Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.
A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP LEGAL MATTERS
The Justice Department and FBI investigators have new evidence suggesting possible obstruction by former President Trump in the investigation into top-secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, according to people familiar with the matter. The emails and texts of Molly Michael, Trump’s assistant, who followed him from the White House to Florida may be particularly helpful as investigators reconstruct events from last spring. Michael’s written communications have provided investigators with a detailed understanding of the day-to-day activity at Mar-a-Lago at critical moments. Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, and Perry Stein report for the Washington Post.
Joe Tacopina, one of former President Trump’s lawyers, said yesterday that he eventually expects to move to dismiss the charges against Trump related to alleged hush money payments. The move to dismiss the charges against Trump would not come until after his arraignment on Tuesday, Tacopina said. Kelly Garrity reports for POLITICO.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who voted to convict former President Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Attack, have raised concerns that Trump has been improperly targeted by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. The charges have yet to be revealed, as the indictment is under seal and is expected to remain sealed until Trump is arraigned in a Manhattan court. Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman, and Chris Cameron report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A secret agreement on Nov. 8, 2021, gave the U.S. government access to Israeli cyber firm NSO Group’s geolocation tool that can covertly track mobile phones worldwide without the phone user’s knowledge or consent. The arrangement was made despite the White House placing NSO on a Commerce Department blacklist and declaring the company a national security threat. The Biden administration has denied knowledge of the arrangement, “we are not aware of this contract, and any use of this product would be highly concerning,” said a senior administration official. Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman report for the New York Times.
Judge Eric Davis ruled Friday that a jury should decide Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. Davis concluded that Dominion had proven that Fox News aired a series of false claims about the company but that depositions, internal emails, and text messages had not established whether Fox acted with “actual malice” by airing statements that it knew were false or likely so. Davis has set the trial for Apr. 17 in Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
Republican officeholders in North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, and other states are pushing to tighten voting laws and the rules for election administration despite a lack of voter fraud in the 2020 election. As of late February, state lawmakers had introduced what the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice identified as 150 restrictive election bills and another 27 election interference bills, i.e., laws that, if passed, would increase the opportunity for partisan involvement in electoral outcomes. Amy Gardner and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report for the Washington Post.
The social media influencer Douglass Mackey was convicted of election interference in the 2016 presidential race over a voter suppression scheme, the Justice Department said on Friday. A February 2016 analysis by the MIT Media Lab ranked the former President Trump supporter as the 107th most significant influencer of the then-upcoming presidential election. Mackey faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters.
Frustrated by a lack of progress in developing nuclear power capabilities with the U.S., Saudi officials are now exploring options to work with other countries, including China, Russia, or a U.S. ally. The Saudis are also renewing a push with the U.S. by offering to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for U.S. cooperation in building nuclear reactors and other guarantees. U.S.-Saudi nuclear talks have dragged on, mainly because the Saudi government refuses to agree to conditions intended to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons or helping other nations do so, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. Edward Wong, Vivian Nereim, and Kate Kelly report for the New York Times.
The navies of South Korea, the U.S., and Japan will hold two days of anti-submarine exercises starting today to better counter North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile capabilities, South Korea’s defense ministry said. Reuters reports.
The U.S. used diplomacy, declassified intelligence, and other tools to persuade NATO ally Croatia to keep three Chinese state-owned companies from building and operating a modern ship-container terminal in 2021, people familiar with the events said. The effort to block China from the port in Rijeka, Croatia, shows how U.S. officials are working under a broader strategy to counter Beijing’s influence in Europe. The port in Rijeka is particularly concerning for Washington because the NATO alliance uses it to move military equipment in and out of Europe. Warren P. Strobel reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the release of recently detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a phone call yesterday, the State Department said. The call also covered Paul Whelan, another American the State Department deems wrongfully detained for espionage in Russia since 2018. Vivian Salama and Alan Cullison report for the Wall Street Journal.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who transferred as many as 16,000 Ukrainian children to Russia. Lvova-Belova stands accused of serious violations of international law, such as extracting children from orphanages and hospitals in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, even though many had relatives who would have taken the children. Valerie Hopkins reports for the New York Times.
