Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Vanessa Sauter
Monday, August 28, 2017, 3:16 PM

President Donald Trump’s company pursued a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. Linked to the previously undisclosed deal is Russian-born real-estate developer Felix Sater, who was already known to have been involved in at least one prior effort to build the Moscow Trump Tower dating back to 2005. Uncovered details of that deal reveal further evidence that Trump’s business actively pursued commercial interests in Russia during his presidential campaign. Stephen Ryan, counsel for Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, reiterated that the president, “has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including … answering any questions they may have about the Moscow building proposal.”

Sater promised the Moscow business deal “will get Donald Trump elected,” the New York Times further reported this morning. A series of emails between Sater and Trump’s lawyer, Cohen, suggest Sater hoped that close ties to Moscow would serve a political advantage. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in one email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.” The Justice Department and multiple congressional committees have ongoing investigations into those ties.

Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston this weekend, and intense rainfall is expected to continue throughout this week, writes the Wall Street Journal. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long estimated on Monday that around 30,000 people would be placed in temporary shelters, and five storm-related deaths were reported as of Sunday evening. Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city, hosts the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, the site of billions of tons of oil and dangerous chemicals, ProPublica noted in March 2016.

Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff and long-time Trump supporter, on late Friday evening, citing him as a “worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon” in a statement issued by the White House. According to the Washington Post, though in July Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court, for which he faced up to six months in prison, he also faced widespread allegations of abuse of power, discriminatory behavior, and inhumane treatment of criminals. Reports indicate Trump did not consult the Justice Department about the pardon. Arpaio called his conviction a “political witch hunt.” According to another Post report, President Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether the criminal case against Arpaio could be dropped. When advised it was inappropriate, Trump decided to grant clemency should Arpaio be convicted. A White House official confirmed the president’s intent, stating, “We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come.”

On Saturday, a U.S. defense official confirmed that the Black Hawk helicopter that crashed off the coast of Yemen on Friday belonged to the elite Special Operations air force unit, according to the Post. The helicopter was conducting hoist training when it lost power and went into the sea, ejecting the six people aboard. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing for a service member still missing. The U.S. maintains a special operations base near Yemen’s port of Mukalla as part of a campaign targeting nearby al-Qaeda loyalists.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal each filed suits challenging Trump’s transgender military ban, Politico reports. Both suits cite constitutional concerns in seeking to overturn the highly controversial policy Trump formalized in a memo last week directing the Pentagon to halt the admission of transgender people and funding of sex reassignment surgical procedures. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is currently evaluating the “deployability” of current transgender service members, as the Journal noted.

North Korea launched three missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan on Saturday morning, reports the Post. Pyongyang’s actions challenge President Trump’s assertion last week that Kim Jong Un has come to “respect” him, and leave little doubt that North Korea will continue supporting its weapons program despite international calls to desist and Trump’s threat of “fire and fury.”

In an interview with Fox News yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted the president “speaks for himself,” writes the Times. Tillerson addressed a question about the President’s response to the recent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, further commenting that he did not believe, “anyone doubts the American people’s values.”

ICYMI: Last Weekend, on Lawfare

Bob Bauer responded to President Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, arguing the pardon disrupted the criminal justice process and revealed Trump’s “rule of law” in government.

Matthew Kahn posted the Lawfare Podcast, where Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey answered listener questions.

Stephen Tankel and Melissa Dalton wrote the Foreign Policy Essay, suggesting alternative approaches to improving the return on investment for security assistance.

Julian Ku outlined the Chinese government’s potential views on international law and cyber warfare. In the Aegis Paper Series, Ku also posited that even if China agrees to apply international law to cyber warfare, it may not actually benefit the U.S.

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