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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.
U.S. tax dollars are probably ending up in the hands of the Taliban, John Sopko, a top inspector general, has warned. Sopko accused the Biden administration yesterday of stonewalling his efforts to procure records about assistance to Afghanistan. The Taliban is “siphoning off” funds entering Afghanistan, which he partly attributed to the “abject refusal” of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to allow oversight. Karoun Demirjian reports for the New York Times.
The State Department yesterday missed a congressional Republican subpoena to hand over a sensitive diplomatic cable about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement to The Hill that “Discussions with the committee about next steps are ongoing” and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered to brief McCaul and the committee next week on the contents of the dissent cable without providing the actual document. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
An Internal Revenue Service criminal supervisor has told lawmakers he has information that the Biden administration is improperly handling the criminal investigation into Hunter Biden and is seeking whistleblower protections, according to people familiar with the matter. The supervisor sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday, claiming to have information that would contradict sworn testimony by a “senior political appointee.” The supervisor also has information about a “failure to mitigate clear conflicts of interest in the ultimate disposition of the case,” according to the letter. Aruna Viswanatha, Sadie Gurman, and C. Ryan Barber report for the Wall Street Journal.
Boris Epshteyn, a top adviser to former President Trump, is scheduled to be interviewed by prosecutors today as part of ongoing investigations into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents, according to people familiar with the matter. Until recently, Epshteyn played a critical role in coordinating Trump’s legal efforts in both inquiries. Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.
Congressional leaders yesterday received a second tranche of classified documents discovered at the private residences of President Biden, former President Trump, and former Vice President Pence. The documents were provided to the Gang of Eight, the top four party leaders, and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Stef W. Kight and Andrew Solender report for Axios.
Today’s deposition of former Manhattan prosecutor Mark Pomerantz may proceed after a federal judge declined to block a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil wrote, “The subpoena was issued with a ‘valid legislative purpose’ in connection with the ‘broad’ and ‘indispensable’ congressional power to ‘conduct investigations.’” A spokesperson said the district attorney’s office planned to ask an appeals court to intervene quickly and stop the deposition. Erica Orden reports for POLITICO.
The Biden administration is readying plans to roll out new sanctions on members of rival military factions in Sudan, according to four current and former officials familiar with the matter. Privately, some U.S. officials fear new sanctions packages could be too little, too late, amid a broader debate within the Biden administration on whether it has been too timid with sanctions programs against human rights violators in Africa. Robbie Gramer reports for Foreign Policy.
U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia use threats, physical surveillance, hostage-taking, and prosecutions to try to silence dissidents and rights activists in the U.S., according to evidence presented in a Freedom Initiative report released this week. While U.S. politicians frequently impose consequences when China, Iran, and Russia deploy such tactics, the report argues that policymakers do not meaningfully hold Saudi Arabia and Egypt accountable even when they violate U.S. law and threaten national security. Claire Parker reports for the Washington Post.
U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday promised to work for Sweden’s “swift accession” to NATO. While in Sweden, Austin said he hoped that objections to the country’s membership would be ironed out before the NATO summit in Lithuania in July. Helene Cooper reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE DEVELOPMENTS – U.S. RESPONSE
The Biden administration announced $325 million in new military aid for Ukraine yesterday, including additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, advanced missiles, and anti-tank mines. It is the 36th security package for Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, bringing total U.S. military assistance to more than $35.4 billion in that time. Reuters reports.
A 57-year-old Ukrainian woman from Kherson yesterday testified to House Foreign Affairs Committee members that Russian soldiers forced her to dig her own grave. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, who also testified at the hearing, said his office registered around 80,000 incidents of potential war crimes and has already convicted 31 Russians for war crimes in Ukrainian courts. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
OTHER RUSSIA-UKRAINE DEVELOPMENTS
Denmark and the Netherlands will jointly donate 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the two countries said today. The Leopard 2A4 tanks, to be bought from a third party and refurbished, are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2024. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address Mexican lawmakers by video today as he seeks support in his country’s war with Russia. The Mexican government has said it wants to remain neutral in the conflict. Some supporters of Ukraine have criticized President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for taking issue with European arms shipments to Kyiv. Mexico has voted alongside the United States on several major U.N. resolutions critical of Russia’s invasion. Reuters reports.
Russia is increasingly using treason and espionage laws to smother criticism of the war against Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin’s government widened the scope of the legislation and expanded its crackdown on opponents. OVD-Info, a Moscow-based rights group, last year recorded the filing of more than 20 criminal cases for high treason. Its unpublished figures for 2023 show ten espionage and treason cases launched in March alone. Matthew Luxmoore reports for the Wall Street Journal.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS – SUDAN
An uneven cease-fire between Sudan’s two rival generals held in parts of the capital last night as desperate residents tried to escape the city. Nearly 300 people have been killed and over 3,000 wounded since fighting erupted on Saturday, the World Health Organization said. The U.S. State Department has said that it has no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation and has urged Americans in Sudan to shelter in place. Declan Walsh, Elian Peltier, and Cora Engelbrecht report for the New York Times.
A powerful Libyan militia and the Egyptian military have sent military support to rival generals in neighboring Sudan, people familiar with the matter say, an illustration of how the fighting threatens to draw in regional powers. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, dispatched at least one plane to fly military supplies to Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Meanwhile, Egypt sent warplanes and pilots to back the Sudanese military. Benoit Faucon, Summer Said, and Jared Malsin report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told NATO officials privately that Canada will never meet the military alliance’s defense-spending target, according to leaked intelligence reports. The document says “enduring” defense shortfalls led the Canadian Armed Forces to assess in February that it “could not conduct a major operation while simultaneously maintaining its NATO battle group leadership [in Latvia] and aid to Ukraine.” The reports further stated that the situation was not likely to change without a shift in public opinion. Amanda Coletta reports for the Washington Post.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, returning from a “more than shocking” trip to China, said yesterday that Beijing was increasingly becoming a systemic rival. Baerbock previously warned that any attempt by China to control Taiwan would be unacceptable. While China is Germany’s largest trading partner, she warned against repeating past errors of trying to achieve “change through trade,” referring to Germany’s previous policy toward Russia. Alexander Ratz reports for Reuters.
Britain’s National Cybersecurity Centre, part of its GCHQ eavesdropping spy agency, said in a report published yesterday that the mercenary hacking market was offering products on par with government hacking groups. British officials have sounded the alarm over the widespread abuse of surveillance software and hackers-for-hire, saying that thousands of people were being targeted each year by an industry they described as posing an increasingly unpredictable threat. James Pearson and Raphael Satter report for Reuters.
Police in Latin America have seized drugs worth $5bn in a three-week-long operation spanning 15 countries. Police also seized more than 8,000 illicit firearms and carried out almost 15,000 arrests. Vanessa Buschschlüter reports for BBC News.
At least 78 people have been killed and 73 injured after a crowd stampeded at an event to distribute financial aid in Yemen’s capital yesterday. Armed Houthis fired into the air in an attempt at crowd control, apparently striking an electrical wire and causing it to explode, sparking the panic and stampede. Ahmed al-Haj and Samy Magdy report for AP News.