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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 AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
Former President Trump’s attorneys saw a direct appeal to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as their best hope of overturning the 2020 election results, according to emails newly disclosed to congressional investigators. “We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt,” Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro wrote in a Dec. 31, 2020, email to Trump’s legal team. Chesebro contended that Thomas would be “our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress.” “I think I agree with this,” attorney John Eastman replied later that morning, suggesting that a favorable move by Thomas or other justices would “kick the Georgia legislature into gear” to help overturn the election results. The messages were part of a batch of eight emails that Eastman had sought to withhold from the Jan. 6 committee but that a judge ordered him to turn over anyway on the basis that they were likely evidence of crimes by Eastman and Trump. Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has renewed its effort to force former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify before Congress about the Jan. 6 attack and to obtain his phone logs. Lawyers for Meadows wrote to a federal court yesterday asking for emergency help to hold off the subpoenas. Judge Carl Nichols earlier this week dismissed a lawsuit that Meadows had brought against the select committee last year, where he challenged their subpoenas. One of Meadows’ lawyers, John Moran, explained that after the lawsuit’s dismissal, the select committee reached out to Verizon on Tuesday for Meadow’s personal call and text records. Counsel for the select committee then spoke to Meadows’ team in a conference call yesterday, saying they also still want to depose him. Meadows’ team is trying to buy time with its new filing, asking Nichols to reconsider his ruling, and for him to put a pause on the subpoenas while the lawyers put together more arguments and the judge considers them. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Kash Patel, a close associate of former President Trump, is set to testify before a federal grand jury probing the handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after receiving immunity for his information. Patel appeared before the grand jury last month and refused to provide information by repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In response, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to compel him to testify. Prosecutors argued Patel had no reasonable expectation that he would be prosecuted based on the kinds of questions they were asking, one of the people said, an argument the judge didn’t accept. The ruling opens the door for Patel, who says Trump broadly declassified White House documents while still president, to answer questions. Other Trump associates involved in the Mar-a-Lago documents matter also have been offered some form of immunity, people familiar with the matter said, including one of Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb, who declined, saying she didn’t need it. Sadie Gurman and Alex Leary report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The man accused of attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer is a Canadian citizen who was in the U.S. illegally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said yesterday. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lodged an immigration detainer on Canadian national David DePape with San Francisco County Jail, Nov. 1, following his Oct. 28 arrest,” DHS officials said in an email. ICE, which is under Homeland Security, sends “detainers” to state and local law enforcement asking them to notify the agency before releasing a foreign citizen who could also be deported. The Canadian government has confirmed this week that they are working on DePape’s case. Maria Sacchetti reports for the Washington Post.
Twitter CEO Elon Muskled a call this week with civil rights groups in an effort to assure them that he would curtail hate speech and stop the spread of misinformation ahead of the midterm elections. Musk said that Twitter employees responsible for election integrity who had been locked out of their moderation tools during the company’s acquisition will have their access reinstated by the end of the week, three people on the call confirmed. Musk also said that users banned by the platform – including former President Trump – will remain off the site “for at least a few more weeks.” The gathering was part of Musk’s effort to set up a “content moderation council,” which would presumably police users and content on the platform – and help ease concerns from worried advertisers. Musk said that he wanted his council to “include representatives with widely divergent views, which will certainly include the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence.” Rebecca Kern and Mark Scott report for POLITICO.
Federal prosecutors must use “all available tools” to hold federal corrections employees who sexually abuse women in their custody accountable, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco instructed Justice Department officials in a new memo. “The Department’s obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those in our custody is enduring,” Monaco wrote. Her directive follows a high-level review this year that uncovered hundreds of complaints about sexual misconduct by Bureau of Prisons employees over the past five years, but only 45 federal prosecutions during that same period. The review identified weak or nonexistent administrative discipline against some prison workers – and flaws in how prosecutors assessed reports of abuse. Carrie Johnson reports for NPR.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz formally received a sentence of life without parole yesterday. The jury in Cruz’s three-month penalty trial voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence him to death, but Florida law requires unanimity for that sentence to be imposed. The sentencing came after two days of survivors and relatives of the victims addressing him face-to-face from a lectern in the courtroom. The sentencing judge commended those who testified, calling them strong, graceful and patient. AP reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – BLACK SEA GRAIN INITIATIVE
