Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 1:33 PM

Bloomberg tells us that Steve Bannon, Trump chief White House strategist, has been removed from the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. The movement within the NSC, which the New York Times reports was organized by national security advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, constitutes the largest shakeup of the NSC since Trump took office. The White House stated that Bannon was placed on the Principals Committee to “monitor” former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and that Bannon’s services are no longer needed after Flynn’s departure, which took place in early February. The Hill adds that the White House is now claiming that Steve Bannon’s so-called internal think tank, the Strategic Initiatives Group, never existed.

USA Today brings us coverage of the emergency session of the U.N. Security Council about the suspected deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria that has killed scores of civilians. The Times reports that last night Britain, France, and the United States were pushing for the Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemns the attack and orders the Syrian government to provide flight logs, flight plans, and names of commanders in charge of air operations, including those from yesterday. The Wall Street Journal tells us that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the attack a “moment of truth,” for the members of the U.N. Security Council and said that “war crimes are going on.” World leaders, including President Donald Trump, have condemned the attack, blaming the Assad regime for the alleged bombing that has killed at least 72 men, women, and children. Even so, the attack has demonstrated daylight between the Trump administration and other Western leaders: Trump’s administration have refused to call for Assad’s ouster, while U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement via Twitter that “there can be no future for Assad in a stable Syria.”

The Russian government has argued that Assad was not responsible for a chemical weapons attack, but rather that the poison gas belonged to the rebels and leaked when a strike hit an insurgent weapons depot, Reuters adds. Russia said that it will continue to back Assad despite the diplomatic collision course this may set it on with the Trump White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called on Russia and the Syrian regime’s other backer, Iran, “to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again,” and that “Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths,” but stopping short of calling for Assad’s ouster. Foreign Policy writes that Tillerson’s attempt to put pressure on Russia and Iran reflects the United States’s lack of leverage over Assad and influence over the situation on the ground.

The Journal tells us that Jared Kushner told Iraqis on his visit to the region that he hopes that the partnership between the United States and Iraq endures for “many generations.” Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, is winding down a two-day tour of Iraq with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, with stops in Baghdad, Erbil, and Haman al-Alil, a small Iraqi base with fewer than 100 American advisers and other soldiers. Kushner will most likely play a role in the final decision about how best to continue executing the fight against Islamic State.

The Journal informs us that North Korea tested yet another missile, this time off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. U.S. Pacific Command has confirmed the missile launch, identifying it as a KN-15 medium-range missile. Secretary Tillerson released a 23-word statement saying that the U.S. has “spoken enough” about North Korea and that it has “no further comment,” on the subject, leaving many baffled. CNN adds that another senior administration official said that “the clock has run out and all options are on the table,” regarding the North Korean nuclear program.

North Korea’s hacking activities are also getting bolder, with North Korean-backed hackers now linked to attacks on banks in 18 countries, according to CNN. The Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, in a recently released report, said that the hacking operation, known as “Lazarus,” has targeted banks in Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Uruguay. International security experts say that the money is most likely being used to further North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Times tells us that ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for two days of meetings with Trump, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, has worked very closely with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser. The two men agreed on the meeting place, and Cui even sent Kushner a draft of the joint statement that could be released afterwards.

In an interview with the Times, President Trump expressed his belief that former national security advisor Susan Rice had committed a crime in connection with reports that she may have requested unmasking of names of U.S. persons connected to the Trump transition team whose information was incidentally collected, though he cited no evidence and it is unclear what crime he believes she may have committed. Rice said yesterday that she “absolutely” never sought to uncover “for political purposes” the names of Trump campaign or transition officials concealed in intelligence intercepts, and called claims that she had leaked identities “completely false,” the Post writes. The Journal adds that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will ask Rice to testify in its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Journal writes that the Trump administration is considering far-reaching steps for “extreme vetting,” with foreign visitors to the United States being forced to hand over cell phone contacts and social media passwords and to answer questions about their beliefs. The changes, which are being mulled as the administration is conducting a review of the vetting procedures from the previous administration, could apply to visitors from close U.S. allies, including France and Germany. The procedures may be aired today as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appears before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate introduced a bill yesterday that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before searching the digital devices of Americans trying to reenter the United States.

The Times notes that Facebook has lost an appeal before the New York Court of Appeals over whether tech companies have the right to ask an appellate court to quash warrants ordering them to hand over information from hundreds of accounts in a disability fraud case. In a 5-1 decision, the court upheld the lower court’s decision that New York law does not allow a social media company to appeal a judge’s decision to issue search warrants in a criminal case, even if the company believes those warrants violate the constitutional rights of its users.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes examined in detail the danger to presented by Trump to the “Grand Bargain” between the intelligence community and the American people.

Devin Pendas reviewed Kim Christian Priemel’s The Betrayal: The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Bruce Ackerman flagged a new brief in Captain Nathan Smith’s challenge to presidential war-making.

Daniel Byman provided nine questions to ask after a terrorist attack.

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