Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Wednesday, June 14, 2017, 3:20 PM

Majority whip Representative Steve Scalise and four others were hit this morning by bullets fired from a lone gunman during practice for the upcoming congressional baseball game, the New York Times reports. The gunman, a resident of Illinois, died from wounds obtained in a shootout with Capitol police. The Daily Beast writes that he had a history of domestic violence and had voiced discontent with the Republican Party and President Trump. Several Democrats and one Republican member of Congress informed Buzzfeed that they have received violent threats in the wake of the shooting.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions flatly rejected the idea that he might have colluded with Russian officials to interfere in the election before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, calling any such charge “an appalling and detestable lie,” the Times reports. He also denied reports that he secretly met with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the Mayflower Hotel, in what would have been his third undisclosed meeting with Ambassador Kislyak, and stated he had conducted no other meetings with Russian officials. Sessions repeatedly refused to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump, asserting that Justice Department policy and President Trump’s right to invoke executive privilege in the future precluded answering questions about communications with the president. The Washington Post has more.

Following the announcement by Trump associate Christopher Ruddy on Monday evening that Trump was considering dismissing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Times writes that White House staff desperately discouraged President Trump from taking the drastic step of firing Mueller. While the President appears to be dissuaded for now, aides say he may well change his mind. As of the moment, the President reportedly believes that floating Mueller’s firing will push the special counsel toward exonerating him.

Trump has delegated the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, the Wall Street Journal writes. This responsibility will fall with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who already has similar control over deployment in Iraq and Syria. During recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis acknowledged that the U.S. was not winning in the fight in Afghanistan and vowed to improve results. The Pentagon is currently reviewing its strategy for the conflict and its broader Middle East policies, including the possibility of sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan--a move that General John W. Nicholson, commander of the U.S.-led force in the country, has said is necessary.

The Post reports that U.S.-led air raids on ISIS-controlled Raqqa in northern Syria have led to a “staggering” number of civilian deaths, according to the U.N. The intensification of the airstrikes, designed to allow the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces into the city, has also resulted in the internal displacement of 160,000 civilians. The Department of Defense indicates that 20 U.S. and coalition strikes were conducted yesterday near Raqqa alone, with 28 strikes in Syria overall.

A new report from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies argues that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged about 20 percent of targeted killings reported in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen since 2002. The report also assesses government transparency and available information on targeting procedures and standards.

The Senate narrowly rejected a proposal that would have stopped the sale of precision-guided munitions kits for $500 million to Saudi Arabia, reports Foreign Policy. Though the vote now allows the sale to go through, the strength of opposition may represent a congressional willingness to take issue with Saudi Arabia’s actions in their war against Houthi rebels in Yemen—particularly the alleged targeting of civilians using U.S.-provided equipment.

The Times reports that a Philippine military spokesman has confirmed the presence of American troops in non-combat roles in the southern city of Marawi, which has faced an insurgency of ISIS-associated militants over the past three weeks. Though officials acknowledged U.S. military involvement in the past, they had not disclosed the specific location. The Wall Street Journal has more on the battle for Marawi, the largest Muslim-majority city in the country, and growing concerns that the Philippines may present an ideal target and potential home base for terrorist groups.

Politico reports that almost 200 members of Congress have filed a federal lawsuit against Trump, alleging violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution which provides that federal officeholders obtain permission from Congress before accepting payment or gifts from foreign powers. It is at least the fourth of such lawsuits against the President. The various plaintiffs may face difficulty in proving that they have standing to sue.

Bloomberg details Germany’s new efforts to combat cyberattacks, particularly those against political parties, given impending elections in September. Concerned that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reelection campaign may face an active measures campaign from the Kremlin, the BSI, Germany’s top tech security agency, has hired a host of new employees to help in its efforts. Additionally, Germany’s education ministry is sponsoring a new cybersecurity school for politicians and IT officials, and the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel’s party, has proposed a law permitting more aggressive countermeasures in response to attacks.

On a similar note, Politico reports on concerns about the cybersecurity of Georgia’s voting systems in the high-profile upcoming special election. A cybersecurity researcher’s discovery of a significant security breach in the voting system has gone unaddressed by state officials. Yesterday, reporting by Bloomberg indicated that Russian efforts to breach U.S. voting systems targeted 39 states during the presidential election.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Amira Mikhail and Jordan Brunner summarized the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s partial affirmation of the preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s revised travel ban.

Peter Margulies critiqued the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

Jane Chong liveblogged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

Jane and Quinta Jurecic also liveblogged Attorney General Jeff Session’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Benjamin Wittes posted the edited version of the Sessions testimony in a special edition of the Lawfare Podcast.

J. Dana Stuster gave us a regional update in the Middle East Ticker.

Steven Weber and Chuck Kapelke provided takeaways from Trump’s recent executive order on cybersecurity.

Robert Loeb examined the First Amendment implications of Trump’s decisions to block particular Twitter users from viewing his presidential Twitter account.

Lawfare posted a reminder about the next Hoover Book Soiree on Thursday, June 15 from 5-7pm. Jack Goldsmith 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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