Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, March 23, 2018, 3:00 PM

President Donald Trump has signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress after threatening to veto it earlier today, CNN informs us. Tweeting on Friday that he was considering not signing the bill because it did not address DACA recipients and border wall funding was incomplete, Trump had raised the spectre of yet another government shutdown just as Congress moves to recess for two weeks. Trump’s tweet caught many lawmakers by surprise and left them scrambling to formulate a response―though some fiscal conservatives welcomed the possibility of a veto. Trump, in signing the bill, said he “will never sign another bill like this again” but was signing it as “a matter of national security.”

The Justice Department has unsealed charges against nine Iranian hackers for intrusions into hundreds of universities and businesses, as well as government agencies, in the United States and abroad, according to the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors accuse the Iranians of stealing more than 31 terabytes of data for financial gain on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Treasury Department, simultaneous to the unsealing of the indictments, imposed sanctions against 10 Iranians and the Mabna Institute, an Iran-based company founded to help steal information and the employer of the hackers. Among the victims of the attack was the U.S. Labor Department.

Redouane Lakdim, who killed two people and took others hostage in a French supermarket in Trebes, was shot and killed by French police earlier today, BBC reports. The attack is ostensibly linked to an incident earlier Friday morning, when a driver shot at four French national police officers and attempted to run them over while they were out jogging. Lakdim claimed to be an Islamic State soldier, a claim the militant group backed up, and demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the suspected mastermind behind the deadliest terror attack in French history, which occured in November 2015.

On Thursday, President Trump chose former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton as his new national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster in the post, the New York Times tells us. The move, which officials had hinted at for months, signals a more hard-line stance by Trump as he grapples with challenges from Iran and North Korea. Bolton has called for action against both countries, and took similar hard-line stances during his time in the Bush administration. McMaster, who has served in the U.S. Army for over 30 years, will retire from the military on April 9 after transferring his responsibilities to Bolton.

The Trump administration levied heavy tariffs on China on Thursday, targeting a much as $60 billion worth of Chinese goods, the Times writes. The move is Trump’s strongest action against any country to date and is retaliation for the “tremendous intellectual property theft situation” stemming from Chinese efforts to hack into American companies. The move is seen by the White House as necessary to defend the strategic position of the United States. In the wake of the order by the administration, the S&P 500 dropped by 2.5 percent, and China announced that it would create its own package of tariffs on 128 products from the United States, such as nuts, wine and pork.

The State Department has approved an arms deal package with Saudi Arabia worth more than $1 billion, Al Jazeera reports. The package includes money for anti-tank missiles, helicopter maintenance and spare parts for military vehicles, and it comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman continues his three-week tour of the United States. The deal has raised serious opposition as critics, including members of Congress, have called attention to the possible use of the materials as part of Saudi Arabia’s on-going war in Yemen. Defense Secretary James Mattis defended the deal, saying Saudi Arabia was “part of the solution” in Yemen.

Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen examine for the Daily Beast how Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who took credit for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, accidentally revealed his identity as a Russian intelligence officer.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, subpoenaed records documents relating to information about the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the Washington Post informs us. The subpoena was accompanied by a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein complaining that the Justice Department was taking too long to respond to Goodlatte’s requests for information. Goodlatte charged that the Justice Department had only turned over “a fraction” of the 1.2 million documents for Congress that it had already turned over to Justice Department Inspector General Anthony Horowitz. The Justice Department responded by saying it would continue to fulfill Goodlatte’s requests.

The EU has recalled its ambassador to Russia in the wake of the attempted assassination of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent, according to the BBC. The European Council said there was “no plausible alternative,” in light of the attack. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the move, applauding the EU for “standing together” with its British neighbors.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry promised Congress on Thursday that he would ensure the military has enough plutonium cores necessary to trigger nuclear warheads, the Post tells us. Perry’s promise, which comes as the Trump administration tries to revamp the U.S. nuclear infrastructure, is belied by the fact that the only lab capable of producing the triggers has not created one suitable to the task in years. Known as “plutonium pits,” the cores require replacement over time as they deteriorate. The Pentagon will need 30 cores per year by 2026, and 80 per year by 2030 to sustain its nuclear posture.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Shibley Telhami described the impact the 2003 Iraq War has had on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Jack Goldsmith and Maddie McMahon explained why, based on the special counsel regulations, Mueller won’t be releasing a public report in the mold of former Independent Counsel Ken Starr.

Alina Polyakova discussed the fraudulent nature of the recent Russian presidential election which handed Russian President Vladimir Putin another term in the Kremlin.

Thomas Renard and Rik provided an assessment of Belgium’s “failed” counterterrorism policy in this week’s Foreign Policy Essay.

William Ford posted video of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearing on the Energy Department’s atomic energy defense programs.

Matthew Kahn posted the House intelligence committee Russia investigation findings and recommendations.

Molly Reynolds dissected the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the National Security Law Podcast.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged a provision of the House version of the omnibus spending bill allocating $380 million to the Election Assistance Commission in the service of election security.

Kahn also posted the declarations of Defense Secretary James Mattis, Acting Defense Department General Counsel William Castle, former Military Commissions Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof, and legal adviser Gary Brown about the firing of Rishikof and Brown.

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