Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Senators Split Over DOJ's FBI Report

Democrats and Republicans jostled for political points on Monday as they pressed the Justice Department’s inspector general for the first time over his exhaustive examination of the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But over two hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it became evident that there was little that the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, could say to sway either side in their long political fight over what occurred at the F.B.I. in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Republicans raised doubts about key conclusions of Horowitz’s report, saying that they believed political bias among bureau officials may have improperly shaped its decision not to recommend charges against Clinton. Democrats insisted that whatever FBI officials had intended, their actions only served to harm Clinton’s candidacy and potentially cost her the election.

Notably, FBI Director Christopher Wray stood by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as Republicans asserted that the investigation he’s leading into Russian election meddling was tainted by anti-Trump bias from the start.

“I do not believe Special Counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, repeating his formulation before the same panel almost a year ago, as the politically riven committee reviewed the 500-page report issued last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Horowitz said that his office is still probing possible misconduct in the FBI’s safeguarding of its own secrets — from how former director James B. Comey handled his private memos to whether others under him gave sensitive details to reporters. He also rebutted President Trump’s claim that the report exonerated him with respect to possible coordination with Russia, saying flatly, “We did not look into collusion questions.” New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg


I fought against Muqtada al-Sadr. Now he’s Iraq’s best hope: “I’ve fought against Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militias in Iraq. I’ve ducked from rockets from his Mahdi Army and lost friends to improvised explosive devices from his Promised Day Brigade,” said Michael Sullivan in Foreign Policy. “But the Muqtada al-Sadr of 2018, whose Sairun coalition won the most seats in this recent Iraq parliamentary election, is not the Muqtada al-Sadr of 2004. The man who once directed his Mahdi militias to fight U.S. forces in Najaf and Baghdad has changed for the better.”

Indicting a president is not foreclosed: “Can a sitting president be indicted?” asked Walter Dellinger in Lawfare. “Often, in answering this question, commentators point to Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions answering in the contrary. To whatever extent the writer agrees or disagrees with the opinions’ conclusion, the government’s position on the matter is usually presented as a long-standing and clear ‘no.’ The reality is more complicated.”

How Trump corrupts the rule of law: “We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming,” said Leah Litman in the New York Times. “But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing. What if Mr. Trump, and increasingly his Department of Justice, made it routine to take the same black-is-white, up-is-down approach toward the law as they take with the facts?”

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President Donald Trump on Monday directed Pentagon officials to move toward creating a “space force” that would become a sixth branch of the military, with congressional blessing, and portends the most sweeping revamp of the U.S. armed forces in more than 70 years.

The move, which Trump tentatively endorsed three months ago despite strong objections from senior civilian and uniformed military leaders, is the culmination of extensive criticism on Capitol Hill of longstanding procurement and strategic lapses affecting the U.S.’s space programs.

The House previously approved creation of a separate “space corps” inside the Air Force—much like the Marine Corps, which has its own commandant but still answers to the Navy Secretary—but it was blocked by Senate opposition. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump favors a similar approach for a dedicated space force.

Trump’s wholehearted embrace of the concept, at the very least, is bound to rev up support for the new military branch and push the debate to the top of the legislative agenda. Trump revealed his decision as he was hosting a meeting of the National Space Council, a cabinet-level policy group charged with coordinating military, civilian and commercial endeavors in space.

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” Trump said. He described the proposed new entity as a matter of national security that is intended to be “separate but equal” to the Air Force, which currently has supremacy over the space domain. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN

A federal judge on Monday overturned the contempt conviction of the Marine general in charge of Guantanamo's war court defense teams, ruling that the military judge overstepped his role. U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued the decision Monday, clearing the chief defense counsel for military commissions, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, of his Nov. 1 conviction.

Air Force Col. Vance Spath, serving as judge in the USS Cole case, summarily convicted Baker and sentenced the Marine to 21 nights' confinement in his trailer-park quarters for disobeying Spath’s order. Baker had released three civilian defense attorneys from serving on the terror case after they discovered a microphone hidden in their attorney-client meeting room last summer. Spath ordered Baker to reinstate the attorneys, and the general refused. Miami Herald

President Trump and two members of his cabinet stood defiant Monday against a growing backlash over his administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy that since April has separated at least 2,000 children from their parents crossing the southern border.

In remarks at the White House for the National Space Council, the president continued to falsely blame Democrats for the hard-line actions. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," an indignant Trump said at the White House, adding, “Not on my watch.”

