Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Friday, May 12, 2017, 1:51 PM

In a series of early-morning tweets, President Trump appeared to threaten former FBI Director James Comey against releasing information about his communications with Trump, writing, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” As the New York Times puts it, “It was not immediately clear whether [Trump] meant that literally or simply hoped to intimidate Mr. Comey into silence.” The Washington Post tells us that the White House did not respond to questions about the existence of such tapes. CNN reports that according to a source close to Comey, the former director is “not worried about any tapes” of conversations between him and the President, and that “if there is a tape, there’s nothing he is worried about” on the recording.

The President’s tweet was likely in response to a Times report from the night before on a dinner between Trump and Comey, during which President Trump repeatedly pushed for a declaration of loyalty from the FBI Director, which Comey declined to provide.

Last night, the President stated in an interview with NBC that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before receiving the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the matter--contradicting the White House’s initial statements that Trump was acting on Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s advice. President Trump also appeared to link Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation to his dismissal, saying, “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself … you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” He further stated that Comey reassured him multiple times that he was not under investigation, which associates of Comey have denied and on which matter Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has refused to comment.

Trump also suggested canceling White House press briefings this morning, tweeting that “it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at [the] podium with perfect accuracy.” His comments come after a chaotic media cycle in which the White House repeatedly contradicted itself as to the reasons for Comey’s dismissal and whether Trump decided to fire Comey before or after speaking to Sessions and Rosenstein. The Post compiles the administration’s many, shifting justifications. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal writes that Rosenstein, who produced the memo on which the White House initially relied in justifying the firing, was upset by the administration’s declarations that his memo was the source of Trump’s decision.

In testimony yesterday, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe contradicted the White House claim that Comey had lost support within the Bureau leading up to his firing, notes the Post. McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Comey continues to enjoy “broad support” within the Bureau. Lawfare’s rundown of McCabe’s testimony is available here.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, top intelligence officials emphasized the seriousness of the threat to the United States posed by Russian cyberactivities, the Times reports. Officials including McCabe, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers reiterated their confidence in the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind the cyber interference in the U.S. presidential election, despite the President’s tweets to the contrary.

A major cyberattack has hit the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, preventing the use of phones and computers at hospitals across the country. The ransomware attack has locked workers out of their devices, demanding payment in exchange for access to data, Digital Health writes. The Times tells us that the NHS attack is part of a much larger attack across Europe and Asia conducted with use of a hacking tool disclovered by the National Security Agency and leaked by the Shadow Brokers group. Though Microsoft has released a patch for the vulnerability, the attack was able to take advantage of computers that had yet to update their systems.

The nomination of Mark Green to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development was met with bipartisan praise, reports the Washington Post. Green has a long career in public service focused on foreign aid. He served four terms in Congress, where he helped create the Millenium Challenge Corp., and three years as U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, where he oversaw a large aid projects aimed at development and combating AIDS.

U.S.-backed coalition forces will begin the final offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa at the beginning of summer, likely in June, AFP reports. An official of the Syrian Democratic Forces stated that the rebels expect to receive “special weapons and armored vehicles” from the United States in support of the offensive.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic liveblogged the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “Worldwide Threats” hearing, in which Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe spoke for the first time about the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Quinta also highlighted key takeaways from McCabe’s testimony.

Paul Rosenzweig noted the strange inadequacy of the Rosenstein memorandum for the gravity of the task and outlined what a more complete and suitable document might have contained.

Daphna Renan and David Pozen argued that by circumventing the ongoing DOJ Inspector General investigation into Comey’s actions during the 2016 campaign, the process by which he was fired appears to raise a version of the same professional concerns leveled against Comey.

Jack Goldsmith and Helen Murillo highlighted key questions about the now-central DOJ Inspector General investigation into Comey’s actions during the 2016 campaign and possible investigation into Comey’s firing.

Quinta posted documents relating to FISA Section 702 released yesterday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Helen summarized President Trump’s new executive order on cybersecurity.

Bob Bauer examined what the President’s disclosures in yesterday’s NBC News interview might mean for executive privilege and obstruction of justice.

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