Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Thursday, March 8, 2018, 2:52 PM

The special counsel has compiled evidence proving that the meeting between George Nader, Erik Prince, and a Russian investor in Seychelles prior to President Trump’s inauguration constituted an attempt to establish a back channel between Moscow and the incoming administration, the Washington Post . Prince, the founder of Academi, the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater, initially described the meeting as an impromptu encounter, not a previously scheduled conversation about U.S.-Russo relations. Nader, now cooperating with the special counsel, pushed back against Prince’s assertion, stating that the meeting was set up in advance to bring together representatives of the Trump transition team and the Kremlin to discuss the future of the countries’ relations. Nader has met with investigators a number of times since the special counsel subpoenaed him in mid-January.

Russian-backed accounts worked to block Mitt Romney’s nomination to the post of secretary of state by flooding social media with posts condemning Romney’s potential appointment to the job, the Wall Street Journal . The accounts called Romney a “globalist puppet” and a “two-headed snake,” circulated a petition against Romney’s nomination, and advocated for an anti-Romney rally outside Trump Tower. Romney maintains a notoriously hawkish stance on Moscow, characterizing Russia as the single greatest threat to the U.S. during his 2012 presidential campaign. The Journal’s analysis of attempts by Russian-backed accounts to generate opposition among the American public to Romney’s appointment to the post of secretary of state comes alongside a damning in the New Yorker alleging that Moscow pressured Trump, the president-elect, to nominate an individual more open to Russia and advantageous to Russian interests.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme commander of NATO allied forces, said the Trump administration has no unified approach to combating the Russian cyber threat, Reuters . In response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed concerning whether the government has coordinated any response to the continued threat of Russian interference, Scaparrotti said he had not observed “effective unification across the interagency, with the energy and focus that we could attain.” Additionally, Scaparrotti described the administration’s understanding of Russia’s cyber infrastructure as inadequate—“at this point, not satisfactory to me.”

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified before the House intelligence committee on Thursday as part of the panel’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Reuters . Thursday’s interview with the committee was not the first time Lewandowski has spoken with the House Russia probe. He appeared before the panel on Jan. 17.

Speaking with the press in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cautioned that the U.S. remains “a long ways from negotiations” with North Korea, Politico . He added that preliminary talks must precede the ultimate negotiations and that the U.S. must stay “realistic” in its expectations moving forward. The secretary’s caution seemed to clash with the president’s optimism. Two days ago, the president expressed hope that North Korea is “sincere” about its willingness to denuclearize. U.S. officials worry that North Korea might try to use the prospect of talks with Washington to buy time to expand its nuclear arsenal further, Reuters . Even if Pyongyang agrees to halt nuclear and missile tests during diplomatic talks, as South Korea claims it will, the Kim regime could continue to develop a re-entry vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear weapon and increase its production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for bomb-making. Officials warned that the Trump administration must weigh these risks and North Korea’s propensity to renege on agreements as it decides whether to negotiate with the Kim regime. 

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chief of the African Union, announced that Tillerson’s visit to Africa compensates for President Trump’s derogatory comments about countries on the continent, the Post . Mahamat lauded Tillerson’s commitment to support Africa in its ongoing struggle to promote continental security and battle terrorist insurgencies, particularly in the Sahel region on the border with the Sahara Desert and in Somalia. Tillerson also took the opportunity to defend America’s approach to African development, which contrasts sharply with China’s expansive infrastructure development throughout the continent. The secretary observed that America seeks to promote private sector growth and local capacity building, whereas Chinese initiatives fail to prioritize local job creation and often wrest control of resources from state populations.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Matthew Kahn the Lawfare Podcast, a conversation between Benjamin Wittes and Max Boot about Boot’s new book, “The Road Not Taken.”

Emma Kohse and Wittes the legal theory behind the special counsel’s indictment of Russian hackers and entities, arguing that the theory provides insight into what the special counsel might do next. 

Seamus Hughes the exceptional case of Mohamed Elshinawy, the only American the Islamic State has funded to carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

William Ford the live stream of and prepared testimony from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on security clearance reform.

Jerome Cohen that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s forthcoming amendment to the Chinese constitution, which will allow him to rule indefinitely, could create political instability in China.

Ford the live streams of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committee hearings on cybersecurity and the military respectively.

Hilary Hurd the proceedings of the military commissions from Feb. 26-March 2.

Jeh Johnson the text of a speech he delivered at the Boston Conference on Cybersecurity.

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