Russian efforts to use Twitter to shape Canadian public opinion about its invasion of Ukraine resonate with both the far right and the far left, according to a report by the Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data and Conflict. The 90 accounts that comprised the Russia-aligned Twitter network had more followers and engagement with other social media users and produced more material than all the federal members of Parliament and more than all of the 20 “most influential” Twitter accounts in Canada, researchers found. The result is that the “political far left and far right have found common ground: undermining public support for Canadian financial, humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine,” the report said. Ian Austen reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The killing of pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in an explosion at a St Petersburg cafe yesterday is being investigated as a “high-profile murder,” authorities have said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, which injured 24 others. Tatarsky reported from the Ukraine front line and gained particular notoriety last year after posting a video filmed inside the Kremlin in which he said: “We will defeat everyone, we will kill everyone, we will rob everyone as necessary. Just as we like it.” Laurence Peter and Olga Ivshina report for BBC News.
Russia is scaling up output at critical enterprises of the country’s military-industrial complex, said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday. Shoigu has instructed Russian arms producers to double their production of precision-guided weapons, according to Russian state media. A shortage of shells has been a major reason for Russia’s recent failure to make military gains in Ukraine. Moscow is likely resorting to the use of old munitions stock that had previously been categorized as unfit for deployment in the war, Western officials said. Matthew Luxmoore reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia plans to form a division of special-purpose submarines that will carry Poseidon nuclear-capable torpedoes as part of the country’s Pacific Fleet by the first half of 2025, Russia’s TASS news agency reported today. Military analysts say Poseidon is a cross between a torpedo and a drone that can be launched from a nuclear submarine. Reuters reports.
Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be moved close to Belarus’ borders with its NATO neighbors, said Boris Gryzlov, the Russian ambassador to Belarus. Martin Belam and Helen Livingstone report for the Guardian.
Russia’s security services are confiscating the passports of senior officials and state company executives to prevent overseas travel as paranoia over leaks and defections spread, said several people familiar with the matter. Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed Russia had tightened the restrictions on foreign travel for some who work in “sensitive” areas. Max Seddon reports for the Financial Times.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS – ISRAEL
The Israeli government agreed in principle yesterday to establish a national guard, following the far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s demand for a militia as a condition for supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The form and leadership of the national guard are yet to be determined and will take months to be fleshed out by a committee of government officials. While supporters of the move say the militia will assist the police in times of unrest, critics fear it could be used to target Israel’s Arab minority. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Israelis opposed to their far-right government flooded the streets in protest yesterday, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of a pause to the judicial overhaul last week. According to the organizers, protesters showed up at more than 100 locations, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Protesters said they worried Netanyahu’s decision to “pause” the overhaul was a delay tactic and that the government would move forward with the bills once the opposition died. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.
The Israeli army said it downed an unidentified aircraft yesterday that appeared to have crossed into its territory from Syria as tensions simmer between the two countries. The Israel Defense Forces said the aircraft it downed did not pose a threat at any stage. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Saudi Arabia plans to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit that Riyadh is hosting in May, three sources familiar with the plans said. The move would formally end Syria’s regional isolation. The U.S. and Qatar have opposed the normalization of ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution in Syria. Aziz El Yaakoubi and Maya Gebeily report for Reuters.
Finland’s left-wing Prime Minister Sanna Marin conceded defeat yesterday, as the opposition right-wing National Coalition Party claimed victory in the parliamentary election. The outcome is not expected to affect Finland’s accession to NATO. Anne Kauranen and Essi Lehto report for Reuters.
Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi raised concerns with his Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, about increasing Russian and Chinese military cooperation. During Hayashi’s visit to Beijing, Japan’s defense minister attended the opening ceremony for a new military base on a southern Japanese island 300 miles east of the Chinese coast. The base is part of a fortification program for a string of islands that Tokyo views as vulnerable to China’s regional ambitions. Alastair Gale and Austin Ramzy report for the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo can bypass users’ cell phone security to monitor activities on other apps, check notifications, read private messages, and change settings, according to cybersecurity researchers. Company insiders said the exploits were used to spy on users and competitors to boost sales. There is no evidence that Pinduoduo has handed data to the Chinese government. However, as Beijing enjoys significant leverage over businesses under its jurisdiction, there are concerns from U.S. lawmakers that any company operating in China could be forced to cooperate with a broad range of security activities. Nectar Gan, Yong Xiong, and Juliana Liu report for CNN.
NATO has officially banned staffers from downloading the social media app TikTok onto their NATO-provided devices, citing security concerns, according to two NATO officials familiar with the matter. Natasha Bertrand reports for CNN.