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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.
CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS PROBES
Federal prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Trump’s handling of classified documents are seeking to compel further testimony from one of his lawyers. In doing so prosecutors have sought approval from a federal judge to invoke what is known as the crime-fraud exception, which allows them to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in furthering a crime. The fact that prosecutors have invoked this exception suggests that they believe that Trump or his allies might have used the services of the lawyer, Evan Corcoran, in that way. Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess report for the New York Times.
Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, appeared last month before a federal grand jury investigating Trump’s handling of classified documents, two sources familiar with the investigation have said. Habba is the third lawyer known to have been brought before the grand jury after it was reported that Corcoran and Christina Bobb had recently appeared. While Habba has not played as prominent a role as the other attorneys in responding to the documents probe, she has made notable appearances defending Trump and criticizing the investigation. Paula Reid, Kaitlan Collins, and Tierney Sneed report for CNN.
The Biden administration has agreed to brief top congressional leaders about the handling of classified documents by Trump, President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. The deal for a Justice Department briefing, set to take place at the end of this month, may ease long-simmering tensions over bipartisan demands by the Senate Intelligence Committee to see the files. The briefing will only include the top two members of the committee, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden yesterday withdrew the nomination of Ivy League professor James Cavallaro to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Cavallaro’s dismissal came over comments criticizing House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries that appeared to invoke antisemitic tropes. Cavallaro accused Jeffries of being “Bought. Purchased. Controlled” by pro-Israel lobbying groups. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the administration was not previously aware of the comments. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter yesterday raising concerns about the Department of Defense’s Law of War Manual. In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern that aspects of the manual undermine U.S. compliance with the law of armed conflict, specifically in relation to its approach to mitigating civilian harm. The Department of Defense is currently reviewing the manual for the first time since 2016. Alexander Ward, Matt Berg and Lawrence Ukenye report for POLITICO.
U.S. RELATIONS – FLYING OBJECTS
The Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over the continental U.S. before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina may have been diverted on an errant path caused by atypical weather conditions. U.S. military and intelligence agencies tracked the balloon as it set off from its home base on Hainan Island near China’s south coast and settled into a flight path that would have taken it over the U.S. territory of Guam before taking an unexpected northern turn. According to several U.S. officials, analysts are now examining the possibility that China didn’t intend for the device to cross over the American heartland. Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Jason Samenow report for the Washington Post.
The three unidentified flying objects shot down in the past several days might turn out to be harmless commercial or research efforts that posed no real threat to the U.S.. This is according to John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, who said that investigators had not yet found any evidence that the three objects were connected to China’s program of balloon surveillance. However, Kirby cautioned that officials had not yet been able to collect debris from the objects and that a different conclusion may be reached if the debris was analyzed. Michael D. Shear and Karoun Demirjian report for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Federal agents arrested four more men accused of playing key roles in the assassination of Haiti’s former president Jovenel Moïse, U.S. prosecutors said yesterday. Three of the men detained and indicted were American citizens, and one was a former FBI informant whose relationship with the agency was terminated following the assassination. Federal court documents also stated that several “conspirators” in the assassination met with the FBI a few months before the killing, raising questions about how much the U.S. government knew about the plot in advance. Maria Abi-Habib, Natalie Kitroeff, Frances Robles and Nick Madigan report for the New York Times.
The Biden administration is discussing a possible prisoner exchange with Iran in a bid to secure the release of American citizens detained in the country. The negotiations are being held indirectly, with Qatar and the U.K. playing an intermediary role, four sources familiar with the matter said. The proposed deal, which has not yet been agreed on, could also include the release of billions of dollars in funds currently blocked by U.S. sanctions. Dan De Luce and Abigail Williams report for NBC News.
The U.S. military is considering sending Ukraine weapons and ammunition seized in recent months off the coast of Yemen from smugglers suspected of working for Iran. Transferring the weaponry would be an unprecedented step given the U.N. arms embargo requires the U.S. and its allies to destroy, store, or get rid of seized weapons. According to U.S. officials, Biden administration lawyers have been looking at whether the resolution creates any scope for such a transfer. Dion Nissenbaum, Gordon Lubold and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia has “lost strategically, operationally and tactically,” in Ukraine, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. Following a meeting in Brussels of countries supporting Kyiv, Milley said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong in thinking he could quickly defeat Ukraine and “fracture the NATO alliance,” adding that “NATO and this coalition has never been stronger.” Emily Rauhala, Kelsey Ables, Ellen Francis and Erin Cunningham report for the Washington Post.
Russia has placed thousands of Ukrainian children in “re-education” camps or with new families, U.S. researchers said yesterday. According to a report from the Conflict Observatory, a State Department-supported initiative, the operation forms part of the Kremlin’s “systematic, whole-of-government approach to the relocation, re-education and, in some cases, adoption and forced adoption of Ukrainian children.” Some of the Russian authorities’ actions, they believe, may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Missy Ryan reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A new report by U.N. experts has identified Saif al-Adel as the new “de facto and uncontested” leader of al-Qaeda. Adel, a former member of the Egyptian military, is wanted by the U.S. in connection with the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. According to the report, many U.N. member states believe that Adel is currently located in Iran. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro plans to return to Brazil in March to lead the political opposition to leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In his first interview since leaving Brazil for Florida late last year, Bolsonaro also said he would defend himself against accusations that he incited attacks by protestors on government buildings following his election loss to da Silva. Luciana Magalhaes and Samatha Pearson report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 102.906 million people and has now killed over 1.15 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 673.284 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.86 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.