Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Thursday, February 8, 2018, 3:47 PM

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee authored a letter to committee chairman Chuck Grassley asking for public hearings on Russian interference in the U.S., Politico reports. In the letter, Democrats urged Grassley to pursue hearings in order to secure answers from Jared Kushner about the controversial meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-connected lawyer in June 2016. Democrats also noted that Kushner had not turned over all the documents the committee requested from him, including the security clearance forms that would reveal Kushner’s foreign contacts and travel. The ten Democratic lawmakers added in the letter that hearings would allow them to investigate other unexplored areas of the Russian probe. Read Democrats’ letter.

David Laufman, chief of the counterintelligence and export control section of the Justice Department’s national security division, stepped down on Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. During his time at the department, Laufman was involved in the agency’s investigations of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Although Laufman cited personal reasons for his decision to step down, it comes on the heels of increased attacks from the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers on the Justice Department, the FBI, and the special counsel for their handling of the Russia investigation. Laufman became a target of far-right bloggers last year, who accused him of “national security leaks.” Colleagues of Laufman characterized the assertion as “baseless.” One former colleague, upon learning of Laufman’s departure from the Justice Department, noted that “David never expressed any hint of partisanship in the management of his investigations.”

U.S. forces launched airstrikes against Syrian government troops after an “unprovoked attack” on the U.S.-led coalition and its local allies, the Post reports. The retaliatory strike was one of the few known strikes the U.S. military has carried out against pro-Assad forces to defend the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or other coalition allies. A U.S. military official said that the American counterattack killed approximately 100 pro-government soldiers, but that no U.S. soldiers were injured or killed in the initial regime attack. One SDF fighter was injured. In response to the American airstrike, Syria and Russia condemned the U.S. presence in Syria as illegal, the Post follows up.

Britain announced on Thursday that it is working with its European partners to address U.S. concerns with the Iran deal, Reuters reports. The U.K. hopes to save the landmark agreement, but added that Iran must halt all actions that jeopardize regional security.

On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives cleared the Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act, Axios reports. The act urges the State Department to increase its cooperation with Ukraine in an effort to defend against shared cybersecurity threats from Russia. This cooperation has become increasingly important, as Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine have come to be seen as experimental strikes used to test out attacks Moscow intends to use throughout the world. The Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act passed the House almost unanimously, in a vote of 404 to 4.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has scaled back his plans to restructure the State Department, Politico reports. State Department officials note that proposals to improve personnel training and upgrade technology have replaced previous controversial proposals to shut down entire wings of the department. Tillerson and his aides no longer use the term “redesign,” and call the next stage of planning “The Impact Initiative.” The components prioritized by the initiative are reportedly based on surveys of State employees, and include switching the State Department’s email to a cloud-based service; a plan to combine “scattered databases”; and efforts to help diplomats working overseas become more efficient. In an effort to proceed transparently, Tillerson included in his new plan the creation of an internal website that allows State Department employees to track his planned changes.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes shared the amicus brief he and Susan Hennessey filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to urge the court to inform the public of whatever action it takes in response to the Nunes memo allegations.

J. Dana Stuster posted this week’s Middle East Ticker, in which he discussed the reduction of U.S. troop levels in Iraq, Turkey’s intervention in Syria, Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and the lack of meetings between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials about a potential peace process.

Daniel Byman explained why improving governance is an unrealistic policy proposal and why the U.S. does not undertake governance-improvement programs.

Lawfare’s Editors announced the next Hoover Book Soiree, which will take place on Feb. 28. Benjamin Wittes will interview Max Boot about his new book, “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.”

Andrew Keane Woods interviewed Paddy McGuinness, the U.K. deputy national security adviser, for a British perspective on the cross-border data problem.

Matthew Kahn posted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s letter to Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The letter included a proposal for the creation of a Bureau for Cyberspace and the Digital Economy at the State Department.

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