Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Victoria Clark
Thursday, June 7, 2018, 4:13 PM

Chinese telecommunications company ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine in exchange for U.S. sanctions relief, according to the New York Times. ZTE has faced extreme financial difficulties as a result of sanctions the U.S. imposed after the company transacted with both North Korea and Iran. The company remains a key sticking point in U.S.-China trade negotiations. On May 13, President Trump first tweeted that he and President Xi were working to get ZTE “back into business.” The sanctions relief is likely to anger many lawmakers, including some Republicans, who are opposed to the U.S. helping a Chinese company that the intelligence community accused of posing a national-security threat. The Commerce Department announced that the U.S. will handpick a team to inspect ZTE and ensure compliance with TKTK.

The U.S. government told a federal judge it will release an American suspected of fighting for the Islamic State, reports the Wall Street Journal. The man, known as John Doe, is a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen. Court documents reveal John Doe could choose to be released within a Syrian town or near a camp for internally displaced people. The ACLU, who has represented Doe in ongoing litigation over the lawfulness of his detention, called this decision “a death warrant.” Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck wrote up their initial thoughts on the decision for Lawfare.

The U.S. State Department evacuated several American diplomats from Guangzhou, China after they heard unusual noises and exhibited a number of health concerns, according to the Washington Post. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said they are looking into the case, but “haven’t found the cause.” This event followed a similar incident in 2017 when the U.S. removed a large number of embassy staff from Cuba after they complained of symptoms later confirmed as “mild traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss.”

National security adviser John Bolton has not called a single Cabinet-level meeting to discuss the upcoming North Korea summit, reports Politico. The so-called “Principals Committee” of Cabinet-level officials on the National Security Council includes the heads of the major intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the Energy Department, as well as the attorney general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the president’s top counselors on national security. More than half a dozen administration officials say that planning remains largely unstructured less than five days before the summit is to take place.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20, according to Reuters. The ceasefire, which coincides with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is supposed to encourage peace talks with the armed group. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the announcement.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to curb President Trump’s power to impose tariffs, reports the Hill. If passed, the bill would require the president to seek congressional approval if he believes tariffs are justified in the name of national security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday morning “We’re not going to be passing that in the Senate.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan followed Senate Chairman Richard Burr in rejecting claims that the FBI planted a spy within the Trump campaign, reports CNN. Ryan and Burr are both members of the “Gang of Eight,” which consists of the majority and minority leadership of the House and Senate as well as of the House and Senate intelligence committees and, by law, can be briefed on highly classified information that the executive branch deems too sensitive for the full intelligence committees. After being briefed on the matter, both Burr and Ryan said on Wednesday that the FBI acted “exactly” as it should have. When asked in the same interview if he believes the president has the power to pardon himself, Ryan said “I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t … No one is above the law.” 

Britain, France, and Germany asked the Trump administration to not enforce sanctions against their companies who continue doing business with Iran, according to the Post. In a letter released Wednesday, the three nations expressed regret over the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, but they asked for the U.S. to “respect our political decision” to remain part of the agreement and maintain business ties with Iran.

Privacy and data-security are as a civil-rights issue, Alvaro Bedoya argues in a Times op-ed. Privacy scandals, like the one Facebook currently faces, go farther than providing companies with access to user’s vacation photos, Bedoya argues. They deny people their civil rights. Bedoya lays out the various ways that data-brokers can use information about race, socioeconomic status, health problems, and other factors to target people when they are vulnerable, or exclude them from information they decide certain demographics should not have.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Evelyn Douek discussed a recent U.N. report on online-content regulation.

Matthew Weybrecht debated how much influence public opinion should have on federal law enforcement agencies.

Josh Blackman analyzed President Trump’s letter to Robert Mueller and its revelations about how the obstruction-of-justice statutes apply to the president..

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck reviewed war powers, Doe v. Mattis, CIA black sites, and more on the latest National Security Law Podcast.

Jack Goldsmith and Stuart Russell considered the implications of a digital world on U.S. international relations.

Paul Rosenzweig examined the Manafort witness-tampering allegations.

Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Orin Kerr, explained witness tampering, Article II powers, and the Carpenter case on the “500 days” edition of Rational Security.

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck scrutinized the latest twist in Doe v. Mattis: The government wants to release Doe in Syria..

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