Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, December 15, 2017, 1:58 PM

President Donald Trump said that there was tremendous anger over the FBI’s “disgraceful” behavior, criticizing the Bureau just before he appeared at its training facility in Quantico, Virginia, to praise the nation’s police officers, according to the Washington Post. “It’s a shame what happened to the FBI” Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart for a ceremony at the FBI’s National Academy, where more than 200 law enforcement officers graduated from a training program..

In an annual press conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised President Trump’s job performance, saying Washington was consumed by “spy mania” and that the Russian investigation was “invented by people who are in opposition to Trump to characterize his work as illegitimate.” The Wall Street Journal reports that Putin spoke favorably about the U.S. economy, attributing rising stock exchange numbers to Trump. The Russian president also questioned the investigation of contacts between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, saying it was a “world wide practice” for diplomatic teams to “understand what people will do if they come into power and how to react to it.” Putin also dismissed his domestic competitors in the Russian presidential election. POLITICO writes that Trump called Putin to thank him for his remarks on the U.S. economy, and to discuss how they can resolve the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. The two leaders spoke for 10 minutes with no one listening in, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

President Trump suggested this morning that he has not dismissed the idea of pardoning former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI earlier this month, according to CNN. Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House this morning, Trump said he was not ready to talk about pardons, saying “we’ll see what happens, let’s see.” Trump instead focused attention on the Department of Justice and the FBI, saying that people were “very, very angry” about what is happening at the two agencies. His lawyer for the Russia investigation, Ty Cobb, told CNN after Trump’s remarks that the president is not considering pardoning Flynn.

Senate Republicans are attempting to shield special counsel Robert Mueller from mounting GOP fury about purported evidence that his team was biased against Trump, writes the Post. As House Republicans demand a special counsel to investigate Robert Mueller in the face of newly-released anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, Senate Republicans have come to Mueller’s aid. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are among those defending Mueller, saying that the FBI officials’ conduct does not impinge on Mueller’s integrity in investigating Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

Robert Mueller has requested employee emails from Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for President Trump’s campaign, according to the Journal. The request sought the emails of all employees who had worked on the Trump campaign and was made before the media reported in October that Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix had contacted Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential election. The ties between Cambridge Analytica and Wikileaks are also of interest to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, according to that committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Foreign Policy details the secret history of the Russian consulate in San Francisco, detailing its busy activity.

In a continuing feud between the State Department and the White House, a White House official said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has “not learned his lesson from the last time,” after Tillerson recently offered to start diplomatic talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, writes the Post. The official also stated that “our allies know at this point he’s not really speaking for the administration” and that he cannot stay in the job for much longer. White House spokesman Raj Shah rebutted this assertion, saying Trump is pleased with his national security team, “which includes Secretary Tillerson.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster is under fire from critics who say the three star general is hurting efforts to recruit members to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, Foreign Policy tells us. Oracle Corporation executive Safra Catz and tech magnate Peter Thiel have both reportedly turned down jobs leading the advisory board in part over concerns about McMaster, although others dispute that account. This latest charge is just the latest in an ongoing feud between factions on the National Security Council.

A new U.S. Army study of U.S. participation in the battle for Mosul, code-named “Eagle Strike,” details that difficulties in sharing imagery contributed to different understandings what was going on during hostilities, according to the Journal. Explaining that a common operational and intelligence picture is “critical,” the report also raised concerns about the military’s response to the ISIS drone threat, the use of private contractors, training for urban warfare, and the means by which American forces communicated with Mosul’s trapped residents. The report will be used in making training decisions, helping to inform the approach to future conflicts, according to Center for Army Lessons Learned Director Col. Mike Pappal.

The Post tells us that ISIS used rockets supplied by the United States, some of which appear to have been provided to Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad. The revelation is part of a report by Conflict Armament Research, a weapons-tracking group based in Britain that has documented more than 40,000 firearms and munitions across Iraq and Syria stemming from field investigations.

Sen. Todd Young (R-In.) is holding up the confirmation of Trump’s nominee to be the State Department’s top legal counsel, Jennifer Newstead, in an effort to persuade the Trump administration to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its stranglehold on aid to Yemen, reports Foreign Policy. The now nearly three-year-old conflict in Yemen has been largely overlooked by the U.S. government, despite U.S. supplies of bombs and fuel to the Saudis. International aid organizations said the senator’s efforts were responsible for the White House’s nudge last month to Saudi Arabia to lift a blockage on U.N. flights and shipments to Yemen.

The Military Times writes that new satellite imagery shows that this year, China has built infrastructure covering 72 acres in the Spratly and Paracel islands to equip its larger outposts as air and naval bases. The islands, part of disputed territory in the South China Sea, have long been a source of tension between the United States and China, but those tensions have eased in the past year. The activity comes as China joins negotiations with southeast Asian nations to agree on a “code of conduct” for the South China Sea.

Jessica Trisko Darden of the Post examines how far Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will go to stop terrorism in light of his recent extension of martial law for a second time in his home province of Mindanao, where militants associated with the Islamic State have made a stronghold.

Britain’s Chief of Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach warned that Britain and its NATO allies must defend deep-sea cables against potentially disastrous attacks by the Russian navy, Reuters reported. The vulnerability of the cables, which carry 95 percent of the world’s daily communications and over $10 trillion in daily transactions, are a “new risk to our way of life,” according to Peach.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Philip Carter explored how changing norms surrounding civilian-military relations as a result of the Trump administration may apply in the future.

Benjamin Wittes shared his thoughts about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Chris Mirasola reviewed the proceedings of the military commission trying commission for the week of Dec. 4.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged an amicus brief he filed in the Microsoft warrant case.

Stewart Baker posted this week’s Cyberlaw Podcast: Did AlphaGo Launch an Arms Race with China?

Matthew Kahn posted British barrister David Anderson’s independent assessment of British counterterrorism intelligence.

Baker provided a reasonable explanation of the meaning behind the “insurance policy” text by FBI agent Peter Strzok.

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