Today's Headlines and Commentary

Alex Potcovaru
Friday, July 21, 2017, 2:54 PM

Members of President Donald Trump’s legal team are exploring ways to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reports this morning.

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Members of President Donald Trump’s legal team are exploring ways to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reports this morning. The New York Times describes how Trump’s lawyers and aides have been combing through the backgrounds of Mueller’s team in the hopes of getting them—or even Mueller himself—recused from the investigation. Trump has reportedly asked his advisers about his ability to pardon members of his administration, his family, and even himself, though two sources said these discussions are purely theoretical. The president has expressed frustration over the fact that the Mueller probe may delve deeply into Trump and his associates’ financial dealings.

Additionally, Mueller has asked White House staff to preserve all documents related to the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and figures linked to the Kremlin, including the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Though Veselnitskaya has denied ever acting as an agent of the Russian government, Reuters reports that she represented the Russian FSB spy agency in a property dispute from 2005 through 2013.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has threatened to subpoena Donald Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort if they refuse to testify before the committee voluntarily at its upcoming Wednesday hearing on the Trump Tower meeting, CNN reports. Manafort also attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. during his time as manager of the Trump campaign, along with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Sean Spicer has resigned as White House press secretary, the Times reports. He allegedly cited his disagreement with Trump’s decision to appoint wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci as the new communications director. Trump decided to shake up his legal and communications team in response to the Mueller probe and a stalling domestic agenda, the Post reports. Longtime personal attorney Marc Kasowitz will step back from leading the legal team, with Washington white-collar crime attorney John M. Dowd taking control. Spokesman for the outside legal team Mark Corallo resigned Thursday after just two months in the position. Trump brought attorney Ty Cobb onto the White House team last week to coordinate internal responses to the Russia probe.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice and Europol announced the largest-ever sting against dark web black markets in history, Wired reports. Dutch authorities had quietly taken over a dark web market called Hansa, but continued to allow it to operate. Once the FBI took down another popular market, AlphaBay, users flocked to Hansa. Authorities were then able to gather information on thousands of users, including postal addresses and messages.

In a highly unusual move, Trump met with his nominee for the U.S. Attorney for D.C. prior to her selection, CNN reports. Jessie K. Liu said in her disclosure to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she had met with the president during her interview process, but noted that no one had asked for a loyalty pledge such as Trump requested of former FBI Director James Comey, nor had she given one. Several former U.S. attorneys and law enforcement officials said such a meeting would have been unheard of in past administrations because it could undermine the insulation of U.S. attorneys from political influence. Others said the meeting was not a cause for concern given the importance of the position.

The Treasury Department has fined ExxonMobil $2 million for sanctions violations committed during now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tenure as CEO, Foreign Policy reports. The Department claims that Exxon showed “reckless disregard” for sanctions against Russia and also damaged Ukraine-related sanctions. The company is fighting the fine in federal court.

China dispatched a warship to the Baltic Sea to conduct the first-ever China-Russia joint naval exercises in European waters, CNN reports. Both the advanced technology of the warship and the decision to conduct the exercises so close to Europe has captured the attention of NATO. China experts say the move is an effort to demonstrate the country’s military strength and an increasingly global reach.

The Department of Defense blocked the disbursement to Pakistan of $300 million initially designated to reimburse the country for its fight against terrorist groups, Foreign Policy reports. The Pentagon said that Defense Secretary James Mattis could not adequately certify that Pakistan had taken “sufficient action” against the Haqqani Network terrorist organization. A report released by the Pentagon last week came to a similar conclusion, criticizing Pakistan’s failure to take substantial action against the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban and for failing to limit the threat that the groups pose to U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

The Navy has its first female candidates for two elite special operations positions previously closed to women, NPR reports. One candidate is in the pipeline to become a SEAL officer, while the other will attempt to become a special warfare combatant crewman. The two will need to complete extremely rigorous training programs with high attrition rates before landing the positions.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Lawfare published a chapter from Charles Black Jr.’s 1974 Impeachment: A Handbook exploring the parameters of what constitutes an impeachable offense.

Jane Chong applied Black’s guide to the issues surrounding the Trump administration.

Benjamin Wittes discussed Trump’s attack on federal law enforcement in his Times interview.

Jack Goldsmith examined the interview’s implications for the independence of the Justice Department.

Bob Bauer considered what the interview revealed about Trump’s legal position and potential difficulties.

Murray Scot Tanner analyzed the offensive shift in China’s new National Intelligence Law.

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.

Alexander J. Potcovaru is a former National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. A senior in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, he studies International Politics with an International Security concentration. He is particularly interested in the interaction of law, security, and religion.

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