Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 3:26 PM

George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to several Trump aides, is cooperating with the special counsel investigation, the New York Times reports. The special counsel subpoenaed Nader in an effort to obtain information about a January 2017 meeting convened by Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in Seychelles, which brought Erik Prince—the founder of Academi, a private military company formerly known as Blackwater, and an unofficial adviser to President Trump’s transition team—together with a Russian investor with close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Nader represented the crown prince during the meeting; the Emirati officials present assumed that Erik Prince spoke for Trump and that Russian investor Kirill Dmitriev spoke for Putin, says the Times. The special counsel’s close examination of Nader is part of the probe’s broader investigation into whether foreign money and assistance helped fund the president’s campaign or influenced the transition. The probe has reportedly asked witnesses whether Nader funneled money from the UAE to the Trump campaign. The Washington Post previously reported that the meeting in Seychelles, which took place one week prior to the president’s inauguration, marked an attempt to establish an informal channel of communication between Moscow and the incoming administration.

In a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis on Tuesday, prosecutors and a defense lawyer debated whether a National Security Agency contractor can be convicted for bringing home highly classified documents he might not have realized he had, Politico reports. Hal Martin, the contractor in question, faces 20 felony charges under the Espionage Act. Prosecutors allege that he illegally retained specific secret or top secret documents within a larger trove of files he stole. Prosecutors asserted that they did not have to prove that Martin knew of the presence of the secret or top secret files among the trove he retained to secure a conviction on the Espionage Act charges. Judge Garbis challenged that, saying it “dodges the question of whether the defendant has to know the classification of the document” to be convicted. Martin’s attorney argued that prosecutors were attempting to read out of the Espionage Act the burden on the prosecution to prove that Martin knew he had the highly classified documents in question, thereby “seeking to raise mere theft to an Espionage Act violation punishable by up to 10 years in prison for each count.” 

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Jeanne Shaheen requested that Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems and Hart Intercivic—the three biggest election equipment companies—answer whether they permitted Russia to explore the source code and inner workings of their software, Reuters reports. The senators’ question follows Reuters reporting indicating that the powerful international technology companies permitted Russian officials to search for vulnerabilities in their software, which is embedded throughout the U.S. government. Klobuchar and Shaheen also asked the companies what they have done to improve the security of their software systems to defend against looming cyber threats to the upcoming American midterm elections.

The latest Morning Consult/POLITICO poll found that special counsel Robert Mueller’s unfavorability rating among Republicans has reached 41 percent, Politico reports. His favorability among Republicans continues to hover around 23 percent. Among Democrats, Mueller’s favorability has increased to 49 percent, up from 32 percent over the summer. Twenty-eight percent of independents expressed favorable opinions of Mueller, while 48 percent confessed either to not knowing who the special counsel was or having no opinion about him. Thirty-seven percent of all registered voters surveyed by Morning Consult/POLITICO had no opinion on Mueller or had never heard of him. 

The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Tuesday in response to the regime’s assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother with a banned chemical nerve agent, the Times reports. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert condemned North Korea’s use of chemical weapons to carry out the assassination, adding that the regime’s brazen violation of international norms demonstrates “that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean W.M.D. program of any kind.” The announcement of new sanctions came on the same day that South Korea relayed the North’s willingness to enter into negotiations with the U.S. aimed at denuclearization. South Korean President Moon Jae-In cautioned that this positive development and encouraging engagement from the North did not mean he planned to ease his country’s sanctions any time soon, Reuters reports. Moon emphasized that the South’s sanctions would remain in place, for “we are not at a situation yet where we can be optimistic.”

Syrian rebels have joined Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria in an effort to exact revenge on the Kurds and settle personal scores, the Post reports. Many of the thousands of Syrians who have joined up with Turkish forces cited a desire to reclaim  territory from the Kurds. Others identify anger over atrocities committed by the Kurds as they fought against the Islamic State, such as the destruction of several Arab-majority villages and the execution of innocent Arab civilians they feared might be ISIS fighters. This anger has led to a marked increase in looting and summary executions undertaken by Syrian fighters as the Turkish offensive continues to chip away at the Kurdish defenses in and around Afrin.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

J. Dana Stuster posted this week’s Middle East Ticker, which covered violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Eastern Ghouta, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, and the ongoing corruption investigation into Netanyahu.

Yuval Shany and Mordechai Kremnitzer argued that two recent developments at the Israel Security Agency represent progress towards ending unlawful security interrogations.

William Ford shared the live streams of and prepared testimonies from the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on national security.

Scott Anderson and Benjamin Wittes shared the findings of American Oversight’s FOIA request concerning the State Department’s controversial “Winter White House” post that seemed to promote the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Stewart Baker shared the Cyberlaw Podcast, which included an interview with Miles Brundage and Shahar Avin.

David Kris argued that we can conceive of the special counsel’s indictment of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation initiative, as an attempt to use law enforcement tools to advance counterintelligence efforts.

Thomas Zeitzoff reviewed David Patrikarakos’s new book, “War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century.” 

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