Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Katherine Pompilio
Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 3:49 PM

The Justice Department is creating a new domestic terrorism unit to tackle what officials say is a growing threat, reports the Washington Post. Matthew Olsen, head of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, announced the unit in the opening remarks of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that the number of investigations by the FBI of suspected violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020. Olsen said that the new unit would “augment” the National Security Division’s existing approach.

In a five-hour court hearing on Monday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, lawyers, police officers, government watchdog groups and members of Congress argued that former President Donald Trump should be held liable for financial damages caused during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol last year, reports the New York Times. At the hearing, the prosecution accused Trump of “inflaming a violent mob” and subsequently failing to attempt to stop the destructive crowd he allegedly created. Trump’s lawyer argued that the civil suits are “void of any legal basis” and should be dismissed because Trump’s statements on Jan. 6, 2021, such as “fight like Hell” that allegedly inflamed the crowd were protected by presidential immunity and his First Amendment right to free speech.

The House Administration Committee plans to call for at least four changes to the 1887 Electoral Count Act in a forthcoming report, according to Axios. The law was notably cited by Trump in his effort to reverse his loss in the 2020 election. Potential key reforms include changes and clarifications to the objection process during the certification of electoral votes. Calls to update the Electoral Count Act have garnered bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. 

The first high-value detainee held at Guantánamo Bay was approved for transfer with security assurance on Monday, reports the New York Times. Guled Hassan Duran is the first detainee sent to Guantánamo from a CIA black site to be recommended for release. Duran has been held at Guantánamo Bay since December, 2006, and has not been charged for any crimes. Due to a congressional prohibition on the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to certain countries, Duran is unable to be returned to his home country of Somalia. He joins about 14 other detainees approved for transfer out of the 39 detainees that remain at Guantánamo.

On Monday, House Republicans introduced legislation to address Russian military aggression along the Ukrainian border, writes The Hill. The Guaranteeing Ukrainian Autonomy by Reinforcing its Defense Act would provide $200 million to strengthen Ukrainian military forces, and it would also impose sanctions on the Russian owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The introduction of this legislation into the House came shortly after U.S. and Russian delegations met for diplomatic talks, which Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said led to, “a better understanding of each other and each other’s priorities and concerns.” 

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced on Tuesday that all 2,500 Russian troops will begin withdrawing from Kazakhstan in the next two days, reports the New York Times. In a speech just days after violent protests and political unrest, Tokayev claimed that Russian-led troops had helped to stabilize the country. Russian defense leadership have not announced specific plans for the withdrawal. 

As Russian-led troops are anticipated to withdraw from Kazakhstan, the Kazakh parliament elected Alikhan Smailov as prime minister on Tuesday, writes Politico. Prior to his election, Smailov had served as Kazakhstan's finance minister and as deputy prime minister in President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s cabinet. 

An air strike in the Ethiopian region of Tigray killed 17 people and injured several others, according to Reuters. The victims of the strike were mostly women. The attack came shortly after another air strike in Tigray on a camp for displaced persons on Friday, which left 56 dead and 30 injured.

On Tuesday morning, North Korea test-fired a hypersonic ballistic missile, reports The Guardian. Hypersonic missiles are reported to fly at a minimum of five times the speed of sound and at low trajectories, which makes them difficult to detect and intercept.

The United States has surpassed its previous coronavirus hospitalization record as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads rapidly throughout the nation, according to Reuters. On Monday, there were 132,646 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, which exceeds the record set in January, 2021, of 132,051. Health officials are warning that even though the omicron variant is potentially less severe than past coronavirus variants, the increasingly high number of omicron infections could strain hospitals and healthcare systems.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast that featured a recording of the Brookings event titled  “The January 6 insurrection: One year later.” The event featured a panel moderated by Benjamin Wittes that included Quinta Jurecic, Roger Parloff, Seamus Hughes and Katie Benner. 

Lila Margali and Yuval Shany analyzed Israel's counterterrorism designation regime and suggested reforms to the process.

Darrell West and Nicole Turner Lee shared an episode of TechTank in which they discuss President Biden’s tech policy agenda in 2022. 

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