Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, April 13, 2018, 2:30 PM

CIA Director Mike Pompeo promised lawmakers that he would not be a “yes man” as Trump’s new Secretary of State if confirmed, the Wall Street Journal writes. During hours of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Pompeo, who has been touted by Trump as being on the “same wavelength” as him, attempted to distance himself from some more aggressive comments he’s made as a lawmaker, and the suggestion that he is a “hawk” on foreign policy issues. Pompeo has also vowed to improve morale at the State Department, where career diplomats have been departing in droves. Pompeo also acknowledged a strike by U.S. warplanes in Syria that killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries, saying the Russians had “met their match.”

The Trump administration indicated Thursday that it would take a more deliberate approach to the Syrian chemical weapons attack against the town of Douma, according to the Washington Post. After specifying that a decision on retaliation for the strike would come by Wednesday of this week, Trump walked back his statement, saying the attack could occur “very soon or not so soon” via Twitter. The rash deadline, along with taunting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad alarmed some military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who advocated for a more deliberate approach to the escalating conflict.

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that there was no need for Trump to seek congressional authorization for a missile strike against Syria, the Hill reports. Ryan indicated that he believed the 2001 authorization for the use of military approved in the attacks on the United States on 9/11 were sufficient legal authority to launch attacks against Syria. The comments provoked a sharp response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who argued that Trump would need a new AUMF before launching any strikes. Ryan, speaking for many Republican leaders, considers a new AUMF as potentially being too constraining on presidential action.

On Thursday, Trump instructed his advisers to look into re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with eleven Asia-Pacific countries that Trump abruptly pulled out of upon entering office, the New York Times informs us. The decision to revisit the deal was a bit sudden according to Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser. The trade deal, which was initiated by President Obama as part of his “pivot to Asia” strategy in an effort to counterbalance the influence of China in the region, was entered into by the remaining countries without the United States, who have expressed skepticism about the United States rejoining the pact.

On Friday, President Donald Trump claimed that former FBI Director James Comey is an “untruthful slime ball” in advance of the release of Comey’s new book, the Post reports. In a pair of tweets, Trump said it was his “great honor” to fire Comey and accused him of lying under oath to Congress. Trump’s remarks come as advance copies of Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” have surfaced. Reports say that in the book, Comey portrays the president as a egocentric pathological liar and compares him to a mob boss. Republican supporters of Trump have also attacked Comey, including creating a website that dubs him “Lyin’ Comey.”

A meeting between Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday at the White House has fueled speculation that Trump may soon fire him, Politico informs us. The embattled Rosenstein was ostensibly at the White House to discuss outstanding document requests from Republican congressional leaders; but such a topic would normally be below the level of presidential discussion. The meeting has raised concerns that Trump may be attempting to undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation by removing Rosenstein.

Both Mueller and Trump’s teams are both proceeding with their legal strategies under the assumption that there will be no presidential interview with the special counsel, NBC tells us. The move is in stark contrast to the beginning of this week, when Trump’s lawyers were beginning to outline the timing, scope, and length of the interview, and is reportedly due to the FBI’s raid on the home of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen due to a referral from Mueller to the U.S. attorney’s office in southern New York. Before the raid, the special counsel’s office was purportedly preparing a report on the issue of obstruction of justice whose conclusion hinged on the presidential interview. Now, the raid has “significantly complicated” any negotiations over an interview.

Burgess Everett examines for Politico how political infighting between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein may derail the bills seeking to protect the Mueller investigation.

The UK government claimed on Friday that Russia has been training special units on how to carry out chemical attacks like the one which targeted former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, the New York Times tells us. In a letter to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Britain's national security adviser Mark Sedwill explained in great detail how the program worked, including Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s close involvement with it beginning in the mid-2000s. The Russian ambassador to the UK, Aleksandr Yakovenko, dismissed the letter as having “nothing to do with reality” in a press conference following its release.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Elizabeth McElvein explained that recent polling suggests that the majority of Americans are concerned about election interference, with more Republicans now believing there was election interference in 2016.

Ed Stein supplied a rundown of the most recent Russia sanctions designations.

William Ford posted a livestream of CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearings for the post of Secretary of State.

Ford also posted a livestream of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s executive business meeting about legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

David Priess shared what he learned from serving as Robert Mueller’s daily intelligence briefer while Mueller headed the FBI.

Robert Chesney examined Title 10 and Title 50 issues as they relate to the impact of computer network operations on third countries.

Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the National Security Law Podcast.

Matthew Kahn posted this week’s episode of Rational Security: the “On The Edge of Our Seats” edition.

Susan Hennessey, Kahn, and Benjamin Wittes provided seven takeaways from President Trump’s threats against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

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