Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Tuesday, July 25, 2017, 4:23 PM

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators today to discuss the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump associates and a Kremlin-linked attorney, The New York Times reports. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Manafort to testify tomorrow at a public hearing on the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It is unclear whether Manafort will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not testify.

North Korea may gain the ability to launch a nuclear-armed ICBM as early as next year according to new analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency, The Washington Post reports. Previous assessments had predicted the development no sooner than 2020. The new timeline will likely put greater pressure on the U.S., South Korea, and Japan to deter the North’s regime from continuing its weapons development or using its missiles. The Wall Street Journal reports that China has bolstered military forces on its border with North Korea and has realigned troops in other regions to better prepare for a possible military and/or humanitarian crisis.  

President Trump and his advisers continue to privately discuss the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Post reports. Trump’s frustration with Sessions has grown over the Attorney General’s recusal from matters related to the investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election. Trump has continued to publicly criticize his Attorney General, calling Sessions’ position on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal “VERY weak” in a tweet this morning. Some have speculated that the recent slew of criticism is an attempt to force Sessions’ resignation, possibly helping to clear a path towards firing special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump also reportedly asked a political associate what would happen if he directly fired Sessions. Sessions has so far indicated he will continue to serve as Attorney General despite the criticism.

Chinese authorities have sought to crack down on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which its citizens use to bypass online filters and government censorship, the Journal reports. The ability to use VPNs to access banned content is crucial for small- and medium-sized businesses and academic institutions. The use of VPNs to get around the “Great Firewall” also serves as a political safety valve, giving private citizens some degree of internet freedom that helps to alleviate pent up frustration with the government’s online restrictions. But by cracking down on the practice, China may risk enforcing censorship too tightly, resulting in growing anger and resistance.

The Trump administration’s ISIS strategy in Syria increasingly relies on cooperation with Russia to establish zones that effectively separate the fight between the Assad regime and anti-regime rebels from the coalition fight against ISIS, the Post reports. The plan aligns with the administration’s “ISIS-first” outlook on its goals in Syria, but critics say that it creates too wide of an opening for Iran, which could try to expand its influence and improve its capacity to arm the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group.

The Trump administration nominee to head the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Brian Benczkowski previously represented a major Russian bank that faced scrutiny over possible ties to the Trump campaign, the Times reports. Some experts have argued that the alleged connections between the campaign and the bank were benign. The nominee also led the Trump transition team’s efforts at the Justice Department. Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein expressed concern about Benczkowski’s connection to Alfa Bank.

Disputes between Germany and Turkey have put NATO surveillance flights over Turkey at risk, the Journal reports. German officials are seeking access to an air base in Konya in central Turkey where German personnel currently serve, which Turkey has denied since May. Tensions boiled over last month, resulting in German suspension of operations from Incirlik Air Base. NATO has proposed a compromise in which German officials visit the base as a part of a NATO delegation, but Turkey has yet to approve the proposal. The standoff fits into a broader series of conflicts between NATO members and Turkey over recent internal political developments and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning shots to avoid collision with an Iranian vessel in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, CBS reports. The Iranian ship came within 150 yards of the Cyclone-class USS Thunderbolt after failing to respond to radio calls, flares, and horn blasts. It reacted after the warning shots of machine gun fire. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard blamed the Navy for the incident, claiming the Thunderbolt moved towards the Iranian ship to provoke it.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Sarah Tate Chambers posted the Cybercrime Roundup, covering the activities of Alexander Tverdokhlebov, a Russian-born U.S. citizen.

Helen Klein Murillo and Steve Vladeck explored whether there is a viable perjury case against Jeff Sessions.

The Lawfare Editors reposted Jack Goldsmith’s 2015 interview with Times executive editor Dean Baquet on publication decisions about intelligence secrets.

Mary McCord argued that federal prosecution in Article III courts is a viable option for enemy combatants.

Bobby Chesney analyzed the past year’s legal and policy hurdles regarding the potential splitting of the NSA and CYBERCOM.

Bob Bauer discussed recent developments in the relationship between Trump and the Justice Department.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which covered online censorship, congressional sanctions on Russia, Microsoft’s lawsuit against GRU, and much more.

Quinta Jurecic posted Jared Kushner’s statement on the Russia investigation. 

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