Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Monday, April 16, 2018, 2:50 PM

In a filing submitted Sunday evening, President Trump’s lawyers requested that a federal judge allow the president to review the files seized during the FBI’s raids on the office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, before investigators review them, the Washington Post reports. Cohen is similarly advocating for the chance to review the seized material before prosecutors do. His hearing is set for Monday afternoon, at which point Cohen’s lawyers are expected to disclose how many clients Cohen has and the number of seized documents that Cohen believes are privileged. The Post notes that the president’s personal request to review the seized material prior to its review by federal prosecutors underscores the high stakes of the case.

President Trump reversed a plan announced by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to impose further sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s continued support for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the Post reports. In an interview on Face the Nation on Monday, Haley said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would announce the sanctions on Monday. When Trump conferred with national security officials on Sunday evening, however, he expressed his anger that the sanctions rollout had begun without his explicit approval and his discomfort with the sanctions, which Moscow characterized as overly -punitive. The administration informed the Russian embassy in Washington later that evening that it would not, in fact, impose the proposed sanctions.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will brief Congress on Tuesday on the administration’s airstrikes on Syria, Politico reports. The pair will brief the House at 2:30 p.m. and the Senate at 4:30 p.m. Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky joined Democratic lawmakers over the weekend in saying that the airstrikes required congressional authorization. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) stated the airstrikes did not sufficiently degrade the Syrian government’s ability to wage war, Politico adds. Graham also stressed that the administration missed the opportunity to articulate a broader U.S. strategy in Syria, noting that the airstrikes marked a quick retaliation to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons but did not fall within a coherent framework for engaging with the country. In the president’s address to the country on Friday evening, he emphasized that the U.S. “does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria.”

Western diplomats said Monday that Russia and Syria have prevented international chemical weapons inspectors form the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from accessing the site of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, the New York Times reports. OPCW inspectors arrived in Syria two days ago and still have not entered the city. At first, Russian and Syrian officials informed the chemical weapons watchdog that there remained “pending security issues” in Douma for the two countries to address. Russian diplomats then claimed that the problem was not Russian or Syrian authorization for investigators to enter Douma but rather the lack of approval from the U.N. Secretariat’s security department for investigators to enter the city. The U.N. responded to the Russian claim quickly, clarifying that OPCW investigators had “all the necessary clearances” to perform their tests. The U.S. ambassador to the OPCW suggested that Russia’s attempts to delay the watchdog’s investigation into the attack on Douma could constitute an effort to to conceal evidence of the use of chemical weapons.

The U.S. and the U.K. alleged on Monday that hackers backed by the Russian government infiltrated networks throughout the world in a cyber-espionage campaign that targeted critical infrastructure, businesses and government agencies, Reuters reports. American and British officials plan to issue a joint alert on the espionage, which targets routers that form a crucial part of the internet's infrastructure. The officials worry that, if left unaddressed, Russia could use the infected routers as a springboard for offensive cyberattacks.

An attorney representing victims of terrorist attacks in Israel submitted a filing Monday urging a federal appeals court to reopen its lawsuit against Facebook, Reuters reports. The attorney claims that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress undercut the company’s previous argument that it bore no responsibility for the content posted on the platform. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis dismissed the initial case in affirmation of the argument that Facebook bore no responsibility, stating that federal law concerning internet content protects companies such as Facebook from liability for failing to delete potentially harmful content. In light of Zuckerberg’s admission during congressional testimony that the company has a responsibility to use its tools for good, and his acknowledgement that “terrorist propaganda” constitutes “clearly bad activity,” the attorney seeks an order voiding Garaufis’s prior decision and reviving the case—Force et al. v. Facebook.

For the first time since his firing, former FBI director James Comey sat down for a televised interview on his time as director, handling of various cases, and interactions with the president, ABC reports. Read the transcript of the interview, or the Times’ annotated transcript.

ICYMI: Last Weekend on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic shared the transcript of the president’s remarks Friday evening on U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Evelyn Douek suggested that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s faith in the ability of artificial intelligence to regulate online hate speech is unwarranted.

Jack Goldsmith and Oona Hathaway argued that there is no domestic or international legal authority for the U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Sabrina McCubbin summarized the report issued by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General on the allegations against former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and the response by McCabe’s attorney.

John Bellinger supplemented the points made by Goldsmith and Hathaway with several of his own thoughts on the lack of legal basis, particularly the lack of basis in international law, for the Trump administration’s strikes on Syria.

Stewart Baker argued that the inspector general disgraced Andrew McCabe not primarily because of the mistakes he made but rather because the FBI and the Justice Department became the subjects of intense partisan scrutiny and ire.

Ariane Tabatabai explained the reasons for Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and the strategic and economic gains Tehran has reaped.

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