Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 3:52 PM

Prosecutors revealed in a court filing Monday night that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, and later approved the investigation’s indictment of Manafort, Politico reports. Prosecutors filed the information concerning Rosenstein’s approval in response to a motion by Manafort’s attorneys arguing that the special counsel strayed from his task of investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia when it accused Manafort of lobbying as an unregistered foreign agent, money laundering, and tax fraud. Manafort will face trial on the charges of money laundering and tax fraud in a federal court in Alexandria on July 10.

A federal judge sentenced Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his communications with Paul Manafort and Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, the Washington Post reports. Prosecutors also noted that van der Zwaan, a former colleague of Manafort and Gates, deleted emails requested by the special counsel investigation. Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to the charge of lying under oath and acknowledged his destruction of emails requested by the special counsel. His sentencing marks the first sentencing secured by the special counsel investigation. The investigation’s probe into and litigation against Manafort and Gates are ongoing.

On Wednesday, Iran, Russia and Turkey will meet in Ankara to discuss efforts to end the Syrian civil war, Reuters reports. The talks will examine the crafting of a new Syrian constitution and enhancing security in “de-escalation” zones throughout the war-torn country. One Turkish official noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to press Russia to compel the Assad regime to increase humanitarian access to the besieged city of Eastern Ghouta and to decrease the number of regime and Russian airstrikes. Despite calling for the Kremlin and Damascus to scale down their operations in Syria, Ankara remains committed to taking the town of Tel Rifaat and pushing its offensive further east. Iran expressed outrage over Turkey’s continued offensive and demanded an immediate halt to the soldiers’ advance. 

During a press conference with leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, President Trump reiterated that he wants to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Politico reports. Trump remarked that because America’s stated goal of defeating the Islamic State was “almost completed,” the administration sees little need to maintain a U.S. presence in Syria. The president added that if Saudi Arabia wants U.S. troops to remain in Syria, then the kingdom should increase its financial support for U.S. operations there. Otherwise, Trump hopes to bring American troops home “very quickly.”

Bahraini government auditors discovered that a Persian Gulf bank, the now-closed Future Bank, regularly altered financial documents to conceal unlawful trade between Iran and numerous foreign partners, the Washington Post reports. The bank, an institution partially owned by two of Iran’s biggest lenders, purportedly hid a minimum of $7 billion in illicit transactions between 2004 and 2015, a period of time during which sanctions barred Iranian banks from gaining access to international financial markets and commerce. Furthermore, auditors discovered that hundreds of individuals who opened accounts at the bank had ties to people convicted of money laundering, terrorism financing, and sending phantom loans to businesses which operate as fronts for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Bahraini officials characterized the bank as a financial “Trojan horse” and noted that the illicit transactions uncovered so far are likely just the “tip of the iceberg.” Future Bank appears to have masked many other transactions more successfully.

Wang Yi, China’s senior diplomat, told Ri Yong Ho, the North Korean foreign minister, that Beijing appreciates Pyongyang’s “important efforts” to denuclearize and reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, Reuters reports. Prior to meeting with the North Korean diplomat, Wang praised North Korea, South Korea, and America’s support for denuclearization talks. He called on the countries to remain focused on the task of making the talks happen.

During an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of the Atlantic, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman affirmed the right of the Jewish people to live in their homeland, the Post reports. The crown prince’s acknowledgment marks part of his broader effort to rebrand Saudi Arabia as a more moderate force in the Middle East and to deepen economic and security ties with Israel. The two countries have begun to cooperate more as they work to contain the spread of Iranian influence in the region. Despite an increase in the countries’ shared interests, Riyadh still does not officially recognize the state of Israel.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Elena Chachko noted that Israel’s successful strike against the Syrian Al-Kibar nuclear reactor presents the international community with a data point on states’ use of preemptive self-defense to eliminate emergent nuclear threats. 

Paul Rosenzweig expressed his support for the establishment of a special legislative commission tasked with streamlining congressional oversight of the department of homeland security. 

David Kris responded to Thomas Baker’s op-ed “What Went Wrong at the FBI,” refuting Baker’s contention that the bureau’s embrace of counterintelligence constituted a strategic mistake and correcting Baker’s false characterizations of the Foreign Intelligence Service Act.

Shannon Togawa Mercer examined the progress the U.K. has made toward leaving the European Union on the one year anniversary of Brexit.

Kenneth Anderson posted Joan of Arc’s formal letter of summons to the English in response to the siege of Orleans.

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