Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Tuesday, September 12, 2017, 3:16 PM

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to strengthen sanctions on North Korea, the New York Times reported. The new restrictions on Pyongyang’s oil imports fell short of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s original proposal for a total ban on purchases of foreign oil. After a late-night meeting with Chinese and Russian diplomats, the U.S. agreed to weaken its draft resolution. The U.S. dropped its insistence on provisions that empowered countries to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons and that allowed the use of military means to enforce compliance. The final resolution caps North Korea’s oil imports, bans it from exporting textiles, and prohibits the sale of natural gas to the regime. Ambassador Haley cast the resolution as a victory after the vote.

Last summer, White House lawyers argued that Jared Kushner should step down because of legal complications related to the Russia investigation, the Wall Street Journal reported. Kushner’s extensive dealings with Russian businessmen and government officials — and his omission of these contacts in his original security clearance filings — prompted concerns from the White House legal team. The lawyers did not persuade President Trump Kushner should leave. Kushner is currently under scrutiny from the special counsel inquiry into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

The FBI is investigating whether the Russian news agency Sputnik is in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), according to Yahoo News. Andrew Feinberg, a former Sputnik correspondent, turned over thousands of internal documents to FBI agents after an interview with the Bureau on September 1. Agents asked about Sputnik’s relationship to the Russian government. FARA mandates that foreign entities seeking to influence U.S. public opinion or engage in lobbying must register with the Justice Department. Feinberg said he was fired in May after refusing to pursue a widely-discredited story about deceased DNC staffer Seth Rich. Separately, the Justice Department notified RT, the Russian government news agency that its American affiliate must register under FARA, Yahoo News also reported. In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence identified Sputnik and RT as parts of a state-run propaganda machine.

Russian operatives assuming fake identities used Facebook events to promote political protests in the U.S. during the 2016 election, the Daily Beast reported. Russian fronts and paid advertising helped to promote an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, among other demonstrations. Last week, Facebook acknowledged that Russia used fake accounts and targeted ads to spread misinformation to up to 70 million people during the last year.

Russia said that allied Syrian government forces had driven militants out of 85% of the country, Reuters reported. Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian Government, declared victory in its war in Syria against extremist Sunni groups. Hezbollah and the Syrian Army have retaken large swaths of territory in eastern Syria from the Islamic State. Separately, the Jordanian and Russian foreign ministers announced their countries are cooperating to set up a “de-escalation” zone in southwestern Syria, Reuters also reported. The agreement follows a U.S. and Russian-brokered ceasefire in the region that was announced in July. Russia’s foreign minister said that Saudi Arabia supports the proposed zone, according to the AP. Saudi Arabia has supported rebel groups fighting the Russian-backed Syrian government and Hezbollah.

President Trump is considering a more aggressive strategy to curb Iranian activities in the Middle East, Reuters reported. While the administration is still debating its stance on the Iranian nuclear deal, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster have proposed a strategy to target Iranian financial activities, support for militant groups, and arms shipments. However, the plan maintains the U.S. focus in Iraq and Syria on the Islamic State, not Iranian-backed militias also fighting in Syria such as Hezbollah. Accordingly, it does not make changes to the rules of engagement for U.S. forces fighting against the Islamic State, according to a senior administration official. The plan is not yet public.

Iraq’s Parliament voted on Tuesday to reject an upcoming referendum on Kurdish independence, Reuters reported. Iraqi lawmakers passed a resolution calling the referendum unconstitutional. Kurdish officials dismissed the vote as non-binding. Western countries have warned that the referendum could exacerbate divisions in Iraq over regions claimed by both the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad. Separately, Turkey urged the head of Iraqi Kurdistan to call off the referendum, saying it could disrupt regional stability, the AP reported.

Turkey signed a deal to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey had transferred money to the Russian government for the S-400 missile system. The deal undermines Turkey’s commitment as a NATO member to procure systems compatible with those of all other alliance members. However, on Monday, Germany’s foreign minister said that it had suspended major arms exports to Turkey because of the deteriorating human rights in the country, Reuters reported. Turkey began a crackdown on dissidents after a failed coup last year; in response, Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this month that she would seek to end Turkey’s membership application to the European Union.

Jurors will hear opening arguments in a case in New York against an American citizen charged with supporting Al Qaeda and conspiring to attack a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, according to Reuters. Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh plead not guilty after being indicted in 2015. Prosecutors accuse him of traveling from Canada to Pakistan with to fight U.S. troops and helping to prepare a car bomb used in an attack on a U.S.military base in 2009.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Matthew Kahn flagged the government’s motion to limine in United States v. Abu Khatallah.

Kahn announced Lawfare and Foreign Policy’s live event,Prosecuting and Defending the Trump Presidency.”

Peter Swire summarized his testimony on U.S. surveillance law before the Irish High Court in Schrems v. Facebook.

Kahn flagged Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ letter calling for Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act without a sunset provision.

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