Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Vanessa Sauter
Thursday, September 21, 2017, 4:01 PM


President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to provide private briefings about the 2016 campaign to the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, according to the Washington Post. “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in an email to a foreign intermediary Konstantin Kilimnik on July 7, 2016. The email is among tens of thousands of documents Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reviewing as part of their investigation. Manafort had a previous business relationship with Deripaska, the aluminum magnate closely aligned with the Kremlin, although there is no evidence in the documents to suggest that Deripaska accepted Manafort’s offer.  

Manafort also used his Trump campaign email to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with reported ties to Russian intelligence, Politico reports. In his emails to Kilimnik, Manafort emphasized his significant influence in Trump’s campaign and discussed new opportunities in Ukraine. Manafort additionally sought repayment for former work in the country. Ukrainian investigators previously stated they had evidence that Manafort received millions of dollars in off-the-books payments for his work in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Mueller has asked the White House for documents related to Trump’s actions in office, including the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, and the firing of James Comey, the former FBI director, reports the New York Times. Other topics of the requests include Trump’s meeting with Russian officials Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak the day after Trump dismissed Comey. In May, the Times reported that Trump admitted to Lavrov and Kislyak that firing Comey relieved “great pressure” on him, calling Comey a “a real nut job.” Mueller has also requested documents related to the White House response to questions surrounding a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.

The NSA acquiesced to pressure from U.S. allies to back down over two data encryption techniques the agency wanted to establish as global industry standards, according to Reuters. The development reveals deep mistrust among close U.S. allies in a three-year dispute concerning whether the International Organization of Standards should approve two NSA encryption techniques known as Simon and Speck. Academic and industry experts from Germany, Japan, Israel and others expressed concern that the agency advocated for the encryption tools because it knew how to break them.

President Trump seeks to toughen the Iran nuclear deal’s provisions rather than abandon the accord as he previously threatened, the Times reports. Trump, denouncing the agreement as “an embarrassment to the United States” in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, called on U.S. allies to help pressure Tehran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani countered Trump’s call, and stated that negotiating with “an American government that tramples on a legal agreement would be a waste of time.” Under U.S. law, Trump has until October 15 to certify whether Iran is complying with the deal.

This afternoon, Trump announced an executive order tightening economic sanctions on North Korea, as well as foreign companies and individuals that do business with the country, the Post reports. The executive order gives the Treasury the “discretion to target any foreign bank knowingly facilitating specific transactions tied to trade with North Korea.” Trump also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s order for Chinese banks to halt their business with North Korean entities. The Trump administration seeks a “complete denuclearization” of the North. Trump’s announcement follows yesterday’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea” in the event the North attacks America or its allies. Japan and South Korea offered cautious praise of Trump’s threat, while China continues emphasizing negotiations instead, according to the Wall Street Journal. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the North Korean missile situation “a matter of urgency” and supported the US stance that “all options are on the table” for handling North Korea. North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho compared Trump’s threats to the sound of a “dog barking,” CNN reports. Ri also responded to Trump’s use of the “rocket man” nickname for Kim Jong Un, stating, “I feel sorry for his aides.”

Russia is threatening to target U.S. and allied personnel in Syria if Moscow’s troops came under fire, according to the Post. The Russian Defense Ministry said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias working with the U.S.-led coalition, had twice fired on Syrian government troops working with Russian special forces. Tensions are rising in the eastern part of the country, near Dier al-Zour, as the SDF advances from the northeast as Russian-backed Syrian government forces are advancing from the west.  


ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes snarked about the 10 totally normal, not at all crazy things to hate about Robert Mueller for their [email protected] column.

Benjamin Wittes posted the reply brief filed on cert in Bahlul vs. United States.


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.