Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Wednesday, July 26, 2017, 4:48 PM

In a surprise Twitter declaration this morning, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would no longer “accept or allow” transgender people in the military, citing medical costs and the need to focus on “decisive and overwhelming victory,” The New York Times reports. The decision reportedly took the Pentagon by surprise, with some officials concerned that the President was announcing a military strike on North Korea during the nine minute period between the first two tweets. This morning, a White House official said that the ban was intended to force Democrats with conservative-leaning constituencies districts to oppose the ban in the 2018 elections. Non-profit group OutServe-SLDN vowed to fight the ban in federal court.

Politico reported a different motive this morning: a bill filled with appropriations for some of Trump’s biggest campaign promises, including a southern border wall, faced opposition from a coalition that supported an amendment banning the use of Pentagon funds for gender transition operations and other health services for transgender personnel. Yet instead of banning the use of funds for the medical procedure, as lawmakers sought, Trump categorically banned all transgender people from military service. There are at least 2,450 active duty transgender personnel, with some advocacy groups estimating the number could be as high as 15,500.

Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a sanctions package targeting Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the Times reports. The measure, approved 419-3, also includes sanctions on Iran and North Korea and limits the president’s power to unilaterally change sanctions. The Senate still must pass the current version of the bill for it to reach the President’s desk. It remains unclear whether Trump will sign it. The bill places the President in a challenging position: approving the bill means congressional review of attempts to reduce sanctions on Russia, undercutting his authority. But vetoing it could damage his political position as the investigation into alleged connections between his campaign and the Russian government continues.

North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear strike on the “heart of the U.S.” should the U.S. try in any way to remove Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un from power, CNN reports. Last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. should explore ways to “separate” the regime from its power over the system. Just yesterday, the Post reported that U.S. intelligence predicted North Korea could have a nuclear ICBM by next year. A U.S. military official also said that North Korea may be preparing for another missile test this week. The Pentagon will present Trump with military options to address North Korea if it conducts an underground nuclear or ballistic missile test showing it can pose a credible threat to the U.S.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will likely announce stepped-up efforts to curb leaks in the Trump administration within the week, CNN reports. In a press conference yesterday, Trump said he was “disappointed” in the Attorney General and wanted him to stop the leaks coming from the intelligence agencies. White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci implied that Sessions’ plan will include leaks from other agencies, not only the White House.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not considering resigning, despite reports that he has been frustrated in his role, CNN reports. Tillerson has been on vacation this week. Nauert refused to say whether the Secretary is happy in his current role and dodged a question about the White House’s influence over the State Department’s decisions.

The Trump administration plans to sanction 13 high-level Venezuelan officials over alleged human rights violations, corruption, and the undermining of democracy, The Wall Street Journal reports. Controversial President Nicolas Maduro, who has faced four months of violent street protests against his administration, plans to hold a vote to establish the Constituent Assembly on Sunday. The new body would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve the current assembly, which is dominated by Maduro’s political opponents. Inflation, which experts estimate will pass 700% this year, and food shortages have also driven the conflict.

The Romanian Defense Minister Adrian Tutuianu confirmed that the Eastern European NATO member will purchase Patriot missiles worth $3.9 billion from the U.S., Bloomberg reports. Although the State Department approved the sale earlier this month, no Romanian officials had publicly acknowledged details of the transaction. The U.S. has sought to bolster military capabilities in Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith discussed how law enforcement officials should handle a “Kamikaze” president.

Andrew Crespo analyzed whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller is bound by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel’s memos on presidential immunity.

Quinta Jurecic posted the livestream of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Authorization for the Use of Military Force and Current Terrorist Threats.”

J. Dana Stuster posted the Middle East Ticker, covering tension on Temple Mount, the ending of clandestine U.S. assistance to Syrian rebels, the Gulf diplomatic crisis’ impacts on regional foreign policy, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Keith Whittington explored the risks of not pursuing impeachment proceedings once Congress concludes the President has committed impeachable offenses.

Nicholas Weaver argued that officials should ban the use of Kaspersky software on all governmental computers.

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes posted an excerpt of their Lawfare@FP column on Jared Kushner’s statement on his meetings with Russian individuals.

Bobby Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the National Security Law Podcast, where they discussed the extradition of Ali Damache and the issues surrounding the potential removal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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