“They could be murderers and thieves and so much else,” Trump said of the people crossing the border. “We want a safe country, and it starts with the borders, and that’s the way it is.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also defended the practice, while insisting that “we do not want to separate parents from their children,” and later, at a tumultuous White House news briefing, Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, gave a forceful explanation of the administration’s actions, arguing that it had no choice, and insisting that the only way the practice could end would be through congressional action. Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

Federal prosecutors have charged a former software engineer at the center of a huge CIA breach with stealing classified information, theft of government property, and lying to the FBI. The engineer, Joshua Schulte, 29, of New York, had been the main suspect in one of the worst losses of classified documents in the spy agency’s history. Government investigators suspect that he provided WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, with a stolen archive of documents detailing the C.I.A.’s hacking operations, but they had not initially charged him in that crime.

The breach, known as the Vault 7 leak, was a major embarrassment to the CIA and set off a furious hunt to identify who was behind the 2017 disclosure. Schulte had been charged last year in New York with possession of child pornography. But in the new indictment, prosecutors accused him of repeatedly violating the Espionage Act.

According to federal court documents, prosecutors said Schulte illegally obtained classified information in 2016 and then provided it to an organization, WikiLeaks, that posted it online. New York Times

Senate rebukes Trump with vote to reinstate ZTE penalties: The Senate voted to reinstate a ban on selling U.S. parts to Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, rejecting a deal President Donald Trump made with Beijing to save the firm. The measure was wrapped in a larger, must-pass defense bill that cleared the Senate on an 85-10 vote Monday. Mr. Trump is expected to turn his attention to persuading congressional negotiators to strip out the ZTE sales ban as they reconcile competing House and Senate versions of the bill. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

Police and facial recognition: Police in the small Maryland city of Hagerstown used a cutting edge, facial recognition program last week to track down a robbery suspect, marking one of the first such instances of the tactic to be made public. In the process of identifying a possible suspect, investigators said they fed an Instagram photo into the state’s vast facial recognition system, which quickly spit out the driver’s license photo of an individual who was then arrested. Wall Street Journal

Giuliani: Call to suspend Mueller probe was just posturing: President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said on Monday that he was actually just bluffing last week when he called for Justice Department leaders to suspend special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation within 24 hours. “That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Giuliani explained on Monday. “What am I supposed to say? That they should investigate him forever? Sorry, I’m not a sucker.” Politico


Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition stormed the airport compound in Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah on Tuesday after fierce battles with Iran-aligned Houthis. The capture of the airport from the Houthis would be an important gain for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have promised a quick assault on the city to avoid disrupting aid deliveries through the port.

The U.N. spokesman said Monday that tens of thousands of residents have fled the fighting along Yemen’s western coastline where Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition are engaged in fierce battles with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told reporters that about 5,200 families, or around 26,000 people, have fled the fighting and sought safety within their own districts or in other areas in Hodeidah governorate. Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg

The Pentagon announced Monday that it will suspend all planning of a forthcoming military exercise with South Korea, following a pledge from President Trump last week after his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana White, said the decision is “consistent with President Trump’s commitment” to the North Koreans and made “in concert” with the South Korean government. It applies solely to the August exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, in which about 17,500 U.S. troops gathered with South Korean counterparts last year in an exercise that focused heavily on computer-simulations to defend against a North Korean attack. Washington Post

North Korea’s Kim visits China: North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, arrived in China on Tuesday to begin a two-day visit, at which he was expected to brief Chinese leaders about his historic meeting with President Trump and use his enhanced position on the world stage to seek relief from international sanctions. New York Times

ISIS drug cache seized: U.S. allies in the war against ISIS have found and destroyed a massive cache of narcotics previously held by the jihadist group in Syria, the Pentagon said early Monday morning. The haul of “Captagon,” an amphetamine-type narcotic often used by militants to stay awake and alert during prolonged battles, was worth an estimated $1.4 million, according to the U.S. military’s statement. CBS News


Gonen Segev, Israel’s minister of energy and infrastructure in the mid-1990s, was arrested in May and has been charged with spying for Iran and had been operating as an agent for Iranian intelligence. Segev, 62, who has been living in Nigeria in recent years, was arrested in May “on suspicion of having aided the enemy in wartime and spied against the state of Israel,” the Israeli police and the Shin Bet internal security agency said in a joint statement. New York Times


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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