Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Monday, June 19, 2017, 4:35 PM

The U.S. shot down a Syrian government fighter jet Sunday in the first U.S. attack on a manned hostile aircraft in over a decade, the Washington Post reports. The Pentagon says the Syrian Su-22 jet attacked U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Ja’Din, southwest of Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold. The Syrian and Russian governments claim the jet was attacking ISIS, but the Pentagon says the SDF was known to be in control of the targeted area. The U.S. said that it sought to de-escalate through channels with Russia, but Russia rejected that claim and called the U.S. actions a “flagrant violation of international law.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying it will target aircraft west of the Euphrates River during Russian aviation missions, the Post reports. The Defense Ministry also said it is ending cooperation with the U.S. over “de-confliction” zones, designed to avoid similar incidents. In a speech at the National Press Club, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said he was “confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russian Federation’s operations center. I'm also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves."

A van drove into a crowd outside of a mosque in London early Monday morning, killing one and injuring ten, in what authorities are treating as a terrorist attack, reports the BBC. The AP has live updates. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the "sickening" attack as an "attack on Muslims near their place of worship," reports Reuters. The incident is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in the U.K.,  including two others involving the deliberate crashing of a vehicle into pedestrians.

Jay Sekulow, an attorney on Donald Trump’s legal team, asserted that the President is not under investigation for obstruction of justice on multiple Sunday news shows, reports the Post. That statement contradicted a tweet Trump sent last Friday in which the president seemed to acknowledge that he was in fact under investigation. When pressed by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Sekulow conceded that he did not know with absolute certainty that Trump was not under investigation but stated that the president had not been notified of any investigation.

The New York Times reports that Jared Kushner may be reconsidering the composition of his legal team after the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in the Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Kushner’s attorney Jamie S. Gorelick was a partner at WilmerHale with Mueller prior to his appointment. As of now, the team remains unchanged.

A cybersecurity firm found personal information, voting records, and voting predictions for nearly 200 million Americans exposed online, says the Wall Street Journal. Most of the information is in the public record, but the predictions came from Deep Root Analytics, a conservative digital strategy firm. The Journal noted that the predictions could be exploited by rival political campaigns or foreign entities interested in influencing voter behavior.

A Philippine cargo ship crashed into the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan on Friday night, killing seven sailors, reports the Wall Street Journal. Authorities will investigate what caused the crash, why safety procedures failed, and why it took over an hour for the crew of the Philippine ship to report the collision. Maritime incidents on that scale are particularly rare, heightening uncertainty about what could have been the cause.

Reuters reports that Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, a top national security aide, will travel to Ramallah and Jerusalem this week to explore the next steps of a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Kushner and Greenblatt are also working with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Greenblatt will arrive on Monday, Kushner on Wednesday.

A breakaway faction of the Taliban in Afghanistan, popularly called the Renouncers, is receiving support from the Afghan government, the Times reports, including weapons, safe passage, and intelligence. The group is mounting a violent challenge against the mainstream Taliban

The Mexican government uses spyware to target and conduct surveillance on journalists, activists, and other members of civil society and sends personalized text messages that lure targets into installing the software, the Times reports. The spyware, which gives remote access to the phone’s communication, is sold by Israeli firm NSO Group to government agencies under the agreement that it will be used against criminals.

The Post looks at the series of recent challenges in the U.S. fight in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is considering sending several thousand more troops to the fight, but many are skeptical that the move would be effective given that only 8,400 soldiers currently serve there. Others have concerns about neighboring Pakistan’s ability to undermine the fight against the Taliban, especially though the harboring of violent groups like the Taliban-associated Haqqani Network.

The Post has published an extensive report on how the shutdown of a unique lab responsible for producing and testing the plutonium cores needed for U.S. nuclear weapons could negatively impact the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The facility, located at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was shuttered over safety concerns in 2013, many of which have yet to be resolved even after operations were partially restarted last year.

ICYMI: Last Weekend, on Lawfare

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Kim Cragin examined how the U.S. could help allies build law-enforcement capacity and how these developments could help prevent terrorism abroad and in the U.S.

Matthew Kahn posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring Jack Goldsmith’s interview with Daniel Drezner about his new book, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.

Jonathan Rauch looked at Richard Nixon’s second-term approval rating to explain why impeaching Trump would pose significant political challenges.

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