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Lawfare - Hard National Security Choices: Today's Headlines and Commentary

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The New York Times tells us that President Donald Trump signed a much-anticipated executive order rolling back most of former President Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change, celebrating the move as a way to promote energy independence. Flanked by coal miners at a signing ceremony at the EPA, Trump directed the agency to start the legal process of withdrawing from the Clean Power Plan, along with a suite of Obama-era climate and environmental policies, including lifting a short-term ban on new coal mining on public lands. Even so, Politico reports that the actions don’t appear to go far enough for conservatives in dismantling the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and will not separate the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement climate accord, two areas that have caused intense disagreement within the administration.

The Washington Post writes that the Trump administration appears to have attempted to prevent former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.  The Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be covered by the presidential communications privilege. After Yates’s lawyer informed both the Justice Department and the White House that Yates disagreed with the invocation of executive privilege, HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes abruptly canceled the public hearing set for today in which Yates was to testify.

Reuters informs us that executives from a Russian bank under Western economic sanctions said yesterday that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner met with them during the transition period before Trump’s inauguration. Kushner, who has agreed to testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as part of its investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, acknowledged meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, during that time, but only yesterday did new revelations about his meetings with representatives from Vnesheconombank (VEB) surface.

HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes has canceled all remaining meetings for this week amid uproar Nunes’s behavior last week, when he decided to brief Trump on intelligence information he received on the White House grounds without informing the Democratic members of the HPSCI, according to CNN. The behavior has met with calls from top Democrats for Nunes’s removal from investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between Trump associates and Russian operatives. The Times tells us that those calling for Nunes’s recusal including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and HPSCI Ranking Member Adam Schiff. The back and forth threatens to place the entire investigation in jeopardy. Nevertheless, Nunes said this morning that he is “moving forward,” with the investigation. Politico adds that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says that Nunes should “absolutely” reveal the sources of the intelligence information he received, and said that it was necessary for the HPSCI to be bipartisan or it would lose its credibility. Politico also notes that former Vice President Dick Cheney made a public statement that the interference by Russia “could be considered an act of war.”

The Wall Street Journal writes that after finally beginning press briefings on March 7—around six weeks into the administration—the State Department has abruptly ended them again. The briefings, which were a near daily occurrence under the Obama administration and were watched closely by foreign leaders and U.S. diplomats for public guidance on U.S. policy, won’t resume for at least two weeks until Tillerson can find a replacement for Mark Toner, a career foreign service officer who has been the acting State Department spokesman but has been assigned elsewhere. Heather Nauert, a Fox News anchor, is expected to take Toner’s place. Until then, the State Department will hold background briefings, in which unnamed officials will brief intermittently on specific topics.

The BBC notes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s use of the words “interim zones of stability” to describe what the Trump administration hopes to create in Syria has generated concern and confusion. A senior State Department official clarified that the term refers to pockets of stability in Syria’s two conflicts: areas where coalition forces have defeated ISIS militants, and areas where ceasefires, ostensibly negotiated by Turkey, Russia, and Iran in Astana, could “de-escalate” the civil war. The official said the administration is looking for ways to reinforce any areas of stability that can be safe for civilians, including along the borders of key allies such as Jordan and Turkey.

Iran is allowing Russia to use its military bases on a “case-by-case” basis to launch airstrikes against militants in Syria, according to Reuters. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the announcement yesterday, reversing Iran’s policy of prohibiting Russian use of Iranian airbases because under an Iranian constitutional provision forbidding the locating of foreign military bases on Iranian soil. Iran and Russia are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and have played a decisive role in turning the civil war there in his favor.

Foreign Policy tells us that a series of airstrikes that have allegedly killed hundreds of civilians tracks the Trump administration’s increasing delegation of authority to American commanders on the ground. The largest of the strikes occurred on March 17 in Mosul, with American officials confirming it struck near the vicinity of a building housing civilians. American investigators are currently examining documents and photographs of the March 17 strikes and others in an attempt to determine if any civilian casualties are the result of coalition airstrikes. But even with all of the reports of alleged casualties, the Pentagon is not planning on making any changes to the way it carries out attacks. The Times adds that Iraqi officers have said that American-led coalition has been quicker to strike urban targets from the air and has spent less time weighing the risks of civilian casualties, reflecting a renewed push by the Trump administration to speed up the battle for Mosul.

