Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, December 22, 2017, 2:08 PM

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea designed to significantly cut off fuel supplies and order North Koreans working abroad to return home within two years, the New York Times reports. The sanctions, which received unanimous support from the 15 countries on the Security Council, limit exports of oil to their current level. The sanctions also require countries to expel North Korean workers, which are a source of hard currency. China and Russia joined the vote, despite charges by the United States that Russia has provided new links to the outside world for North Korea, including internet connections. The resolution provides the third package of sanctions this year; it was proposed in response to North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 30.

Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday ahead of the holidays, saying that the United States was on “a path to achieving a lasting victory for freedom and security in Afghanistan, writes the Wall Street Journal. In an address to more than 500 American troops later in the day, Pence relayed a message from President Donald Trump: “Tell them I love them.” Pence became the highest-ranking official in the Trump administration to travel to Afghanistan, where Gen. John Nicholson, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has called the now 16-year-old fight against the Taliban a stalemate. Nicholson said additional troops and new authorities from Trump have given commanders more autonomy to prosecute the fight.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied the Trump administration’s motion for a delay in implementing a district court order to accept transgender recruits into the military, The Hill reports. The ruling by Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, Albert Diaz, and Pamela Harris keeps in place Jan. 1 the deadline for the Pentagon to begin accepting in transgender recruits, and may lead to an appeal to the Supreme Court. Trump announced the ban in July on Twitter and confirmed it in a proclamation the next month.

Trump announced that he plans to sign a $4 billion dollar missile defense bill later today. According to the Hill, the spending measure allocates approximately $4.6 billion for missile defense programs and repairs, as well as repairs for the Navy destroyers damaged in recent collisions.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe faced intense questioning in closed sessions of the House intelligence, judiciary, and oversight committees this week over about his interactions with former FBI Director James Comey during the FBI’s Russia investigation and the Clinton email probe, CNN tell us. McCabe, in 16 hours of testimony across two sessions, told lawmakers that Comey informed him of his conversations with Trump soon after they happened, suggesting that McCabe might have corroborated Comey’s claim that Trump asked him for loyalty. The testimony comes amid increasing calls for Christopher Wray, Comey’s successor as FBI director, to fire McCabe.

FBI General Counsel James Baker will be reassigned within the FBI in the coming months, the Post writes. Baker is one of the longest-serving national security officials in the federal government and has played a key role in the Bureau’s handling of seminal cases and policy discussions. He told colleagues in an email on Wednesday that his duties were changing. In recent months, Baker has been part of an interagency dispute which ultimately led to a leak probe, though the probe did not play a role in Baker’s reassignment. The move comes as FBI Director Christopher Wray assembles his team of advisers.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the Human Rights Accountability Initiative, a foundation that seeks to help Americans adopt Russian orphans and members of which met with senior Trump campaign officials, according to Bloomberg. The foundation, which was financed with $500,000 from wealthy Russian benefactors, served as a lobbying vehicle against certain sanctions against Russia. One of the foundation’s representatives, Rinat Akhmetshin, joined Natalia Veselnitskaya for a meeting a Trump Tower with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in June 2016. 

National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, who will retire this month after five years at the center, voiced concern in his final briefing to reporters about access to guns and the resulting frustration of efforts to prevent mass casualty attacks, the Post informs us. “We find ourselves in a more dangerous situation because our population of violent extremists has no difficulty gaining access to weapons that are quite lethal,” he said. Rasmussen is among the few high-ranking officials from the Obama administration that remained in place for the first year of the Trump administration, having held senior positions under both Democratic and Republican presidents at  the National Security Council, NCTC, and the State Department during his 27-year career. 

The Journal examines the untold story behind Nigeria’s effort to rescue over 200 schoolgirls that Boko Haram kidnapped in 2014, launching a social media movement centered around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

China has asked the Security Council to postpone a decision on blacklisting 10 ships that the United States claims have violated sanctions against North Korea, the Journal tells us. A special committee of the Security Council was poised Thursday to block the vessels from entering the ports of U.N. members, but China formally requested that the decision be delayed until Dec. 28, so it could have more time to study the list of ships. This marks the second time China has asked for a such a deferral.

The Senate approved four new assistant secretaries for the Defense Department late Wednesday, including the chief of Asian and Pacific Affairs, the Hill writes. The Senate confirmed by a voice vote Thomas Harker as assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management; Bruce Jette as assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, technology; and logistics; John Roth as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management; and Randall Schriver as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Paul Rosenzweig posted “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon.

Matthew Kahn summarized the U.S. District Court for D.C.’s denial for a stay in the transgender servicemember litigation.

Jack Goldsmith questioned why it was necessary for the United States to attribute the “WannaCry” cyber attack to North Korea without a credible deterrence strategy.

Sasha Romanosky examined how the federal government should handle private sector attribution of cyber attacks.

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