Today's Headlines and Commentary

Helen Klein Murillo
Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 3:45 PM

CNN first reported yesterday explosive allegations that Russian intelligence claims to have compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump, and that the President-elect’s team cooperated with Russian intelligence during the campaign.

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CNN first reported yesterday explosive allegations that Russian intelligence claims to have compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump, and that the President-elect’s team cooperated with Russian intelligence during the campaign. BuzzFeed then published the underlying memoranda in full. President Obama and the President-elect were reportedly both briefed on the allegations. The President-elect took to Twitter calling the unverified allegations “fake news,” while Russian officials have claimed the report is an “absolute fabrication.” Russia also denied that it collects such material at all, though the Washington Post reports that history says otherwise. Read Ben, Susan, and Quinta’s cautionary early assessment of the allegations here.

The FBI sought a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance court last July to monitor four members of the Trump campaign team suspected of improper contacts with Russia, the Guardian reports. The warrant was denied initially, though the Guardian offers unconfirmed reports that the warrant was later granted in October.

A bill was introduced Tuesday, the Hill reports, that would increase sanctions against Russia for its interference in the U.S. election. The bipartisan legislation is spearheaded by Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin, and supported by Senators Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, and Lindsey Graham, among others. The New York Times covers the appearance by top intelligence chiefs before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday to answer questions on Russian hacking.

Meanwhile, ex-European leaders have urged Donald Trump to oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine, in an open letter dated Monday, writes NBC.

A slew of confirmation hearings kicked off yesterday. In his hearings, Homeland Security nominee John Kelly seemed to break with the President-elect on several key issues, including indicating opposition to a Muslim ban, downplaying the promised border wall, and promising to “keep an open mind” on Obama’s deferred action immigration program. The Washington Post reports that in his confirmation hearings Wednesday morning, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson called the reports of Russian interference in the election “troubling,” seemingly accepting the IC assessment, but refused to endorse Senator Marco Rubio’s label of Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal.”

At his Wednesday press conference, President-Elect Donald Trump announced the nomination of David Shulkin, current Under Secretary of Health for Veterans Affairs, to head the department. On business conflicts, Trump said he was separating himself from his business and directing his two sons and a business advisor to run the Trump Organization and claimed he would donate all profit from foreign governments at Trump hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

In hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, defense experts Kathleen Hicks and Eliot Cohen endorsed General James Mattis’s nomination for Defense Secretary, but noted that the government should be careful not to set a precedent of recent military leaders heading the Department. Freshman Senator Tammy Duckworth, who had expressed concern over the waiver necessary for Mattis’s confirmation, said after a meeting with Mattis that she is “confident” she can work with nominee. Several key officials at the Pentagon have been asked to stay on temporarily until confirmations can be secured for their replacements, the Hill reports. Meanwhile, the hearing of CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo has been delayed until tomorrow.

In an address at the U.S. Institute for Peace yesterday, incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn indicated the new administration may “re-baseline” U.S. alliances, but added that the administration will “keep in mind” commitments to U.S. allies. As the Washington Post writes, Flynn, like Trump, has been accused of an inappropriately close relationship with Russia.

Bombs targeting an intelligence agency in Kabul and diplomatic talks in Kandahar killed at least 38 people in Afghanistan yesterday, marking one of the deadliest days in the country in months. The bombing of the diplomatic talks in Kandahar killed five United Arab Emirates diplomats, the Washington Post reports.

The U.S. military has increased support to the Turkish offensive against ISIL in northern Syria and led a ground mission there Monday to capture ISIL leaders. The Washington Post reports that a number of ISIL suspects were killed in the operation, but that no American troops were injured.

Tensions continued to rise in the South China Seas Tuesday, the New York Times writes, as Taiwan scrambled military jets in response to China sending its aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait.

Dylann Roof was sentenced to death yesterday for the massacre of nine African-American attendees of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last year. The New York Times has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes noted his forthcoming paper on the “privacy paradox” and Friday’s corresponding event at Brookings.

Nora Ellingsen reported on recent international and domestic terrorism prosecutions.

Quinta Jurecic posted video of the confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions, nominee to be U.S. Attorney General.

Susan Hennessey argued that federal ethics law and policy serve national security interests.

J. Dana Stuster reported on major developments in Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Jack Goldsmith argued that the U.S. should consider a broader range of tools to combat cyber-meddling, particularly cutting deals with adversaries.

Quinta posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings with top U.S. intelligence officers on Russian intelligence operations.

Thomas Reed Willemain offered his take on prepublication review.

Paul Rosenzweig blegged for expert input on the accuracy of a recent DARPA assertion that it has developed code that cannot be hacked.

Ben noted a new material support suit against Twitter filed in the Southern District of New York by a group of terrorism victims.

Ben, Susan, and Quinta assessed the explosive allegations on the ties between President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.

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Helen Klein Murillo is a student at Harvard Law School, where she is an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Helen holds a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from the University of California, Irvine.

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