Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Tuesday, April 10, 2018, 2:16 PM

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally approved Monday’s FBI raid on the office of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, the New York Times reports. The agents who raided Cohen’s office searched for records related to payments made to two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claim they engaged in affairs with the president. The agents also searched for information regarding the publisher of the National Enquirer’s efforts to prevent Daniels from speaking about her interactions with Trump. The Times notes that all of the top law enforcement officials involved in the raid are Republicans: Mueller, Rosenstein, FBI director Christopher Wray, and acting U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. In a meeting with top law enforcement officials Monday evening, President Trump characterized the FBI’s raid on the office of his personal lawyer as an “attack on our country,” the Times reports. The president described the raids as part of the larger “witch hunt” by the special counsel investigation and raised the possibility that he might dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump berated his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, noting that he would not have chosen Jeff Sessions for the job had he known that Sessions would recuse himself. He also lashed out at Rosenstein, who has overseen the Mueller investigation since Sessions’ recusal. Trump continued to bemoan the FBI raid in his tweets Tuesday morning, the Wall Street Journal adds.

Mueller is investigating a $150,000 payment that Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian steel tycoon, made to the Trump Organization during the 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for a video appearance by then-candidate Donald Trump, the Times reports. Trump spoke briefly by Skype at a conference in Kyiv in September 2015. Michael Cohen, personal lawyer to the president, solicited the payment, which was the largest donation the Trump foundation received from an individual other than the president himself. In light of Pinchuk’s efforts in recent years to foster closer ties between Ukraine and the West, the large donation appeared to a former director of the Internal Revenue Service like an attempt to buy influence with the Trump campaign. Mueller’s probe into Pinchuk’s payment is part of the special counsel’s broader examination of foreign money received by President Trump and his associates in the lead-up to the 2016 election. It remains unclear what, if any, other payments the special counsel is looking at.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un formally acknowledged the possibility of a “dialogue” with the U.S. during a Monday meeting of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the Journal reports. The acknowledgment marks the first time that the reclusive North Korean leader has publicly and through state media indicated his interest in engaging in talks with the Trump administration. Kim’s decision to end his silence on the prospect of talks came just hours after President Trump announced on Monday that he would meet with Kim “in May, or early June.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Moscow’s support for U.S.-North Korean talks on Tuesday, Reuters adds. The announcement followed Lavrov’s meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, in which the pair discussed Kim’s nuclear and missile programs and tensions with Washington. Lavrov accepted Ri’s invitation to visit Pyongyang. 

The president cancelled his trip to the Summit of the Americas on Tuesday, citing the need to remain in Washington as the administration crafts its response to the Assad regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, the Washington Post reports. The White House stated that Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the summit in Trump’s stead. Over the weekend, Syrian government forces reportedly dropped chemical weapons on the rebel-held town of Douma, claiming the lives of at least 49 individuals. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced Tuesday that weapons inspectors will travel to Douma shortly to investigate the alleged assault, Reuters adds. Doctors and eyewitnesses to the attack reported the smell of chlorine gas, and victims have shown signs of poisoning, potentially by a nerve agent. The alleged use of chemical weapons has injured more than 1,000 of the city’s residents.

Verizon’s annual data-breach investigations report finds that ransomware is now the most popular type of malware used in cyberattacks, the BBC reports. Close to 40 percent of all malware attacks involve some form of ransomware, and the aggregate number of ransomware breaches doubled over the past year. The report also notes that cyberattacks have begun to target databases in addition to personal computers. Not all the news was bad, though:  Verizon said that firms have gotten better at exposing phishing emails for the security threats they pose and foiling efforts to disable web servers.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith argued that it is not clear whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller has the authority to prepare an interim report or if such a report would make it to Congress or the public. 

Alan Rozenshtein suggested that the government needs access to encrypted data not primarily to fight terrorism but rather to solve crime.

Hayley Evans examined the current status of lethal autonomous-weapons-systems (LAWS), summarizing the legal and technical developments related to the groundbreaking technology.

Quinta Jurecic argued that President Trump’s failure to understand why the CIA held off on a drone strike to avoid civilian casualties points to the “nature of the person” in the Oval Office and exposes the moral void at the heart of his presidency.

Matthew Kahn posted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony for the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Charles Duan offered a new framework for thinking about encryption policy.

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