Today's Headlines and Commentary

Jordan Brunner
Friday, February 9, 2018, 2:59 PM

The White House indicated it is inclined to approve the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the memo released by Rep. Devin Nunes alleging abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in their efforts to apply for a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump’s decision about whether to declassify the document is expected today.

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The White House indicated it is inclined to approve the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the memo released by Rep. Devin Nunes alleging abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in their efforts to apply for a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump’s decision about whether to declassify the document is expected today. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the Democratic memo was “not as clean” as the Republican version, and may require redactions of information that reveal sources and methods. Republicans lawmakers are broadening their examination of Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier upon which the FISA application for Carter Page relied, including whether information from a freelance researcher, Cody Shearer, was passed to Steele through officials at the State Department. The fallout from the Nunes memo continues, as former CIA Director John Brennan decried Nunes’s actions as “partisan” and saying he has “abused” the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, the Washington Post tells us.

As part of the kick-off of the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, greeted each other with a handshake, the Post informs us. The symbolic gesture came as the two Koreas marched into the opening ceremony together, and plan to enter a joint team for women’s hockey. The South Korean government took the interaction between Moon and Kim as a sign of North Korea’s “willingness to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.” The presence of the North Korean leader’s sister flaunts the Trump administration’s inclusion of Kim on a list of officials who are subject to diplomatic sanctions, though the U.N. committee responsible for international sanctions against the regime granted exemptions for those traveling in the North Korea delegation. CNN tells us there is a “good chance,” that Kim may invite Moon to visit Pyongyang “sometime this year” most likely at a welcome luncheon on Saturday.

Dozens of White House staffers are still awaiting permanent security clearances even as they continue to handle sensitive information, the Post reports. The employees have been working on interim security clearances for over a year. The issue of White House security clearances has become a flashpoint since Rob Porter, former staff secretary to President Trump, abruptly resigned after his two ex-wives alleged they had been victims of domestic abuse by Porter. Porter was not able to obtain a security clearance. Among those remaining White House employees without a permanent security clearance is Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. The White House has not responded to requests by House Democrats for information regarding several employees and their status within the process.

Carter Page was under surveillance by the FBI when he spoke to former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon about Russia in January 2017, raising the possibility that those conversations were intercepted, according to Politico. Page informed the House Intelligence Committee of the conversation during a closed session in November, but the recent release of the Nunes memo provides new context concerning the communication between Page and Bannon. Bannon is expected to meet soon with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and has refused to answer any more questions from the House Intelligence Committee.

Last December, the Trump administration secretly proposed creating a channel for the negotiation of prisoner exchanges with Iran, in its first diplomatic overtures to Iran on the subject, the Journal writes. Despite at least three attempts on the part of the administration, Iran has rebuffed the offer, refusing to engage with U.S. officials. The outreach is a departure from other elements of the Trump administration’s interaction with Iran, which has been defined by tougher rhetoric and a harder line towards repeated missile tests by the regime in Tehran. The stall has created uncertainty for four Americans detained in the country.

Two suspected Islamic militants from Britain are being detained in Syria after their capture by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated U.S. partner force in its fight against the Islamic State, the Post reports. The two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, are believed to be the last members of a group of British Islamic State militants known as “the Beatles” that held and possibly even executed Western hostages. The two men are also believed to have connections to Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton known as “Jihadi John” who beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, pulling the United States into the conflict against the Islamic State. Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in 2015.

New photos obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer detail a massive military buildup by China on disputed islands like the Spratlys in the South China Sea, the New York Times tells us. The photos provide a detailed outline of the Chinese military infrastructure that has caused an international uproar, given the various claims to the islands and their proximity to the sea lanes that facilitate international commerce. Observation and control towers, as well as runways, are clearly visible in the photos.

The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary investigation into accusations that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has committed crimes against humanity, the Times informs us. In a nearly 80 page complaint, a lawyer who represents two purported assassins on the payroll of Duterte, accused the Philippine president and 11 others of mass murders and crimes against humanity, and claimed that Duterte was the “mastermind” of a campaign of extrajudicial killings that dated to the late 1980s. According to Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, the inquiry would look at events since July 1, 2016 related to the country’s “war on drugs.” A spokesman for Duterte decried the investigation, calling the government effort against drugs a “legitimate police operation,” and explaining that Duterte was “sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against humanity.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Tim Maurer and Agustin Rossi examined why Latin America needs to start preparing now for election interference.

Nicholas Weaver explained why U.S. regulators should investigate the new cryptocurrency Tether.

Kristen Eichensehr reviewed Lucas Kello’s The Virtual Weapon and International Order.

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Jordan A. Brunner is a graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and was a national security intern at the Brookings Institution. Prior to law school, he was a Research Fellow with the New America Foundation/ASU Center for the Future of War, where he researched cybersecurity, cyber war, and cyber conflict alongside Shane Harris, author of @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex. He graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Political Science.

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