Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore
Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 1:23 PM

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be investigated for violating the Hatch Act, reports The New York Times. The Act forbids federal government employees from expressing political opinions in their official capacities as government officials. The Office of Special Counsel will determine whether DeVos acted lawfully when she criticized Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, for “turn[ing] his back on the kids” on Fox News. Her interview on the news station was publicized on her official Twitter account and distributed through government channels. 

The Manhattan district attorney’s office suggested yesterday that it has grounds to investigate  President Trump for tax fraud, the Times also reports. In a court filing, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. alleged that if the Trump Organization lied to business partners, insurers, or tax authorities about the value of its properties, then the company may have violated several state laws against fraud. Vance’s office is awaiting approval from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to subpoena the president’s accounting firm. 

The Chinese Communist Party sentenced a prominent critic to 18 years in prison today, writes The Washington Post. Ren Zhiqiang, the son of a high-ranking politician, is a longtime social media personality under the name “Big Cannon” who has harshly criticized President Xi Jinping’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To analysts, his lengthy sentence was intended to warn other party insiders who dare to speak out. ““Mister Xi is saying that, ‘Say what you will, I am the emperor,’” according to a director of the SOAS China Institute in London. 

At least five auditing groups will stop inspecting labor camps in Xinjiang, China, reports The Wall Street Journal. In a region where Uighur Muslims are systematically jailed, re-educated in internment camps and forced to work without pay at garment factories, analysts say that the police-state atmosphere makes fact-finding and safe travel impossible for auditors who work for private corporations. The consequences of the auditors’ decision is not yet clear: although their withdrawal may enable abuses to continue in Xinjiang, some activists feel that excluding Xinjiang from the global supply chain will pressure President Xi into changing his policies. 

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused five of his predecessors of corruption yesterday, according to the Post. The populist politician is seeking a national referendum to prosecute the prior presidents for alleged bribery and relations with cartels, even as some analysts feel that the charges are politically motivated rather than substantive. 2.8 million Mexicans have signed a petition calling for the referendum, which would occur next June in conjunction with nationwide elections. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions for England today relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, writes The Wall Street Journal. “We have reached a perilous turning point,” Johnson told Parliament. He mandated that pubs close earlier, citizens wear face-masks in public and rule-breaking businesses face heavy fines for the next six months. His speech comes as scientists warn that, without action, Britain’s positive tests may rise from a few thousand per day to 50,000 per day in October. 

U.S. prosecutors charged a New York policeman yesterday with informing on Tibetans for the Chinese government, reports Deutsche Welle. "This is the definition of an insider threat," said FBI official William F. Sweeney, adding that Officer Baimadajie A. is accused of looking for intelligence sources in Tibet while he worked for the Chinese Consulate General in New York. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis outlined a harsh new law yesterday that targets Black Lives Matter protesters, writes Politico. The bill would make it a third-degree felony to participate in a large violent gathering. DeSantis’s proposed legislation would also  block funding for cities that “defund the police,”  and it gives legal immunity to any driver who strikes a mob when “fleeing for safety.” 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jordan Schneider shared an episode of ChinaTalk featuring an interview with Adam Tooze, an economic historian, about the present-day economy in China. 

Steve Slick and Joshua Busby explained their takeaways from a report on Americans’ perceptions of the intelligence community. 

Matthew Waxman announced that he and Stephen Griffin have posted a free model casebook chapter on SSRN about constitutional war powers. 

Trey Herr, Garrett Hinck and Tim Maurer wrote up a post based on their writings on cloud security and computing. 

Jen Patja Howell released an episode of The Lawfare Podcast in which the University of Chicago’s Kathleen Belew and Elizabeth Neumann, a former official at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke with Benjamin Wittes about the growing threat of white supremacist violence. 

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