The United States, Britain, France, and other major powers are protesting as the United Nations begins work on what backers say would be a binding prohibition on nuclear weapons, according to the Post. Russia and China sat out on the opening General Assembly session, with Russia having voted against the effort last fall and China abstaining. The proposed ban, backed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis, and dozens of humanitarian and nonproliferation groups, sets most of the nuclear powers against more than 100 non-nuclear states.

The Post tells us that the Scottish Parliament has passed a motion in favor of a second referendum vote on independence from the United Kingdom. The vote, which was largely expected to come out in favor of a referendum, sets the stage for a conflict between UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who does not favor Scottish independence, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the party in favor of it.  

Reuters tells us that NATO plans to spend 3 billion euros to upgrade its satellite and computer technology over the next three years as the alliance adopts to new threats. The investments seeks to deter hackers and Iranian missiles, and demonstrates NATO’s recognition that conflicts are increasingly fought on computer networks as well as in the air, on land, and at sea. 1.7 billion euros will go to satellites and drone technology for surveillance to help support troops and ships deployed across the alliance, while the remainder would be spent on securing computer systems that help command air and missile defenses and on more secure mobile communications for soldiers in the field.

Reuters also notes that Montenegro is on the verge of becoming NATO’s newest member on Monday after U.S. senators overwhelmingly voted to clear the way for a long-delayed final vote on its accession to the alliance. Tillerson wrote the leaders of the Senate earlier this month to say that Montenegro’s membership in NATO was “strongly in the interests of the United States.”   

Reuters reports that China appears to have largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS cited satellite images taken this month, which seem to show new radar antennae on the Fiery Cross and Subi reefs of the Spratly Islands. China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang saying last week that defense equipment on the islands was there to protect “freedom of navigation.”   

Cyberscoop reports that U.N. officials are looking into a North Korean cybersecurity startup in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, which was run by North Korean operatives and until last year publicly sold a variety of products including iPhone apps, web development apps, and even cybersecurity tools. The now defunct company, Adnet International, was among a dynamic group of North Korean front companies in Malaysia, many designed to avoid international sanctions on the rogue state.   

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic flagged Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins’ statement for March 24.

Emma Kohse chronicled debates over black site closings, victim impact evidence, and international humanitarian law in the 3/22 session of the military commissions.  

Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith provided a reminder about tomorrow’s Hoover Book Soiree on Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.

Christopher Kojm and Adam Klein contrasted the 9/11 Commission investigation with the HPSCI investigation to demonstrate how bipartisanship should work on an intelligence committee.

Jack provided counter arguments to Susan Hennessey and Ben’s post on the need for a select committee on the Russia connection.

Susan and Chris Mirasola examined whether China just quietly authorized law enforcement to access data anywhere in the world.

Alexander Pirang asked what Germany’s Basic Law can tell us about protecting democracy in an age of rising authoritarianism.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.



Lawfare - Hard National Security Choices
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Opinions: Afternoon links: Federal prosecutors in Kansas may have illegally spied on 700 criminal defense attorneys

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News: Disgruntled passenger obstructs path of Putney bus for 20 minutes

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Trump tweets Russia probe 'hoax,'...

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Trump tweets Russia probe 'hoax,' rails against Clintons

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Amid ongoing questions about the involvement of his associates with Russian officials during the campaign and about the impartiality of the Republican congressman leading one of the probes into the matter, Donald Trump went on a twitter rant Monday ...

Donald Trump Asks For Investigation Of The Clintons' Russia Ties

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Donald Trump went on a Twitter rant, calling out the House Intelligence Committee for not looking into former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's ties to Russia. Related · Stephen Colbert: Donald Trump Puts Jared ...

Trump's day in tweets: Monday, March 27

Los Angeles Times - ‎7 hours ago‎
President Trump gives a pen to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) after signing four resolutions rolling back Obama-era regulations. (Jim Watson / AFP-Getty Images). President Trump tweeted about: His belief that the House Intelligence Committee should ...

