Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Monday, January 23, 2017, 2:36 PM

In his first speech as President, Donald Trump delivered scheduled remarks at CIA headquarters in front of the memorial wall honoring fallen officers in an effort to heal the breach caused by his continual attacks on the intelligence community over its findings on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. But the speech turned out to be a less-than-effective olive branch, as Trump moved instead toward attacking the media during the speech, accusing news organizations of misrepresenting the number of people who attended the inaugural ceremonies last Friday, and saying that the U.S. “should have kept the oil, but, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.” The speech was greeted with dismay from intelligence officials, one of whom told CBS that Trump’s remarks “made relations with the intelligence community worse.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, issued a scathing statement shortly after the President’s remarks, accusing him of giving “little more than a perfunctory acknowledgement,” of the sacrifice and service of CIA personnel, while former CIA Director John Brennan stated that “Trump should be ashamed of himself.” Lawfare has a video and transcript of Trump’s speech here. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed examines how Trump’s comments on “keeping the oil” have angered Iraqis.

Trump’s overtures to the CIA come as the Wall Street Journal reports that the agency is working with the FBI, NSA, and the Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. A key issue in the investigation is a series of telephone calls between Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., on December 29th. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence may also be launching a full investigation into connections between the Russian government and advisors close to Trump as part of its broader probe into election interference.

In The New York Times, Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, defends Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the dossier that began much of the public speculation about the relationship between Trump, his team, and the Kremlin.

The Washington Post reports that President Trump has issued his first executive order to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (commonly known as TPP) negotiating process. The massive trade deal, which was a signature piece of President Obama’s “pivot of Asia,” was meant to act as a strategic counterweight to Chinese influence in the Pacific region. But Trump and others, including Senator Bernie Sanders, have attacked the deal as harmful to American workers and manufacturing. CNN also reports that Trump pledged on Sunday to start the renegotiation of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico, a central campaign promise that nevertheless runs the risk of backlash in Congress and retaliatory trade tariffs by other countries.

In a major break with decades of policy, the Independent informs us that Trump is set to announce that the U.S. embassy in Israel will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a provocative that would break with the traditional U.S. position as a neutral arbiter of the peace process. The Times of Israel tells us that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss the repercussions of moving the embassy and possibilities for reviving the peace process.

General James Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense and General John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security shortly after Trump swore the oath of office on Friday. Meanwhile, the Post reports that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the most vocal opponent of Rex Tillerson’s nomination as Secretary of State, will support the Exxon Mobil CEO for the post. With Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) dropping their opposition as well, Tillerson’s hopes for confirmation are much brighter.

The Times notes that the first drone strikes of the new administration were launched on Saturday in Yemen, killing 10 members of al-Qaeda. The strikes came as renewed fighting in Yemen between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels has killed at least 75 people.

Reuters reports that ISIS has blown up the Mosul Hotel which straddles the Tigris river that cuts the city in two, to prevent its use as a landing base by the Iraqi army in their offensive to retake Mosul. The explosion came as Iraqi forces are poised to take full control of the eastern part of the city and launch into the western part.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer expressed the Trump administration’s willingness to work with the Kremlin to defeat ISIS, the AP writes. Spicer’s comments come after the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a joint airstrike mission had been carried out between Russian and U.S. warplanes against ISIS, which the Pentagon quickly denied as “rubbish.”

The Post informs us that harsh accusations of terrorism were traded by Syrian rebels and government officials at Russian and Turkish-sponsored peace talks in Astana, making for a rocky start to the negotiations. The talks aim to cement the ceasefire agreed to in late December.

In response to the incursion by troops, and opposition from the Gambian military, Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has ended the country’s political crisis by stepping down and fleeing the country to an undisclosed location. The new president, Adama Barrow, has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate Jammeh’s alleged crimes. However, the BBC reports that Jammeh allegedly took more than $11 million from state coffers and a suite of luxury cars with him.

The Miami Herald tells us that Army Colonel Judge James L. Pohl, who is presiding over the cases of the 9/11 conspirators, has decided to go forward with pre-trial hearings despite the absence of a death-penalty defense attorney due to a broken arm. Defense lawyers have questioned whether the court can continue with hearings due to the legal requirement that each of the accused is entitled to have a capital defender.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic flagged Trump’s speech at CIA headquarters.

On the Lawfare Podcast, Benjamin Wittes sat down with Stewart Baker and Amie Stepanovich to discuss his new paper with Emma Kohse.

Ben expressed curiosity as to why the White House was characterizing the political opinions of apolitical career CIA employees.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged David Inserra’s review of the Department of Homeland Security and the need for reform.

Dr. Michael Sulmeyer presented three observations on China’s approach to state action in cyberspace.

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