Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, January 26, 2017, 1:19 PM

The New York Times informs us that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has canceled his visit to the White House next Tuesday in the wake of President Trump’s executive order mandating the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for it. CNN reports that President Trump responded to Peña Nieto’s initial suggestion that he might cancel by tweeting that it would be “better to cancel the upcoming meeting” between himself and the Mexican president if Mexico continued to refuse to pay for the wall. The tension between the two countries could lead to a sharp decline in foreign investment in Mexico given Trump’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA.

Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports that the entire senior management team of the State Department resigned as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was making the rounds of the Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom. The move is part of an ongoing exodus of senior foreign service officers who are leaving as the Trump administration gets off the ground. David Wade, former State Department chief of staff, called it “the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember.” It is unclear whether Patrick Kennedy, the long-serving undersecretary for management, left of his own volition or was forced to resign by the incoming administration.

ABC News reports that President Trump stated that he was open to using waterboarding because he “absolutely” believes that it works and had been told so by “people at the highest level of intelligence.” Trump’s comments come after the White House denied involvement with a draft executive order circulated yesterday that would mandate an opening a policy review of detention and interrogation practices. The New York Times contradicts those denials with statements from three administration officials, who have confirmed that the draft executive order was circulated among National Security Council staff members for review. Yet CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, both of whom have voiced opposition to the use of torture, were reportedly “blindsided” by the draft order and were not aware of it before it became public, according to Politico.  

Buzzfeed notes that the CIA “black site” plan in the draft executive order is not new, but rather comes from Mitt Romney’s plan for his First 100 Days during the 2012 U.S. presidential election. The draft order is a near-exact copy of the Romney campaign’s September 2012 version.  

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released a statement strongly refuting Trump’s comments about torture and imploring him to read the 6,700-page, classified version of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogation and detention before taking any action. Feinstein co-sponsored the McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the FY 16 NDAA that criminalized use of interrogation techniques not in the Army Field Manual with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has also been vocal about Trump’s embrace of torture.

The Times reports that President Trump may also be preparing two executive orders that would drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations. The first calls for terminating funding to any agency that meets at least one of several criteria, such as giving full membership to the Palestinian Authority, supporting abortion, or circumventing sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and also mandates “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in remaining U.S. funding to international organizations. The second order calls for a review of all current and pending multilateral treaties not related to national security, extradition, or trade, though it is unclear which treaties would be included in these categories.

The Post informs us that the State Department, under the direction of the Trump administration, is reviewing all foreign aid disbursed in the final two months of the Obama administration, including a last minute release of $220 million to Palestinians. While it is unlikely that any adjustments will be made, funds for projects like the U.N. Green Climate Fund will likely not come in full given opposition from Republican members of Congress and Trump.

Trump also plans to implement “safe zones” in Syria, a plan he mentioned in his wide-ranging interview with ABC. The AP reports that a Turkish official said his country, which has long advocated for safe zones, would need to review a specific plan before commenting. The response was similarly muted from Russia and the European Union: a Kremlin spokesman said that “it’s important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees” and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini declined to comment before reviewing plans.

CNN writes that Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) met with President Bashar al-Assad during her recent weeklong visit to Syria, for which she has faced political scrutiny. Since her visit, Gabbard has advocated for increased dialogue between Assad and the United States and has claimed that “there are no moderate rebels,” an argument put forward by the Assad regime.Gabbard, who sits on both the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, has recently introduced legislation that would prohibit sending federal funds to nations that support terrorist groups.

U.S. News & World Report informs us that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is joining its Senate counterpart in launching an investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A joint statement released by Republican Chairman Devin Nunes and Ranking Member Adam Schiff noted that the committee is focused on Russian cyber interference in the 2016 U.S. election more broadly, but is specifically focusing on the possibly incriminating connections to Russia of Trump associates.

The Times tells us that President Trump is still using his unsecured Android phone to send tweets, creating a potentially dangerous vulnerability at the highest levels of the government. This is not the first time that an unsecured phone has been an issue for the White House: former President Obama attempted during the beginning of his presidency to keep his Blackberry, but was ultimately forced to trade it in for a “hardened” Samsung Galaxy S4.

Newsweek reports that senior Trump administration officials, including Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, and Steven Bannon, are using private email servers from the Republican National Committee, an ironic choice given that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server led to calls from Trump’s campaign to “lock her up.”

Wired examines a controversial new program started by Minnesota federal district court Judge Michael J. Davis and German Fulbright scholar Daniel Koehler that attempts to reform young ISIS recruits back into American life.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic flagged President Trump’s speech at the Department of Homeland Security.

Stephen Bates criticized the intelligence community report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign for effectively accusing RT of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Susan Hennessey and Jordan Brunner attempted to disentangle what various news organizations and government officials have confirmed about current investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

Darren E. Tromblay examined two major structural deficiencies that have undermined the FBI’s efforts to reform and evolve.

Paul Rosenzweig discussed the costs involved in the arrest by Russian authorities of a top Kaspersky cybersecurity manager for espionage.

Jack Goldsmith argued that the Trump administration’s purported draft executive order on detention and interrogation will probably give the administration a symbolic boost but is largely self-defeating.

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