Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Elliot Setzer
Wednesday, March 4, 2020, 12:24 PM

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Tuesday that Iran has increased production of enriched uranium in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, according to the Washington Post. The IAEA reported that Tehran has tripled its stockpile of low enriched uranium since last November and now appears to have enough a single nuclear weapon, though this could take months or years, writes the New York Times. The U.N. watchdog’s report admonished Tehran for denying it access to two sites of interest, reports Reuters.

A child drowned on Monday when a boat carrying 48 migrants capsized trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos from the Turkish coast, writes the New York Times. It was the first confirmed death of a migrant making the crossing since Turkey last week ended its policy of blocking migrants trying to cross into Europe.

Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer and former counsel to the House Intelligence Committee under Devin Nunes, has been named senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council (NSC), reports Politico. Ellis had refused to comply with a congressional subpoena during the impeachment investigation. Observers fear Ellis’s assignment to the NSC represents another instance of President Trump elevating a loyalist to high-up roles in the intelligence community.

Russian authorities seized the bank accounts of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, and those of his family members, according to the Washington Post. Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation are under attack by Russian authorities, which last year designated the group as a foreign agent and accused it of money laundering.

The Republican and Democratic leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter Monday to Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, urging him to reconsider his agency’s decision not to declassify information related to the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reports the Washington Post. The Post noted that, in classified settings, members of the intelligence community have said that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the killing.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has warned American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or contradict President Trump’s messaging on the public health challenge, reports the New York Times. Mr. Esper said he wanted advance notice before commanders made decisions related to protecting their troops from the disease.

Iran has temporarily released more than 54,000 prisoners in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus in jails, writes the BBC. Inmates sentenced to less than five years are allowed out of prison after testing negative for Covid-19. An advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died after contracting coronavirus, reports CNN.

President Trump said Tuesday that he had spoken with the Taliban’s top political leader, the first direct verbal communication between a U.S. president and the Afghan insurgents since the start of the war in Afghanistan 18 years ago, writes the Washington Post. The U.S., however, also launched an airstrike against Taliban forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday, just days after the Trump administration signed an ambitious peace deal with the militant group, according to the Hill. For its part, the Taliban resumed attacks against Afghan forces this week, reports the New York Times.

President Trump told top House and Senate Republicans yesterday evening that he would not support a clean extension provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and called for them to work out a deal with Democrats, writes Politico. GOP leaders have discussed a potential 30-day extension of federal surveillance powers as they try to forge a deal with Democrats, though even a short-term extension of the current law may lack the votes to pass.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Masha Simonova summarized a DC Circuit ruling that held that the appointment of USCIS director Cuccinelli violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

Elliot Setzer shared an indictment charging two Chinese nationals with laundering over $100 million worth of cryptocurrency on behalf of North Korean hackers.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring a discussion of recent developments in African politics with Judd Devermont and Emilia Columbo.

Peter Margulies analyzed a Ninth Circuit decision which cast doubt on the legality both of the “Remain in Mexico” program and of a rule limiting access to asylum.

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