan. 6 attack as top officials refused to go along with his voter fraud claims. Klukowski could provide unique insight into Clark, who was at the center of efforts by Trump to get the Justice Department to falsely claim there was significant voter fraud in Georgia and other Biden-won states. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. attack intends to share 20 transcripts with the Justice Department, a committee spokesperson has said. The statement confirms what the committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), told POLITICO yesterday: that the panel has developed a framework to begin sharing transcripts and evidence with federal prosecutors. The statement also makes clear that any initial cooperation will be limited and, for now, won’t amount to the production of all 1,000 witness interview transcripts that prosecutors have been seeking since April. Although it is not immediately clear which transcripts the committee will be handing over, Thompson previously said the department was interested in individuals connected to the plan to put forward “fake electors” for Trump. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
Text messages for Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, according to people briefed on the matter and internal emails. The DHS notified the agency’s inspector general in late Feb. 2021 that Wolf and Cuccinelli’s texts were lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs. The office of Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari did not press the department leadership at that time to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor seek ways to recover the lost data. Cuffari also failed to alert Congress to the potential destruction of government records. The revelation comes on the heels of an almost identical scenario involving text messages of Secret Service agents, increasing the volume of potential evidence that has vanished regarding the Jan. 6 attack. Carol D. Leonnig and Maria Sacchetti report for the Washington Post.
Mick Mulvaney, who was the acting White House chief of staff for Trump, testified yesterday before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff in 2019 and early 2020, arrived for his closed-door deposition with the committee around 1:40 p.m. and departed 2½ hours later. When Trump tapped Mark Meadows to replace Mulvaney as chief of staff, he appointed Mulvaney, a former House member from South Carolina who was also the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. Mulvaney resigned from that role on the night of the Jan. 6 attack. Ali Vitali, Haley Talbot and Christina Zhao report for NBC News.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Former U.S. Marine, Matthew Belanger, planned to attack a New York synagogue and engage in “widespread homicide and sexual assault” targeting minorities, federal prosecutors have argued in court documents. Belanger, who according to the government’s filing was discharged from service in May 2021 due to alleged “dissident/extremist activity,” was arrested last month by FBI agents on weapons charges. The government’s filing describing Belanger’s alleged extremist activity was submitted in response to a motion by the defendant to have his detention order reviewed. A judge ultimately denied his request. To date, court records do not indicate that Belanger has been charged with hate crimes nor conducting or threatening attacks. Josh Campbell reports for CNN.
A prisoner accused of plotting Al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S.S. Cole warship in 2000 told federal interrogators years later that he was waterboarded by the CIA, an interpreter testified yesterday. However, this detail was omitted from the official account of the interrogations that prosecutors want to use at his death-penalty trial as evidence that he confessed. “He talked about the waterboarding,” said John J. Elkaliouby, who worked for the F.B.I. as an Arabic linguist from 1994 to 2015. “He said, ‘I was waterboarded by the C.I.A.,’ and I reported that to the whole team.” This revelation came in the latest pretrial hearings in the long-running case. At issue in the hearings is whether the military judge will accept a 34-page memo written by agents who questioned the prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, at Guantánamo Bay for three days in early 2007. The account of the interrogation is considered critical trial evidence. Defense lawyers say it is tainted by torture and want it excluded. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating a cyber breach involving the federal court records management system, the department’s top national security attorney told lawmakers yesterday. Matt Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, alluded to the threat of cyber attacks by foreign nations as he told the U.S. House of Representative Judiciary Committee that the incident was a “significant concern. Whilst, Olsen did not comment on who was behind the attack, he noted that his division was focused generally on the risk of cyber attacks by foreign nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Sarah N. Lynch and Nate Raymond report for Reuters.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested the activation of National Guard troops to assist with migrants arriving in the district, according to letters sent by her office to U.S. military and White House officials. “Our ability to assist people in need at this scale is very limited,” Bowser said in one letter, adding that non-profit organizations welcoming migrants in Washington are “overwhelmed and underfunded.” The bus trips were organized by the Texas and Arizona state governments, in protest against the Biden administration’s border policies. Ted Hesson reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Russia’s defense ministry has accused Ukrainian forces of killing 40 prisoners in a strike in separatist-held eastern Ukraine. “The pre-trial detention center in the area of the settlement of Yelenovka (Olenivka), which contains Ukrainian military prisoners of war, including militants of the Azov formation, was hit by a missile attack from the American HIMARS multiple launch rocket system,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry claimed that “40 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 were wounded. In addition, eight employees of the isolation ward received injuries of varying severity.” Tim Lister and Josh Pennington report for CNN.
