Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Helen Klein Murillo
Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 4:49 PM

FBI Director James Comey was abruptly fired yesterday by President Trump, the New York Times reports. Today the Times reports that Comey had requested significant additional resources for the Russia probe just days before the firing. The Washington Post explains that the request was made by Comey in a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who authored the memorandum giving justifications for Comey’s removal, but a DOJ spokeswoman called the reports “totally false.” The Post annotates Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memorandum explaining the basis for the dismissal, and offers a timeline of events leading to Comey’s removal. Politico reports, several presidential advisers indicated the decision came after President Trump “had grown enraged by the Russia investigation . . . frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia.” Politico also reports that news of Comey’s firing is not being well received at FBI field offices around the country.

The Post reports that the former Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe is by default currently serving as the acting director of the Bureau. However, NPR explains that the president is authorized to appoint an interim Director outside of the usual order of succession and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are interviewing candidates for the job. President Trump was highly critical of McCabe during the presidential campaign. The Wall Street Journal indicates that several top FBI officials are in the running for the job, including Paul Abbate, a senior official who oversees criminal and cybercrime issues at the Bureau.

The firing has spurred calls for the appointment of a special counsel at the Department of Justice to oversee the investigation. Politico reports that Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner have each called for a special counsel. You can see Lawfare’s compilation of statements by members of Congress, many of which likewise highlight the need for a special counsel, here.

Politico reports that Comey has been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session next Tuesday. The invitation came from both Republican Chairman Richard Burr and the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Mark Warner.

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas in the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to CNN. The subpoenas originated in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, headed by U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, who currently serves as the acting head of DOJ’s national security division and is leading the Department’s investigation of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Boente briefly served as acting attorney general after the firing of Sally Yates.

Meanwhile, the FBI sent a letter to Congress yesterday clarifying Director Comey’s statements in testimony this week regarding Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s handling of emails, the New York Times reports. The letter is available here. In that testimony, Comey had stated that Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.” The FBI clarified that the vast majority of emails on the laptop appears to have been backed up onto the laptop, rather than forwarded. The letter likewise clarified a statement by Comey on the number of open counterterrorism investigations, indicating that 300 open investigations involve targets who entered the United States as refugees from twenty-five different countries.

The White House has named Army Reserve Major General Ricky Waddell as deputy national security adviser, reports Politico. The role is currently occupied by K.T. McFarland. Waddell will serve alongside Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell; Waddell will run daily operations and meetings, while Powell will work on long-term strategy. The hire may signal increased control by H.R. McMaster: According to earlier reporting by Politico, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had earlier attempted to block the Waddell hire.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed session tomorrow to discuss the Administration’s strategy for countering ISIS, The Hill reports. President Trump’s January executive action directed the Department of Defense to develop a strategy within 30 days, but the plan has yet to materialize either publicly or before Congress.

Homeland Security will ban all laptops in carry-on luggage on flights to the United States from Europe, The Daily Beast reports. An initial laptop ban from ten North African and Middle Eastern countries took effect last month.

The Trump Administration has approved a plan to directly arm Kurdish forces fighting against ISIS in Syria, reports the Washington Post. The move is likely to stir tensions with Turkey, who views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units as a threat to the Turkish regime. The decision to arm Kurdish opposition forces in Syria is consistent with Obama era policy, but the Turkish government had attempt to lobby the new Administration to reverse course. The Hill reports that Defense Secretary James Mattis has downplayed concerns over Turkey’s reaction, saying that he is “not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our countries.”

The Pentagon is seeking 3,000 additional troops for deployment to Afghanistan and new authorities that would give U.S. military commanders on the ground in the country more autonomy, reports the Wall Street Journal. The troop deployment would reverse President Obama’s efforts to phase out the U.S. military presence in the country and would appear to come amidst a broader rethinking of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. The Journal highlights a proposed authority that would give U.S. military personnel the ability to target Taliban forces without the partnership of Afghan military.
 

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

Jane Chong summarized Monday’s oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit revised travel ban case.

Peter Margulies analyzed the Fourth Circuit arguments, arguing that they brought the opposing positions into sharper relief on how to read candidate and President Trump’s statements as evidence of motive.

Josh Blackman analyzed five of the government’s arguments in the case with a lens toward what arguments are likely to be successful at the Supreme Court.

Jack Goldsmith argued that Sally Yates’s congressional testimony on Monday calls into even greater doubt the effectiveness of White House Counsel Don McGahn.

J. Dana Stuster highlighted developments in the Middle East: de-escalation zones in Syria, tensions between the United Arab Emirates and the Yemeni government, and the Iranian presidential campaign.

Bobby Chesney offered a section-by-section analysis of Representative Adam Schiff’s consolidated AUMF proposal.

Stewart Baker posted the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, covering Putin’s attempts to influence the French election, the complex web of Chinese cyberlaw measures, and more.

Steve Vladeck and Benjamin Wittes argued that important caveats to the Nixon v. Fitzgerald doctrine that a president has “absolute immunity” for official acts are especially significant vis-a-vi President Trump.

Quinta Jurecic posted the press release and documents regarding the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Ben and Susan Hennessey argued that the firing of Comey is the nightmare scenario, threatening the integrity of the executive branch Russia investigation and the institutional independence of the FBI.

Michael Linhorst and Russell Spivak compiled reactions to Comey’s firing, a post that will be updated as more statements are released.

Philip Bobbitt argued that President Trump likely instructed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both to contact the Russian ambassador and to lie about it, and that President Trump’s later firing of Flynn might have been a desperate attempt to conceal his own role.

Ben and Susan posted an emergency episode of the Lawfare Podcast, in which they discuss comey's firing with Lawfare’s Jack Goldsmith, Carrie Cordero, and Paul Rosenzweig.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.