Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Matthew Kahn
Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 12:21 PM

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify about Russian interference in an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee today at 2:30 p.m. The New York Times reports that the testimony is expected to focus on how Sessions responded to James Comey’s pleas not to be left alone with Trump, whether Sessions had a third undisclosed meeting with the Russian Ambassador, and whether he has adhered to the terms of his recusal.

Newsmax CEO and close Trump associate Chris Ruddy said that President Trump is considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Over the weekend, surrogates including Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter publicly called for Mueller to be dismissed, with rationales ranging from lack of necessity to conflict of interest, reports the Times. White House officials have done their best to push back against Ruddy, saying he did not discuss the matter with Trump during his visit to the White House earlier on Monday. According to the Justice Department rules under which Mueller was appointed, the Special Counsel can only be fired by the Attorney General, who is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for purposes of the Russia investigation, though some have speculated that President Trump could overturn or ignore those guidelines as the head of the Executive Branch.

Rosenstein testified this morning before the Senate subcommittee that oversees the DOJ budget that he would need “good cause” to fire Mueller, which he has not so far found, reports the Post. The Deputy Attorney General also vowed to protect the integrity of the investigation, saying that Mueller would have “full independence” going forward.

The House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the ongoing House investigation of Russian election interference, is gaining more funding and staff, Politico writes. The minority staff will be adding Maher Bitar as general counsel and Shannon Green as senior counsel for investigations, while the majority staff will receive increased funding.

Investigators found that Russian-linked hackers attacked the systems of 39 states during the 2016 election, though no votes were changed, according to Bloomberg. The hackers accessed at least one campaign finance database and targeted software intended for use by poll workers on Election Day. In an unusual move, the White House directly contacted the Kremlin to detail its knowledge of the incursion and signal that election meddling risked triggering a broader conflict.

The Senate has reached a deal to impose punitive sanctions against Russia in response to the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and activities in Ukraine and Syria, reports the Washington Post. The deal, which will be linked to a bill imposing sanctions against Iran, codifies existing Russia sanctions, adds further sanctions to punish Russian aggression in Ukraine, and gives Congress the power to review the President’s efforts to scale back sanctions. The sanctions will target Russian defense and intelligence infrastructure, as well as the country’s energy, mining, transportation, and shipping industries.

President Trump has nominated replacements for eight of the 46 U.S. Attorneys he dismissed on March 10, reports The New York Times. Those replacements will serve in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah. President Trump has been criticized for the number of vacancies in his administration.

The Secret Service has no records or copies of tapes made in the White House, reports The Wall Street Journal. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Secret Service, which has handled recording systems for past administrations, reported that it has no such recordings from the Trump administration. Last month, President Trump tweeted that the White House may have tapes of his conversations with James Comey; both Trump and the White House have so far failed to further clarify his remark.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part a nationwide preliminary injunction against President Trump’s revised executive order limiting travel from six majority-Muslim countries. The three-judge panel ruled that the executive order exceeded the authority delegated to President Trump by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act, but lifted the portion of the lower court injunction restricting on the administration’s ability to conduct internal reviews of vetting procedures while litigation continues. Since last month’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which similarly upheld a lower court’s injunction, Supreme Court watchers are eagerly awaiting the Justices’ decision on whether to accept the government’s cert petition. The Times has more on the litigation surrounding the executive order

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis acknowledged the growing complexity of the diplomatic crisis surrounding Qatar in a meeting with the House Armed Services Committee, according to Reuters. Reuters also reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin put public pressure on Saudi Arabia to relent on its hard-line stance on isolating Doha, while ABC News reports that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is working behind the scenes to end the conflict. After Iran began flying food to Qatar over the weekend, a Qatari businessman is planning to airlift 4,000 cows into the country to secure its supply of milk, reports Bloomberg.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who had been detained in North Korea for over a year, has been evacuated to the United States for medical care, the Washington Post reports. He was sentenced to 15 years of labor in March 2016, but reportedly has been in a coma for over a year. The North Korean government says that Warbier developed a case of botulism shortly after his one-hour trial and was given a sleeping pill from which he never woke up. Warmbier’s release comes as the Post reports that controversial former basketball player Dennis Rodman travels to North Korea for his fifth visit.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May meet today in Paris. Bloomberg reports that they plan to work together to crack down on technology companies that do not remove terrorism-related content. France and Britain have each been the target of deadly terrorist attacks in the past two years.

The Ukrainian army has experienced its bloodiest day in months as hostilities escalate, the Kyiv Post reports. Seven soldiers have died in three days in the country’s eastern Donbas region.. Civilians in the area have also fallen victim to artillery fire, with at least two wounded over the weekend.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig announced Lawfare’s decision to sell its bitcoin.

Paul also made the case that Trump’s outside counsel Marc Kasowitz may need ethics counseling.

Bob Bauer considered the consequences of Kasowitz’s response to James Comey’s testimony.

Andrew Kent described the legal ethics questions that Kasowitz faces as a private attorney counseling the President.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Hawaii v. Trump.

Cameron Kerry argued that the Trump administration is undermining the U.S.-EU privacy shield.

Stewart Baker posted Episode 169 of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Jack Goldsmith outlined the complicated legal and non-legal questions that President Trump will raise if he fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

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