Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Victoria Clark
Wednesday, August 1, 2018, 2:52 PM

The trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort began Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia, reports Politico. Judge T.S. Ellis III ushered the attorneys through a brisk jury selection and began opening statements after lunch. Manafort faces bank and tax fraud charges related to a series of foreign bank accounts that he used for his political consulting work in Ukraine. Defense counsel outlined their case theory during opening statements: Manafort trusted his employee Rick Gates to handle his financial affairs and Manafort had no knowledge that Gates was misrepresenting his finances. Gates pled guilty in February to charges filed by the special counsel that he lied to FBI agents and he was expected to be the star witness at Manafort’s first trial. In a surprising turn, the Washington Post reported Wednesday morning that prosecutors hinted they may not call Gates to the stand after all.

Facebook confirmed on Tuesday that it discovered and removed 32 pages and accounts that engaged in misinformation efforts targeting the upcoming midterm elections, says the Wall Street Journal. The accounts had more than 290,000 followers and posted more than 9,500 times. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the social media company faces “sophisticated and well-funded adversaries… But we’re learning and improving quickly too.”

A federal judge blocked the release of blueprints that outline how to create guns with a 3D printer, according to the Associated Press. After a years-long court battle between the federal government and the company that created the blueprints, Defense Distributed, the two sides reached a settlement in June. The government agreed to allow the company to continue posting the plans online beginning Aug. 1. The settlement took many by surprise, and eight attorneys general filed a lawsuit and an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order in an attempt to block the settlement. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik granted the temporary restraining order on Wednesday. Democrats introduced two pieces of legislation in response to the case: the first bill would prohibit the publication of blueprints for 3D printed guns online, and the second would require all guns to have some metal component to be discernible in metal detectors.

President Trump urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the special counsel investigation on Wednesday morning, according to the Journal. Trump tweeted “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.” The timing of the President’s tweet is striking given the New York Times report last week that the special counsel is now looking at “tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey” as a part of his larger investigation into potential obstruction of justice. Attorneys for the president say that Trump was only expressing his opinion and in no way interfering in the probe.

A senior U.S. diplomat held talks in Qatar with a group of Taliban officials last week, according to the Taliban, reports the Washington Post. Although the State Department has not formally acknowledged the meeting, it did confirm that senior official Alice Wells travelled to Doha last week. The Afghan government reached an agreement with the Taliban for a temporary ceasefire in June of this year. Since then, pressure for further peace talks has mounted from all sides. One Taliban official said the group is ready to “meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue.”

Violence has erupted in Zimbabwe’s capital after the leader of the main opposition party, Nelson Chamisa, accused the ruling party, ZANU-PF, of attempting to rig the nation’s July 31 election, reports Reuters. The election commission announced on Thursday that ZANU-PF won 144 seats in parliament, a large enough percentage to change the constitution at will. The nation awaits the results of the presidential election, and it is unclear why it is taking so long for those results to be announced. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the leader of ZANU-PF, urged protestors to remain calm and wait for the final results. This is the first presidential election since former-president Robert Mugabe was ousted from office last November in a military coup led by Mnangagwa.

The U.S. Air Force directed an intercontinental ballistic missile to self destruct over the Pacific Ocean after an anomaly occurred during a test launch on Tuesday morning, according to the Associated Press. The missile was equipped with tiny explosives on its casing so that officials could terminate the flight if something went wrong. The Air Force said it will form a “launch analysis group” in order to determine the problem with Tuesday’s launch.

On Wednesday, 200 Islamic State militants surrendered to the Afghan government in order to avoid being taken into custody by the Taliban after a resounding Taliban victory following two days of fighting between the two groups, says the New York Times. A Taliban spokesperson confirmed that the group took more than 128 fighters prisoner before the remainder fled to government-controlled areas in order to avoid capture. The spokesperson for Afghanistan’s commando forces said on Facebook that the surrender meant the Islamic State had been eradicated from the north of Afghanistan.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Kemal Kirisci and Ilke Toygür questioned how NATO should address the decline of democracy in Turkey.

Victoria Clark traced the history of the term “meddling” in the L’Affaire Russe context back to Russian President Vladimir Putin and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Herb Lin explained the July report from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center on “Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace.”

Stewart Baker posted the Cyberlaw Podcast which featured an interview with recently appointed FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips, a deep dive on the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 and the circuit court split over insurance coverage of cyber-related cases.

Andrew Brewington offered a primer on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial in Eastern Virginia.

J. Dana Stuster provided an update on the United States’ decision to resume military aid to Egypt, President Trump’s offer to hold talks with Iran and Turkey’s trial of an American pastor.

Orin Kerr shared the 2018 case supplement to his book “Computer Crime Law, 4th Edition.”

Shannon Togawa Mercer and Robert Williams analyzed the potential threats of Trump’s trade war with China.

Benjamin Wittes shared a letter he received from the Department of Justice in response to his request for records backing up a statement that President Trump made during his first address to a Joint Session of Congress in February 2017s.

Jen Patja Howell posted the Lawfare Podcast in which Shane Harris moderated a conversation on an unusual national security question: Should humans communicate with aliens?

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