President Donald Trump instructed the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department’s Russian investigation in March of last year, the New York Times informs us. McGahn promptly carried out the president’s wishes, but was ultimately unsuccessful in his task, causing Trump to ask, infuriated, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” in reference to his personal lawyer who served as a top aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, who he felt was more protective of him than Sessions was. The interaction between McGahn and Sessions is part of wide variety of activities Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Two senior GOP senators have recommended to the Justice Department that charges be filed against Christopher Steele, the author of a dossier detailing salacious contacts between Trump and the Kremlin, the New York Times writes. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham informed the Justice Department that they believed Steele lied to federal authorities about contacts with reporters about information in the dossier. Many Republicans have argued that the dossier is likely political opposition research and that it may have been used by the FBI to initiate its investigation of the Trump campaign, including wiretaps.
The news has sparked interesting calls from both sides of the political spectrum. Two GOP lawmakers, Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, have called on Sessions to step down, CNN tells us. Meadows and Jordan, both prominent members of the House Freedom Caucus wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner criticizing Sessions’ handling of the Russian investigation by the Justice Department, writing “it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world.” But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had previously called on Sessions to resign, is now defending Sessions in an effort to protect oversight of the Russian investigation under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, CNN also tells us. Other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, are also defending Sessions.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote, in an order allowing former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates to attend sporting events for his children, that both he and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort “now hold the keys to their own release,” Politico informs us. Gates and Manafort, who are both under house arrest after being indicted for money laundering and tax evasion as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian active measures, no longer need to file individual motions each time they want to leave their homes. They need only submit document showing they have collateral to ensure the $5 million set for their release as part of their agreements with Mueller.
North Korea and South Korea have agreed to hold high-level border talks next Tuesday ahead of the Winter Olympics, the Times reports. The talks, which will be held in the border village of Panmunjom, will likely address Kim Jong Un’s offer as part of his New Year’s Day speech to send a delegation to the Olympic Games starting on Feb. 7, as well as the easing of military tensions along the border between the two countries. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has aggressively pursued peace talks with the North, while also trying to reassure a domestic audience that he has taken steps to strengthen the military and to avoid friction with the United States.
Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed Thursday that joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea will begin after the Winter Paralympic Games in March, according to the Hill. Mattis said that the proposed talks between North and South Korea “are clearly the result of the amount of international pressure,” but reserved judgement on whether they will be effective.
The Trump administration froze most security assistance to Pakistan in an effort to retaliate for continued safe havens for militants in the country, the Times informs us. The decision, which affects nearly $1.3 billion in annual aid to Pakistan, is the latest turn of events in a long-simmering conflict between the United States and Pakistan over the latter’s role in providing sanctuary for extremist groups. The funds will not be reallocated elsewhere within the State Department, allowing the administration to reassess their use in another year. U.S. officials are admonishing Pakistan to cut ties with militant groups, reassign intelligence with such ties, and to provide the United States with access to a member of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network that was captured during the rescue of a Canadian-American family last October.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five Iranian entities as part of its ballistic missile program amid condemnations of the Iranian regime for its crackdown on thousands of protesters, the Wall Street Journal writes. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Thursday “we will not hesitate to call out the regime’s economic mismanagement and diversion of significant resources to fund threatening missile systems at the expense of its citizenry.” The sanctioned entities are all subsidiaries of an Iranian industrial group considered vital to the development and production of Iran’s ballistic missiles.
Patrick Tucker of Defense One profiles how anyone who may have been in contact with an Iranian dissident during the recent protests may now be the subject of Iranian government surveillance.
The United States, in sending weapons to Ukrainians fighting pro-Russian separatists last month, took particular precautions to ensure that the weapons would not fall into the hands of enemy fighters, according to the Journal. The weapons, which include Javelin anti-tank missiles, have been assigned to units far from the frontline in eastern Ukraine to ensure they aren’t used to go on the offensive or aren’t captured by the separatists. They will be stored at training centers under the watchful eye of American soldiers training Ukrainian forces.
An ISIS suicide attack on a market in Afghanistan on Thursday where merchants were protesting against the police left at least 20 dead and 30 wounded, the Times tells us. Officials said that many of the victims were members of the Afghan police forces, who had gathered to close more shops after having raided another market on Wednesday for alcohol, drugs, and other banned substances. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement via the messaging app Telegram.
ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare
Elena Chachko summarized Alyan v. The Military Commander in the West Bank, an Israeli Supreme Court case ruling that the Israeli government does not have the authority to use the bodies of terrorists to secure the return of Israeli casualties.
Amichai Cohen examined whether an amendment to Israel’s national security law would change the rules governing Israeli entry into conflict.
Benjamin Wittes posted Rational Security: The “Never Get Drunk with Australians” Edition.
Wittes also posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt along with Susan Hennessey, Jack Goldsmith, and Bob Bauer for a discussion of Schmidt’s article on White House Counsel Donald McGahn’s attempt to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russian investigation.
Nicholas Weaver analyzed the security vulnerabilities nicknamed “Spectre” and “Meltdown” and offered security recommendations related to the bugs.
Hayley Evans summarized the U.K. Parliament Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report.
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