Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 3:52 PM

Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of lying to federal investigators about communications with Rick Gates, a former Trump aide, the New York Times reports. Van der Zwaan also admitted to deleting emails that prosecutors sought. It remains unclear why van der Zwaan lied to investigators about his communications with Gates and a second individual described by the prosecution as “a longtime business associate of [Paul] Manafort and Gates in Ukraine.” Mother Jones said yesterday that the person in question may be Konstantin Kilimnik. Van der Zwaan’s plea agreement does not require cooperation with the special counsel, and the extent to which he is doing so remains unclear. The special counsel investigation initially questioned van der Zwaan during its investigation into Manafort and Gates, both of whom the special counsel has accused of money laundering and “other crimes” related to the consulting work they performed in Ukraine. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Van der Zwaan’s sentencing will take place on Tuesday, April 3.

The special counsel investigation has filed new charges in the case against Manafort and Gates, Reuters reports. The single page charging document is under seal. Reuters speculates that the document may be a “superseding indictment” that replaces the one filed last October. The special counsel added a separate court filing on Friday stating that it had unearthed “additional criminal conduct” committed by Manafort related to a string of “bank frauds and bank conspiracies.” NBC reports that the investigation is examining whether Manafort promised banker Stephen Calk a position in the Trump administration in exchange for millions of dollars in home loans.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared Tuesday that he will create a Cyber-Digital Task Force at the Justice Department, the Washington Post reports. The task force will examine, among other issues, efforts to undermine and interfere with American elections. The Justice Department explained that the deputy attorney general will appoint the task force’s senior official, and that the rest of the task force will be comprised of members from the department’s Criminal Division, National Security Division, the FBI, and several other divisions. This follows last Friday’s indictment of Russians accused of information operations targeting the U.S. election. It also comes amid pressure to address the increasing digital threats to American election infrastructure and national security; on Wednesday congressional Democrats requested $300 million for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Election Assistance Commission to help protect the midterm elections from Russian interference, Politico reports.

A new report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence,” published by AI experts outlines the grave dangers posed by this new technology, particularly its exploitation by criminals, rogue states, and terrorists, the BBC says. The authors called on the U.S. and foreign governments to pass laws to protect against the misuse of AI and noted that developers creating AI systems must do more to design internal mechanisms that defend against abuse or manipulation of the technology. The report also encouraged an increase in the number of stakeholders “engaging with, preventing, and mitigating the risks of malicious use of AI.”

North Korea canceled a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and representatives from Kim Jong Un’s regime that was scheduled to take place during Pence’s trip to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics, the Wall Street Journal reports. President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other administration officials approved the meeting, which would have occurred on Feb. 10. It was meant to advance the administration’s broader effort to convince the autocratic regime to halt further production of nuclear weapons and downsize its current arsenal. While Pyongyang offered no official reason for canceling what would have been the highest-level talks between American and North Korean officials in recent years, the vice president’s office said the cancellation occurred because Kim Jong Un’s regime was displeased with Pence’s blunt remarks condemning North Korea’s human rights violations and calling for more sanctions.

The Trump administration announced that Jared Kushner, who holds only an interim security clearance, will continue in his powerful role at the White House despite upcoming changes to the security clearance process, Politico reports. In a memo last Friday, Chief of staff John Kelly laid out new procedures for those holding interim security clearances after the tumultuous resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter. Kelly’s reforms notwithstanding, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Kushner will remain in his current role as senior adviser to the president.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Matthew Kahn shared Alex van der Zwaan’s information document, statement of offense, and plea agreement.

Elizabeth Goitein and Robert Litt offered five suggestions for increasing Section 702’s transparency and accountability.

Bobby Chesney explained a factual dispute related to the merits in Doe v. Mattis.

Julia Solomon-Strauss and Steve Szrom summarized the proceedings of the military commissions from Feb. 12-16, highlighting the indefinite hold placed in Al-Nashiri.

Gabriel Schoenfeld responded to Andrew McCarthy’s now tentative stance on whether there is a case for obstruction of justice against President Trump.

J. Dana Stuster posted this week’s Middle East Ticker, which discussed the Assad regime’s decision to support Syria’s Kurds in their fight against Turkey, corruption investigations of Netanyahu, and Iran’s crackdown on foreign currency exchanges.

Timothy Saviola and Nathan Swire posted Water Wars, a collation of the latest news, analysis, and opinions related to ongoing tensions in the South and East China Seas.

Kahn posted the Lawfare Podcast, a conversation between Jack Goldsmith and Phil Carter on civil-military relations.

Stewart Baker shared the Cyberlaw Podcast, which consisted of a news roundup.

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