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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.
Former President Trump’s legal defense team and federal prosecutors appeared at a sealed hearing related to the Mar-a-Lago investigation yesterday. This was the first appearance in a DC federal courthouse by the Trump legal team that is primarily handling the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation. The full scope of the two-hour hearing with Chief Judge Beryl Howell is unclear. However, the development is the latest sign of prosecutors attempting to move forward with their investigation into the handling of documents from the Trump presidency after he left office. Kaitlan Collins, Hannah Rabinowitz, Casey Gannon and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is wrapping up its review of more than a million pages of Secret Service documents and plans to bring in top officials from the agency to testify in the coming weeks, according to sources familiar with the matter. The widening list, which sources say includes about a half dozen witnesses, indicates the committee is still pursuing answers from the agency on a number of fronts, including what it knew about threats ahead of the attack, what former President Trump knew about armed protestors heading to the Capitol, and how it responded to testimony about Trump’s altercation with his security detail that day. Annie Grayer, Jamie Gangel, Zachary Cohen and Whitney Wild report for CNN.
Georgia prosecutors urged the Supreme Court yesterday to reject Sen. Lindsey Graham’s attempt to avoid testifying in their investigation of Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election. In a 27-page filing, prosecutors told the high court that granting Graham’s request to block a subpoena for his testimony would undermine the grand jury’s work by either delaying it or forcing it to draw conclusions about the election-related pressure campaign without having the senator’s account. The grand jury’s term is due to expire in April 2023. Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
A man who dragged former Washington, DC, Police Officer Michael Fanone into the crowd on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack was sentenced to 7.5 years in federal prison yesterday. Fanone suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury in the assault on Jan. 6, 2021, and ended up resigning from the Metropolitan Police Department. Sentencing Judge Amy Berman Jackson called the actions of Albuquerque Head, 43, of Tennessee, “some of the darkest acts committed on one of our nation’s darkest days.” Head’s sentence is one of the longest to be handed out in a Capitol attack case. Ryan J. Reilly and Daniel Barnes report for NBC News.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Elon Musk closed his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter yesterday, three people with knowledge of the matter have said. The closing of the deal, which followed months of drama and legal challenges as Musk changed his mind about buying the company, sets Twitter on an uncertain course. Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” has said that he wants to make the social media platform open to all types of commentary and that he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Trump from the service. Musk has also promised other sweeping changes at Twitter, including new leadership, job cuts, and the pursuit of new ways to make money. At least four top Twitter executives – including the chief executive and chief financial officer – were fired yesterday, suggesting Musk plans to move swiftly. Kate Conger and Lauren Hirsch report for the New York Times.
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned this week of “intensely divisive” rhetoric ahead of the midterm elections in the U.S. In a 16-page interim report, the organization highlighted a number of concerns for the midterms, including threats of violence against election officials, widely circulated election misinformation, and potential voter suppression and voter intimidation. The report also noted that “a number of Republican candidates in key races” who could be in charge of overseeing future elections have “challenged or refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 results.” The group, an international security organization whose members include the U.S., routinely monitors the elections of its member states at their invitation. Chris Cameron reports for the New York Times.
The Pentagon outlined a sweeping new strategy for U.S. security yesterday, calling for more robust deterrence at an increasingly tense moment in international security. The 2022 National Defense Strategy, released alongside the Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review, cited threats from Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State – and new challenges, like global climate change. However, it focused heavily on China and Russia. “The P.R.C. and Russia now pose more dangerous challenges to safety and security at home, even as terrorist threats persist,” the document said, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. As well as prioritizing threats, the document maps out the military’s response in broad terms and guides Pentagon policy and budget decisions on a range of issues, such as what weapons to develop and the shape of the armed forces. Eric Schmitt, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad report for the New York Times.
Somalia has asked the U.S. to loosen restrictions on its military drone strikes targeting Shabab militants in the region. According to U.S. officials, the Somali government wants U.S. military operators to be able to attack groups of Shabab militants who might pose a threat to Somali forces — even if they are not firing upon them at the moment. Such a move would further escalate American involvement in the long-running counterterrorism war. The request is still being evaluated, and the Pentagon had not yet formally presented it to the White House with any accompanying policy recommendation, the officials said. Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Abdi Latif Dahir report for the New York Times.
Just Security has published a piece by Sarah Harrison titled “What the White House Use of Force Policy Means for the War in Somalia.”
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Russia has launched more than 30 drone attacks on Ukraine over the past two days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. He added that in total, Moscow had also carried out some 4,500 missile strikes and over 8,000 air raids. Zelenskyy’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s aggressive use of drones “appalling”. Blinken accused Russian commanders of using the devices to “kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy the infrastructure they rely on for electricity, for water, for heat” during a visit to the Canadian capital Ottawa. “Canada and the United States will keep working with our allies and partners to expose, to deter, and to counter Iran’s provision of these weapons,” Blinken said. BBC News reports.
