Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Friday, December 1, 2017, 11:21 AM

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, pleaded guilty on Friday for lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, the New York Times reported. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged Flynn with one count of making false statements to the FBI about two meetings with Sergei Kislyak in which Flynn and Kislyak discussed U.S. sanctions and a U.N. Security Council resolution. The charge is an indication that Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel investigation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is developing quickly and Lawfare’s coverage of current reporting is likely to be overtaken by events throughout the day.

Pope Francis said, “the presence of God today is also called Rohingya,” marking the first time the pope has used the term for Myanmar’s Muslim ethnic group during his visit to Southeast Asia, Reuters reported. The pope gave remarks after meeting Rohingya refugees in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar after a campaign of military that the U.N. has termed “ethnic cleansing.” The pope did not use the word “Rohingya” when he visited Myanmar earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia’s air force intercepted a ballistic missile launched from Yemen. The attack is the second this month, CNN reported. A Saudi military spokesperson said the missile was headed towards a Saudi city near the Yemen border. Houthi rebels in Yemen said the attack was a successful test. A missile fired at the Riyadh airport on Nov. 4 prompted the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen to blockade all the country’s ports. The U.N. sanctions monitor said on Wednesday that Iran had designed and manufactured those missiles, according to Reuters. The U.N. report said it did not have any evidence who supplied the missile to the Houthis. Iran has denied smuggling weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Reza Zarrab, the Turkish-Iranian businessman who plead guilty to evading U.S. sanctions, testified that Turkish government officials told him that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved his scheme to illegally move millions of dollars of Iranian oil sales, the Washington Post reported. Zarrab is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the trial of one of his co-conspirators. The Turkish government has castigated the trial as a plot by Erdogan’s enemies to challenge his credibility.

Over the summer, President Trump pushed top Senate Republicans to close out congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the New York Times reported. The president told Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, that he was hopeful the inquiry would “as quickly as possible.” Trump angrily denounced the Russia investigation to other top lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Bob Corker. The White House denied that the president had tried to improperly influence the investigation.

Erik Prince, founder of the security firm Blackwater, confirmed to congressional investigators that he secretly met a Russian banker close to President Vladimir Putin to discuss a U.S.-Russia communications channel, according to the Post. Prince confirmed that his counterpart at the previously reported meeting was Kirill Dimitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Prince denied that he was acting on behalf of the Trump campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Session refused to answer questions from congressional investigators in a closed hearing about whether Trump had ever attempted to interfere with the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, Reuters reported. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Sessions declined to answer questions about President Trump’s interactions with Sessions regarding the investigation.

The Defense Department disclosed that it has not yet provided a lawyer to the American citizen believed to be an Islamic State fighter being detained as an enemy combatant despite the man’s request for counsel, the Times reported. Justice Department lawyers provided the information in response to an order from D.C. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in a habeas petition the ACLU brought on behalf of the man. The FBI has not questioned the man since he asked for a lawyer. The government has not charged the man with any crime and it is unclear whether it plans to transfer him to any other country for detention.

Israel bombed targets in Gaza in response to mortar fire from Palestinian militants, the Post reported. The Israeli military said it hit Hamas military sites. The mortar fire came after Israel destroyed a tunnel that the Islamic Jihad militant organization had built under the Israel-Gaza border.

The White House is considering a plan to relocate the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Wall Street Journal reported. The move would also involve formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The plan is not yet official, but it could spark strident opposition from Palestinians and cause complications with the Israel-Palestine peace process. On Friday, the president will face a deadline on whether to issue a waiver that would allow the U.S. to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv, delaying provisions of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act from taking effect.

The U.S. will withdraw 400 Marines from Syria ahead of schedule after the U.S.-backed campaign against the Islamic State achieved large reductions in the group’s territory, the Journal reported. The Marine unit provided artillery support to the U.S.-backed forces that captured Raqqa, the Islamic State’s former capital, last month. A coalition spokesperson said the move was part of a larger reduction in military commitments as the campaign winds down.

The Syrian government‘s negotiators left U.N. peace talks in Geneva and said they may not return, Reuters reported. The Syrian representatives said the opposition’s collective statement that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot play a role in the country’s political transition made negotiations impossible. The government team said they would consult with political leadership in Damascus on whether to return to the table next week.

Niger’s government gave its approval for armed U.S. drone flights over its territory, the Times reported. The U.S. and Niger signed a memorandum of understanding allowing armed drone flights out of Niamey, the capital, and an expanded military presence in the country. The U.S. is targeting extremist groups across West Africa. Deploying drones in Niger would significantly enlarge the range U.S. drones can cover over West Africa.

Taliban gunmen disguised in burqas attacked a university dormitory in Peshawar, Pakistan, the Times reported. Gunfire killed at least nine people and wounded thirty others. The Pakistani Taliban said its militants had attacked a Pakistani intelligence safe house. Pakistani authorities said there was no intelligence activity at the university.

The Pentagon delayed indefinitely a planned phase-out of certain types of cluster munitions, according to the AP. The Department of Defense said it was unable to fulfill a pledge by President George W. Bush to use cluster munitions that have high safety standards by 2019 and would continue to use its existing stockpile. The U.S. has not signed the 2010 treaty banning the use of cluster bombs.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Hayley Evans and Shannon Togawa Mercer discussed Brexit’s implications for data protection regulations.

Evans summarized the UK’s new data protection bill.

Madiha Afzal explained why the Trump’s administration’s strategy in Pakistan is likely doomed to failure.

Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith discussed whether Congress cares that the president has an enormous amount of discretion to interpret international law.

Goldsmith and Robert Williams argued that the recent indictment of three Chinese hackers shows the 2015 U.S.-China cybersecurity agreement is weakening.

Scott Anderson and Yishai Schwartz explained the potential consequences if the president waives the Jerusalem Embassy Act.

Benjamin Wittes posted the “Power of Delusion Thinking” edition of Rational Security.

Susan Hennessey shared her testimony from a congressional hearing on the cybersecurity of voting machines.

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