Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Matthew Kahn
Monday, June 12, 2017, 12:40 PM

American cyber weapons have struggled to weaken ISIS’s recruitment efforts and communications, reports The New York Times. Whereas NSA and Cyber Command have increased their effectiveness against nation-state targets such as North Korea and Iran in recent years, the availability of encryption and ease of switching between computers and cell phones have complicated efforts to target terrorist organizations. “There were folks working hard on this stuff, and there were some accomplishments that had an impact, but there was no steady stream of jaw-dropping stuff coming forward as some expected,” said former NSC Senior Director for Counterterrorism Josh Geltzer. The Times noted that allies have made some of the strongest cyber advances against ISIS, including Israel’s intelligence about an Islamic State attempt to make explosives that could be hidden in laptops carried onto airplanes. The Washington Post reported last month that President Trump disclosed that information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will answer questions in a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russia investigation at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, reports the Post. Over the weekend, the AP carried that Sessions had been scheduled to speak before House and Senate subcommittees about the Justice Department budget but changed forums when it became apparent that some subcommittee members planned to focus their questioning on the Russia investigation. It was initially unclear whether Sessions’ testimony before the Intelligence Committee would be public.

The Times writes that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, has played an increasing role in the administration’s legal strategy that has raised questions about the line between public and private counsel. Kasowitz has spoken to staff without representatives from the White House Counsel’s office present and has discussed establishing an office in the West Wing to run his legal defense of the president. Kasowitz has advised staff not to retain private lawyers, which would make it easier for him to interview staff members under ethics rules. ​Experts argue that Kasowitz’s advice need only be in the interest of his client, President Trump, and not the White House staff or the country.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says that President Trump tried “to cultivate some kind of relationship” with him before Trump fired Bharara in March, according to the Post. The president called him several times and removed him 22 hours after Bharara refused to accept a call. The story reports that President Obama never directly called Bharara, who served for eight years as the chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, a jurisdiction that includes most of Manhattan, covering Wall Street and many of Trump’s properties. Bharara said Comey’s account of the president’s attempts to develop a personal relationship in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week “felt a little bit like deja vu.”

The Attorneys General for the District of Columbia and Maryland sued President Trump today for receiving foreign payments to his businesses, reports the Post. The lawsuit alleges that by taking millions of dollars in payments to his businesses while not placing his assets in a blind trust, the president violated the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution. If a federal judge in Maryland, where the Attorneys General filed the suit, allows the case to proceed, then the plaintiffs will seek to obtain the president’s personal tax returns in the discovery process to determine the extent of his overseas financial engagements. Other litigation, including by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and businesses that compete with the Trump Organization, has tried to address Trump’s alleged foreign emoluments clause violations, but have struggled to convince a court to grant standing.

Russian opposition leader and presidential candidate Alexei Navalny was arrested today and sentenced to fifteen days in jail for directing an illegal anti-corruption protest, reports the Post. Navalny was detained in his home after instructing supporters to gather in an unapproved space in Moscow. Protests broke out in 180 cities today, and hundreds of protesters have been arrested.

The Russian government has developed a cyber weapon capable of disrupting power grids, according to the Post. Cyber research firm Dragos says the malware was used to take one-fifth of Kiev’s electricity production offline last December and could be modified to target U.S. energy systems.

Politico Magazine reviews how Russia uses “hacks, pro-Putin trolls and fake news” to target U.S. military personnel to gather intelligence.

The New York Times Magazine profiles Chelsea Manning, who was recently released from prison after seven years of incarceration for her disclosure of classified documents to Wikileaks. Manning received a commutation of her 35-year sentence from former President Barack Obama in the last month of his presidency.

Qatar has hired former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his law firm to lobby the U.S. government and evaluate its anti-terrorism financing efforts, according to the AP. The lump sum payment of $2.5 million for Ashcroft’s services may signal the urgency with which the Qatari government wants to resolve the conflicting messages it has received from the United States. On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the parties to the Gulf crisis not to escalate, while President Trump castigated Qatar for its links to terrorist groups.

The U.S. conducted an airstrike against al-Shabab that killed eight militants in what was likely the first strike under President Trump’s new rules of engagement for Somalia, reports the Times. President Obama designated al-Shabab an affiliate of al-Qaeda in 2016, bringing the fight against group under the purview 2001 AUMF. But in March, President Trump identified parts of Somalia as areas of active hostilities, further reducing restrictions on military action. A Defense Department statement said that the attack was meant to degrade al-Shabab’s recruitment and operational capacities.

The U.S. will provide special operations support and train Philippine military personnel battling ISIS affiliates in the southern town of Marawi City, Reuters reports. The siege is in its third week as the government has struggled to make gains. Southeast Asian nations are increasingly concerned that ISIS is trying to establish a stronghold on the southern island of Mindanao. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had previously threatened to expel U.S. forces from the country.

ICYMI: This weekend, on Lawfare

Peter Dutton and Isaac Kardon argued that in general, free navigation, rather than freedom of navigation operations, is the most appropriate way to use the U.S. fleet to support American and allied interests.

Herb Lin analyzed the House proposal to create a notification requirement for military cyber operations.

Paul Rosenzweig highlighted three cyber attacks on Qatar that may have been overshadowed by the Comey testimony.

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Andrew Glazzard and Eric Rosand advanced that preventative approaches to countering violent extremism must continue to be integrated into U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic explained the consequences of bad lawyering in national scandals past and present.

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