Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 1:56 PM

In highly-anticipated testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified on her warnings to the White House about the conduct of then-National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. According to Yates, she spoke at length to White House Counsel Don McGahn about Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and conveyed both that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI and that she was concerned he was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. The New York Times and the Washington Post have more.

Despite Yates’ warnings, Flynn remained in his post as national security advisor for 18 days following her discussion with McGahn. The Times examines the White House’s shifting explanations for the delay in dismissing him.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying alongside Yates, informed the committee that he was unaware of the FBI’s investigation into connections between Trump associates and the Russian government prior to FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on the matter before the House Intelligence Committee in March, the Times writes.

ProPublica writes that the FBI is weighing how to handle a misstatement by Director Comey in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, when he inaccurately stated that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded “hundreds of thousands” of emails to her husband Anthony Weiner, some of which contained classified information. In fact, reporting indicates that Abedin forwarded only a small number of emails, most of which were transferred to Weiner’s laptop through backups of Abedin’s cell phone. The Bureau may send a letter to Congress correcting the Comey’s testimony.

Yesterday also saw oral argument in a case on Trump’s travel ban executive order before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The judges seemed divided as to whether the court could permissibly look into President Trump’s pre-presidential and pre-inauguration statements on a “Muslim ban” or whether the judiciary should defer the national security judgment of the executive branch. Adam Liptak reports on the argument for the Times.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers appeared to confirm U.S. awareness of Russian involvement in the hacking and leaking of documents and emails belonging to the presidential campaign of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron. Rogers indicated that the United States warned French intelligence of the intrusion and is cooperating with German and British intelligence as both countries prepare for elections. In the Daily Beast, Clint Watts argues that while Russian efforts have likely failed in France, we should keep a close eye on upcoming German elections for telltale signs of Russian influence.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Washington on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reports. The two are expected to discuss the situation in Syria and the conflict in Ukraine.

Fighting continues in Syria despite the government’s promise to implement “de-escalation zones” across the country under a deal backed by Russia. Reuters writes that the Syrian army has gained control of a village north of the city of Hama while fighting goes on in Damascus and Syrian government forces battled rebel fighters near the border with Jordan. Rebel fighters rejected the de-escalation agreement when it was proposed last week, and the United States has said that it will weigh the possible benefits of the plan, though concerns remain. The AP has more.

ISIS has released a video depicting the beheading of a Russian intelligence officer accused of spying on the Islamic State’s presence in Syria, the Post tells us. The officer was captured by ISIS fighters last year after working to infiltrate militant Islamist groups in Kazakhstan and the Caucasus.

U.S. Cyber Command carried out an operation last year to obtain passwords to online accounts used by ISIS fighters and delete videos and other propaganda, as well as lock the propagandists out of their accounts, the Post writes. The operation raised as-yet-unresolved questions over the U.S. government’s obligation to notify the countries in which the ISIS content was hosted before deleting the content. Fifteen countries were eventually notified, though the operation was only carried out in five or six. Its long-term success remains unclear.

Senior officials are recommending that the President send between 3,000 and 5,000 more American troops to Afghanistan in an effort to crack down on a resurgent Taliban, the Post reports. The recommendation echoes comments made to Congress by General John Nicholson, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, who said in February that an increase in U.S. forces would allow him to more effectively assist the Afghan military. Trump has yet to approve the proposal but will make a decision on it before an upcoming NATO summit on May 25.

Voters elected liberal candidate Moon Jae-in as the next President of South Korea, the Times tells us. In a departure from the country’s two previous presidents, Moon has voiced a desire to engage in dialogue with North Korea rather than pressuring Pyongyang through sanctions and the threat of force. His election may change the U.S. calculus in addressing the looming crisis in North Korea.

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

David Kris argued that digital network technology has increased threats to both privacy and security.

David Bosco updated us on the status of the International Criminal Court’s possible investigation in Afghanistan.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged a new paper on “hacking back.”

Justin Florence described a FOIA suit by his organization, Protect Democracy, to obtain information on the legal reasoning behind the Trump administration’s recent airstrikes on a Syrian military base.

Lawfare liveblogged both yesterday’s oral argument in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump and Yates and Clapper’s testimony before the Senate.

Matt Tait ran through what we know and what we don’t about the hacking and leaking campaign against Emmanuel Macron.

Jack Goldsmith noted that Sally Yates appears to have changed her reasoning on the relative constitutionality of the Trump administration’s first executive order, over which she was dismissed from her position when she refused to defend its legality.

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