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Mueller’s Big Moment?

Plus: Boris Johnson takes over, Trump threatens Guatemala, and the other stories we’re following today.

By , a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress, Boris Johnson takes over as Britain’s prime minister, and Trump threatens tariffs against Guatemala.

We welcome your feedback at morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.


Mueller Set to Testify Before Congress

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress, Boris Johnson takes over as Britain’s prime minister, and Trump threatens tariffs against Guatemala.

We welcome your feedback at morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.


Mueller Set to Testify Before Congress

Former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress today in an open hearing that is highly anticipated in Washington, though its effects on public sentiment in the rest of the country remain unclear. Democrats are seeking to secure the political victory that has so far evaded them in the investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

When he speaks before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, it is unlikely that Mueller will offer any new information about the Russian attempt to meddle in the 2016 election. Mueller has already said that the 448-page report of his findings represents his testimony, and he’s been instructed by the U.S. Justice Department not to answer questions about its redacted portions.

Mueller’s report was unequivocal on several points: that Russia did attempt to meddle in the election, that Trump’s campaign welcomed its assistance, and that there is ample evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling.

One question that remains is what purpose the hearing will serve and who will watch: Will it increase understanding of Russian meddling and the Trump campaign’s ties to Moscow, or will it play into the Kremlin’s hands by furthering the division Russia sought to sow?

Speaking at the Center for American Progress in Washington on Tuesday, House Intelligence Select Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that while he hoped the testimony would deepen public understanding of the report, people may already have their minds made up. “I’m, I think, very realistic in my expectations,” Schiff said. “People are pretty dug in not just on Trump and Russia but they’re pretty dug in on this president.”

The testimony today marks the Russia investigation’s shift from its legal phase to its on-camera moment. In short, Washington is in for a day of grand political theater.

Elias Groll and Amy Mackinnon

What can the Democrats ask? Expect questions intended to get Mueller to describe Trump’s behavior as criminal. “[T]he report itself is damning enough and bad enough that the Democrats should take Mueller at his word that he just wants to concentrate on the report himself,” said Garrett Graff, a journalist who has reported extensively on the investigation. “I think there is more than enough in the report to paint a picture of obstruction and troubling criminal malfeasance that would be eye-opening to the American public.”

Will voters care? Today’s testimony has captured attention in Washington, but its lasting effects remain to be seen. “If the Democrats use their time wisely … to create a compelling narrative for viewers at home, then I think it could really move the needle on public opinion,” Graff said.

When to tune in. Mueller’s testimony begins at 8:30 a.m. EST. He will first speak before the House Judiciary Committee about his findings regarding whether Trump obstructed justice. At noon, Mueller goes before the House Intelligence Committee, where he is expected to focus on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.


What We’re Following Today

Boris Johnson takes over as PM. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will formally appoint Boris Johnson prime minister today after his victory in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest. Johnson is expected to announce several key cabinet appointments by 10 p.m. in London; he has already threatened to demote Jeremy Hunt, his rival in the party leadership campaign. His victory could set up a political crisis in Britain, as some lawmakers have promised to bring down the government to prevent a no-deal Brexit before the Oct. 31 deadline.

Johnson has said he will push for a new departure deal with the European Union, despite the fact that Brussels has made clear that it’s not up for negotiation. And while he has played on the country’s past to make its future outside the European Union seem appealing, he gets history all wrong, Edoardo Campanella argues in FP. “Johnson will soon realize that nostalgia is not a good compass for 21st-century politics,” he writes.

Trump threatens Guatemala over migration. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened Guatemala with tariffs and fees on remittances a week after Guatemala refused to sign a so-called safe third country agreement with the United States that would have required it to take in U.S.-bound asylum seekers. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who was set to sign the deal, has blamed the disagreement on his political opponents. Mexico has also said that it will not agree to a safe third country deal with the United States.

India denies Trump’s Kashmir claims. U.S. President Donald Trump claimed in his meeting on Monday with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that the Indian government had invited him to mediate in the dispute between the two countries over Kashmir. India vehemently denies the claims, and opposition politicians have demanded a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Why is India angry? Its diplomats have long been adamant that they don’t want foreign interference in Kashmir, FP’s editors explain.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in dispute over Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is usually a rare haven of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill. A bitter dispute between its top-ranking members over how to put pressure on Saudi Arabia over its role in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi could disrupt that dynamic—and threaten Congress’s critical voice on Saudi Arabia, Robbie Gramer reports.


Keep an Eye On

Exit bans in China. The Chinese government has recently stepped up exit bans against U.S. citizens, and especially those of Chinese descent—preventing them from leaving the country. But China uses exit bans most frequently against its own citizens. They have become a key tool to suppress criticism and punish activists, Thomas Kellogg and Zhao Sile write for FP.

The separatist crisis in Cameroon. Cameroonian inmates in the capital’s central prison rioted on Tuesday in protest of the government’s crackdown on Anglophone separatists. Switzerland’s ambassador to Cameroon said Monday that the Swiss government is mediating talks to end the crisis, in which an estimated 1,800 people have died since 2017. Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, spends several months per year in Geneva—renting luxury suites at the city’s Intercontinental Hotel—a fact that has sparked protests in Switzerland and prompted separatists to question the Swiss government’s ability to mediate fairly.

Kosovo’s former prime minister. Kosovo’s former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj faces questioning in the Hague this week over alleged war crimes during Kosovo’s fight for independence 20 years ago. Haradinaj resigned as prime minister on Friday, likely triggering early elections. He has promised to run again if he’s not indicted.

Trump’s new Pentagon chief. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Army Secretary Mark Esper as defense secretary, giving the Pentagon its first permanent leader in seven months. Esper took over as acting defense secretary in June but was required by law to step aside during the formal confirmation process. While he arrived in the position at a critical moment—the week that Iran downed a U.S. drone—he hasn’t had much time to train up for the job, Lara Seligman reports.

For behind-the-scenes analysis on stories like this, subscribe to Security Brief Plus, delivered on Thursdays.


Odds and Ends

Some fellow competitors have snubbed China’s top men’s swimmer, Sun Yang, at the podium of this week’s FINA world championships, increasing scrutiny on doping concerns within the sport. Last year, Sun smashed a vial with his doping sample inside, and swimmers are upset that FINA—the sport’s governing body—has allowed him to compete while his case is pending.

In a bid to save the rare Komodo dragon from extinction, Indonesia will close the island of Komodo to tourists next year. Eastern Indonesia is the only place on earth where the lizards exist in the wild, with an estimated 1,700 on Komodo itself.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.  

Audrey Wilson is a senior editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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