Missiles and rockets rained down on northern Ukraine yesterday, marking the first time in weeks that the Kyiv region has been hit. A Kalibr cruise missile struck a military base in the Vyshgorod area, north of Kyiv, early yesterday morning, according to military officials. At least 20 rockets were fired from Belarus into northern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials. Nine hit the Chernihiv region, while air-defense systems took out others. Ian Lovett and Evan Gershkovich report for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Five House members are set to introduce legislation to officially designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The introduction of the bill will put Congress on a collision course with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as Congress previously granted the secretary of State the authority to designate a country as a terrorist state. However, according to Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), one of the co-leaders of the bill, whilst Congress can pass a law to give the executive an authority to do something, “it doesn’t prevent Congress from continuing to legislate on that thing.” Blinken has been hesitant about designating Russia as a terrorist state, with some speculating that this is due to the administration’s ongoing efforts to free U.S. citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from Russian detention. Alexander Ward, Andrew Desiderio and Quint Forgey report for POLITICO.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Whilst the U.N. had been hoping for the first shipment of grain to leave Ukraine’s Odesa port yesterday, procedural details for safe passage are still being worked out, the organization’s chief aid coordinator has said. Martin Griffiths, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told reports, “getting the procedures is an essential precondition to safe movements of ships. So it’s no surprise that we haven’t seen a ship move yet.” He noted that the parties need to get the exact location of safe passage corridors “absolutely nailed down,” adding “I think we’ll see this very quickly.” Amy Cassidy reports for CNN.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that a call is being arranged between him and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, adding that it would “be interesting to listen to Blinken’s proposals on a prisoner swap.” Blinken has not confirmed that the U.S. is floating a prisoner exchange, saying only that a “substantial deal” has been offered. Grace Moon, David Walker and Sean Fanning report for the Washington Post.
President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held a lengthy discussion yesterday, as tensions mount over Taiwan. The two leaders agreed to begin arrangements for a face-to-face summit, and certain areas of cooperation, including climate change, were hashed out. However, the Taiwan issue remained a serious point of conflict with Xi offering an ominous warning to Biden. “Public opinion shall not be violated, and if you play with fire you get burned. I hope the US side can see this clearly,” Xi told Biden, according to China’s state news agency. Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of working with Saudi Arabia to resolve Europe’s energy crisis in a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday. The French President underlined “the importance of pursuing the committed coordination with Saudi Arabia in the perspective of the diversification of European states’ energy supplies,” according to an Élysée Palace readout released today. In a wide-ranging discussion, the two leaders also touched upon the question of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Joseph Ataman and Camille Knight report for CNN.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee has urged Hong Kong to repeal its National Security Law, expressing concern about its “overly broad interpretation” and consequences for groups and individuals in the city. The committee raised concerns that the law, which was imposed on the city in June 2020, had led to an excessive number of trade unions and student unions relocating or ceasing operations as well as the arrest of more than 200 people, including 12 children. The comments dealt a blow to the city’s government, which assigned a nine-member delegation to attend meetings with the committee earlier in the month and defended its use of the national-security law. A spokesperson for the government said it was “completely dismayed that the committee continues to express unsubstantiated criticisms” towards the city despite the delegation’s efforts to address and clarify the members’ concerns. Natasha Khan reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Myanmar has executed four prisoners, including two well-known democracy activists, as the country’s military junta continues its campaign to crush opposition. Myanmar’s state-controlled news agency said that the four men—Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw—were involved in “terror acts” including murder, but didn’t provide details of the charges, nor how or when the men were executed. The executions are believed to be the first in the country since the late 1980s, and have drawn criticism from the U.N.. “I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy,” said Tom Andrews, the U.N.s’ special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. “These individuals were tried, convicted, and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of international human rights law.” Feliz Solomon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 90.05 million people and has now killed over 1.03 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 566.846million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.38 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.