Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, March 16, 2017, 3:09 PM

Two federal judges have issued orders blocking enforcement of President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries. The Washington Post reports that on the ruling by Maryland-based U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang, who found that the plaintiffs had established a likelihood of success on their claims that the revised order discriminates against Muslims. The ruling follows closely on a wider-reaching blistering decision by Hawaii-based U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who issued a nationwide injunction against the ban, which was otherwise set to go into effect this morning. The Justice Department responded by saying that the travel ban “falls squarely within [Trump’s] lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation’s security.” In The Hill, Former Obama administration principal deputy general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security Daniel Martin argues that Trump’s new travel ban is not a true national security order, but a swaggering use of a broad presidential authority.

The Trump administration unveiled a $1.5 trillion budget proposal this morning that seeks a complete overhaul of the federal government, slashing funding to numerous domestic agencies in an effort to shift funds to the military and start funding on the U.S.-Mexico border wall, according to the AP. The budget proposes a $54 billion increase in military spending for the military, the largest since President Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon buildup in the 1980s. This ten percent increase is financed by eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, legal aid for the poor, low-income heating assistance, and AmeriCorps, as well as massive cuts in the departments of Agriculture, Labor, State, and the EPA. The budget is sure to raise the ire of both Democrats and Republicans, and many of the provisions have been declared “dead on arrival.” CNN provides a breakdown of the specific cuts to different executive agencies, and Cyberscoop writes that Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security advisor, promised that the Trump administration will increase spending on bolstering the nation’s defenses against online attacks in the new budget plan.

The Post notes that Senate Democrats have begun to focus on Judge Neil Gorsuch’s role in defending the George W. Bush administration in lawsuits over terrorism policies and interrogation of detainees just days before the hearings. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the information provided by Gorsuch on his 2005-2006 employment at the Justice Department, where he served as Principal Deputy to the Associate Attorney General, has raised more questions and was “incomplete.”

The Washington Times tells us that yesterday Trump tapped the head of the NSA’s elite hacking division to be the next White House cybersecurity coordinator on the National Security Council. Rob Joyce, the chief of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) branch, has been chosen to serve as the “cyber czar” and will follow in the footsteps of Michael Daniel, who has been credited with shaping former President Obama’s cybersecurity policies and implementing across the government, and who has praised Joyce as someone with “long experience” who has “proven himself as a leader.”

The Hill reports that the Senate has confirmed former Senator Dan Coates to be Trump’s new Director of National Intelligence. Senators voted 85-12 to confirm Coates, who will be responsible for overseeing the 17 federal agencies that make up the intelligence community.

For the first time in nearly two months, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to the press today in a news conference in Tokyo to discuss North Korea, saying that the United States needed a “different approach,” according to the New York Times. Tillerson said that part of the reason for his trip was to exchange views on a new approach, saying he would highlight the issue in Seoul and Beijing. Tillerson also said that he would take on the budget cuts to the State Department “willingly,” because the level of spending at the State Department over the past year is “not sustainable.”

The Post tells us that the president’s embrace of the military has also provoked unease, and that right now there is an uncertain fabric of trust between the president and his generals. Military commanders have welcomed Trump’s moves to delegate decisions to commanders, but unfilled positions, Trump’s “America First” doctrine, and over-the-top praise have led some officers to question whether Trump’s affinity toward the military is driven by respect or by political goals.

The Hill informs us that FBI Director James Comey briefed a group of high-ranking senators, including Chuck Grassley, Dianne Feinstein, and Mark Warner on Russian interference in the presidential election. The senators were tight-lipped leaving the room, with Feinstein saying that “this briefing was all on sensitive matters and highly classified.”

NBC News informs us that in her first interview as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. yesterday, Nikki Haley told NBC that Russia shouldn’t be taken lightly, claiming that “we cannot trust Russia,” and that “we should never trust Russia.” Her response came just hours after the Justice Department charged two Russian intelligence officers for a sweeping criminal conspiracy that hacked 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014, and takes a much harsher stance than Trump has on Russia.

CNN tells us that a 17-year-old high school student armed with a rifle, a handgun, a revolver and two grenades has been arrested after opening fire at the Alexis de Tocqueville school in the town of Grasse.The situation is ongoing and at least eight have been injured, according to a French Interior Ministry spokesman.

The BBC informs us that a letter bomb exploded at the International Monetary Fund in Paris, injuring the hands and face of the employee who opened it. IMF Director Christine Lagarde has condemned the French attack as a “cowardly act of violence,” and has said that the IMF is working closely with French police to investigate. Another parcel bomb was sent to the German finance ministry in Berlin and was addressed to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. A Greek far-left group, the Conspiracy of Fire Cells, has claimed responsibility for the German device on its website. The foiled attack comes just as Schaeuble is set to meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later on today.

Human Rights Watch reports that Iraqi troops are using indiscriminate and inaccurate rockets into western Mosul during their offensive, which began last month. The weapons, commonly known as improvised rocket-assisted munitions (IRAMs), and reportedly being fired into densely populated areas of Mosul’s Old City. It is not yet clear whether the munitions have killed civilians.

Reuters writes that Turkey has asked that the United States and Russia to intervene in Manbij as Turkish-backed rebels clash with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, who now have a controlling position in the Syrian town. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said that a military approach would only be considered if a diplomatic one failed, and that Turkey was considering every option to prevent what it sees as a Kurdish terrorist group, the YPG, from taking a foothold.

The Post informs us that the head of Syria’s bar association said that 16 lawyers are among the dozens of those killed in the suicide attack that struck the Palace of Justice in Damascus, Syria yesterday. Nizar Skeif said that the attack on the judicial complex was designed to “undermine the Syrians’ morale and stir anarchy and terror.” No judges were killed in the attack.

The Daily Star reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning that he is in discussions with the Trump administration on ways to move ahead with settlement construction ahead of fresh talks with Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt. Netanyahu also reiterated that he intended to build a new “community” for residents for residents of Amona, which was evacuated based on a court order last month.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Josh Blackman examined the legality of new travel ban under the Establishment Clause in Part III of his three-part essay.

Jane Chong answered the question of whether Trump can condition federal funds in the way as set out in his executive order on sanctuary cities.

Susan Landau wrote that the FBI might just agree with her about security risks and going dark.

Quinta Jurecic flagged the Justice Department’s press release about its indictment of Russian operatives and criminals in the Yahoo hacking case.

Elena Chachko discussed EU sanctions and international humanitarian law in her examination of the Court of Justice of the European Union case, A v. Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken.

Bobby Chesney analyzed the detention of a U.S. citizen in Iraq as a form of “proxy detention.”

Daniel Bynam asked whether lone wolf terrorists can be stopped.

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