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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.
U.S. RELATIONS – CHINA, TAIWAN
More than 100 warplanes and 10 warships have taken part in live-fire military drills surrounding Taiwan over the past two days, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. China has also announced sanctions against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her visit to Taiwan earlier this week. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said that Pelosi had disregarded China’s serious concerns and resolute opposition to her visit. It called Pelosi’s visit provocative and said it undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. AP reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan a “significant escalation.” The exercises, which included missiles fired into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, were launched following a visit to the island by Pelosi. Speaking to reporters at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia, Blinken said that Pelosi’s visit did not represent a change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan, and accused China of using it as a “pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.” He also said the situation had led to a “vigorous communication” during East Asia Summit meetings in which both he and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took part. David Rising reports for AP.
Pelosi has said that the U.S. will continue to engage with Taiwan despite criticism from China. “We will not allow them to isolate Taiwan,” Pelosi said of Beijing. Referring to China’s military drills, she said that Beijing was “probably using our visit as an excuse.” Peter Landers reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The White House summoned China’s ambassador yesterday to condemn Beijing’s escalating actions against Taiwan and reiterate that the U.S. does not want a crisis in the region. “After China’s actions overnight, we summoned [People’s Republic of China] Ambassador Qin Gang to the White House to démarche him about the PRC’s provocative actions,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “We condemned the PRC’s military actions, which are irresponsible and at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” A démarche is a protest lodged through diplomatic channels. Yasmeen Abutaleb reports for the Washington Post.
The Pentagon has directed the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to remain in the area near Taiwan, to monitor the situation as China carries out its live-fire military drills. In addition, the U.S. has delayed a planned test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to avoid increasing tensions, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. “As China engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan, the United States is demonstrating instead the behavior of a responsible nuclear power, by reducing the risks of miscalculation and misperception,” Kirby said of the decision. Olivia Olander reports for POLITICO.
China has said it is halting cooperation with the U.S. in a number of areas, including dialogue between senior-level military commanders and climate talks. China’s foreign ministry also said that it was suspending cooperation with Washington on prevention of cross-border crime and drug trafficking, and on repatriating illegal migrants. Reuters reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
FBI Director Christopher Wray has expressed concern over potential terrorist attacks on U.S. soil emanating from Afghanistan, citing growing intelligence gaps since U.S. troops pulled out of the country. The FBI director added that he was worried terrorists in the US could be inspired by the potential growth of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. “I’m worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute, ISIS-K potentially taking advantage of the deteriorating security environment, and I’m worried about terrorists, including here in the United States, being inspired by what they see over there,” Wray said. Holmes Lybrand and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
The Biden administration is set to unveil a new strategy on Africa aimed at reviving U.S. engagement across the continent, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. It is also hoped that the strategy, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to preview during an upcoming visit to Africa, will enable the U.S. to compete with geopolitical rivals such as China and Russia for influence in the region. Robbie Gramer reports for Foreign Policy.
The U.S. and Russia have indicated they are reading to hold talks over a prisoner swap, following the conviction of basketball star Brittney Griner. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil through a Moscow airport. Speaking to reporters at the Association of South East Asian Nations summit in Cambodia, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Kremlin is “ready to discuss this topic.” Shortly after, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. will “pursue” talks with Russia. “We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that. And we’ll be pursuing that,” Blinken told reporters. Rob Picheta, Josh Pennington and Vasco Cotovio report for CNN.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former President Trump’s legal team is in direct communication with Justice Department officials concerning their criminal probe into the Jan. 6 attack. The Trump team’s discussions are with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, DC, which is in charge of the investigation, and its top Jan. 6 prosecutor Thomas Windom. According to sources familiar with the matter, the talks are currently focused on whether any communications that witnesses from the Trump West Wing had with the former President can be kept from a federal criminal grand jury under Trump’s claims of executive privilege. The issue has arisen as grand jury subpoenas have been issued to two former White House counsel’s office officials and to former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief counsel and chief of staff. Katelyn Polantz, Kara Scannell, Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes report for CNN.
