Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Monday, January 8, 2018, 4:52 PM

Over the past week, the White House aggressively responded to concerns about President Donald Trump’s mental competency raised by the book Fire and Fury, prompting former chief strategist Stephen Bannon to walk back comments attributed to him in the book, the New York Times reports. Quotes in the controversial tell-all raised questions about Trump’s ability to execute the functions of his office and the applicability of the 25th Amendment, which, among other things, allows for the transfer of the president’s power to the vice president if the vice president and a majority of the president’s cabinet or a congressionally created body determine he is unable to perform his duties. Officials such as CIA Director Mike Pompeo expressed full faith in the president over the weekend. Politico has more on the 25th Amendment and its unlikely application.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller may seek to interview Trump, spurring discussions among Trump’s lawyers about how a sit-down interview could be avoided or kept within strict limits, the Washington Post reports. Mueller’s team could conduct the interview quite soon, possibly within the next several weeks. Trump’s legal team is said to be reluctant to allow their client to sit for such an interview and has explored alternatives, such as providing written replies to questions

For the first time in two years, North and South Korea are set to have an official face-to-face meeting and will discuss a potential North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Olympics are slated to begin in South Korea next month. At the talks, set for Tuesday morning KST, several issues including family reunification may be discussed. However, South Korean officials said that they cannot predict the conversation’s direction. North Korea has not given a statement about the talks. A spokesperson for the State Department said the U.S. does not expect the South Korean government to “go off freelancing” in the meeting. The Trump administration suspects that Pyongyang may try to use the talks to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.

Trump must decide this week if he will continue to extend sanctions relief to Iran or risk placing the United States in breach of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the Journal notes. Recent protests in Iran, in addition to Trump’s noted position against the 2015 deal, have introduced further uncertainty to his next move. Some advisers have said it appears Trump will continue sanctions relief, but they also acknowledged his final decision remains unclear. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Trump will introduce more sanctions, unrelated to the nuclear deal, in the near future.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster claimed that the Russian government is pursuing a sophisticated influence campaign to meddle in the Mexican presidential election, according to Reuters. The statement came from a previously unreported video clip of a speech at the Jamestown Foundation. Some analysts believe Russia supports the current frontrunner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left-wing former mayor of Mexico City, while some Mexican commentators noted that there has been no proof of Russian involvement.

Over 200,000 Salvadorans have been told they must leave the United States or face deportation, following a decision by the Trump administration to end the Temporary Protected Status that made it legal for them to live and work in the United States, the Times reports. The administration said that the improved conditions in El Salvador meant that the individuals no longer fit into the framework of the program.

The supreme allied commander of NATO and Russia’s top general plan to meet later this month in Azerbaijan as the United States pursues a variety of high-level Russian contact early in 2018, BuzzFeed News reports. Other planned conversations between top officials will cover the Ukraine crisis, the U.S.-Russia relationship, and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Obama administration forbade meetings between the top commanders of NATO and Russia in an effort to diplomatically isolate Moscow following the annexation of Crimea. Some officials now say more can be gained through increased engagement.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claims it has quelled the anti-government protests that recently spread throughout Iran, but some signs of resistance, such as the burning of government documents, have continued on social media, the Journal reports. These documents include bills from state-owned companies and identification cards for Basij, the IRGC’s volunteer militia. Although some have continued to call for protests, the intensity has recently fallen and the level of unrest has been hard to measure. Iranian officials say that the leaders of the protests remain in custody.

China is rapidly expanding its facial recognition capability and integrating the technology to monitor the activities—both criminal and social—of its citizens, the Post reports. The Chinese government hopes to make the system, broad in its scope and goals, “omnipresent, fully networked, always working and fully controllable” by 2020. 

The first pretrial hearing by a military commissions judge outside of Guantánamo is set to take place at the military commissions headquarters in Alexandria, VA, the Miami Herald reports. It will be a closed national security hearing in the case against alleged Al Qaeda commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi. Neither the public nor the captive is permitted to attend or view the session. Hadi is in poor health and has recently undergone emergency spinal surgeries. It is unclear whether he will be able to attend the next public hearing in Guantánamo, scheduled to begin Jan. 29.  

 

ICYMI: Last weekend on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted the Lawfare Podcast, the second of his conversation with Middle East policy expert and vocal Trump supporter Michael Doran.

Dan Geer reflected on what the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities force technologists and policy makers to evaluate what they choose to prioritize.

Charlie Winter and Jade Parker analyzed how the Islamic State’s cyber and propaganda tactics have shifted as the group has lost control of territory. 

Paul Rosenzweig argued that elections are a cybersecurity issue.

 

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