Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 3:04 PM

On Monday, the House intelligence committee voted unanimously to release Democrats’ rebuttal to the Nunes memo, the Washington Post reports. Speaking with reporters after the vote, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, said that he and his Democratic colleagues believe their memo will help expose and correct the inaccuracies of the GOP memo made public last week. Schiff added that he sent copies of Democrats’ rebuttal to the FBI and the Justice Department several days ago, and that he expected the rebuttal to arrive at the White House for review on Monday evening. President Trump has five days to decide whether to permit or prohibit the release of the Democratic memo.

The House intelligence committee postponed its interview with Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, until next week, Politico reports. Bannon was supposed to testify before the committee on Tuesday. During previous testimony before the House intelligence panel, Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House or his work with President Trump’s transition team. Bannon’s refusal to cooperate with the committee has bothered both Democrats and Republicans, leading Schiff to call for the committee to hold Bannon in contempt if he fails to comply fully with the panel’s subpoena.

President Trump’s lawyers advised him not to sit for an interview with the special counsel investigation, the New York Times reports. The advice from the president’s legal team reflects its serious concern that President Trump could be charged with lying to investigators if he contradicts himself in an interview, as he is wont to do. This guidance stands in stark contrast to the president’s expressed willingness to speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. If President Trump decides to heed this counsel, it is possible that the special counsel would subpoena the president to testify before a grand jury.

Aerial photographs reveal the substantial progress China has made in transforming seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago into strong military outposts, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports. The photos, captured between June and December 2017, document the rapid development of artificial islands on which the Chinese are now finalizing the construction of air and naval bases. Among the structures seen on these islands are communications facilities, hangars, helipads, multistory buildings, observation towers and wind turbines. The three biggest reefs in the archipelago house runways nearly ready for use. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings and U.S. Virgin Islands delegate Stacey Plaskett asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, to subpoena the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for documents related to a grossly mishandled hurricane-relief contract, Politico reports. The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that FEMA gave the $156 million contract—which was supposed to ensure the delivery of 30 million meals to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—to a one-person company, Tribute Contracting. FEMA terminated the contract upon realizing that the company had not delivered anywhere near the number or specification of meals it promised to deliver, a failure that Cummings and Plaskett’s letter to Gowdy says may have impacted millions of people. The two Democrats added in the letter that the Department of Homeland Security also had yet to respond to their request in October related to FEMA’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria; they urged the oversight committee chairman to subpoena the department for documents related to these failed hurricane-relief contracts, too.

Vice President Mike Pence has not ruled out meeting with North Korean officials when he travels to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, the Times reports. While speaking to reporters in Alaska, Pence said that while he had not requested a meeting with the North Koreans, he remains open to “see what happens.” The vice president then reiterated that “all options are on the table” as the administration considers how best to confront the problem of North Korea’s growing ballistic and nuclear arsenal. During a trip to Peru on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also avoided ruling out a meeting between Pence and North Korean officials—adding, in language that mirrored Pence’s, “I think we’ll just see.”

The U.S. military announced Tuesday that it has expanded its air war against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, the Post reports. The expanded bombing began four days ago and has targeted Taliban training facilities and fighting positions. U.S. military officials described the bombing in a news release as the largest guided-weapons drop ever made by a B-52. The expansion of America’s air campaign in Afghanistan is part of the Trump administration’s broader strategy to increase U.S. leverage over the Taliban in an effort to negotiate a truce between the terrorist organization and the Afghan government.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Nora Ellingsen, Quinta Jurecic, Sabrina McCubbin, Shannon Togawa Mercer and Benjamin Wittes wrote that more than 100 pages of declassified internal FBI communications reveal the bureau’s real reaction to former director Comey’s firing.

Bob Bauer contended that the constitutional argument that the president cannot be indicted puts the special counsel in the difficult position of being responsible both to Congress and to the executive.

Dan Geer shared his most recent essay in the Aegis Paper Series on security policy. 

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