Mueller’s ‘Witch Hunt’ highlights potential obstruction of justice by Trump
On 18 April, the U.S. Department of Justice released the long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, also called the ‘Mueller report’. One of its primary purposes was to determine whether Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to influence the election.
The report details actions taken by the Russian actors looking for vulnerabilities in U.S. election systems. Even though Russia did directly target personal information of voters in hacking operations and launched social media campaigns targeting American voters, the report argues that those efforts “were not decisive in the election’s outcome.”
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller concluded that despite numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians, there was insufficient evidence to establish criminal conduct.
Reactions to the redacted report varied wildly. President Trump is framing it as a personal victory and exoneration. The Democrats reacted with alarm to the President’s conduct detailed in the report.
The eleven instances of potential obstruction of justice (such as efforts to fire Mueller or hijack oversight of the investigation), highlighted in the report, prompted talks about the Congress opening impeachment proceedings.
The conclusion of the investigation does not mark the end of internal political division in the U.S. and it definitely is not the last chapter of the 2016 election controversy. With powerful Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren calling for impeachment on one side and Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirming a probe into potential surveillance abuses by the FBI on the other, escalation of political contention is likely.
Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka allowed by government dysfunction
A series of coordinated bombings shattered a decade-long peace in Sri Lanka during Easter celebrations on 21 April. The attacks, which occurred in three cities – the capital Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa – have left 321 killed and more than five hundred wounded as of Tuesday. So far, the authorities arrested forty people on suspicion of links to the bombings, all of Sri Lanka’s citizens.
Some Sri Lankan Muslims joined ISIS, but the numbers were low compared to the rest of the region and “it wasn’t seen as a major problem… certainly not for attacks within Sri Lanka”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) April 23, 2019
Targeting three churches as well as four hotels and timely coinciding with Easter, the bombers aimed at Christians and foreign tourists. The perpetrators responsible for the attacks are still unknown. The government has blamed the local jihadist group National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), which is mainly known for violating Buddhist temples but has not been previously linked to terrorism.
Some experts, as well as some state officials, question this conclusion. Examining the scope, the number of targets and sophistication of the actions, it is likely that the local group must have got at least some level of external assistance.
Some speculate that the attack was a response for last month’s shooting at Christchurch, but the link is not likely. The Amaq news agency of the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings but the group has not provided any evidence of its involvement.
The ability of the state authorities to deal with the chaotic situation and investigation was undermined by the recent revelation that the Sri Lankan security forces had had prior knowledge about a possible attack coming. Despite being aware of the threat, they did not take any action and the information never reached the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe until the bombings, which some explain by his hostile relations with the President Maithripala Sirisena.
While the situation has been rapidly evolving and new reports occur every day, the country’s officials have requested assistance from foreign agencies in the investigation. The government is distressed by the threat of re-emerging ethnic and religious violence, spreading across the region of South and South-East Asia.
New IRA behind Journalist murder in Northern Ireland
On 18 April, Lyra McKee, a journalist who was covering riots in Northern Ireland’s town of Londonderry, was shot dead by an unknown assailant who opened fire into a group of onlookers and police officers. The Real Irish Republican Army (also known as the New IRA), claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting.
This incident was the latest manifestation of the conflict in Northern Ireland, also known as ‘The Troubles’. With Brexit, many experts expressed concerns that it may revive the conflict.
Britain leaving the EU will mean that border posts could be renewed on the sensitive border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Reintroduction of a physical barrier between the two entities will not only complicate lives of the ordinary people living in the area and negatively affect the economy, but it may also reignite separatist sentiments in the Northern Irish Catholic minority. During the Troubles, border infrastructure was a quite popular target.
There is an issue of identity. With both the UK and Ireland part of the EU, religious and national loyalties were blurred and the Unionists and Republicans were able to live peacefully together. After Brexit, this may no longer be the case.
Thirdly, the power-sharing institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement that were supposed to bridge the Unionists and Republicans collapsed in January 2017. Since then, Northern Ireland has no government.
Nonetheless, Both Republican elites and civil society have rejected the return to violence. Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party, called for an end of all armed attacks and for the reestablishment of power-sharing institutions. In a symbolic gesture, Republican murals in Londonderry were amended after McKee’s death, expressing a community’s rejection of violence.
Image: Flickr | Etrusia UK (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha
Coordination and editing: Matúš Jevčák & Matej Spišák
Authors: Dominik Novosad, Kristina Urbanová & Martin Dudáš
The text has not undergone language revision.