Americas: Ongoing political turmoil following US president’s dismissal of FBI director further weakens Trump’s legitimacy; Brazil’s attorney general accuses country’s president of corruption and obstruction of justice.
Asia-Pacific: New York Times reports Chinese authorities killed or captured up to 20 CIA informants in China between 2010 and 2012.
Europe and Central Asia: Ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour Party publish manifestos ahead of UK general election called for 8 June; Unidentified attackers stab leading critic of Kazakh government after he files lawsuit against senior officials.
Apologies for the curtailed briefing this week.
The ongoing political turmoil that has followed the US president’s dismissal of the FBI director, James Comey, is further weakening Donald Trump’s legitimacy. On 16 May, the Washington Post revealed that Comey had written a memo describing the way in which Trump attempted to befriend him in order to convince him to halt the FBI investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. On 17 May, Al Green became the first member of Congress to call for the president’s impeachment for obstruction of justice. Also on 17 May, the justice department named former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. On 19 May, the Washington Post revealed that a document summarising the meeting Trump had with Russian officials in the Oval Office on 10 May quoted Trump saying that Comey’s removal had relieved ‘great pressure’ on him. The same day, it was announced Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey’s testimony will likely prove highly detrimental to the Trump administration, and will possibly convince more US representatives of the case for impeaching the president.
Brazil’s attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, has accused the country’s president, Michel Temer, of corruption and obstruction of justice after a supreme court investigation report released on 19 May suggested that Temer used his influence to sabotage the investigation into large-scale corruption known as Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato). Audio recording allegedly reveal Temer discussing bribes with Joesley Batista, the chairperson of Brazil’s largest meat-packing company, JBS. The president is alleged to have encouraged Batista to keep paying hush money to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House, who is in prison for his role in the Car Wash scandal. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Batista and his brother, Wesley. Temer took over the presidency in August 2016 following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff on corruption charges linked to the same widespread corruption investigation. These latest revelations are likely to worsen the country’s already damaged economic and political climate, with many Brazilians now calling for Temer’s impeachment. Temer claims that the audio recording has been doctored, and indicated that he will not resign. However, it is very unlikely that Temer will be able to complete his term and remain in power until the general election scheduled for October 2018.
On 21 May, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities killed or captured up to 20 CIA informants in China between 2010 and 2012. Four former US officials spoke to the newspaper, telling it that reports from sources inside the Chinese government began to slow down in 2010 and that informants began to disappear in early 2011. China’s successful counter-espionage efforts are said to have crippled the CIA’s intelligence-gathering in the country for years. The unnamed officials told the newspaper that it is still unclear whether it was a mole, a tradecraft lapse or a hack that allowed the Chinese authorities to identify the CIA sources. The episode is one of the worst security breaches of recent years. By 2013, it appeared that the Chinese were no longer able to identify US assets, and the CIA reportedly began rebuilding its network. Two years later, in 2015, a leak of millions of US federal employees attributed to a hack by the Chinese state led to fears that further targeting of CIA assets would follow, leading the US to evacuate CIA staff from its Beijing embassy. Since then, an FBI employee and a state department employee have been accused of being Chinese agents, with the FBI employee pleading guilty in 2016.
Europe and Central Asia
The ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour Party have published their manifestos ahead of the general election called for 8 June. The Conservatives have settled on the theme of strong and stable leadership as the country heads into the Brexit negotiations with the EU. The party has also said it would cut spending and corporation tax. In contrast, the Labour manifesto sets out a series of popular policies from scraping university tuition fees to renationalising railway franchises as well as raising both taxes and spending. The unpopularity of some of the Conservative’s plans, such as how to fund social care for the elderly, and the popularity of some of the Labour pledges, such as ending the freeze on welfare benefits, has seen the Labour Party narrow the substantial Conservative lead in the polls that had originally encouraged the prime minister, Theresa May, to call the snap election. However, many voters continue to hold reservations about the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who, though widely viewed as an honest politician, has had to contend with a hostile press and plots from within his own party. Most recently, the pro-Conservative Telegraph newspaper claimed that Corbyn was monitored by the United Kingdom’s domestic security agency, MI5, over his stance on the IRA and meetings with Sinn Féin in the 1990s. Although MI5 is widely known to have monitored other Labour MPs because of links to left-wing and radical groups, the timing of the accusations will likely further damage Corbyn’s reputation outside his support base.
On 15 May, Human Rights Watch reported that unidentified attackers had assaulted Ramazan Yesergepov, a leading Kazakh journalist and prominent critic of the government. Yesergepov was stabbed and suffered critical wounds in the abdomen while he was on a train journey from Almaty to Astana, where he was due to meet foreign diplomats to advocate on behalf of imprisoned journalists in Kazakhstan. Yesergepov is the chair of the board of Journalists in Danger, a Kazakh group that raises awareness about media freedom and offers legal representation to journalists. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison after his newspaper released an article accusing local officials of corruption based on classified documents he had acquired. It is highly likely that the recent stabbing is linked to Yesergepov filing a lawsuit on 12 against the head of the presidential administration, the chairman of the supreme court, the prosecutor general and the ministers of foreign affairs and finance. The lawsuit accuses them of failing to uphold a 2016 UN Human Rights Committee decision regarding his right to a fair trial. The Kazakh government will now possibly attempt to reach a settlement with Yesergepov, as he could become a symbol for advocacy groups who will attempt to use the spotlight of the 2017 World’s Fair in Astana to highlight Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record.