Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Monday, April 9, 2018, 5:01 PM

In the next 24 to 48 hours, President Trump will decide whether to respond militarily to the chemical weapons attack carried out by the Assad regime on civilians in Douma, the New York Times reports. The attack killed at least 49 individuals, prompting the president to tweet on Sunday that the Syrian regime has a “big price to pay.” In the same tweet, the president suggested that Russia and Iran may bear some responsibility for the attack. Speaking to reporters, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the administration would not rule out any retaliatory options at the moment, including a strike against the Assad government. The situation escalated early Monday morning following reports that Israel launched an airstrike against Syrian airbase operated by Iranian-backed militias. The airstrike—yet unconfirmed by the Israeli government—killed 14 people. The decision of whether to respond with force to the indiscriminate cruelty of the Assad regime confronts John Bolton on his first day as national security adviser. The U.N. Security Council met Monday to discuss the alleged chemical weapons attack in a session called by France, the United States, and seven other countries, the Washington Post adds. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley ended her remarks by saying “The United States will respond.” (Editor’s note: This meeting was under way at the time of posting.)

President Trump informed reporters during a cabinet meeting on Monday that he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in “May or early June,” Politico reports. North Korean officials confirmed to the administration on Sunday that Pyongyang remains open to discussing denuclearization at the summit with Trump. Administration officials have emphasized that the success of a leader-to-leader meeting hinges on Pyongyang’s willingness to stop all weapons-testing and dismantle its nuclear arsenal. The administration intends to continue its maximum pressure campaign on North Korea until it sees progress toward denuclearization.

In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the social media giant apologizes for allowing third-party applications to access Facebook users’ data without their permission, the Post reports. Zuckerberg’s written statement also acknowledges that Facebook’s response to Russian disinformation campaigns during the 2016 presidential election was slow and inadequate. In his appearances before the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday and the House committee on Wednesday, Zuckerberg plans to accept responsibility for the platform’s failings and vow to improve user privacy protections. Read Zuckerberg’s full testimony.

On Monday, the FBI raided the Manhattan office of the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the Times reports. Federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant after Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office a referral. Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney, noted that the FBI “seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients.” The Times adds that the raid does not appear to have any direct relation to the special counsel investigation, but likely occurred because of information uncovered by the Mueller probe and given to prosecutors in New York.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray asked the U.S. attorney in Chicago to manage the Justice Department’s response to a congressional subpoena related to several sensitive matters, the Post reports. The House judiciary committee seeks documents connected to the surveillance of Carter Page, the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and the firing of Andrew McCabe last month. On Saturday President Trump suggested on Twitter that the department’s delay in producing the documents could be intentional. U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s appointment is meant to bring in an impartial individual to supervise the production of documents to the House judiciary committee. Lausch is a longtime federal prosecutor who Trump selected for his post.

Six former CIA directors and three former directors of national intelligence backed deputy CIA director Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA, Politico reports. These former intelligence officials joined a contingent of more than 50 individuals on Monday who signed a letter to the heads of the Senate intelligence committee supporting Haspel’s nomination to lead the spy agency. The letter underscored the broad support Haspel enjoys among the agency’s workforce. Haspel’s nomination faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, however. Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) says he will vote against Haspel’s ascension to the post of CIA director, and three other Republican senators, including Sen. John McCain remain undecided on her nomination. Civil-liberties advocates and human rights groups vehemently oppose Haspel’s nomination due to her connection to the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program under the Bush administration.

ICYMI: Last Weekend on Lawfare

Matthew Kahn posted the Lawfare Podcast, in which Alina Polyakova and Vladimir Kara-Murza discuss Russia’s presidential election last month.

Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen argued that the breakup between al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate is real and that al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria remains limited and locally concentrated.

John Bellinger and his colleagues at Arnold & Porter submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Evan McMullin, a former presidential candidate and CIA officer, and a number of scholars, historians, and commentators which contends that the president’s third travel ban violates the congressional intent of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s non-discrimination clause.

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