Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Monday, March 6, 2017, 11:12 AM

President Donald Trump accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, on Saturday of tapping his phones at Trump Tower in the lead-up to the November presidential election. Trump delivered these explosive charges without offering any evidence or a heads-up to key aides, who were caught off-guard by the president’s tweets. Aides to Obama curtly rebuffed Trump’s accusations as “baseless” while Trump’s surrogates attempted to walk back the commander-in-chief’s statements on the Sunday morning TV shows. Trump appears to have relayed these allegations from Breitbart News and Mark Levin, a deeply conservative radio host. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have more.

The Journal also tells us that FBI Director James Comey has asked the Department of Justice to rebut Trump’s accusations that his campaign had been wiretapped by the Obama administration publicly. The Bureau’s request comes on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ pledge to recuse himself from any investigation between Russian intelligence agents and the Trump campaign, a move that reportedlyangered Trump.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC News that “there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.” He urged the U.S. Senate to conduct a probing inquiry into the full nature of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to The Hill, two leading Republican lawmakers, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have called on Trump to disclose evidence of his accusations. Sasse warned that the country is “in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust” and that the full body of information regarding these accusations should be released to the U.S. Senate at a minimum, if not the public.

The Washington Post explains that Trump’s Twitter tirades stem from his frustration over the focus on connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. But Trump’s comments will likely only dent Republicans’ chances at passing a raft of campaign promises, such as a major overhaul of the corporate tax regime and a replacement of Obamacare at a time when premiums are soaring and insurers are withdrawing from the market.

The Journal predicts that Trump will reopen another front of controversy today when he signs a revised version of his executive order banning travel of people from several Muslim-majority nations to the United States. The revisions reflect a more judicious approach that, unlike its predecessor, came through an interagency process, but it is likely that opponents will also challenge this measure through the courts. Current visa holders and legal permanent residents will be unaffected by this measure though future visa applications and current refugees will be halted.

The New York Times adds that Iraq will likely be let off this new list of affected countries. Baghdad’s likely exclusion is a recognition of Iraq’s key role in fighting the Islamic State and reflects the input of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, two key Trump advisors who counseled on Iraq’s behalf.

The BBC draws attention to Mexico’s recent decision to open consulates in 50 cities across the United States to advise Mexican citizens on their immigration rights as the Trump White House looks to increase deportations from the United States. President Enrique Pena Nieto is scoring political points at home for standing up for Mexico against Trump.

Josh Rogin at the Washington Post tells us that Vice President Mike Pence has quietly become an influential center of power regarding foreign affairs in the White House. Pence is reportedly using his office to recruit and staff the administration with hawks that share his advocacy for a powerful U.S. foreign policy, a contrast to the more isolationist instincts of other key Trump advisors such as Stephen Bannon.

The New York Times discloses that North Korea launched four ballistic missiles from its long-range rocket launch site on Monday morning. The launch, the latest in a string of teeth-baring moves by the Hermit Kingdom, has deeply troubled South Korean officials who have called for a preponed deployment of an advanced American missile defense system.

Pyongyang’s latest provocation comes as Seoul lurches through its greatest political scandal in decades. Reuters tells us that South Korea’s embattled president Park Geun-hye colluded with friends to receive bribes from the Samsung Group in return for intervening in the conglomerate’s boardroom politics to support its incumbent leadership. Park will be thrown out of office if the country’s highest court rules in favor of her impeachment sometime this month.

The Guardian adds that Malaysia has expelled North Korea’s ambassador in a major break in diplomatic relations over the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong-Un, on Malaysian soil. The ambassador was declared persona non grata after Kuala Lumpur’s demand for an apology went unanswered by Pyongyang.

The New York Times reports that Pakistan has kept its border with Afghanistan closed for more than two weeks after a suicide bombing in Pakistan’s Sindh province killed more than 80 people. The closed border has stranded thousands of Afghans who routinely cross into Pakistan for trade and commerce, and Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan warned that if Islamabad did not reverse its decision soon, Kabul would need to airlift its citizens at a cost to the two countries’ turbulent relationship.

The Economic Times, an Indian newspaper, publicizes that Indian federal government representatives will meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits Arunachal Pradesh, a sensitive border region that is controlled by India but claimed by China. The Dalai Lama’s visit and recognition underscores the growing strategic rivalry between India and China at a time when Beijing’s relationship with Islamabad has attracted ire from New Delhi.

Reuters informs us that suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at al Qaeda targets in Yemen in two separate attacks on Monday. The operations mark Washington’s deepening involvement in the ongoing civil war and its concern that al Qaeda’s footprint has only grown in the failed state. The New York Times adds that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen in 2017 have already exceeded the number that were carried out in the entirety of 2016.

The New York Times reports that the United States is bolstering its military footprint in Manbij, a northern city in Syria, as Washington looks to deter a complex array of Kurdish militias and the Syrian and Turkish armies from fighting one another as the campaign against the Islamic State continues. Turkish officials have complained that the city remains an outpost for Kurdish militias that have yet to vacate despite U.S. assurances.

The Wall Street Journal has the latest on the ongoing fight by U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces to reclaim Mosul, the largest Islamic State stronghold in Iraq. The so-called caliphate’s hold on the city has been reduced to its western half but the group’s abhorrent treatment of Mosul’s civilians have only intensified as the group faces their final stand.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes asked ten questions that are on everyone’s minds after President Trump’s most recent Twitter outburst.

Ben added another ten questions after the first round of reporting emerged this weekend.

Quinta Jurecic posted the latest episode of The Lawfare Podcast, on what happens when we can’t believe the president’s oath of office.

Douglas Ollivant pointed out that, for all its faults, Iraq has been a commendable ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

Paul Rosenzweig offered suggestions for how he would begin investigating the purported links between Moscow and Trump Tower.

Jane Chong asked whether the acting attorney general can block White House requests to access national security information that might be part of an attempt to interfere politically with DoJ’s investigative power?

Stewart Baker offered eight buckets of cold water to calm both parties on Trump’s claims about wiretapping.

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