Today's Headlines and Commentary

William Ford
Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 3:50 PM

President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him, the Washington Post reports. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Trump said that his disagreements with Tillerson over the Iran deal, North Korea, and the general tone of U.S. foreign policy prompted his decision to dismiss the secretary.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him, the Washington Post reports. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Trump said that his disagreements with Tillerson over the Iran deal, North Korea, and the general tone of U.S. foreign policy prompted his decision to dismiss the secretary. Administration officials noted that Tillerson was “too establishment” for the president’s taste. In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Tillerson announced that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will act as secretary upon Tillerson’s departure, scheduled for March 31. While the White House said that it alerted Tillerson to his dismissal on Friday evening EST time, Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public affairs, contended that Tillerson learned of his dismissal from the president’s Twitter account. The White House fired Goldstein later that morning. In a statement first sent to the Post, President Trump thanked Tillerson for his service and announced his intention to nominate Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement. The president also identified deputy CIA director Gina Haspel as his nominee for the agency’s next director.

If confirmed, Haspel will become the CIA’s first female director, the Post adds. In 33 years at the agency, Haspel has earned the respect of many in the agency’s workforce, but she was also involved in some of the agency’s most controversial programs. During the Bush administration, Haspel oversaw a “black site” prison in Thailand where detainees were subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” As chief of staff to the director of the CIA’s clandestine service in 2006, Haspel was involved in a controversial decision to destroy videotapes of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri against the orders of White House counsel Harriet Miers. Gen. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence said, “I think Gina will be excellent as director, as long as she is ready to be fired at a moment’s notice.”

Republicans on the House intelligence committee declared Monday that their probe found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the New York Times reports. While most of the panel’s Republicans agreed with the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, they disagreed that this interference sought to bolster Trump’s candidacy. The conclusion drew immediate condemnation from Democrats on the committee, who warned their colleagues across the aisle not to close the investigation until the special counsel completes his own probe. Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reiterated that the agencies stood by their conclusions, including that Russian interference favored President Trump; he noted that the intelligence community would scrutinize the committee’s findings. Rep. Michael Conway (R-Texas), who led the intelligence committee’s Russia probe, stated that the panel would send Democrats’ its 150-page draft report for “review and comment” on Tuesday.

Roger Stone, a former adviser to candidate Donald Trump, learned from Julian Assange that WikiLeaks had emails that reflected poorly on senior Democratic Party officials such as John Podesta, then Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, before the release of these emails, the Post reports. Stone denies contact with Assange or advance knowledge of the release of the emails, which Russian hackers obtained from the Democratic National Committee. Two former associates of Stone pushed back against Stone’s denial of contact with Assange. The first spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity. The second, former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, said that Stone told him of Stone’s meeting with Assange. In an interview on Monday, Stone again denied advance knowledge of the emails or contact with WikiLeaks founder Assange, adding that his mention of WikiLeaks to Nunberg was a joke, not a declaration of intent to meet with the controversial figure during a trip to London. WikiLeaks denies any communication with Stone.

John McEntee, personal assistant to the president, was fired on Monday after his security clearance was revoked due to previous financial problems, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to comment on the abrupt removal of McEntee—who was escorted from the White House grounds before he could collect his belongings—individuals close to him cited online gambling problems and his mishandling of taxes as the reasons his clearance was denied. The Secret Service is currently investigating these issues. McEntee’s removal follows Chief of Staff John Kelly’s tightening of the administration’s security clearance process. During his review of the administration’s clearance process, Kelly found at least 35 individuals whom the administration inappropriately granted top secret clearance.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced Monday that the U.S. is considering the use of military force in Syria and is willing to “act if we must” to halt the slaughter of civilians committed by the Assad regime and its allies, the Post reports. Haley introduced a new resolution to the Security Council demanding an immediate cease-fire in Syria, though she qualified that the U.S. will act unilaterally if it must. Haley likened the situation in Syria today to the situation last year when the Trump administration decided to strike a Syrian regime military installation in the wake of a chemical weapons attack on civilians. French President Emmanuel Macron added that France would also launch airstrikes in Syria if the country found “irrefutable evidence” of a chemical weapons attack that targeted civilians.

In a surprise visit to Kabul, Defense Secretary James Mattis stated that he is just as focused on promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan as he is on winning the ground war against the Taliban, the Journal reports. The secretary’s trip follows Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent decision to invite the Taliban to discuss a political settlement to the country’s ongoing fighting. Elements of the Taliban have voiced interest in the discussion. Mattis has consistently argued that the U.S. and Afghanistan must force the Taliban to the negotiating table by exerting effective pressure through military action. On Monday, the secretary qualified that it is not too early to consider peace, adding that he does not “want to miss an opportunity” because he failed to remain “alert to an opportunity.”

James Schwab, former San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, resigned in response to “false” and “misleading” remarks made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Schwab identified claims from Homan and Sessions that approximately 800 “criminal aliens” eluded ICE during a February raid because of a warning from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf as the cause of his decision to resign. Schwab knew the number of immigrants who evaded ICE was far lower and wanted to correct the number touted by Sessions and Homan. Rather than deflect media questions about the number as instructed, Schwab decided to resign, stating that he “didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts.” Schwab also noted angrily that it was wrong to characterize the entire immigrant population as “dangerous criminals on the street” as Sessions and Homan sought to do, calling that description “just wrong.”

President Trump blocked Broadcom’s attempt to to seize control of American technology company Qualcomm in what would have been the biggest tech deal ever, the Times reports. In blocking the coup, the president cited the danger it poses to U.S. national security, thereby demonstrating the importance the administration places on wireless networks and 5G technology as it consider how best to maximize national security. The Trump administration worried that allowing Broadcom, a Singapore-based company with close ties to China, to acquire Qualcomm would cede America’s competitive edge in the semiconductor and wireless technology industry to Beijing. The decision to intervene in the private-sector struggle between Broadcom and Qualcomm reflects the administration’s broader support for protectionism, driven home by the president’s recent decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in the interest of national security.

The president added Edward Felten and Jane Nitze to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the White House announces.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Bob Bauer contended that President Trump’s treatment of his lawyers—in the Stormy Daniels case and in the special counsel investigation—points to his lack of respect for the legal process and his failure to understand the important role of legal advice.

Craig Forcese explored proposed changes to Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, the country’s best financed signals intelligence and cybersecurity agency.

Paul Rosenzweig shared the findings of a public opinion survey on personal cybersecurity practices, noting that very few people take action to protect themselves.

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the National Security Law Podcast.

Matthew Kahn posted the statements made by the majority and minority members of the House intelligence committee and the director of national intelligence on the closure of the intelligence panel’s Russia investigation.

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.

William Ford is an impact associate at Protect Democracy. He previously was an appellate litigation fellow in the New York Attorney General's Office and a research intern at Lawfare. He holds a bachelor's degree with honors from the College of the Holy Cross.

Subscribe to Lawfare