Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 1:58 PM

In a tweet on Wednesday, President Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for relying on the inspector general to investigate alleged government surveillance abuses, the Washington Post . Sessions acknowledged on Tuesday that Inspector General Michael Horowitz would review the alleged abuses that the House intelligence committee has debated over the last several weeks. Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee have released memos on the subject. Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the intelligence panel, voiced his doubt that the inspector general would actually launch a probe off of the findings of his memo; Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that such an investigation would represent “another weakening of the independence of the Justice Department” as it would seemingly legitimize the claims made in the controversial Nunes memo that the government abused its surveillance powers. 

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled on Wednesday that Paul Manafort will sit for trial on Sept. 17 for charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, Politico . Manafort entered an official plea of “not guilty” in response to the special counsel’s superseding indictment against him. The former Trump campaign manager faces the possibility of an additional trial in Alexandria, Va., on separate charges filed earlier this month by the special counsel—18 counts of bank and tax fraud. Manafort will be arraigned in this second case on Friday. On Tuesday, the special counsel dropped charges of bank and tax fraud against former Manafort colleague and Trump aide Rick Gates in exchange for Gates’s guilty plea and testimony in the broader investigation into the 2016 presidential election, Politico .

Intelligence reports indicate that officials in at least four countries have discussed methods to manipulate Jared Kushner by exploiting his business entanglements, financial troubles, and inexperience in the field of foreign policy, the Post . The four countries implicated in the classified reports are the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, though whether the countries have used the methods discussed to influence Kushner remains unclear. White House concerns about Kushner’s foreign contacts have contributed to Kushner’s inability to obtain a permanent security clearance and played a role in the downgrading of his clearance . Current and former officials, according to the Post, noted that national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s daily intelligence briefings scrutinized Kushner’s meetings with foreign officials, some of which Kushner had not coordinated through the National Security Council, and those officials’ perceptions of Kushner’s vulnerabilities. Kushner’s total absence of experience in government and substantial business debt have been particular points of concern. Administration officials are all too aware that foreign officials might exploit these weaknesses to gain leverage over Kushner.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Microsoft on Tuesday, the Post . Several of the court’s justices seemed to indicate their support for the government’s position that it should be allowed to compel an American company to turn over extraterritorial data. Other justices on the bench seemed to believe that the court should wait for Congress to act. The CLOUD Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, would resolve a dispute over cross-border data that lies at the heart of the case. The bill’s fate in Congress, however, remains unclear.

Turkey’s ongoing offensive in northern Syria continues to drag significant numbers of Syrian Kurds away from the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State, the New York Times . Since the beginning of Turkey’s offensive, thousands of Syrian Kurds, members of the potent Syrian Democratic Forces, have left the fight against the Islamic State to reinforce their brethren in the north. While Syrian Arabs, not Syrian Kurds, comprise the majority of the SDF, the Times notes that the absence of Syrian Kurds’ “military organization and logistical prowess” greatly diminishes the militia. While testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, characterized the SDF as “the most effective force on the ground in Syria against ISIS.” Losing more and more Syrian Kurds to Turkey’s offensive in the north jeopardizes the ability of the SDF, and thereby the American-led coalition, to destroy what remains of ISIS strongholds in Syria.

Fighting in eastern Ghouta continued for the second day since Russia’s proposed ‘humanitarian pause’ between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. local time, Reuters . Syrian regime troops undertook a ground assault on the outskirts of Ghotua during the hours of the pause on Wednesday in an effort to gain territory and advance their stalled siege. While no airstrikes took place during the pause, bombardment resumed immediately after it ended. No aid has yet been delivered to the area’s embattled and suffering population.

A German Foreign Ministry source revealed Wednesday that U.S. and EU officials will gather in Berlin in March to discuss the future of the Iran nuclear deal, Reuters . President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the deal unless his European counterparts agree to improve it with a follow-up agreement. Iran warns that it will “shred” the deal if the U.S. withdraws from the current agreement in the process of pursuing what the president perceives as a better one.

The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote in March on whether to remove certain environmental and historical preservation requirements on building the wireless infrastructure necessary to develop a 5G network, Axios . The requirements impede the speed of 5G network infrastructure development, and major companies such as AT&T and Verizon have pressured the commission to increase the speed of approval processes for their infrastructure and equipment. In January, Axios that the Trump administration was considering nationalizing the development of 5G network infrastructure in the interest of U.S. financial and national security.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Andrew Keane Woods and oral arguments in United States v. Microsoft.

Herb Lin a potential technological solution to the problem of “deep fakes” that Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron .

Daniel Byman six lessons in counterterrorism from the Syrian civil war.

Matthew Kahn the Lawfare Podcast, a conversation between Benjamin Wittes and Dan Radosh about Radosh’s new show “Liberty Crossing.”

Gabriel Schoenfeld that Andrew McCarthy misread, misunderstands, or is misrepresenting the obstruction statute at the heart of the special counsel investigation.

William Ford the live streams of and prepared testimonies from congressional hearings on foreign policy and national security, including NSA director Adm. Mike Rogers’ appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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