Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Wednesday, August 2, 2017, 4:19 PM

President Donald Trump has signed sweeping legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia and limiting his own ability to lift them without congressional approval, as well as sanctions on North Korea and Iran. The legislation passed in Congress with bipartisan majorities that could easily have overridden Trump’s veto, The New York Times reports. The White House released both a signing statement and a public statement expressing the president’s concerns with its contents and noting that the administration would implement various provisions of the bill in “a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.” In a preemptive response to the bill earlier this week, the Russian government seized two U.S. diplomatic properties and ordered the reduction of 755 personnel from U.S. diplomatic missions across Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday that the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea, The Wall Street Journal reports. The comment contrasted a statement made last month by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said the U.S. would like to see Kim Jong-un’s exit. Tillerson stated that the United States is working with China to exert peaceful pressure on the regime and reiterated that North Korea cannot be permitted to keep its nuclear weapons—an insistence that experts could hinder efforts to even bring the country to the table for negotiations.

Secretary Tillerson has yet to approve the spending of about $80 million designated for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, an office which seeks to counter terrorist propaganda and state-sponsored misinformation, Politico reports. Congress has already allocated the funds, but they cannot be released without Tillerson’s consent and will expire Sept. 30. Some officials have said that the hold up reflects the slow and fractionalized decision-making process under Tillerson. Sources said that Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond indicated that approving the funds could irk Russia. Hammond claimed that those in charge of the center had not provided a plan of how they would spend the money, but the officials denied his account of the situation.

Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis testified today before a closed hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need for new legislation to authorize U.S. use of force abroad against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and associated forces, Politico reports. A spokesman for the Pentagon said before the hearing that while the department is seeking a renewed Authorization for the Use of Military Force, it does not legally require one.

Trump endorsed a Senate bill today that would cut the one million green cards granted per year in half over the next decade, The Washington Post reports. The legislation would restrict green cards for certain extended family of citizens and permanent residents, eliminate the lottery that grants legal status to about 50,000 individuals per year, cap refugee admittance at 50,000 per year, and award points to green card applicants based on categories like English ability, education, and job skills.

The White House acknowledged that President Trump had a role in crafting the statement denying Donald Trump, Jr.’s that meeting with a Russian attorney in June 2016 at Trump Tower concerned the presidential election, the Post reports. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday that Trump did not dictate the statement, as the Post initially reported, but “weighed in just as any father would.” Sanders also said there were no inaccuracies in the statement, which was shown to be misleading when it was revealed that Trump, Jr. agreed to the meeting after being told he would receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

The Senate confirmed Christopher Wray as the new Director of the FBI in a 92-5 vote yesterday, the Times reports. The position that has been vacant since May, when Trump fired James Comey. Wray stated during his confirmation hearings that he would resist political pressure in his leadership of the bureau. It is unclear whether Andrew McCabe, who has been serving as the acting director and has faced criticism from Trump, will stay on as Wray’s deputy.

Guantanamo detainee Ahmed al Darbi gave a deposition this week that could be used in the death penalty trial of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing, The Miami Herald reports. Nashiri’s defense attorneys wanted Darbi to testify in open court, but the judge closed the hearing after prosecutors opposed the idea. Darbi took a deal in 2014 which would allow him to serve out the rest of his prison sentence in Saudi Arabia in exchange for his testimony and a guilty plea admitting he obtained supplies and helped al-Qaeda militants plot suicide bombings of ships in the Arabian Sea.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Matt Kahn posted a statement from Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins on the proceedings this week in the Nashiri case.

Quinta Jurecic discussed the House Judiciary Committee’s recent, Reddit-fueled “resolution of inquiry” on a wide range of matters.

J. Dana Stuster posted the Middle East Ticker, covering the winding down of protests on Temple Mount, a Libyan ceasefire, Hajj season and Gulf crisis politics, and the Lebanese Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Wittes noted acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg’s willingness to speak out against Trump’s abusive treatment and vision of law enforcement.

Bobby Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the National Security Law Podcast, which covered writ of mandamus litigation in the D.C. Circuit, the recent Transatlantic Dialogue on International Law and Armed Conflict, and a discussion of civil-military relations.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.