Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Katherine Pompilio
Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 4:01 PM

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A Russian-American woman was charged with acting as an illegal Russian agent in the United States, reports CNN. Elena Branson is suspected to have worked for the Russian government to advance Russian interests and propaganda in the U.S. for over 10 years. Prosecutors allege that Branson coordinated meetings for Russian officials to lobby U.S. politicians and businessmen and also operated pro-Russia organizations within the U.S. According to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Branson was also charged with willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI. 

A Russian airstrike hit and severely damaged a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, writes the Wall Street Journal. Multiple people—including children—were reportedly buried under rubble from the strike. The blast also reportedly set nearby cars ablaze and knocked down trees in the area. Images released by the office of the Mariupol mayor showed wounded individuals being evacuated from the hospital and a large bomb crater caused by the strike. On Twitter, Russian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a video of the hospital’s remnants shortly after the blast. To accompany the video Zelenskyy pleaded for other nations to help enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He wrote, “People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenksa spoke out publicly to condemn Russia for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, according to the New York Times. In an open letter she referred to as her “testimony” from Ukraine, Zelenska called on the rest of the world to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and raised awareness about crimes against children and the elderly amidst the fighting. She wrote, “What happened just over a week ago was impossible to believe. Our country was peaceful; our cities, towns and villages were full of life,” she wrote. But now, Russian military forces were engaged in the “mass murder of civilians.” Zelenska also echoed her husband’s calls for an international military force to establish and enforce a no-fly zone of Ukraine. She said, “Close the sky, and we will manage the war on the ground ourselves.”

Democrats and Republicans in Congress finalized a $1.5 trillion spending package that includes emergency aid to Ukraine, reports the Washington Post. The spending package will provide “massive funding increases” for several critical health, science, education and defense programs in the U.S. The bipartisan package also provisions an additional $14 billion in humanitarian, military and economic assistance for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. 

Gas prices are rising to record levels across the United States, writes the Wall Street Journal. According to AAA, the average price of regular gasoline reached $4.065 a gallon on Monday, which is the highest price of gasoline since July 2008. The price is reportedly quickly approaching the all-time record of $4.114 per gallon. In addition to an already tight energy market due to the coronavirus pandemic and inflation, the recent soaring increases in gas prices are due to the refusal of traders, shippers and financiers to cooperate with Russian energy companies in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The boycott of Russian oil led to the removal of millions of barrels of oil from global supplies. The prices of gasoline in the U.S. are expected to rise even more, following an executive order from President Biden banning the import of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal to the United States. 

After talks with U.S. officials, Venezuela released at least two imprisoned Americans, according to the New York Times. Though U.S. government officials claim that the prisoner release is not related to any deal for Venezuela to restart oil sales to the U.S, the release of the two U.S. citizens from Venezeulan prisons potentially signals the mending of U.S.-Venezuela relations after the two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2019. Venezuela—the Kremlin's strongest ally in South America—could potentially provide oil and gas to help replace Russian gas in the U.S. following President Biden’s executive order banning the import of Russian energy resources. 

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol argued before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that former President Trump and lawyer John Eastman were directly involved in a plan to create and execute a fraud on the American public as part of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, reports the New York Times. A ruling on the select committee's allegations could potentially determine the extent to which the investigative panel can access emails, correspondence and other documents of Trump lawyers. The Trump lawyers have previously argued that these materials are protected by attorney-client privilege. 

President Biden signed an executive order on federal oversight of cryptocurrency, writes the Associated Press. In the order, Biden asks the Federal Reserve to determine whether the central bank should create its own cryptocurrency and also directs other federal agencies such as the Treasury Department to study how cryptocurrency affects financial stability and national security. Biden’s top economic and national security advisor reported that the new executive order “establishes the first comprehensive federal digital assets strategy for the United States.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast in which Benjamin Wittess talks with Kateryna—a Ukrainian law student—about life as a Russian-speaking Ukrainian in Kharkiv before and after the Russian invasion, about getting out of Ukraine, and about being a refugee law student in an adjacent country.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast in which Gus Horwitz and Mark MacCarthy review the tech boycott that has seen companies like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Adobe pull their service from Russia.

Alan Z. Rozenshtein hypothesized about how the Ukraine-Russia conflict would play out if Donald Trump were still president of the United States. 

MacCarthy analyzed the Open App Markets Bill that was just approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Michael C. Petra discussed whether neutral states can seize belligerent merchant vessels on the high seas and retain their neutral status during armed conflict. 

Bobby Chesney posted a registration link to the U.S. Cyber Command’s Annual Legal Conference. 

Katherine Pompilio posted the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for 2022. 

Chesney and Steve Vladeck shared an episode of the National Security Law Podcast in which they discuss and debate topics ranging from the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over war crimes on Ukraine’s territory to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

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