Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 2:47 PM

The Treasury Department added eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals to the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s sanctions lists, blacklisting them from any dealings with the United States, the New York Times reported. The sanctions designation followed an executive order from President Trump last week that expanded the Treasury Department’s measures to bar multiple North Korean firms and individuals from transactions on global financial markets. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the sanctions aim to curb North Korea’s international financial activities and to reduce Pyongyang’s foreign income. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Beijing on Thursday to pressure Chinese leaders to do more to isolate North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported. The trip is Tillerson’s second to China in his 9-month tenure as the administration has made Chinese cooperation a focal point of its strategy to contain Pyongyang.

President Trump warned North Korea that the U.S. is prepared to take “devastating” military action if necessary, CNN reported. The President responded to a threat to shoot down U.S. warplanes in international airspace as U.S. defense officials said that North Korea had moved missile defense systems and fighter jets to its eastern coast. Separately, the parents of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. who died after being captive in North Korea, accused the regime of torturing their son, according to the Journal. In interviews with Fox News and CNN, Warmbier’s parents said they believed their son’s permanent brain damage was a result of torture by North Korean authorities. He died shortly after being released in June, following a year of captivity. President Trump gave credence to the accusation in a tweet Tuesday morning.

The Department of Defense dispatched a Navy hospital ship to Puerto Rico to aid in disaster response on the beleaguered island, the Times reported. The Comfort, a Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds, will leave for San Juan by Friday to provide medical services for thousands of patients in hospitals without power. U.S. Northern Command will place a commander on the ground in the next day to coordinate the U.S. armed forces’ response. The Coast Guard, under the authority of FEMA, has 13 ships off Puerto Rico, according to the Washington Post. Other U.S. Navy ships and planes are delivering supplies to the island, which lacks electricity for its 3.5 million residents.

The White House plans to cap refugee admissions to the U.S. at 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year, the Journal reported. The number is the lowest quota since the creation of the refugee program in 1980. Administration officials agreed to the lowered quota after disagreement between the State Department, which wanted to maintain the cap at 50,000, and the Department of Homeland Security, which pushed for a quota as low as 40,000. The cap is a significant decrease from the 110,000 refugees President Obama promised to admit in 2017. The International Rescue Committee said the total number of refugees globally is 22.5 million.

U.S. foreign policy officials are concerned that the inclusion of Chad in the Trump administration’s updated travel ban could threaten American interests in Africa, the Times reported. Pentagon and State Department officials opposed the addition of Chad to the list of restricted countries because the country is a key counterterrorism partner in efforts against Islamic extremists in north and central Africa. Elaine Duke, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security recommended the inclusion of Chad because it does not adequately share terrorism-related information. Chadian officials were surprised to learn of the ban, saying it called into question the U.S.’s reliability as a counterterrorism partner.

Trump associate Roger Stone denied to House investigators in a closed interview that he or any other member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, the Post reported. Stone told reporters that he discussed his contacts with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker linked to the breach of the DNC, with members of the House Intelligence Committee. But he said he refused to answer questions about his contacts with WikiLeaks, the site that published leaked information about the DNC. Ranking member Adam Schiff confirmed that Stone refused to answer one question and suggested that he may face a subpoena to obtain the information, the Guardian reported. Stone also said that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort expects to be indicted by federal prosecutors working with the special counsel probe, the Times reported. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, agreed: he told Politico that he was “99%” sure that Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn would be indicted.

The IRS is sharing information about members of the Trump campaign with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team after refusing to cooperate with the investigation earlier this summer over concerns about its scope, CNN reported. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is now sharing information about Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. It is unclear whether that information includes tax returns. The IRS is cooperating with the special counsel probe after declining to participate in a July raid on Manafort’s home because IRS agents were concerned the raid would interfere with a separate IRS-FBI investigation into allegations Manafort committed money laundering and tax fraud.

U.S. officials said Russian-linked Facebook ads under scrutiny in the Russia probe supported Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Politico reported. The ads backed divisive political candidates and seemed to aim at promoting disinformation and opposition to Hillary Clinton. Last week, Facebook provided 3,000 Russian-linked ads to Congressional investigators who are looking into their connection to broader Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) rejected an ultimatum from Iraq’s Prime Minister to turn over its international airports to Baghdad, the Reuters reported. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had ordered the KRG to cede control of its airports after an independence referendum concluded with a vote for a free Kurdish state. Iraq’s civil air authority notified regional airlines that it was suspending international flights to the Erbil and Sulaimaniya airports on Wednesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the KRG’s independence referendum a “threat to national security” and threatened military or economic intervention, the BBC reported.

Rockets struck Kabul’s international airport and the American Embassy as Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO’s Secretary General, the Times reported. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted Mattis’ plane. No one was injured.

Saudi Arabia objected to a proposed U.N. commission to investigate human rights abuses in Yemen, the Times reported. The Saudi ambassador to the U.N. spoke out against a draft resolution establishing a commission of inquiry—-similar to one created to study violations of human rights in Syria—for the 3-year old conflict in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there. The U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights has demanded that the U.N. investigate Saudi Arabia’s role in targeting civilians and committing other human rights abuses. Riyadh has threatened other countries with diplomatic and trade-related consequences if they support the commission, according to the AP. In other news from Saudi Arabia, a royal decree announced that the government would allow women to drive, the Times reported, ending a longstanding ban that was a symbol of the regime’s oppression of women.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for a unified European defense budget and a joint intervention force in a speech on reform of the European Union, Reuters reported.

Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that he will not seek reelection next year, the Post reported.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes shared his take on the stale, mendacious spirit of the latest travel ban.

Steward Baker posted the Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with Jeremy Rabkin about his new book on international law.

Matthew Kahn flagged testimony from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Special Counsel and the separation of powers.

Steve Slick reviewed Joel Witney’s new book on the CIA’s propaganda activities during the Cold War.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker, covering the Kurdish independence referendum, the Iran deal, and the convergence of U.S.-backed and Russian-backed forces in Syria.

Vanessa Sauter investigated whether the new travel ban actually restricts any travel by North Koreans.

Sauter posted the government's reply brief in Carpenter v. U.S.

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.