Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 2:18 PM

The Wall Street Journal reports that the courts delivered another blow to the White House’s immigration regime after a federal district judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the implementation of President Trump’s executive order, which sought to deny sanctuary cities federal funding for limiting their cooperation with federal law enforcement on illegal immigration. U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that the executive order would likely have stirred budget uncertainty in the two counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara, that filed the suit. He added that the executive order likely violates the constitutional separations of power, the Fifth Amendment’s due process protections, and the Tenth Amendment’s prohibition on commandeering local jurisdictions to carry out federal law.

The Journal also tells us that Trump told top officials in his administration to toughen a State Department letter last week that declared Iran in compliance with the nuclear accords it signed in 2015 with the international community. White House aides said the letter understated Tehran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East and its continued support for terrorist organizations.

The New York Times claims that Trump has put pressure on his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the administration placed a hefty tariff on Canadian lumber. The tariff may represent more political theater than economic substance, but it adds to mounting pressure in Ottawa for Trudeau to rebuke Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Canada, more vigorously.

The Times also has an update regarding allegations that former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn may have broken federal law after he failed to disclose on security clearance applications that he received money from the Russian government for a 2015 speech in Moscow and from the Turkish government for lobbying work. These accusations have been confirmed by both Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the two leading members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Washington Post notes that as Trump’s presidency approaches its 100-day mark, his administration remains thoroughly understaffed. The Senate has confirmed 26 of Trump’s administrative picks, including his entire Cabinet, but the president has advanced just 37 of the remaining 530 vacant senior-level jobs; these gaps include the top deputies at both State and Defense.

According to the Associated Press, the United States is moving key parts of its missile defense system in the southeast of South Korea. The THAAD defense system has drawn criticism from both China and Russia, but both officials in Washington and Seoul stress that its implementation is directed only towards North Korea, which has vocally continued testing and expanding its nuclear program.

Reuters flags the launch of China’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier on Wednesday. The carrier, which is the second in China’s burgeoning navy, was inaugurated as tensions in the Korean Peninsula have reached their highest level in years. But military experts told state media that the carrier will not be fully operational until 2020.

The New York Times reveals that the Treasury Department is inquiring whether the Chinese technology company Huawei, which has close links to the Chinese state, broke trade controls by conducting business with Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. The inquiry, which is not linked to a criminal investigation but was backed by an administrative subpoena, comes at a time when Trump is pressuring China to exert its economic muscle in North Korea to dissuade Kim Jong Un from continuing his nuclear program. Huawei’s scrutiny also dovetails with broader U.S. security concerns regarding the new flow of Chinese capital into sensitive technology companies in the United states.

Agence-France Presse reports that a report issued by the French intelligence community confirms that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to strike a rebel stronghold, killing 87 people. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that analysis of samples taken from the scene of the April 4 attack confirmed that sarin gas was used.

Following airstrikes conducted by the Turkish government against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq yesterday, U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters are asking for United States air cover against Turkish and Syrian airstrikes, the AP writes. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also weighed in, criticizing the strikes as a violation of sovereignty that “clearly do not contribute to the consolidation of anti-terrorist efforts."

Reuters discloses that British MPs investigating a drone strike that killed a British fighter in Syria say a lack of governmental transparency has obfuscated their efforts to assess whether the strike complied with international law. The British national Reyaad Khan and two other Islamic State militants were killed in August 2015 after then-prime minister David Cameron’s government determined that a precision drone strike would constitute a justifiable act of self defense. This is the first known time that Britain has launched a fatal drone strike against one of its own citizens outside a traditional theater of war, and Dominic Grieve, the chairman of a committee tasked with producing a report on British drone strikes in Syria, complained that the British government denied lawmakers access to critical documents.

The Miami Herald brings us the latest from Guantanamo, where defense counsel for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi asked a military judge whether al-Hadi will be allowed to go free if he is found not guilty of war crimes. The judge presiding over al-Hadi’s military commission described the question as an “impossible request.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic flagged the U.S. District for the Northern District of California’s decision to grant a temporary nationwide injunction against Trump’s executive order on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.

She also highlighted the statements of Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that allege Flynn has broken federal law by failing to disclose payments he received from foreign governments in his security clearance application.

Lastly, she also noted the joint request by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) for the White House to disclose information on its legal rationale for recent airstrikes in Syria.

Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith encouraged readers to attend the next Hoover Book soiree, wherein Jack interviews Mark Moyar, the author of a book on the rise of U.S. special forces.

J. Dana Stuster wrote another Middle East Ticker which covers possible U.S. mission creep in the fight against the Islamic State and in the ongoing Yemeni civil war as well as the next Iranian presidential elections.

Ben also appraised the efforts of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and cautions that it is too early to label it a flop.

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