Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru, Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, June 6, 2017, 3:59 PM

In a series of apparently unvetted tweets this morning, President Donald Trump weighed in on the ongoing diplomatic dispute between Qatar and Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, which have severed diplomatic ties with their neighbor, the New York Times reports. Trump appeared to suggest that his exhortation during his recent visit to Riyadh that “there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology” had led to the rift with Qatar, and stated that, “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” While Qatar has been accused of funding radical groups abroad, Saudi Arabia has also been criticized of lending support to extremism through its promotion of Wahhabist Islam.

Qatar also hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, a central military base in the ongoing effort against ISIS and a major intelligence hub in the region. The AP writes that the Pentagon has “no plans to change our posture in Qatar” and that the base will continue functioning despite the diplomatic crisis. Many commercial airlines in the region have suspended flights into the country.

Financial Times gives us more background on what may have caused the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors to flare up. Qatar’s decision to pay over $1 billion in ransom money to an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq in order to free members of a Qatari hunting party kidnapped in 2015 stoked outrage in Saudi Arabia.

In what will likely become the first leak prosecution of the Trump administration, authorities have charged an intelligence contractor with providing a classified NSA report to The Intercept. Shortly after The Intercept published the document, which concerns efforts by Russian military intelligence to hack providers of voter registration software, the Department of Justice released a press statement announcing the charging of Reality Leigh Winner under the Espionage Act, the Times reports. The document provided by Winner did not indicate that Russian intelligence was successful in its hacking attempt. Speaking to USA Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner stated that “the extent of [Russian] attacks is much broader than has been reported so far.”

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey will likely not corroborate President Trump’s statement that Comey informed Trump three times that he was not under investigation, ABC tells us. Associates indicated that Comey will speak about his discomfort with a series of interactions with Trump that he found concerning.

The Times writes that President Trump has become unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, identifying Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian election interference as the starting point of many of the crises now swirling around the White House. His frustration boiled over in a series of tweets yesterday appearing to blame the Justice Department for its failure to aggressively defend the administration’s original executive order banning travel from several majority-Muslim countries.

Michael Isikoff reports at Yahoo that four top law firms turned down Trump’s requests that they represent him in the ongoing Russia investigation. The firms cited concerns over whether Trump would listen to their advice and hold back from tweeting or making public statements about the case going forward. On that note, the Times profiles Marc Kasowitz, the New York lawyer who Trump ultimately hired.

The Times reports that U.S diplomats increasingly have found themselves publicly at odds with the President in an unusual state of affairs for the nation’s typically apolitical diplomatic cadre. Recent examples include the resignation of the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in response to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and tweets from the acting ambassador to the U.K. in support of London mayor Sadiq Khan, whom Trump criticized on Twitter following the recent London terrorist attacks.

The Times details how new questions are emerging about British authorities’ handling of information on two of the three identified attackers in the London terror attack -- particularly Khuram Shazad Butt who was under surveillance and had even appeared in a Channel 4 documentary. The Times also notes the relative simplicity of some of the recent attacks and the potential for continued violence.

The BBC reports that a man armed with a hammer attacked a police officer near the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Reports say the attacker shouted, “This is for Syria” prior to being shot by authorities. His condition is being evaluated.

U.S. Central Command announced that the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have begun the offensive against Raqqa. ISIS took control of the northern Syrian city in 2013 and has used it as a capital for planning its attacks. Lieutenant General Steve Townsend noted that “The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but the offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate.” Bloomberg and the Times have more.

As the battle to take Mosul continues, AFP reports that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused ISIS of killing 163 civilians to prevent their escape from the city. The statement came during the Commissioner’s opening address for the U.N. Human Rights Council.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley generated news with her statements to the body’s Human Rights Council, telling the group it needed to address its “chronic anti-Israel bias.” She also would not commit the U.S. to withdrawing from or remaining in the council during a speech at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, according to the Times.

The Times revealed that a U.S. citizen working as a logistics coordinator for international aid groups who was kidnapped in Yemen two years ago was also providing materials to U.S. Special Operations forces working alongside Yemeni troops. Scott Darden’s employer, the New Orleans-based company Transoceanic, allegedly maintained a clandestine contract with the U.S. military. Darden was released in 2015 after several months of captivity in the hands of Houthi fighters.

The Times tells us that the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has raised the official death toll of last week’s bombing near the German Embassy in Kabul to over 150 dead and more than 300 wounded.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Bob Bauer continued his study of Donald Trump’s private interests and public interests in defending against the Russia investigation.

Sarah Tate Chambers posted a new edition of the Cybercrime Roundup.

Elsa Kania examined implications of developments in artificial intelligence for Chinese military strategy.

Russell Spivak explained the framework of impeachment proceedings and looked at the details of previous instances.

Josh Blackman analyzed what a recent string of the President’s tweets demonstrate about Trump’s understanding of his own administration and how this might affect the IRAP v. Trump appeal.

Bruce Reidel reported that the recently announced $110 Billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia does not actually exist.

The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Carpenter v. United States, a case that could have major Fourth Amendment implications. Quinta posted the Sixth Circuit's decision, along with the petition for a writ of certiorari, the government's brief in opposition, and the petitioner's reply to the government's brief.

Lawfare posted a reminder to RSVP for the next in our series of book soirees at the Hoover Institution. On Thursday, June 15, Jack will interview Daniel Drezner on his new book, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.

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