Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Vanessa Sauter
Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 1:06 PM

Unveiled financial records of Essential Consultants LLCthe company used by President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen to pay adult film actress Stormy Danielsreveal payments from a firm associated with a Russian oligarch, the New York Times reports. The records, which Daniel’s attorney publicized on Tuesday, show a number of unreported transactions—ranging from settling private club fees to nearly $500,000 in payments from Columbus Nova, the investment firm tied to oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Special Counsel Robert Mueller questioned Vekselberg earlier this year. Cohen launched Essential Consultants in October 2016, just a few weeks before paying Daniels $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement regarding an alleged affair with President Donald Trump.  

Following Trump’s decision with withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed his commitment to the nuclear deal and announced his intent to negotiate with European countries, China, and Russia, the Washington Post reports. Rouhani also warned that Tehran would consider resuming uranium enrichment if the accord no longer benefits Iran, which now faces re-imposed sanctions from the United States. One of Rouhani’s advisors rebuked the U.S. president’s decision, stating the “answer to Trump will not be rushed, but it will be painful.”

Syrian officials accused Israel of targeting missiles at an army base linked to Iran, located near Damascus, just hours after Trump announced his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, according to the Wall Street Journal. This marks the second time Syria has accused the Israeli military of targeting the base; Israel purportedly launched a similar strike last December after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Syrian president not to let Tehran build military bases in Syria.

The Department of Justice has filed charges against former CIA case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who is accused of sharing sensitive documents with Chinese intelligence officers, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday. The indictment, which accuses Lee of coordinating with foreign agents to procure documents starting in 2011, named one count of conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of illegally withholding national security-related documents. Lee faces a life sentence if convicted.

Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel faced her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Haspel, who has faced scrutiny over her prior history involved in the CIA’s interrogation program, promised to “not restart” the program. Skeptics have raised questions concerning her role supervising a detention facility in Thailand known to have waterboarded al-Qaeda suspects. Haspel, who has led a 33-year career in the CIA, would succeed now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if confirmed.

On Tuesday, South Korean officials stated that Pompeo will bring home three American detainees from North Korea, Reuters reports. Pompeo landed in Pyongyang last Wednesday and is expected to deliver further details on the upcoming summit between North Korea and the United States. The last released American detainee from the North under the Trump administration was Otto Warmbier, the former University of Virginia student who died shortly after his return home from an unknown neurological injury.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on Tuesday outlining Russia’s attempts to infiltrate state voting systems leading up to the 2016 election, according to the New York Times. The committee report states that Russian hackers targeted nearly 20 states, though there is no evidence of changed voter tallies or registration data. The committee criticized the Department of Homeland Security for its slow response to 2016 election meddling, while acknowledging increased cooperation with states since then. Roughly $380 million was appropriated in the March spending bill for safeguarding elections and improving state voting infrastructure.  

The White House will convene with major companies and government officials on Wednesday to address artificial intelligence research and development, Reuters reports. Executives from Apple, Facebook, and Alphabet and officials from the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Energy are among those attending. Britain and France have already expressed commitment to AI innovation, including $1.4 billion Britain intends to invest in the industry.

 

ICYMI, Yesterday on Lawfare

Elena Chacko previewed what comes next now that Trump is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Suzanne Maloney considered the intent behind Trump’s plan to withdraw from the and its diplomatic impact.

Robert Einhorn suggested Israeli intelligence might be the key to helping Trump fix the Iran deal.

Benjamin Wittes asserted his reserved support for Gina Haspel.

Scott Anderson and Susan Hennessey listed the 20 questions that senators should ask Haspel.

Jen Patja Howell published the latest Lawfare Podcast, featuring Washington Post reporter Shane Harris on Haspel.

Mieke Eoyang, Ben Freeman, Ryan Pougiales, and Benjamin Wittes shared the latest data from their confidence in government polling.

Jesse Sowell analyzed the role reputation plays in internet security.

Matthew Kahn posted a workshop report on military commissions by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security.