Happy Tuesday! Congratulations to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and all, but the real Home Run Derby took place last night on West Potomac Park Field No. 3, where our softball team secured a 21-4 victory over an unnamed think tank.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to ask his parliament to greenlight Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, which—if Erdoğan follows through—would end more than a year of Turkish opposition to the move. It’s unclear what Turkey would secure in exchange, but expediting its European Union membership talks and lifting certain defense-related sanctions were reportedly part of the negotiations. Hungary remains the only other holdout blocking Sweden from joining the 31-member alliance, but Budapest’s opposition is likely to evaporate once Turkey’s concerns are assuaged. The announcement comes just ahead of the annual NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which begins today.
- The European Union and the United States finalized an agreement on Monday creating an independent watchdog staffed by U.S. judges to review complaints from EU citizens who believe U.S. intelligence agencies have improperly collected their online data. The agreement secures tech companies’ ability to transfer personal data between the U.S. and EU, a common practice thrown into legal limbo after the EU’s Court of Justice struck down a previous agreement in 2020.
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on June 29, just five days after the mercenary group’s abandoned mutiny. Peskov claimed approximately 35 people—including Wagner battalion commanders—attended the three-hour meeting and that the Wagner contingent pledged their loyalty to Putin and “the motherland.” Meanwhile, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov—Russia’s top military commander whom Prigozhin allegedly sought to overthrow—appeared on Russian state television in his first public appearance since the short-lived revolt.
- The Solomon Islands opened an embassy in Beijing on Monday, deepening ties with China after the U.S. reopened its own embassy in the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, in February as part of a push to counter Beijing’s influence in the region. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is on a weeklong visit to Beijing—where he’s met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang—four years after his country cut ties with Taiwan to normalize relations with China.
- David Weiss, the federal prosecutor who has led the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter yesterday that he did not request special counsel status, contradicting the claims of Gary Shapley, an IRS whistleblower who has alleged political interference in the probe. Weiss said that he consulted some Justice Department officials about special attorney authority to bring charges in jurisdictions outside his own and that the department assured him he would have the authority should it prove necessary.
- Also Monday, the Justice Department announced charges against Gal Luft, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who claimed to have incriminating information about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. Luft—whose assertions House Republicans have repeatedly cited in their investigations—was indicted on eight counts yesterday, including Iranian sanctions violations, lying to federal agents, and an alleged failure to register as a foreign agent while “advanc[ing] the interests of the People’s Republic of China.” Luft was arrested in Cyprus back in February, but allegedly skipped bail during the extradition process and is now a fugitive.
- U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty rejected a motion from the Justice Department on Monday attempting to delay his wide-ranging injunction that temporarily prohibits government agencies and officials from communicating with social media platforms about restricting speech online. The DOJ then requested the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issue a stay on the injunction, setting the case on a potential path to the Supreme Court.
- Gen. David Berger stepped down as commandant of the Marine Corps yesterday at the end of his four-year term, leaving the force without a leader for the first time in more than a century as Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues to block all military promotions in protest of a Defense Department policy facilitating abortion access for service members. President Joe Biden nominated Gen. Eric Smith, the current assistant commandant, in May to fill the position, and he will serve as acting leader until he is confirmed by the Senate.
- Several potential down-ballot 2024 candidates threw their hats into the ring on Monday. In Nevada, retired Army Capt. Sam Brown—who was severely injured by an explosion in Afghanistan—announced he’s running to replace Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, setting up a GOP primary contest with failed 2022 Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant. Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez launched a campaign to oust GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, joining U.S. Rep. Colin Allred in the Democratic primary. In Michigan, actor Hill Harper confirmed he is entering the Democratic primary to succeed the retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
The Cluster Bomb Controversy
When Russia began dropping cluster bombs on Ukraine in March 2022, international condemnation swiftly followed. “We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations. “That includes cluster munitions.”
Last week, the Biden administration announced it’d do the same, sending cluster munitions to the Ukrainian military as part of the next $800 million aid package. The U.S. quickly updated Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks to clarify it considers the bombs’ use illegal only when targeted at civilians, but the awkward clarification reflects the controversial nature of the materiel. Although useful, the munitions are particularly dangerous to civilians—and Ukraine will have to navigate the tradeoffs as it uses the weapons to push forward its lagging counteroffensive.
First deployed during World War II and used prominently during the Vietnam War, cluster munitions are a category of air-dropped or ground-launched explosives that release smaller explosives as they detonate—picture a bomb exploding into grenades that fall and detonate on an area the size of a city block. They can cover vastly more ground in one strike than precision weapons, making them particularly useful for hitting fast-moving or dispersed targets.