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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
U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director, Tony Ornato, who came under scrutiny following testimony from a former White House aide about the Jan. 6 attack, has announced his retirement. Ornato became a central figure in the congressional investigation into the events of Jan. 6, following testimony in June from Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Hutchinson testified that Ornato had told her that then-President Trump lashed out in anger when agents refused to drive him to the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack. The House select committee investigating the insurrection has made clear it believes Ornato was a central figure who could provide valuable information about Trump’s movements and intentions leading up to and on Jan. 6. According to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who serves on the panel, committee members have stressed their desire to speak with Ornato and he has retained private counsel. Jamie Gangel and Whitney Wild report for CNN.
A member of far-right organization Proud Boys who approached Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) during the Jan. 6 attack has been sentenced to more than four years in prison. Joshua Pruitt, 40, pleaded guilty in June to a charge of obstruction of an official proceeding, and following the end of his prison sentence, Pruitt will pay restitution up to $2,000 and will be placed on supervised release for three years. In a statement during his sentencing hearing, Pruitt apologized for his actions during the attack but reiterated that he still believed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
2020 ELECTION PROBE
Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) must testify before the special grand jury investigating efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results, a judge ruled yesterday. In a written order, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said Kemp must honor a subpoena issued to him by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Lawyers for Kemp argued that he can’t be forced to testify because of a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity, which generally protects state government officials from lawsuits. The judge rejected that argument, writing that sovereign immunity applies to civil litigation and “there is nothing about this special grand jury that involves or implicates civil practice.” Jan Wolfe and Cameron McWhirter report for the Wall Street Journal.
FBI agents have already finished their examination of possibly privileged documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, according to a Justice Department court filing. In the filing, prosecutors said the department already had set up a separate filter team to review the documents for potentially privileged information before agents on the investigation examined them. That initial review team identified “a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information,” completed its review of those documents, and was in the process of addressing potential issues with the material, the filing said. This development could render partly duplicative a preliminary decision by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to appoint a special master to review the documents. However, the Monday filing says only that the filter team has reviewed the documents for attorney-client privilege. However, Trump’s request for a special master centered on the assertion that much of the material contained communications that were shielded by executive privilege – a claim the Justice Department has yet to address directly. Devlin Barrett reports for the Washington Post.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) predicted yesterday that prosecuting former President Trump would lead to “riots in the streets.”Appearing on Fox News, Graham drew a comparison between the investigation of Trump and the Justice Department’s decision in 2016 not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for using a private server for State Department communications. “If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hillary Clinton set up a server in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street. I worry about our country,” he said. His comments add an element of menace to the fraught decision facing Justice Department officials as they consider next steps in the investigation of Trump’s handling of classified material. Jonathan Weisman reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Ukrainian forces launched ground assaults along the front in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine yesterday, an apparent stepping up of a counteroffensive aimed at recapturing territory seized by Russia. For months, Ukrainian officials have promised a broad counteroffensive in the Kherson region to push Russian forces from the western bank of the Dnipro River. It was unclear if the fighting on Monday was the start of that larger effort. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
The Ukrainian military has used a fleet of decoys resembling advanced U.S. rocket systems to trick Russian forces into wasting expensive long-range cruise missiles, according to senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials. The Ukrainian decoys are made out of wood but can be indistinguishable from an artillery battery through the lens of Russian drones, which transmit their locations to naval cruise missile carriers in the Black Sea. After a few weeks in the field, the decoys drew at least 10 Kalibr cruise missiles, an initial success that led Ukraine to expand the production of the replicas for broader use, a senior Ukrainian official said. John Hudson reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – ZAPORIZHZHIA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
The International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) is dispatching a team of experts to inspect the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine. The inspection team will not reach the plant until at least Wednesday, according to an official familiar with the agency’s plans. Inspectors from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency will provide the international community with an objective, third-party perspective on what was happening at the plant, hopefully easing global alarm over the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear plant. A list of the team’s members seen by The New York Times includes the nuclear agency’s chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina, and 13 other experts from mostly neutral countries. Neither the United States nor Britain, which Russia has pilloried as unfairly biased because of their strong support for Ukraine, is represented. The New York Times reports.
