Last June, the president ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, reports the New York Times. When President Donald Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to transmit the president’s order to the Justice Department, McGahn threatened to resign, leading the president to back down. The Times says McGahn disagreed with the president's rationale for firing Mueller, telling White House colleagues that the firing would be catastrophic for the administration and would spur more suspicion that the White House might be attempting to obstruct justice. The president’s lawyer for the Russia investigation, Ty Cobb, declined to comment.
The White House is preparing an executive order to keep open the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, says Politico. The order would rescind a 2009 Obama administration order that promised to close the facility. The order is seen primarily as a political statement, since the Obama administration did not succeed in closing the prison, and Trump has long made clear his policy preference to keep it open. State Department officials are drafting a cable to notify U.S. embassies of the change, anticipating that diplomatic outposts overseas may seek additional security. The cable says there are no plans to bring additional detainees to Guantanamo.
The U.S. and Pakistan disagreed over the target of a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Pakistan taken on Wednesday, reports the Times. The strike killed Nasir Mehmood, a military leader in the Haqqani terrorist network. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday saying the strike “targeted an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram agency.” The U.S. says there are no refugee camps in the remote tribal region—a claim that the United Nations corroborated. The Pakistani government maintains, however, that there are 43 Afghan settlements in an adjoining province, some of which overlap with Kurram.
Iranian military speedboats have stopped harassing U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf, reports the Wall Street Journal. For over two years, Iranian boats would speed toward American ships, carrying machine guns and rocket launchers and occasionally spurning escalation. In the most serious run-ins, some of which have involved aiming blinding spotlights at vessel and aircraft crews or pointing weapons at helicopters flying near ships, the Navy has fired warning shots. U.S. officials are not sure why the harassment has ended—there have been no incidents in five months—but hope the pause continues indefinitely.
Defense Secretary James Mattis says a U.S. aircraft carrier will likely make a port call in Danang, Vietnam in March as maritime tensions with China rise, reports the Washington Post. The USS Carl Vinson will make the first port call for a U.S. aircraft carrier in Vietnam, Mattis announced in a visit to Southeast Asia. The plan is the latest in a series of efforts to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Vietnam, which the U.S. sees as a key ally in checking Chinese territorial aggression in the South China Sea.
ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare
Matthew Waxman posted the second essay in his series on Noah Feldman’s new book on James Madison.
Russell Spivak summarized the habeas petition that 11 Guantanamo detainees filed earlier this month.
Shehab Makahleh and Alex Vatanka assessed Jordan’s options for improving ties with regional powers other than Saudi Arabia.
Bob Bauer wrote about the latest signs of eroding norms under the Trump administration: the president’s conflicting answers on whether he’ll concede to an interview with the special counsel and his questions about Andrew McCabe’s political leanings.
William Ford posted the letter that the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs sent to House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes about the memo on alleged intelligence abuses that he’s circulating to House Republicans.
Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes wrote on the Times’ report that the president tried to fire the special counsel last June.
Wittes posted a special edition of the Lawfare Podcast on the Times story with Jack Goldsmith, Steve Vladeck, Carrie Cordero, and Bob Bauer.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the president disagreed with Don McGahn's rationale for firing Bob Mueller. McGahn disagreed with the president's rationale.