Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tia Sewell
Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 3:34 PM

Lawfare's daily roundup of national security news and opinion.

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The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered a dismissal of the criminal case against the former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Circuit Court was responding to a petition for emergency relief from Flynn to order the D.C. District Court judge overseeing the trial to dismiss the case against Flynn. This 2-1 ruling, authored by Trump-appointed Judge Neomi Rao, deferred to the Justice Department’s request to drop criminal charges against Flynn of lying to the F.B.I., despite his earlier guilty plea on this count. Analysts suggest that it remains possible that the court could rehear the case en banc.

Department of Justice attorney Aaron S.J. Zelinsky testifies before Congress today about alleged political interference at the Justice Department, writes Politico. Zelinsky claims in written testimony that he withdrew from the Roger Stone case after Justice Department leaders pressured his team for a more lenient sentencing for Stone. He attributes this “unprecedentedly favorable treatment” to Stone’s close relationship with President Trump. This testimony, which comes as Attorney General Bill Barr is facing increasing scrutiny for allowing political influence to permeate into the Justice Department, is a rare public rebuke of Justice Department leadership by a sitting official.

Today, Barr accepted an invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a general oversight hearing on July 28th, reports the Hill. Democrats on the panel are reportedly looking to investigate Barr’s decision to suddenly fire Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was conducting several investigations into the president and his inner circle.

On a 55-to-45 vote this morning, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican-drafted police reform bill, writes the Washington Post. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the proposal is “so deeply, fundamentally, and irrevocably flawed, it cannot serve as a useful starting point for meaningful reform.”

Faulty facial recognition software led to the arrest of Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, a Black man, for a crime he did not commit, according to the New York Times. Experts say this may be the first known incident of a wrongful accusation based on a flawed match from a facial recognition algorithm, but is likely not the first time such a misidentification has occurred. Recent studies have shown that while the technology is relatively effective when used to identify white people, the results are less accurate for people of other demographic groups.

In an investigation of the June 1st use of force to clear protestors from Lafayette Square in Washington D.C., the Post found that military helicopters descended as low as an estimated 45 feet above the ground, producing winds equivalent to a tropical storm. Experts have criticized the helicopters’ maneuvers as “irresponsible” and a “foolish” use of military capability.

On Tuesday, Twitter hid behind a warning label one of President Trump’s tweets about meeting protestors with “serious force,” in Washington D.C., reports the Post. The label does not remove the tweet from Twitter but rather means that users must affirmatively opt-in to seeing the content of the tweet. Twitter said that the president’s statement violated its policy prohibiting abusive and threatening behavior. This marks the fifth Trump tweet that the tech company has labeled in recent weeks in the midst of a heated public debate about social media companies and their content moderation practices.

Facebook has also found itself under mounting pressure as major companies have begun an advertising boycott to campaign against the platform’s hands-off approach to President Trump’s rhetoric, according to the Hill. More than a dozen corporate supporters are calling for Facebook to step up its efforts to combat harassment, hate and misinformation.

Coronavirus hospitalizations and caseloads continue to surge in the U.S. this week as 34,700 newly confirmed infections were reported nationwide on Tuesday, writes the Associated Press. Several states broke single-day case records Tuesday.

President Trump’s family has requested a temporary restraining order to block the publication of a book by the president’s niece, reports the Times. Mary L. Trump’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” is scheduled to be published on July 28th.

North Korea announced that it will suspend military action plans against South Korea, reports Reuters. It is unclear why Pyongyang decided to de-escalate following weeks of rising tensions with Seoul.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today called upon the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans, according to Reuters. He cited “a most serious violation of international law,” and called on the U.S. to take upon a mediation role. On Tuesday, the Trump administration began discussing whether to greenlight Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plan of occupied settlements in the West Bank. Senator Ted Cruz and other members of the GOP urged the White House to support this plan, writes the Hill.

A top Afghan official, Javid Faisal, announced that the previous week was the “deadliest” week in Afghanistan’s 19 years of conflict, according to France 24. Faisal alleges that the Taliban carried out 422 attacks in that time, killing 291 Afghan security force members and wounding 550 others.

On Tuesday, over half the member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) defended the tribunal in response to a U.S. threat of sanctions on ICC employees, reports Reuters. Two weeks ago, President Trump signed an executive order that authorized punitive measures to be taken against ICC employees involved in an investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Rachel Westrate examined the impact of the pandemic on climate change and discussed the necessity of prioritizing green economic recovery moving forward.

Jacob Schulz analyzed new developments with France’s “Loi Avia,” a bill designed to combat online hate speech and other forms of illicit content on the internet.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast discussing the movement to reform Section 230, a pilot program at the NSA and European cyberlaw developments, among other things.

Elliot Setzer posted written statements from two Justice Department attorneys released in advance of their testimony today at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on political interference at the Justice Department and threats to federal prosecutorial independence.

Quinta Jurecic posted Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer’s statement in preparation for today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on Justice Department politicization.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring an interview with Glenn Kessler on Donald Trump’s Assault on Truth.

Matt Gluck and Tia Sewell posted a criminal complaint and indictment against a U.S. Army soldier who was allegedly involved in a planned terror attack against his own military unit.

Elliot Setzer shared a livestream of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing on the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.

Setzer also shared a livestream of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, coronavirus and China’s culpability.

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.

Tia Sewell is a former associate editor of Lawfare. She studies international relations and economics at Stanford University.

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