Russian-installed authorities have accused Ukrainian troops of once again shelling the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the run-up to a planned visit by the I.A.E.A.. Writing on Telegram, Russian-appointed Zaporizhzhia regional official Vladimir Rogov said: “The reason for the shelling is the deliberate intention of the Kyiv leadership to disrupt the IAEA mission”. Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of attacking Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, which was captured by Russia in March but remains close to the frontlines. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Iran delivered two types of military drones to Russia this month according to an Iranian adviser to the government and two U.S. administration officials. This first delivery forms part of a larger order totaling hundreds of the aerial war machines which could be used in Russia’s war against Ukraine. However, whilst the weapons could provide a significant boost for Russia, the transfer of these weapons has been marred by technical problems. In early tests by the Russians, the Iranian drones experienced numerous failures, officials from the U.S. and an allied government said. Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick report for the Washington Post.
Foreign ministers from the E.U. are expected to meet today to make it more difficult for ordinary Russians to travel freely inside the bloc. However, there is already division among member states, with some, like Germany, opposing the idea of “collective punishment,” while others, especially those that share borders with Russia, like Poland, Finland and the Baltic nations, are already moving to restrict the number of Russians entering their countries over land. The E.U. will likely stop short of a blanket ban on visas for Russians, with the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell saying that Brussels needed to be “more selective.” The New York Times reports.
Russia has condemned the destruction of Soviet war memorials in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, warning that “Russophobia” will further damage relations with the countries. In a strongly worded statement, Moscow also accused the three baltic states of persecuting their Russian-speaking minorities. It said Russian-language media, kindergartens and schools were being shut down. “What is happening now in the Baltic states is unacceptable for us and will certainly affect the state of bilateral relations with these countries, which are already in complete decline,” the Foreign Ministry said. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S RESPONSE
The war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types of ammunition, sparking concerns among U.S. officials that American military readiness could be jeopardized by the shortage. Defense and congressional officials familiar with the issue attribute the looming shortage to several factors. The Pentagon’s bureaucracy has been slow to provide new contracts to replenish its stocks and has been reluctant to share its long-term needs with industry. They also attribute part of the problem to the lack of coordination between the part of the Pentagon that works to quickly supply Ukraine with weapons and the bureaucracy responsible for buying equipment. Gordon Lubold, Nancy A. Youssef and Ben Kesling report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. government doesn’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent effort to increase the size of his military by 140,000 troops will succeed. Putin, who last week signed a decree to boost Russia’s combat personnel from 1.9 million to 2.04 million starting next year, is “unlikely to succeed, as Russia has historically not met personnel end strength targets,” a senior U.S. Defense official has said. The official added that prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country “may have already been 150,000 personnel short of their million personnel goal” and trying to expand recruitment efforts by eliminating the upper age limit for new recruits and recruiting prisoners. “This suggests to us that any additional personnel Russia is able to muster by the end of the year may not, in fact, increase overall Russian … combat power,” the official said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
12 people have been shot and killed by Iraqi government security forces during protests in the capital of Baghdad. The violence erupted after the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced he was leaving politics. Sadr’s pronouncement on Twitter sent hundreds of his followers into the streets of Baghdad, where they breached concrete barriers guarding the so-called Green Zone, the site of Parliament, Iraqi government offices and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy. Although political turmoil and street protests are common in Iraq, yesterday’s developments — with a combustible mix of inter-Shiite divisions and the breaching of state institutions, along with political deadlock — could mark an even more dangerous phase. Jan Arraf reports for the New York Times.
Venezuela and Colombia have moved to restore relations that were severed in 2019 when the U.S. and its closest allies moved to isolate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. The re-establishment of relations between the South American neighbors marks a turn for Colombia, the U.S.’s longtime top partner in Latin America. Under newly elected President Gustavo Petro, Colombia has pledged to steer away from the Washington-led pressure campaign against Maduro’s authoritarian government. The resumption of diplomacy means that all large countries in the Americas, save for the U.S, Canada and Brazil, have resumed diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. says efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in the embattled northern Ethiopian region of Tigray have been suspended after fresh fighting broke out last week. The renewed violence – currently concentrated in the neighboring Amhara region – is worsening the crisis amid calls for de-escalation. The U.N. says that aid delivery by road transport into Tigray has not been done since mid-last week. Flights transporting aid workers have also been suspended and operational cash is not being delivered. However, aid that had already been delivered is being distributed.Kalkidan Yibeltal reports for BBC News.
The Soloman Islands has suspended entry into its waters for foreign navy ships pending the adoption of a new process for approval of port visits. The step follows an incident last week when a United States Coast Guard cutter, the Oliver Henry, was unable to make a routine port call because the government did not respond to a request for it to refuel and provision. “We have requested our partners to give us time to review, and put in place our new processes, before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Soloman Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a statement. “These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels,” he said. In a speech on Tuesday afternoon to welcome the visiting US Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy, Sogavare said last week’s delay over the Oliver Henry was because the information had not been sent to his office on time. Reuters reports.
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.