Today's Headlines and Commentary

Garrett Hinck
Friday, September 1, 2017, 12:15 PM

President Donald Trump’s lawyers sent two memos to Special Counsel Robert Mueller related to Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday afternoon.

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President Donald Trump’s lawyers sent two memos to Special Counsel Robert Mueller related to Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday afternoon. The memos attempt to preempt an indictment for obstruction of justice in connection with the firing of former FBI Director James Comey by arguing that the President enjoys inherent authority to fire executive officers and by questioning Comey’s reliability as a potential witness. Obstruction of justice is only one of the major focuses of Mueller’s team, along with possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives and possible financial crimes by Trump and his associates. A representative for Mueller’s team declined to comment.

Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the results of this month’s election and ordered a new vote, the New York Times reported on Friday. The court ruled that irregularities with electronic balloting systems compromised the integrity of the election results, which awarded a win to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta. According to the Washington Post, the specter of ethnic violence hung over this month’s contest, reminiscent of the 2007 election that devolved into tribal conflict. This time, international observers praised Kenya’s democracy. Both Kenyatta and his opponent, Raila Odinga, pledged on Friday to respect the rulings of the court.

The State Department ordered Russia to close its San Francisco consulate in response to Russia’s ejection of U.S. diplomats in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Foreign Policy reported. The State Department did not expel any diplomats. Following Russia’s order for the United States to remove 755 of its diplomats in July, the State Department ordered Russia to close the office in San Francisco along with two other diplomatic annexes. The closures are the latest round of fraying relations between the two countries. Russia’s expulsion was reportedly a response to the Obama administration's closure of two Russian compounds in January in response to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The Times noted that shutting down the San Francisco consulate may affect Russian intelligence operations in Silicon Valley.

A Pakistani court acquitted five suspected Taliban militants in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Times reported on Thursday. The special terrorism court also declared former President Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in the case. Musharraf was a political opponent of Bhutto’s and is now in self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi. Observers criticized the decision, which comes amid a series of threats from militants against the judiciary. Bhutto’s assassination in 2007 caused upheaval in Pakistan and remains a touchstone for political tensions in the country.

Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over Islamic State militants in Tal Afar, according to Reuters. Remnants of the Islamic State fighters had fled to the town of al-‘Ayadiya, and on Thursday, Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite militias retook the town after fierce fighting. Isolated fighting continues as Iraqi forces progress to their next target: Hawija, a city between Mosul and Baghdad. In Syria, U.S.-led airstrikes stopped a convoy of Islamic State fighters heading to militant-controlled areas in eastern Syria, Reuters also reported. The fighters, along with their family members, evacuated from the border region of Lebanon as part of a ceasefire with the Lebanese government. They were traveling to Deir al-Zour, an Islamic State controlled region in the east. U.S. airstrikes aimed to block the convoy from a rendez-vous with other fighters but did not strike it directly in order to not hit the non-combatants present.

DHS and the FBI have been warning local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as ‘antifa’ had become confrontational and violent, Politico reported. Law enforcement documents revealed that the DHS classified the groups’ activities as “domestic terrorist violence” in April 2016. Intelligence analysis from DHS and the FBI concluded that the political events during the 2016 election prompted an escalation in violence from both right-wing and left-wing extremists. In the aftermath of the attacks in Charlottesville by white supremacists, extremists have been the subject of scrutiny as instigators of violence at public rallies.

U.S. jets conducted joint-training exercises in South Korea as a show of force against North Korea on Wednesday, the Post reported. F-35s and B1 bombers joined South Korean and Japanese warplanes in detonating bombs at a training range in South Korea. The drill follows North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japanese territory on Tuesday. It is the first time that F-35s have been used in such an exercise and appears to be an effort to show Pyongyang that the U.S.’s most advanced aircraft are at its disposal in the Korean peninsula.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Byman outlined the reasons for continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan’s war against the Taliban.

Ryan Scoville analyzed the constitutionality of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s attempt to require Senate confirmation all State Department special envoys.

Benjamin Wittes posted this week’s Rational Security, featuring discussion of President Trump’s business in Russia, Cabinet rumblings, and the possibility of impeachment proceedings in the House.

Wittes also posted a special edition of the Lawfare Podcast on the latest developments in the investigation of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign.

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.

Garrett Hinck is a PhD student in political science at Columbia University, studying international relations and the political economy of security. He was previously a research assistant with the Technology and International Affairs and Nuclear Policy programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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