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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.
The Justice Department has indicated that it is open to accepting one of former President Trump’s proposed special master candidates. In a brief court filing, prosecutors said they would not object if Judge Aileen Cannon appointed Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn to oversee an evaluation of the trove of sensitive materials seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Judge Dearie, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, has also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overseeing highly classified matters. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
Trump’s lawyers yesterday asked Judge Cannon to continue blocking the Justice Department from reviewing classified documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. “As this Court correctly observed, a criminal investigation of this import—an investigation of a former President of the United States by the administration of his political rival—requires enhanced vigilance to ensure fairness, transparency, and maintenance of the public trust,” the court filing reads. “Given the significance of this investigation, the Court recognizes, as does President Trump, that it must be conducted in the public view.” In the filing, Trump’s lawyers also claim that “there still remains a disagreement as to the classification status of the documents” that bore the classified markings.” Ryan J. Reilly and Marc Caputo report for NBC News.
A Texas woman who allegedly left a series of threatening messages on the voicemail of Judge Cannon was arrested last week, according to court documents. In the voicemails, Tiffani Shea Gish threatened to have Cannon assassinated in front of her family for “helping” the former president, court documents say. Gish, who identified herself on the messages as “Evelyn Salt,” also said that she was “in charge of nuclear for the United States Government” and claimed that Trump had some responsibility for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Gish is facing two federal charges, including influencing a federal official by threat and interstate communications with a threat to kidnap or injure. She has not yet entered a formal plea. Hannah Rabinowitz reports for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
In a substantial escalation of the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the Justice Department has seized the phones of two top advisers to former President Trump and issued his aides with about 40 subpoenas. The seizure of the phones, coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Trump after the 2020 election, represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the Jan. 6 attack. According to people familiar with the investigation, the seized phones belonged to Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Trump’s legal efforts, and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who was the director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020. Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman, Adam Goldman and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is set to meet today to decide whether to invite Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence to appear before them. Such appearances are exceedingly rare in US history. According to multiple sources, the committee does not expect either man to testify, but some members and staff believe the invitations should be extended for the record. Members of the committee, including Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, have consistently said they’d like to hear from Pence and would welcome Trump’s testimony should he offer it on their terms but internal discussions about formally reaching out to both men have intensified in recent weeks now that the panel’s investigation will soon come to an end, the sources said. Annie Grayer, Jamie Gangel, Zachary Cohen, Gloria Borger and Sara Murray report for CNN.
Former President Trump repeatedly told aides in the days following his 2020 election loss that he would remain in the White House rather than let incoming President Biden take over, according to a forthcoming book by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. Trump’s insistence that he would not be leaving the White House, which has not been previously reported, adds new detail to the chaotic post-election period leading up to the Jan.6 attack. Haberman writes that in the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 3 elections, Trump seemed to recognize he had lost to Biden. However, at some point, the mood changed, with Trump abruptly informing aides he had no intention of departing the White House. Jeremy Herb reports for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate allegations that the Justice Department under President Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Trump politically and pursue his critics. The allegations are in a new book by Geoffrey S. Berman, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 through June 2020, when he was fired by Trump. The chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Durbin (IL), announced the investigation in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. In the letter, Durbin says that the allegations “indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department’s mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence.” He added that the allegations “also compound the already serious concerns” raised by then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s efforts in 2020 “to replace Mr. Berman with a Trump loyalist.” Benjamin Weiser reports for the New York Times.
Iran has taken “a step backward” with its latest response to a nuclear deal proposal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday. Speaking to reporters in Mexico City, Blinken said that a near-term agreement was “unlikely” as Iran is either “unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to reach an agreement.” Ellie Kaufman and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
The Pentagon yesterday offered a cautiously optimistic assessment of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the northeast of the country. A senior military official said that Russian forces “had largely ceded their gains” around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and “withdrawn to the north and the east”, adding that “many of these forces have moved over the border into Russia.” However, the official warned that the rapid advances of the Ukrainian counteroffensive had not fundamentally changed the near-term outlook on the battleground, a cautious message also sent by other senior figures in the U.S. administration. “This continues to be a tough fight for the Ukrainians,” the official said. Felicia Schwartz reports for the Financial Times.
