Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 1:47 PM

FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, delving into his decision to disclose information related to the Clinton email investigation immediately prior to the election. Comey explained that the decision to publicize the investigation was “painful” and that the thought that he may have influenced the election made him “mildly nauseous,” but emphasized that failing to inform Congress of new developments in the investigation in late October would have been “catastrophic.” Comey was also questioned on the investigation into connections between Trump associates and Russian election interference, clarifying that this investigation is still ongoing. The New York Times has the story.

CNN reported that Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general at the Department of Justice, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee that she gave the administration a clear warning about hiring former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Yates reportedly told White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26 that Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 8.

The Washington Post also tells us that Trump and Putin spoke on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. The two leaders both intimated that they would be interested in hammering out a ceasefire in the region: both countries will work to see whether the two leaders can meet on the sidelines of an important G20 meeting in Hamburg in July, and Trump agreed to send a representative to upcoming ceasefire talks in Kazakhstan. This marked the first conversation between Trump and Putin since the United States launched a series of strikes against the Moscow-backed Syrian regime for using chemical weapons late last month.

Foreign Policy analyzes the readouts of the call between Putin and Trump. Notably, Trump and Putin discussed both North Korea and Syria but neglected the ongoing chaos in Ukraine. The Kremlin readout did not reflect the White House’s description of a conversation on possibly establishing safe zones within Syria.

The New York Times reported that Trump’s desire to strike a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping on North Korea and trade has restrained the U.S. Navy from launching freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Both foreign policy experts and Asia hands had previously expected a return to routine naval operations within China’s self-demarcated maritime territory after Trump harshly criticized President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for his weakness towards Beijing.

But tensions over the Korean peninsula continue to rise according to Reuters. China on Wednesday urged all sides to remain calm and exercise restraint after U.S. B-1B bombers were deployed over the Korean peninsula during a joint exercise with South Korea's air force.

The Wall Street Journal fills us in on how North Korea vociferously objected to the joint exercises. The operation took place as CIA Director Mike Pompeo finished his three-day visit of South Korea, where he met with high-level Korean military leaders and toured Yeonpyeong Island, the locale of the last major dispute between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The Washington Post reports on optimism among senior Palestinian leaders over Trump’s ability to cut a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Abbas is meeting with Trump today to discuss the prospects for peace in the Middle East, though onlookers within the United States remain skeptical. Trump voiced enthusiasm for the prospects of peace, saying, “We will get this done.”

Top U.S. officer in Europe General Curtis Scaparrotti expressed concern to the Turkish government that recent Turkish airstrikes on Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria were not coordinated with the United States and other allies, Reuters writes. Turkey provided the United States with less than an hour of notice before conducting the strikes last week, leaving the U.S. and allies scrambling to protect coalition forces in the area.

The military coalition lead by Saudi Arabia is preparing for a potentially devastating attack on the Yemeni port of Hodeida, which is currently under the control of Houthi rebel forces and which serves as the entry point for the majority of supplies needed to feed Yemen’s famished population. Saudi planes have dropped leaflets over Hodeida warning residents of an imminent offensive in recent days, the Post reports. The United Nations has warned that an offensive on the city could generate severe famine in Yemen.

Reuters tells us that a suicide attack on a NATO convoy killed eight civilians in one of the busiest parts of Kabul. The Islamic State took credit for the attack, the latest in a string of operations by the so-called caliphate in eastern Afghanistan.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jane Chong flagged tonight’s upcoming Hoover Book Soiree, on Mark Moyar’s Oppose Any Foe.

Daniel Byman considered how President Trump might respond to a terror attack.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of its 2016 transparency report.

Adam Klein considered what the transparency report can tell us about “backdoor searches” under Section 702.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring a discussion with Michael Schmitt and Brian Egan.

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