Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Thursday, March 29, 2018, 4:24 PM

The Kremlin announced Thursday that it will expel 150 Western diplomats and shutter the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, the New York Times reports. Moscow’s decision comes in response to the West’s expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats and officials following the Kremlin’s attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. With Britain at the helm, the 27 Western countries that undertook these expulsions have stood firmly in defiance of unlawful Russian aggression and espionage. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny responsibility for the nerve-agent attack that nearly killed the Skripals.

For the first time in more than a decade, North Korea and South Korea will meet for a summit on April 27, Reuters reports. South Korean officials shared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un affirmed his commitment to denuclearization. The April summit will focus largely on denuclearization and continuing efforts to improve relations between Pyongyang and Pyeongchang. North and South Korean officials will meet on April 4 to determine the specific details of the late April summit, including the security and staffing components of it and the protocol for news releases.

John Dowd, President Trump’s former attorney, approached Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort’s lawyers about a presidential pardon, the Times reports. Because Dowd spoke with the attorneys as the special counsel investigation worked to build cases against the former Trump advisers, the discussions raise questions as to whether Dowd attempted to use the promise of a presidential pardon to influence Flynn and Manafort’s decision to comply with the investigation. The Times notes that Dowd’s decision to broach the subject of a presidential pardon indicates that the president and his lawyers were concerned about the information Flynn and Manafort might reveal during testimony or offer up in pursuit of a lenient deal. On Wednesday, Dowd denied discussing presidential pardons for Flynn and Manafort with their attorneys.

The Justice Department inspector general will investigate how federal prosecutors and the FBI obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Service Court to surveil Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign, the Wall Street Journal reports. In a statement confirming the investigation, Inspector General Michael Horowitz explained that his team seeks to determine whether Justice Department and bureau attorneys complied with the legal requirements governing the application for warrants from the FISC. Republicans on the House intelligence committee allege that federal attorneys failed to comply with these requirements and to disclose properly the partisan nature of the information detailed in the Steele Dossier, which federal attorneys reportedly used to help obtain the warrant to surveil Page.

Over 200 former diplomats signed a letter decrying the sharp decline in U.S. global leadership under the Trump administration and calling on senators to interrogate secretary-of-state nominee Mike Pompeo about his plans to rebuild the department and restore American leadership, the Washington Post reports. While the letter avoids mentioning President Trump or former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by name, it stresses “the urgent need to restore the power and influence of American diplomacy” and fill vacant senior leadership positions. The letter urges Congress to reject the administration’s proposal to slash $20 billion from the State Department’s budget.

Military planners fear that only several thousand of NATO’s more than 1 million soldiers are ready for rapid deployment in the event of a war between Europe and Russia, the Journal reports. Of Italy’s 59 battalions, only five stand ready to deploy within 10 days. Of the U.K., Germany, and France’s 56, 51, and 39 battalions respectively, only three of each country’s battalions stands ready to deploy in under 30 days. None of Poland, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark’s battalions can deploy in under 30 days’ time. Defense Secretary James Mattis continues to emphasize the need to increase NATO’s warfighting readiness. At his direction, the Pentagon seeks to ensure that 30,000 soldiers, 30 fighter squadrons, and 30 naval ships stand ready to deploy to a point of conflict within 30 days of alliance commanders sounding the alarm. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. military stood ready to send 10 divisions, or 200,000 troops, to Europe in 10 days.

Russia announced Thursday that its offensive in Eastern Ghouta in conjunction with the Syrian regime is nearing a close, Reuters reports. After days of evacuations and months of indiscriminate bombardments, rebel forces control only one remaining town in the greater enclave of Eastern Ghouta. A senior member of Jaish al-Islam, the group controlling the last rebel-held town, noted that the organization remains engaged in negotiations with Russia to determine the fate of the town. Over the past week, other rebel factions have accepted Russian deals to surrender their weapons in exchange for safe passage out of the city with their families. Rather than travel with these rebels and their supporters to the front lines of other rebel-held territory in Syria, tens of thousands of civilians have decided to stay in Eastern Ghouta.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Steve Vladeck responded to Adam White’s contention that Congress should create a special procedure to ensure timely and appropriate consideration of a lawsuit challenging the firing of the special counsel.

Katy Collin argued that securing peace in Syria requires international actors to prioritize the U.N.-backed peace process.

Thomas Ewing suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2018 address to the Federal Assembly reveals his stance on technological sovereignty.

Danielle Citron and Quinta Jurecic dissected the strengths and weakness of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

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