Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, January 4, 2018, 2:16 PM

The United States and South Korea have agreed not to hold joint military exercises during the Olympics, the Wall Street Journal . President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in came to the agreement during a phone call. Moon requested the delay, which would have coincided with the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Moon administration has taken the opportunity to capitalize on a diplomatic opening that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un voiced during his New Year’s address to propose a face-to-face meeting next week, which would include a discussion of atomic weapons programs. North Korea and South Korea tested the special hotline that was reopened on Wednesday after almost two years, signaling a tentative rapprochement between the two countries even as it highlights potential differences between South Korea and the United States over North Korean relations, the Wall Street Journal

Two democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to launch a nuclear strike, the Military Times . Democratic Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu are backing a bill that would require congressional approval before Trump could launch a first-use nuclear strike. The move comes as numerous current and former congressional and government officials have decried the president’s escalating rhetoric, which included a claim that his nuclear button was “much bigger & more powerful” than the one Kim Jong Un claims to have, “as “juvenile” and “reckless.” Former Vice President Joe Biden also condemned Trump for his tweets, saying “this is not a game,” and that Trump’s conduct is “not presidential,” Politico.

On Wednesday, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, requesting that the federal district court in D.C. limit Mueller’s authority, the New York Times . The special counsel indicted Manafort on charges of money laundering related to his years as a lobbyist. The suit comes amid increased attacks on the integrity of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by Republican members of Congress and conservative media. In an interview with the Times last week, Trump said he hoped that Mueller would treat him “fairly.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan held an unannounced meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday, Politico . A spokesman for Ryan confirmed that Rosenstein and Wray had requested the meeting, which likely had to do with document requests made by House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes. Nunes has recently begun to push aggressively for documents surrounding the FBI’s handling of Christopher Steele’s dossier containing salacious allegations about Trump and the Kremlin.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a statement that he is appointing 17 interim U.S. attorneys to run offices across the country, including for the Southern District of New York, the Washington Post. Sessions said his actions stemmed from the need to replace the currently acting U.S. attorneys, who have reached the maximum tenure for acting officials allowed by law. The appointments include Geoffrey Berman, a partner at Greenberg Traurig along with Rudy Giuliani, as the interim attorney for the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan

Security researchers have discovered two major flaws in microprocessors, nicknamed “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” which could provide hackers with access to all memory stored on most computers, Buzzfeed . The cybersecurity experts named one vulnerability Meltdown because it “basically melts security boundaries which are normally enforced by the hardware,” and named the other Spectre after the villainous organization from James Bond films because it will likely “haunt us for quite some time.” The researchers do not yet know whether hackers have exploited the vulnerabilities. Nick Weaver on Lawfare today an analysis and security recommendation related to the vulnerabilities.

Russia and Venezuela are hoping to skirt U.S. sanctions by making use of digital currencies, the New York Times . The two countries hope to create a state-sponsored cryptocurrencies similar to Bitcoin, which is outside centralized control and has caused governments and corporations worldwide to rethink how they approach their financial infrastructure. Others considering the idea of using the the technology include the Bank of England and the People’s Bank of China. However, experts have little confidence that the plan would work, given that currencies like Bitcoin are decentralized, which would differ from a state-sponsored cryptocurrency.

Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted by a New York jury of helping Iran to evade U.S. sanctions on Wednesday, the Washington Post. The conviction comes after the federal judge overseeing the case refused twice to grant a mistrial over disputed questioning of the defendant. The trial of Atilla, who is to be sentenced in April, was a source of embarrassment for the senior leadership of Turkey, which was allegedly involved in Atilla’s corruption. The testimony of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who traded in gold and plead guilty to bribery with hopes of a reduced sentence, featured largely in the case.

The European Union has been reluctant to issue a tougher response to Iran’s crackdown on recent protests, fearing the United States might use the crackdown to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran, which would destroy the deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, the New York Times. The caution exhibited by the EU is the latest in a series of differences in approach between the United States and Europe over foreign policy, including the need for a robust response to climate change and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes the CIA’s response to his FOIA request for director’s holiday message.

Michael Sulmeyer the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill to secure elections infrastructure.

Harleen Gambhir the District Court for the Western District of Washington’s certification of the class in Wagafe v. Trump, which presents a potential preview of issues arising from “extreme vetting.”

Daniel Byman Iran’s foreign policy weaknesses and opportunities to exploit them.

Stewart Baker about how he would respond to the Iran’s crackdown on recent protests.

Wittes an editor’s note related to Baker’s post.

Wittes also a tribute to Doug Letter, who is stepping down as head of the civil appellate staff at the Justice Department after nearly 40 years of government service.

Matthew Kahn Paul Manafort’s complaint against the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller claiming that Mueller’s jurisdiction is too broad under Justice Department regulations.

Josh Blackman why the Manafort complaint is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Bobby Chesney & Steve Vladeck the National Security Law Podcast, looking back at the year 2017. 

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