Russia said it would rejoin a deal allowing for the safe passage of Ukrainian grain, ending days of uncertainty over future shipments. Russia’s Defense Ministry said yesterday that it had received written guarantees from Kyiv that Ukraine wouldn’t use the corridor to attack Russian forces and that those were sufficient to rejoin the deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin later said that Russia reserved the right to pull out of the deal, but that it wouldn’t interfere in any future grain shipments from Ukraine directly to Turkey. Jared Malsin, Ann M. Simmons and Costas Paris report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N., among others, welcomed Russia’s decision to rejoin a watershed deal enabling Ukraine to export its grain. However, the Kremlin’s decision also spurred criticism yesterday from influential Russian military bloggers, who complained that it smacked of weakness. Some of the commentators said that the decision could indirectly harm Russia’s campaign in Ukraine. “This weakness will have a negative impact on everything: at the front lines, in the rear, in the international arena,” Yuri Podolyaka told his 2.8 million followers on Telegram, the social messaging app. His comment was echoed by other bloggers. Ivan Nechepurenko and Matthew Mpoke Bigg report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats from the Group of Seven (G7) nations are scheduled to meet today to address global crises, including the war in Ukraine. In meetings over two days in Münster, Germany, the foreign ministers are expected to discuss food and energy issues arising from the war, including potential gas shortages in Europe over the coming winter and the partial embargo of Russian oil that Europe plans to enact in early December, which could further raise oil prices on the global market. The G7 diplomats also plan to discuss Iran’s role in helping Russia, as well as the violent response by security forces in Iran to peaceful protests there. There are also scheduled meetings on China’s presence in Europe, and the Indo-Pacific region, stability in Central Asia and issues across Africa. Edward Wong reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. yesterday accused North Korea of covertly shipping a “significant number” of artillery shells to Russia to aid its war effort in Ukraine. The White House’s national security spokesperson, John Kirby, said that it was unclear if the artillery munitions, which are being transferred through the Middle East and North Africa, had reached Russia. The United States does not believe that the additional weapons will alter the trajectory of the war. Alan Rappeport reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was again relying on diesel generators to power critical cooling functions after shelling cut the plant’s connection to outside power yesterday. Energoatom, the Ukrainian company that operates the plant, said in a statement that two recently repaired high-voltage power lines had been damaged by Russian shelling and that the plant had gone into “full blackout mode.” There is enough fuel at the facility to power generators for 15 days, the company said. It is at least the fourth time the plant has lost its connection to outside power since Russian forces began occupying the facility early in the war. Each time, engineers have raced to make repairs before the diesel fuel ran out. International nuclear inspectors have called the situation unsustainable and precarious. Marc Santora reports for the New York Times.
Russian military officials have discussed how and under what conditions Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment. The assessment, drafted by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), is not a high-confidence product and is not raw intelligence but rather analysis. For that reason, some officials believe the conversations reflected in the document may have been taken out of context, and do not necessarily indicate that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. The U.S. has still not seen any signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to take the drastic step of using one, officials said, and Putin is not believed to have been involved in the discussions described in the NIC product. Natasha Bertrand, Katie Bo Lillis and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, including what South Korean and U.S. officials called an intercontinental ballistic missile. Seoul’s Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and his U.S. counterpart, Wendy Sherman, denounced North Korea’s latest missile launches as “very deplorable” and a threat to international peace. The U.S. State Department called the launch a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions and called on North Korea “to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue.” Min Joo Kim reports for the Washington Post.
After two years of brutal civil war, the Ethiopian government and the leadership of the northern Tigray region agreed a truce yesterday. Senior officials from both sides shook hands and smiled after signing an agreement in South Africa to cease hostilities, following 10 days of peace talks convened by the African Union. The agreement contains a raft of provisions for disarming fighters, permitting humanitarian supplies to reach Tigray and bringing a measure of stability to Ethiopia. However, mediators have warned that the agreement is just the first step in what will likely be difficult negotiations before permanent peace can be achieved. Declan Walsh, Abdi Latif Dahir and Lynsey Chutel report for the New York Times.
A court in Paris has sentenced a former Liberian rebel commander to life in jail for complicity in crimes against humanity during Liberia’s civil war. Kunti Kamara was a senior officer in the Ulimo armed militia, which oversaw a reign of terror in north-west Liberia in the 1990s. He was tried in France because he was arrested there, and French law permits prosecution for the most serious crimes, even if they were committed abroad. No one in Liberia itself has been tried for war crimes in the country’s courts – this is despite a truth commission calling for the establishment of a special tribunal. BBC News reports.
Brazil’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has called on his supporters to end road blockades launched across the country in protest at his narrow election defeat to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The populist rightwing leader said in a short video posted on social media yesterday that while he shared people’s disappointment, their actions harmed the economy as well as the right of free movement. “It hurts everyone having these highways closed. I appeal to you: clear the roads, protest another way, in other places — that is very welcome, it’s part of our democracy,” the 67-year-old former army captain said. The comments signal a clear attempt to de-escalate tensions following Sunday’s vote, after which truck drivers and other Bolsonaro loyalists — who claim, without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent — mounted hundreds of barricades on transport arteries in Latin America’s largest nation. Michael Pooler reports for the Financial Times.
Qatar is offering football fans free World Cup trips on the condition that they promise not to criticize Qatar and report those who do. The handpicked fans who accept this trip will have to abide by contracts that will require them to sing what they’re told to sing, to watch what they say and, most controversially, to report social media posts made by other fans critical of Qatar. However, despite these rules scores of supporters have signed up. Representatives of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, tried this week to play down the requirements in the offer. “There is no obligation to promote or do anything,” Ahsan Mansoor, the fan engagement director for the 2022 World Cup, said in an interview. In the dozen years since Qatar was awarded the World Cup, the country has taken pains to shape and defend its national image amid corruption claims, environmental concerns and human rights issues. Tariq Panja reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 97.611 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 631.450 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.