Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, June 15, 2017, 3:35 PM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Donald Trump for potential obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reports. The Department of Justice inquiry into possible obstruction of justice reportedly began shortly after Trump fired now-former FBI Director James Comey on May 9; the Wall Street Journal writes that Mueller is examining whether Comey’s firing fits into a pattern of obstructive behavior on the part of the President. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that the President was not personally under investigation during his time as FBI Director.

The obstruction probe is linked to interviews Mueller’s “investigatory dream team” will conduct with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, and Richard Ledgett, the former deputy NSA director. Coats and Rogers received calls from Trump in May in which he asked them to publicly deny any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, though they did not comply. Ledgett wrote an internal memo which documented this call between Rogers and Trump, which Mueller has requested along with any other NSA documents relating to contacts between the NSA and the White House regarding the Russia investigation. The New York Times reports that Mueller is also examining possible money laundering by Trump associates, which would have taken place as part of cooperation with Russian officials.

The President responded to the news this morning with two tweets in which he called the obstruction investigation “phony” and declared it the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” Earlier this week, Trump faced scrutiny when an associate disclosed that he was considering dismissing Mueller.

Separate from the DOJ investigation are the four congressional inquiries into Russian interference. The Senate Intelligence Committee has indicated it will avoid the obstruction of justice issue, leaving it to the Mueller investigation, and will instead focus on Russian election interference. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation will continue to look into possible interference with the FBI’s probe, which may include an obstruction investigation. On the House side, Politico reports that former head of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee next Wednesday.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed new sanctions against Russia and Iran by a 98-2 margin, giving Congress the ability to prevent the President from lifting current restrictions, The Hill reports. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had asked that Trump be given “flexibility” on the sanctions issue in dealing with Russia, but the Senate did not heed the request. The bill will now go to the House, where it could face significant pushback. Germany and Austria both reacted negatively to the news, saying that the provision in the bill that allows for sanctions against European companies that invest in Russian energy projects was targeted at disrupting a proposed pipeline to transport natural gas directly to Germany from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened retaliatory sanctions in a tweet.

Given worries surrounding Russian cyber interference, Congress is becoming increasingly concerned by the continued use of the Moscow-based Kaspersky anti-virus software on federal computer systems, Nextgov reports. Critics fear that the Russian government may have influence over the company and also question the technical details of the software which they say could expose sensitive data to particular risk. The company says that it has no ties to any government, nor will it ever assist a government in cyber espionage. The issue highlights the conflicts between security, uniform federal policy, and budget constraints that influence these decisions.

The National Security Agency has linked the recent global ransomware attack WannaCry to the North Korean spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, with “moderate certainty,” the Post reports. The attack affected organizations in over 150 countries and was likely designed to raise revenue for the North Korean regime, although a flaw in the program made future transactions easy to track. The attack may indicate that efforts to deter North Korean aggression are not working, at least in the cyber realm.

Security guards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been charged for assaulting protestors in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C. last month. Two Americans and two Canadians have also been charged in a major step by the U.S. government against a perceived overreach of authority on American soil by the Turkish government. The Times has more.

Amidst the ongoing diplomatic crisis surrounding Qatar, the Qatari government agreed to sign a $12 billion deal to purchase F-15 jets from the United States, Bloomberg writes. President Trump has been sharply critical of Qatar following its diplomatic isolation by surrounding Gulf Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has voiced his desire to ease the tensions, leaving U.S. policy unclear.

An Iranian military ship shined a spotlight and laser at a U.S. military helicopter last night as the helicopter accompanied two U.S. ships through the Strait of Hormuz last night, CBS tells us. This is the latest in a string of incidents between Iranian and U.S. vessels, the most recent of which occurred in March.

President Trump will roll back his predecessor’s gentler policies toward Cuba, limiting travel for Americans and prohibiting transactions between U.S. businesses and entities run by the Cuban military, the Miami Herald reports. The United States will maintain diplomatic relations with Havana, which were reopened under President Obama. The President is expected to announce the new policy on Friday.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladek posted the latest edition of the National Security Law Podcast.

Walter Haydock advocated consolidating the terror watchlisting bureaucracy by combining the Terrorist Screening Center and the National Targeting Center.

Nicholas Weaver reported on CrashOverride, a computer program that could disrupt the power grid.

Rebecca Ingber discussed the misconceptions behind the myth of the “Deep State.”

Kevin Bankston wrote about ending the continuous debate over encryption, and instead suggested three other areas of focus.

Quinta Juecic posted 18 redacted opinions on FISA Section 702 released by the FISA Court.

Paul Rosenzweig announced an upcoming event he is hosting at The Heritage Foundation, "Digital Security and Due Process: Modernizing Cross-Border Surveillance Law for the Cloud Era" featuring remarks by Kent Walker, Senior VP and General Counsel of Google.

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