Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Helen Klein Murillo
Thursday, January 12, 2017, 4:30 PM

The fallout continues from the dossier of allegations on President-elect Trump’s ties to Russia. After the President-elect likened the intelligence community’s handling of the matter to “Nazi Germany,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement noting that he had spoken to Trump and expressed his “profound dismay at the leaks” and that the “IC has not made any judgment that the information in [the dossier] is reliable.”

More background and context on the dossier came to light yesterday. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the dossier was created by ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The Washington Post explained how the dossier, circulating in Washington circles for months, finally entered the public conversation this week after intelligence officials briefed the President and President-elect last week. According to the Post, top law enforcement and IC officials unanimously decided to include the two-page summary in the briefing on Russian election interference. The New York Times likewise reports on how the dossier was created and worked its way through political and IC circles.  The New York Times also writes that Mr. Steele has gone into hiding since the explosive revelations.

Though, as Amy Davidson at the New Yorker reports, the press conference was clearly dominated by the story of Russia and the dossier, the President-elect’s press conference also addressed Trump’s plan to avoid conflicts of interest. That plan has been met with widespread condemnation. Director Walter Schaub of the Office of Government Ethics spoke at Brookings yesterday, arguing the plan fell well short of what is necessary to comply with ethics rules, NPR reports. (ICYMI: Susan Hennessey argued on Lawfare on Monday that government ethical rules implicate national security.) The Washington Post has a helpfully annotated transcript of the press conference.

More confirmation hearings are underway this morning. Secretary of Defense nominee General James Mattis and CIA Director nominee Representative Mike Pompeo both began their hearings this morning. The Washington Post reports that Pompeo promised to “speak truth to power” and that he would “absolutely not” carry out an order to restart enhanced interrogation. General Mattis was set to appear before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the waiver required for the recently retired military officer’s appointment, but the House cancelled the hearing after the Trump transition team decided Mattis should not appear, writes the Post. Politico notes that the move provoked the threat of reprisals from House Democrats. Mattis’s hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee appears to be off to an unsurprisingly smooth start, with the Post noting that he has encountered virtually no challenges to his qualifications. Marking a break from the President-elect, Mattis placed Russia first among foreign threats.

Rex Tillerson’s hearings have been decidedly less smooth, Politico reports. Dana Milbank at the Washington Post argues that Tillerson’s responses indicate he will toe Trump’s pro-Russia line. Wall Street Journal reporters have a different take, noting Tillerson’s surprisingly tough responses on Russia. The New York Times, the Guardian, Reuters, and others report concern over Tillerson’s comments yesterday on the South China Sea.

The Guardian reported yesterday that President Obama is considering clemency for Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst currently serving 35 years for 2010 leaks. Manning petitioned for clemency in November, asking the President to commute her sentence before leaving office in January, noting that it may be her last chance at clemency for a long time.

The Miami Herald reports that federal prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty against Fort-Lauderdale Airport shooter Esteban Santiago. But the Herald argues that the death penalty may be unlikely, as federal death penalty cases are rare and the U.S. government very infrequently carries out executions. The decision comes in the wake of a successful federal death penalty prosecution last week against Charleston shooter Dylann Roof.

In GITMO news, Carol Rosenberg reports that Judge James Pohl ordered the military to deliver a 2014 letter from 9/11 defendant Khalid Sheik Mohammed to President Obama. On Tuesday, Rosenberg reported that Pohl ordered the government to preserve the CIA’s “Torture Report,” though he didn’t decide whether defense attorneys would have full access to the report.

Officials and journalists this week are assessing Syria in the wake of the country’s devastating civil war. At the New York Times, David Lesch and James Gelvin assess post-civil war Syria and ask what exactly Assad has left to govern. Al Jazeera notes that UNESCO officials will arrive in Syria next week to examine heritage sites in the wake of the civil war. Activists have asked the UN to acknowledge Russian and Iranian war crimes in Syria, reports Reuters. Meanwhile, the BBC reports new civilian casualties in airstrikes near Aleppo today.

Carol Morello of the Washington Post writes that the Iran nuclear deal may not survive a Trump Administration. Morello reports that experts believe undoing the deal would be highly unpopular with American allies who helped negotiate the agreement, and that the deal’s collapse may come instead through the new Administration seizing on minor violations of the deal. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Iran received the first western plane, an Airbus A321, ordered since the U.S. lifted sanctions as part of the deal.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stewart Baker posted the latest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast: “What Donald Trump and ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Have in Common.”

Helen Murillo reported on Monday’s military commission hearing in the case of alleged al-Qaeda commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi.

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes renewed their call for the Obama Administration to pardon Chelsea Manning.

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