The Ukrainian military has claimed to have advanced into an additional 20 Russian-controlled towns and villages in Ukraine over the past 24 hours, adding to the hundreds of square miles it has retaken in the northeast. It also said it had recaptured nearly 200 square miles in the southern region of Kherson in recent days, in an offensive that aimed to cut off thousands of Russian soldiers stationed west of the Dnipro River in territory that Russia claimed in the initial stages of its invasion. The swift success of Ukraine’s offensive has boosted its European allies ahead of what is expected to be a hard winter of rising fuel costs, and it will likely increase pressure on NATO members to supply Ukraine with heavier weaponry. Andrew E. Kramer, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Shashank Bengali report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Criticism of Russian leadership appears to be mounting in Russia, as more than 40 local Russian officials signed a petition yesterday demanding the resignation of Vladimir Putin from the post of president. The petition, pushed by opponents of the Ukraine invasion, had no practical impact and was roundly ignored in Russia’s state-controlled media. However, it was striking in its very existence, showing that despite the Kremlin’s extraordinary crackdown on dissent, Ukraine’s counteroffensive successes have left opponents of President Vladimir Putin newly emboldened. “There is now hope that Ukraine will end this war,” said Ksenia Torstrem, a member of a municipal council in St. Petersburg who helped organize the petition and called Ukrainian advances an “inspiring factor” for it. “We decided we needed to put pressure on from all sides.” Anton Troianovski reports for the New York Times.
Active negotiations with Ukraine and Russia to end military actions in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are ongoing, the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog has said. “I have seen signs that they are interested in this agreement,” Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters at a news conference. While Grossi declined to go into details given the delicate diplomacy involved, he said he had witnessed “two sides that are engaging with us and are asking questions, lots of questions.” Grossi’s comments suggested that what is under discussion is something less than a demilitarized zone and perhaps more like an agreement to silence arms in and around the plant. Marc Santora and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
At least 49 Armenian soldiers have been killed in clashes along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, Armenian officials have said. The sharp escalation of decades-old hostilities between the countries has fueled fears of a fully-fledged war breaking out, prompting both Russia and the U.S. to call for restraint. “As we have long made clear, there can be no military solution to the conflict,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We urge an end to any military hostilities immediately,” he added. Reuters reports.
Turkey has said that it continued to back Azerbaijan and called on Armenia to “cease its provocations” after clashes erupted between the two countries. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar held talks with Azeri counterpart Zakir Hasanov, the ministry said. “He emphasized that Turkey has always stood by brotherly Azerbaijan and will continue to stand by it in its just causes,” it said. Reuters reports.
Authorities in Pakistan have warned it could take up to six months for deadly flood waters to recede in the country’s hardest-hit areas. In a statement yesterday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said the prolonged monsoon rains will push back efforts to clear the water. The warning comes as fears rise over the threat posed by waterborne diseases including cholera and dengue. “Karachi is seeing an outbreak of dengue as hundreds and thousands of patients are reporting daily at government and private hospitals. The dengue cases this year are 50% higher than last year. With 584,246 people in camps throughout the country, the health crisis could wreak havoc if it will go unchecked,” Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman said. Sophia Saifi, Aliza Kassim and Kathleen Magramo report for CNN.
William Ruto has been sworn in as Kenya’s president following his narrow election win last month. Defeated candidate Raila Odinga did not attend, saying he had “serious concerns” about his opponent’s victory. Ruto won the election with 50.5% of the vote, to Odinga’s 48.8%. Odinga has alleged that the result was rigged, but the Supreme Court has ruled the election was free and fair. Cecilia Macaulay reports for BBC News.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to trail behind his leftist political rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, despite cutting fuel tax and sending monthly cash transfers to poor families, recent election polls show. “Voters are saying ‘Too little, too late,’” said Thomas Traumann, a journalist, consultant and former spokesman for former president Dilma Rouseff, a Bolsonaro predecessor. “After three years of Bolsonaro,” he said, “people are distrustful of his intentions and many of them believe this is all just maneuvering for the election.” Paulina Villegas reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 95.32 million people and has now killed over 1.05 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 609.236million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.52 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.