Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Friday, August 4, 2017, 3:56 PM

In a press conference this morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced a crackdown on leaks, saying that the Department of Justice is reviewing its policy on subpoenaing reporters regarding the disclosure of classified information, The New York Times reports. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also took part in the news conference. Sessions announced the creation of an FBI counterintelligence unit to manage leak cases and said that the Justice Department is pursuing three times as many leak investigations as were open at the end of the Obama administration. President Donald Trump has publicly and privately criticized the high volume of government leaks that have often revealed internal dynamics of the White House. Ten days ago, he accused Sessions of being “VERY weak” on the issue.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury in Washington, D.C., several weeks ago in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, The Wall Street Journal reports. Experts say the move indicates that Mueller likely anticipates the need to subpoena records and take witness testimony, powers granted by a grand jury. It is suggests that the investigation will continue for months, though it does not necessarily mean that Mueller will bring charges.

Sens. Thom Tillis and Chris Coons have introduced legislation that would permit judicial review of the attorney general’s decision to fire a special counsel, The Washington Post reports. According to the proposal, the termination would proceed as dictated by current Department of Justice regulations, but the special counsel could appeal to a three-judge panel, which would then have 14 days to determine whether sufficient cause existed to fire the special counsel. A similar proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Cory Booker would block the firing until a judicial panel could review it. Both pieces of legislation arose out of fears that President Trump would attempt to reshuffle positions in the executive branch in order to eventually fire Mueller.

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly detected Russian operatives’ communications discussing efforts to coordinate the release of damaging information on Hillary Clinton with then-chairman of the Trump campaign Paul Manafort, CNN writes. A spokesman for Manafort said that he “did not collude with the Russian government” to influence the U.S. presidential election or hack the Democratic National Committee and that he would not respond to “second hand conspiracy theories.”

This week at Guantanamo Bay, attorneys battled over the admissibility of statements made by a defendant in a non-coercive environment but following coercive interrogation in previous years, The Miami Herald writes. Defense attorneys for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the man accused of planning the 2000 USS Cole bombing, argued that statements Nashiri made in 2006, while not given under conditions of abuse, are still inadmissible because they were tainted by torture interrogators subjected him to in 2002. The defense attorneys hope to exclude hearsay testimony against Nashiri from co-conspirator Jawal Badawi, arguing that Badawi’s statements were obtained under coercive conditions and based on the tainted information from Nashiri. This session of pretrial hearings in the USS Cole case wraps up today.

Some officials have speculated that Trump may be considering firing Gen. John Nicholson from his post as the United States’ top commander in Afghanistan, CNN reports. No decision has been made, but sources said that Trump has become frustrated with U.S. progress in the region. Nicholson had pledged to produce a strategy for a path forward by mid-July, but disagreements within the White House have led to impasse.

Earlier in the summer, two Republican House Intelligence Committee staffers took a previously undisclosed trip to London in search of Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who compiled a dossier of material alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Politico has the story. Revelations of the trip heightened tensions around the House and Senate investigations as House intelligence Republicans failed to tell Democrats on that panel, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, or Mueller’s office that they were pursuing Steele.

Three U.S. officials said that the Pentagon has officially asked the White House to approve the transfer of lethal weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank missiles, NBC reports. The Pentagon did not confirm or deny the move and said only that no course of action had been ruled out. Some analysts have warned that the move could escalate tensions with Russia, which have already been heightened by the recent sanctions legislation signed reluctantly by President Trump.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes, Mieke Eoyang and Ben Freeman introduced a new polling project to track Americans’ confidence in government on national security matters.

J. Dana Stuster interviewed Alex Vatanka on the history of the Iran-Pakistan relationship.

Paul Rosenzweig urged individuals to stop leaking.

Wittes and Nora Ellingsen analyzed the decision new FBI Director Christopher Wray will have to make about his deputy Andrew McCabe.

Matthew Kahn posted the two bills introduced in the Senate yesterday aimed at creating additional protections against the removal of the special counsel.

Rick Pildes considered whether Congress could simply codify the Department of Justice special counsel regulations.

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