Today's Headlines and Commentary

Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, May 25, 2017, 2:14 PM

The New York Times reports that U.S. intelligence collected last summer exposed discussions between Russian intelligence and political officials about means of influencing President Trump’s positions on Russia through his advisors. The discussions concerned then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Lt. Gen.

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The New York Times reports that U.S. intelligence collected last summer exposed discussions between Russian intelligence and political officials about means of influencing President Trump’s positions on Russia through his advisors. The discussions concerned then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, both of whom had indirect connections to Russian officials. The discussions were among the pieces of intelligence prompting the F.B.I. to launch a counterintelligence investigation.

President Trump met with European leaders at the NATO summit in Brussels today, delivering an address that failed to mention NATO’s Article 5 commitment to self-defense but instead castigated other members of the alliance not adequately paying the United States. Reports had previously indicated that Trump would reaffirm Article 5. The omission, on the occasion of a ceremony to commemorate NATO collaboration in the wake of 9/11, was received coolly by European leaders, the Post writes.

In a doorstep statement delivered Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO leaders are expected to endorse a decision to bring NATO as an institution into the 68-country coalition fighting the Islamic State—a largely symbolic move that will not entail the coalition’s “engage[ment] in combat operations”—and to reissue national commitments first made in 2014 to invest 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. The Associated Press suggests the new commitments do not reflect a sincere escalation in NATO members’ defense commitments, but rather superficial measures taken to persuade the Trump administration that the body has responded to White House imperatives.

Trump has committed to opening an investigation into leaks by U.S. officials of information related to the Manchester investigation in recent days, following anger and frustration from the British government at the flow of information released to the press amidst a sensitive terrorism investigation. British Prime Minister Theresa May promised yesterday to mention the matter at today’s NATO summit, the Times reports. In the wake of the leaks, British authorities have halted passing information on the investigation to U.S. officials, the BBC reports.

The British police’s searches across Britain and Libya for suspected accomplices in the Manchester concert bombing indicate investigators’ belief that bomber Salman Abedi did not carry out the attack on his own, but likely through the aid of his “network.” British home secretary Amber Rudd suggested this line of investigation in an interview on BBC, stating “it seems likely—possible—that he wasn’t doing this on his own.” Nearly one-thousand British Army soldiers were dispatched to guard “key sites” throughout the U.K. following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on Tuesday of an elevation in the country’s threat level from “severe,” meaning an attack is likely, to “critical,” meaning an attack is expected to be imminent.

Reuters reports that the U.S. military’s use of air power in Afghanistan in April was the most intense of any single month since August 2012, when approximately 80,000 U.S. forces were engaged in active combat with the Taliban. This intensification follows a June 2016 Obama administration decision granting the military greater flexibility to support Afghan forces, and stems in part from U.S. commanders’ efforts to root out an incipient Islamic State presence before ISIS proves capable of gaining further ground in the country. Air Force data suggest that the military’s decision to drop the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb—the so-called “Mother of All Bombs”—on suspected Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan on April 14 was part of a broader air campaign. The campaign comes as President Trump considers the Pentagon’s request to deploy an additional 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops. The proposal has ignited debate within Trump’s cabinet as to its wisdom and financial implications.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin underscored the administration’s intent to intensify sanctions against Iran, Syria, and North Korea in testimony yesterday before the House Ways and Means committee. Mnuchin also announced that the Treasury has undertaken a review of licenses for Boeing and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran, which were first authorized in 2015 as part of sanctions relief measures provided for by the Iran nuclear accord. IranAir has arranged to purchase 200 U.S. and European passenger aircraft, a deal valued at $37 billion at list price, and that includes 80 jets from Boeing and 100 from Airbus.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suggested that he may the state of martial law he imposed on the island of Mindanao on Tuesday to include the entire country following confrontations between the Philippine military and Islamic insurgents that have resulted in at least 21 deaths. This expansion could lead Duterte to widen his domestic focus on combatting drugs and crime to terrorism as well. Analysts say this widened focus may heighten Duterte’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. and therefore help rehabilitate relations between the two parties. President Trump lauded Duterte’s “unbelievable job on the drug problem” during an April phone call with the president, in departure from the Obama administration’s line of criticism of Duterte’s extra-judicial killings connected to the Philippine government’s anti-drug campaign.

Brazilian President Michel Temer deployed military personnel to guard federal buildings in Brasília, after clashes between protesters and the police erupted in the capital on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of protesters marched in opposition to austerity measures called for by President Temer, who has inspired poor approval ratings since assuming office in August 2016 following the impeachment and removal from office of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff. Calls for Temer to step down have intensified over the last week, when the Supreme Court announced its approval of an investigation of Temer for corruption and obstruction of justice.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes considered what James Comey may really have said to President Trump on what Trump has said were “three separate occasions” on which Comey informed him that he was not under investigation.

Adham Sahloul questioned the Trump administration’s decision to rely on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight to retake Raqqa, and its failure to establish a strategy for Raqqa’s governance once it is recaptured.

Dustin A. Lewis and Jillian Ventura highlighted the launch of a new database on States’ Statements Concerning Syria, a project of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict.

Stewart Baker posted the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, entitled “A WannaCry Festivus Celebration.”

Scott Weiner assessed the implications of parliamentary gridlock in Kuwait that has been sustained by an unusually united and sizable opposition.

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Rachel Bercovitz holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She previously served as an editor for the quarterly Journal of Democracy. She holds a B.A. in History from Columbia College.

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