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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.
Russia may be on the verge of a significant setback in its war on Ukraine, amid signs that its troops might withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River at Kherson. Ukrainian forces have worked to cut off Russian supply lines, and ground photos revealed the Russian flag no longer flying over the Kherson administration building. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he believes the Ukrainian military has the capability to recapture the area. Artem Grudinin, Henry Austin, and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.
Ukrainian government officials and experts, though, expressed concern that the comments from a Russian-appointed official in Kherson and the flag photos could be disinformation, setting a trap. Other photos showed the Russian flag still flying over other government buildings. Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth report for Reuters. See also the agency’s latest reports on the war.
Russian troops have not retreated from the area, even though residents are seeing fewer Russian soldiers, patrols, and checkpoints in Kherson and Kremlin-appointed civilian administrators have moved to an area about 50 miles away. Marc Santora and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, against using nuclear weapons. A statement carried by Chinese news agency Xinhua cited Xi saying the international community should ““jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” Stuart Lau reports for Politico.
The International Atomic Energy Agency found no evidence of undeclared Ukrainian nuclear activity following inspection of three sites. The findings refute Russian allegations that Ukraine is developing a dirty bomb. Laurence Norman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
Department of Justice officials are considering appointing a special counsel to oversee investigations related to Trump if the former president runs again in 2024. Federal investigators are planning for an increase in post-election activity in Trump-related investigations, including the possibility of indictments of Trump’s associates, “moves that could be made more complicated” if Trump declares a re-election bid in 2024. While no decision has been made, DOJ officials have debated whether appointing a special counsel “could insulate the Justice Department from accusations that President Biden’s administration is targeting his chief political rival.” Evan Perez, Katelyn Polantz and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
The House January 6 committee is interviewing more U.S. Secret Service witnesses, including the previous head of former Vice President Mike Pence’s security detail. Yesterday, the former head of Pence’s security detail, Tim Giebels, testified in closed session, as the committee pursues more information on the Secret Service’s knowledge about threats to Pence before the Capitol insurrection. “CNN has learned that Pence and his team were never briefed on those threats, according to a source familiar, and only learned of them when they were made public during last month’s hearing.” Jamie Gangel, Zachary Cohen, Annie Grayer and Whitney Wild report for CNN.
Trump is suing New York’s Attorney General Letitia James, against the advice of several of his legal advisers. The former president’s suit, which was filed on Wednesday in Florida, alleges that James violated his right to privacy in Florida and seeks to stop her New York civil case against him and his company. The Florida suit is the latest in Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to stop James’ investigation. Jonah Bromwich, Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess and William Rashbaum report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee will release a 1,000-page document on Friday “detailing allegations of politicization of the FBI and Justice Department under the Biden administration.” News outlet Axios obtained a copy of the report, which was spearheaded by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). He likely will become committee chairman next year if Republicans gain control of the chamber in next week’s elections, and the report would “serve as the basis for one of [the] House Republicans’ top oversight investigations.” Alayna Treene reports for Axios.
The FBI’s Newark office issued a warning Thursday announcing it had received “credible information” about a nonspecific but widescale threat to synagogues in New Jersey. Although there is no specific plot or action underway, according to a senior law enforcement official, “because the internet threat was deemed credible, the FBI felt it was important to alert the public so communities and synagogues could take security precautions.” An FBI investigation is underway to determine who was behind the threat. Jonathan Dienst and Adam Harding report for NBC 4 New York/WNBC.
Twitter employees received an email Thursday saying layoffs will begin today, and that they should stay home or not come to work as the cuts to the company’s 7,500-strong workforce proceeded. “The message, which came from a generic address and was signed “Twitter,” did not detail the total number of layoffs.” Previous emails and an investor have indicated that new owner Elon Musk may cut half the workforce. Kate Conger and Ryan Mac report for the New York Times.
The U.S. issued sanctions on individuals, front companies and vessels across multiple countries that it accuses of smuggling oil on behalf of Iran and Iran-backed groups. The sanctions targeted entities in Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Turkey, Iran and the Marshall Islands. The U.S. accused the network of blending oil to conceal its Iranian origin and export it globally to generate revenue for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Daphne Psaledakis reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
U.S. intelligence officials believe Iran has sought help from Russia in acquiring nuclear materials and on nuclear fuel fabrication. It is not clear whether Russia, which has opposed Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, has agreed to help. “The fuel could help Iran power its nuclear reactors and could potentially further shorten Iran’s so-called “breakout time” to create a nuclear weapon.” Natasha Bertrand reports for CNN.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is recovering from an assassination attempt. The shooting occurred amid the Azadi March-II, a protest led by Khan in response to current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s refusal to hold early elections. One of Khan’s aides alleged in a video statement that Sharif’s government may be behind the attack. Pakistani police have arrested a suspect. The attack is reminiscent of the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, Asif Shahzad, and Mubasher Bukhari report for Reuters.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel conceded Israel’s election on Thursday evening to Benjamin Netanyahu, paving the way for Netanyahu to return as prime minister at the helm of one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history. After five elections in under four years, Israel will have a cohesive government for the first time since 2019, with Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc winning a clear majority in Parliament after the last votes were counted on Thursday night. Netanyahu’s new coalition allies’ priorities are likely to heighten tensions with Palestinians and test some of Israel’s diplomatic relations, “most notably with the United States and with the Persian Gulf states with which Israel recently formed alliances.” Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Pope Francis is visiting Bahrain, where activists hope he will pressure the kingdom to improve human rights. Bahrain is a majority Shiite state led by a Sunni monarchy that has cracked down on Shiite opposition groups. Bahrain has a minority Catholic community, and organizers expect Catholics from neighboring states to visit the kingdom for Francis’ Sunday mass. Nicole Winfield reports for the Associated Press.
Iran may have arrested more than 14,000 protesters since widespread human rights demonstrations began six weeks ago. Javaid Rehman, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, also told the U.N. Security Council that at least 277 people have been killed. CNN notes that estimates vary widely. Alex Hardie and Hande Atay Alam report for CNN.
The United Kingdom will negotiate with Mauritius over the Chagos Islands after years of international pressure. Chagos is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean approximately 1,300 miles northeast of Mauritius and 1,100 miles south of India. The islands previously belonged to Mauritius, but the U.K. retained the archipelago and forcibly deported its native Chagossian population when Mauritius gained independence in 1968. The International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea have both held that the U.K.’s occupation of the islands is illegal. The largest island, Diego Garcia, contains a U.S. military base, which both parties stated will be allowed to remain. Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian.
COVID-19 has infected almost 97.7 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 almost 631.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 6.6 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.