Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Friday, January 12, 2018, 1:02 PM

President Donald Trump is expected to announce today that he will continue to waive sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, the New York Times reported. Trump will set a deadline for Congress to pass new legislation tightening the nuclear deal, threatening that the the U.S. will otherwise leave the agreement. He will also put pressure on European allies to agree to the proposed changes to the deal. The Treasury Department will levy new targeted sanctions against Iranian government officials involved in corruption and human rights abuses. Maintaining the sanctions relief will keep the deal in place at least until May, when Trump will face another sanctions waiver decision, according to the Wall Street Journal. The deadlines occur every 90 days.

Trump said Peter Strzok, the FBI agent formerly involved in the special counsel investigation, committed “treason” when he sent text messages criticizing Trump to a colleague, the Wall Street Journal reported. In a wide-ranging interview, Trump said Strzok’s comments about “an insurance policy” if Trump were elected amounted to treasonous behavior. Strzok said in August 2016 about Trump’s election: “I want to believe ... that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Previous reporting indicated the insurance policy comment referred to fully investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed Strzok from the investigation after learning about the texts.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Republicans on the committee obstructed efforts to obtain information about key organizations and witnesses in the committee’s Russia probe, the Washington Post reported. Schiff said committee Republicans blocked subpoenas to Deutsche Bank for Trump’s financial records, to Twitter for Julian Assange’s messages with Trump campaign officials, and to full communications records from Trump campaign officials related to the June 2016 Trump tower meeting. He blamed Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee chairman, for blocking certain witnesses from appearing, even though Nunes officially recused himself from the investigation.

Ecuador granted citizenship to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks co-founder who has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after seeking political asylum in 2012, the Times reported. The announcement came after the United Kingdom rejected a request from Ecuador to give Assange diplomatic immunity so he could leave the embassy. Assange has said he believes the British government would attempt to arrest and extradite him to the U.S. to face charges related to his involvement in massive state secrets leaks that U.S. officials say damaged national security.

A constitutional rights advocacy organization filed a request for a writ of habeas corpus at the D.C. federal district court on behalf of 11 Guantanamo detainees to petition for their release, the Miami Herald reported. The Center for Constitutional Rights’ filing argues that Trump’s proclamation of his intention to never release any detainees currently at the Guantanamo Bay military prison is arbitrary and unlawful detention. The Trump policy to “freeze” all detainees at the prison is a shift from President Barack Obama’s policy of reviewing individual detainee cases to allow for releases or transfer.

Heavy fighting in Idlib Province in Syria between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebel fighters provoked alarm from the United Nations, the Times reported. U.N. relief officials said fighting in Idlib had forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of December. Relief officials also urged a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, the rebel-held suburb of Damascus where fighting has trapped 400,000 civilians without access to humanitarian aid.

U.S. forces bombed an Afghan government-allied militia fighting Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan after one of its members fired on U.S. Special Forces, according to the Times. Local officials said militia members had an argument with U.S. forces before a shootout broke out. A district governor said the confrontation ended with 13 to 15 Afghan fighters killed. It was not clear if any American service members were injured.

The U.S. Army removed Chinese-made surveillance cameras from Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base in Missouri, the Journal reported. The army said it had not found any security issue with the cameras, manufactured by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, but that it replaced them to “remove any negative perception” after reports about the omnipresence of Chinese-made surveillance devices in the U.S. market. Rep. Steve Chabot said he is calling a House hearing on Jan. 30 to discuss cybersecurity vulnerabilities in security cameras, including potential foreign security threats to Hikvision cameras.

A federal court released details about a leak investigation into journalistic sources that provided information to David Sanger, a Times reporter, for his book about U.S. government’s role in the Stuxnet virus in 2012, Politico reported. The release revealed that federal investigators obtained court orders in 2012 to get information about messages on the private email accounts of retired Marine General James Cartwright and another unknown official. Cartwright pleaded guilty in 2016 to a single count of lying to the FBI; President Barack Obama pardoned him three days before leaving office. Sanger said the investigation disclosure was the nearest the U.S. has come to admitting responsibility for the Stuxnet virus, showing how aggressively it attempted to find the sources of the story.

The European Union told Kosovo that its relations with Europe would suffer if it terminates a court set up to try war crimes committed during its independence struggle, Reuters reported. Kosovo’s parliament cancelled a vote in December that could have scrapped the Specialist Chamber, a court created to try ex-Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for atrocities in their 1998-1999 war against Serbia. EU leaders have lobbied Kosovar lawmakers to not put the vote back on the parliament’s agenda.

The State Department delivered a long-awaited report about U.S. international cyber diplomacy strategy to the National Security Council, Politico reported. U.S. officials said State sent the report, which the Trump administration directed it to produce in its May 2017 cybersecurity executive order, to the White House three weeks ago. State has almost completed a separate report about cyber deterrence strategy.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Evelyn Douek discussed how the congressional hearings with social media company executives about Russian interference on their platforms foreshadow the coming debates in 2018 about fake news and social media speech regulation.

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes reacted to Trump’s tweets undermining the administration’s efforts to pass an extension of the FISA Section 702 surveillance authorities.

Josh Blackman argued that the federal judge that blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program misapplied Supreme Court precedent on administrative law.

 

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