Russia has sent “up to 1,000” mobilized personnel to the west bank of the Dnipro river in its bid to defend the city of Kherson, the Ukrainian armed forces have said. This claim is supported by the U.K. defense ministry’s latest intelligence update which says it is “likely” that “mobilized reservists” have been sent to reinforce Russian troops on the west bank. It added that Russian forces across most of Ukraine had transitioned to a “long-term, defensive posture” over the last six weeks, “likely due to a more realistic assessment that the severely undermanned, poorly trained force in Ukraine is currently only capable of defensive operations.” Jo Shelley reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FBS) has worked to subvert Moldova’s pro-Western government, a trove of sensitive materials obtained by Ukrainian intelligence officials and reviewed by the Washington Post shows. The FSB has funneled tens of millions of dollars from some of Russia’s biggest state companies to cultivate a network of Moldovan politicians and reorient the country toward Moscow, the documents and interviews with Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Western officials indicate. The documents illustrate how Moscow continues to manipulate countries in Eastern Europe even as its military campaign in Ukraine falters. Catherine Belton reports for the Washington Post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin decried “liberal elites” of the West in his address at the Valdai Discussion Club yesterday, whilst playing down fears that Russia would use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Putin said “there is no point, politically or militarily” to a nuclear strike on Ukraine, but he did not back off from unsupported claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a “dirty bomb.” In his address, Putin also called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to visit Taiwan in August “delusional.” Erin Cunningham, Kelly Kasulis Cho, Victoria Bisset, Adam Taylor and James Bikales report for the Washington Post.
Violence erupted yesterday in the city of Mahabad in the Kurdish region of western Iran, after protesters attacked government buildings. Security forces responded by opening fire on demonstrators, according to videos posted on social media and verified by The Washington Post. At least two people were killed and dozens were wounded, activists said. The demonstrations came after security forces killed a young man named Ismail Mowludi in Mahabad the day before during a memorial ceremony for Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after being detained for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code. The unrest in Mahabad started after Mowludi was buried and large crowds joined the funeral procession as it moved toward the center of the city, chanting “Kurdistan, Kurdistan will be the graveyard of fascists” and “Death to the Dictator,” a reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Babak Dehghanpisheh, Stefanie Le and Atthar Mirza report for the Washington Post.
Iran’s top military commander yesterday blamed protesters demonstrating against the country’s clerical rule for a deadly terrorist attack in southern Iran where a gunman killed 15 people. The explicit linking of the protest movement and the terrorist attack, for which Iranian authorities have presented no evidence, could signal an even more brutal crackdown by security forces against demonstrations that have swept the country following the death of Mahsa Amini. Human-rights groups say more than 200 protesters have already been killed in clashes with security forces since the protests erupted in mid-September. On Wednesday Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. However Iranian officials have not yet mentioned the connection between the terrorist organization and the attack. Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iraq’s Parliament approved a new government yesterday after a year-long delay. The new prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, presented his list of cabinet ministers to Parliament, ending the political deadlock that followed last October’s election. However, whilst the elections were supposed to produce a new, reformist government in response to sweeping protests, the government approved yesterday embodies the system put in place after the 2003 invasion, which allots key roles for specific sects and ethnic groups, and allocates government ministries to the most powerful political parties, which have routinely used those ministries to enrich themselves. Lawmakers approved Sudani and his cabinet choices in a closed session. Jane Arraf reports for the New York Times.
China’s former top leader, Hu Jintao, was suddenly led out of the closing ceremony of the Chinese Communist Party congress yesterday. The moment, captured on video by journalists who had been allowed into the hall minutes earlier, prompted questions and wild speculation. Chinese state media later reported that Hu, 79, was suffering from poor health. However, some have suggested Hu was being purged in a dramatic show by China’s current leader, Xi Jinping. Whilst the utter secrecy around Chinese high politics means that the world may never know the reason Hu was led away, the New York Times has analyzed a deconstruction of the video footage in order to find additional details and context. Anges Chang, Vivian Wang, Isabelle Qian and Ang Li report for the New York Times.
China should stop its saber-rattling against Taiwan and maintain peace and stability, the head of Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council has said. “We urge mainland China to lay down arms and maintain peace and stability. The key to peace is to reverse the mindset of handling problems with force,” Mainland Affairs Council minister Chiu Tai-san told a forum in Taipei. Beijing should resolve disagreements with Taipei via “a constructive dialogue without preconditions,” he added. Reuters reports.
North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korean military officials. The test was a “serious act of provocation” that threatens peace and stability on the peninsula and a “clear violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban ballistic missile launches by North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said in a statement, adding it was working with the U.S. to monitor North Korean movements. The U.S. military said it was aware of the North Korean launch, which “does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies,” according to a statement from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Gawon Bae, Heather Chen and Jake Kwon report for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 97.414 million people and has now killed over 1.07 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 629.639 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.59 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.