The Pentagon issued a memo yesterday reminding officials that they must retain text messages that qualify as federal records. From now on, data on government phones must be saved after employees return the devices to the department, the memo said. The change in policy comes as the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security face scrutiny over their handling of text messages from around the time of the Jan. 6 attack. Earlier this week it was revealed that the Pentagon wiped the phones of a number of top Trump administration defense officials, in the days after the attack, losing potentially important evidence. Alexa Corse and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
The lawyer for plaintiffs who are suing the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said that he plans to turn over two years of text messages from Jones’s phone to the Jan. 6 committee. Mark Bankston, who represents Sandy Hook parents suing Jones in defamation lawsuits for lies he had spread about the 2012 school shooting, said in court that he planned to turn over the texts unless a judge instructed him not to do so. “I certainly intend to do that, unless you tell me not to,” Bankston told the judge, Maya Guerra Gamble. The committee panel has been in touch with the plaintiffs’ lawyers about obtaining materials from Jones’s phone, according to a person familiar with the matter. Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A Texas jury yesterday ordered Alex Jones to pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. This is the first time the Infowars host has been held financially liable for repeatedly claiming that the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax. The jury must still decide how much Jones must pay in punitive damages. The award could set a marker for other cases against Jones and underlines the financial threat he’s facing. It also raises new questions about the ability of Infowars — which has been banned from YouTube, Spotify and Twitter for hate speech — to continue operating. POLITICO reports.
The Justice Department has charged four current and former police officers in the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, alleging violations of Fourth Amendment and civil rights that led to her death. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that Officers Joshua Jaynes and Kelly Goodlett and Sgt. Kyle Meany had been charged with Fourth Amendment violations for pursuing a warrant they knew contained false information. A former detective, Brett Hankison, was also charged in a separate indictment with the use of excessive force that violated Taylor’s civil rights. Lamar Johnson reports for POLITICO.
Former Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced was arrested yesterday on bribery charges, the Justice Department has said. The former governor is alleged to have participated in a bribery scheme to finance her 2020 gubernatorial campaign. The scheme is “yet another example of allegations of corporate corruption aimed at elected officials in the United States,” said Corey Amundson, chief of the public integrity section for the Justice Department. “This is a disturbing national trend that is not limited to Puerto Rico,” he added. Allison Prang reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Former President Trump’s two eldest children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, have testified in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil tax fraud probe into the Trump Organization. Trump Jr., executive vice president of the company, testified in the case last week and Ivanka, a former executive, testified Wednesday, according to sources close to the investigation. Neither of them pleaded the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Rebecca Shabad and Adam Reiss report for NBC News.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Amnesty International of trying to “shift the responsibility” of civilian deaths away from Russia. In a statement published yesterday Amnesty International claimed Ukraine’s forces had at times used tactics that endangered civilians and violated international humanitarian law. Zelenskyy said the report showed “immoral selectivity,” adding that “anyone who amnesties Russia and who artificially creates such informational context where some attacks by terrorists are supposedly justified or supposedly understandable cannot fail to understand that, in doing so, they are helping the terrorists.” Mohammed Tawfeeq reports for CNN.
A new satellite that Russia is preparing to launch on Iran’s behalf next week, will be used to assist its own war effort in Ukraine, according to Western security officials. The satellite, which was scheduled to launch on Aug. 9, will give Tehran unprecedented capabilities to spy on military targets across the Middle East, including near-continuous monitoring of sensitive facilities in Israel and the Persian Gulf. However, Russia has told Tehran that it plans to use the satellite for several months, or longer, to enhance its surveillance of military targets in that conflict. Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima report for the Washington Post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, plan to meet today in the southern Russian Black Sea town of Sochi. The meeting will be their second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks, with Erdogan emerging as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia. However, despite Turkey’s refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, a decision which had irked its N.A.T.O. allies, stark differences remain between the two leaders. Neil MacFarquhar reports for the New York Times.
Three more ships with grain have left Ukrainian ports and are headed to Turkey for inspection, Turkey’s defense ministry has said. The three ships that left Ukrainian ports are the Turkish-flagged Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tons of corn, which left the Chornomorsk port bound for Karasu, Turkey. The Panama-flagged Navi Star left Odesa’s port for Ireland with 33,000 tons of corn. The Maltese-flagged Rojen left Chornomorsk for the U.K. carrying over 13,000 tons of corn, according to the U.N.. The U.N. said the joint coordination center overseeing the deal had authorized the three ships as the operation expands, and also inspected a ship headed for Ukraine. Zeynep Bilginsoy reports for AP.
COVID-19 has infected over 91.96 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 582.083 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.41 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.