The Russian Farce

National Review - ‎4 hours ago‎
President Putin and President Obama on press room monitors at the 2013 G20 summit. (Reuters photo: Grigory Dukor). Share article on Facebookshare; Tweet articletweet; Plus one article on Google Plus+1; Print Article. Adjust font size AA. AA; AA; AA; AA ...

Trump: House panel should investigate Clinton, not me

CNN International - ‎10 hours ago‎
Washington (CNN) Amid an expanding chorus of questions about interaction between Russian officials and his own advisers during the presidential campaign, President Donald Trump resurfaced attacks in a set of tweets Monday night alleging improper ...
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Absurd FBI investigations | Opinion

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The FBI investigation into the alleged Trump-Russia collusion began in July, 2016, the exact same month that Trump secured the Republican nomination to be president. The timing alone raises serious questions about this monitoring.

The findings from Monday’s Congressional hearing show that the intel gathered from this monitoring was improperly handled — classified documents were leaked to the press, a felony. The FBI director confirmed that the agency is investigating the ties between President Trump, who ran a largely self-funded presidential campaign, and the Russians. The FBI director would not affirm whether they are investigating ties between Hillary Clinton and the Russians.

The Clinton Foundation reportedly accepted large and numerous donations from foreigners. Ms. Clinton, in one instance, while Secretary of State, possibly facilitated a company sale that allows the Russians access to roughly 20 percent of the U.S. production of Uranium. Uranium is used in the production of nuclear weapons. Foreign beneficiaries of this sale possibly donated more than $30 million to the Clinton Foundation in return. This Foundation has reportedly amassed over $2 billion during its existence.

A basic precept of criminal investigations is “follow the money.” Which one of these candidates, Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton, was accepting massive foreign donations? If the FBI is not also investigating the intelligence leaks of classified documents, and activities surrounding the Clinton Foundation, this would defy logic. It could suggest that intel agencies are being improperly used to attack a favored party’s political opponents. This would be absurd on its face, indicating the possible acts of a police state. So logically, they must be investigating both Mr. Trump’s and Ms. Clinton’s associations, right?

Malcom Farrow,

Paxinos

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Burglars shot when homeowner's son opens fire with AR-15, Oklahoma deputies say - U.S.

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Gunfire rang out Monday afternoon in a home in Broken Arrow, an Oklahoma city 15 miles southeast of Tulsa. Three intruders were killed after the son of the homeowner fired a semiautomatic rifle in what local law enforcement officers later described as an act of self-defense, though their investigation remains open.

The intruders - a 16-year-old, a 17-year-old and a man thought to be 18 or 19 - had smashed open the back door of the house, the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office said in a statement posted to Facebook. Their plan was burglary, authorities said.

They wore gloves, masks and all-black clothes, Wagoner County Deputy Nick Mahoney told Tulsa World. Two of the teenagers were armed, one with a knife and the other with brass knuckles.

The trio reportedly exchanged words with the 23-year-old son of the homeowner, whose name has also not been released. He fired on them with an AR-15, a popular semiautomatic rifle, officials told Fox 23.

The shots seemed to shatter the day like a thunderstorm, one neighbor told CBS affiliate KOTV-TV.

"Upon making entry to the home one of the residents fired a rifle striking all three of the suspects," the sheriff's office statement said.

Two of the intruders died inside in the kitchen. The other "was able to run to the driveway before succumbing to his injuries," the statement said.

The homeowner and his son gave formal statements at the sheriff's office.

Authorities later said the suspected getaway driver, Elizabeth Rodriguez, turned herself in at the Broken Arrow Police Department, the Tulsa World reported. The 21-year-old was arrested on charges of first degree murder, three counts, as well as three counts of burglary. "A person who is committing a felony when a death occurs can be charged with felony murder," Tulsa World explained.

Several nearby homes had been burglarized in recent weeks, neighbor Leon Simmons told KOTV-TV. Authorities said they could not speculate as to whether this incident was related to the others.

The sheriff's deputy described the shooting as an abnormal occurrence in the typically quiet Wagoner County. "This is very, very unusual for us. It's not something we're used to," he told Tulsa World. "It's not something we normally have."

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