Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore
Friday, September 4, 2020, 2:31 PM

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

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Experts suggest that a fall wave of Covid-19 infections may bring the United States’ death toll from the disease to 410,000, according to The Washington Post. This new forecast comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The researchers explain that because people spend more time inside in the winter, the respiratory droplets that contain the virus will spread more easily as temperatures cool down. 

Seven congressional representatives wrote to President Trump yesterday requesting that the United States stop deporting asylum seekers who travel to the U.S. from Nicaragua, reports The Washington Post.  The letter was inspired by an August 28 Washington Post story about how the Trump administration has deported politically persecuted Nicaraguans without first determining whether they have a credible fear of persecution if they returned home. The dissidents are also prevented from filling out asylum applications during the pandemic. The United Nations has expressed worry about these policies, which may violate international refugee conventions. 

Attorney General Barr has insisted on a pre-election deadline for the Justice Department to sue Google for antitrust violations, writes The New York Times. Earlier this summer, government lawyers expressed concern that the lawsuit is being unnecessarily fast-tracked so as to give President Trump credit before the November election. Nevertheless, the Times notes that antitrust action against Google enjoys broad bipartisan support, and some states will almost certainly join the Justice Department’s lawsuit. It remains unclear whether lawyers and other staffers will have adequate time to prepare for the suit on the expedited timeline

Facebook and Twitter limited access to President Trump’s duplicitous remarks on voting yesterday, writes Politico. The president had encouraged Americans to vote both in-person and by mail, an action that’s both illegal and in violation of the social media companies’ respective election integrity rules. 

The Pentagon will soon shut down an 159 year-old military newspaper called Stars and Stripes, citing a lack of funding, reports Axios. Yesterday a bipartisan coalition of fifteen senators urged Defense Sec. Mark Esper to reinstate the $15.5 million in funding, calling Stars and Stripes “an essential part of our nation's freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom.” 

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit blocked President Trump’s funding restrictions to abortion providers, according to Politico. The new ruling allows abortion providers in Maryland to receive federal funding under the Title X Family Planning Program. The Ninth Circuit has ruled differently on this issue, making it possible that the Supreme Court will be asked to resolve the circuit split in the upcoming term. 

NATO Sec. General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, reports Deutsche Welle. He called on Russia today to cooperate with an investigation by an intergovernmental group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, adding that the incident “is a blatant violation of international law [that] requires an international response.” Deutsche Welle notes that European Union officials have considered imposing sanctions against Russia, among other options for disciplinary action. 

Stoltenberg has had a busy week. He announced yesterday that after talking with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two countries have agreed to enter into deescalation talks at NATO about their conflict in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Both sides claim that a potentially oil-rich area in the sea is part of their exclusive economic zones and have conducted military exercises in the oil-rich area.

German President Angela Merkel is under pressure to abandon a Russia-funded pipeline, writes Reuters. The Nord Stream 2 project, which is 90% completed and backed by the Russian gas giant Gazprom, would send liquefied natural gas from Russia to Germany. Reuters notes that many politicians in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) would like to send a strong signal to Russia that poisoning Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was unacceptable. “We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language Putin understands: that is gas sales,” said CDU politician Norbert Roettgen. 

Russian scientists claimed today that volunteers given their new Covid-19 vaccine have a modest amount of antibodies, according to The New York Times. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale, noted that researchers are still unsure what level of antibodies is necessary to combat the coronavirus, so “it is hard to tell whether the vaccine will be efficacious.” Russian scientists recently gained approval for Phase 3 of testing, which will involve 40,000 people receiving either the vaccine or a placebo. 

The New York Times has documented how Beijing’s new national security law chills political speech in Hong Kong. A shop that once proudly supported protesters now blankets its windows with posters of Mao. One high school textbook has removed a cartoon that mocked China’s influence in Hong Kong affairs. And a recent book documenting the protests has been published in Taiwan rather than Hong Kong, a trend familiar to many pro-democracy authors in the city who worry for their safety.  

A human rights activist in Iran’s Evin prison has been on a hunger strike for the past three weeks, reports Deutsche Welle. Nasrin Sotoudeh is protesting the “lawlessness in Iranian prisons” and the overcrowded, unhygienic conditions for jailed women. She has already lost thirteen pounds, and the vice-president of the European Parliament called today for her immediate release. Sotoudeh is refusing injections of saline and intends to continue her strike unless she is released. 

Saudi King Mohammed bin Salman has fired two royals for alleged corruption, according to The New York Times. The king has made “anti-corruption” a pillar of his young administration, although critics worry that the recent firings are part of a broader power grab. 

Signs of life were detected in the rubble of last month’s Beirut explosion, writes CNN. Thermal imaging shows a human curled beneath a ruined building who may be breathing 18 times per minute. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Todd Carney, Samantha Fry, Quinta Jurecic, Jacob Schulz, Tia Sewell, Margaret Taylor and Benjamin Wittes concluded their analysis of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

Quinta Jurecic and Jacob Schulz argued that political norms against posting manipulated media are necessary to deter lawmakers  from posting doctored photos and videos.

Elliot Setzer posted the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision yesterday that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal.

Mailyn Fidler analyzed 14 local police department’s procedures for surveilling residents and recommended how cities can prevent abuse of the technology. 

Shira Anderson and Sean Mirski explored how the Chinese government can respond to the coronavirus-related lawsuits it’s facing. 

Jen Patja Howell posted an episode in Lawfare’s Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation. Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic and Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, spoke with Alissa Starzak about her tenure at Cloudflare, a web-infrastructure company. 

Jonathan Shaub wrote that the D.C. Circuit misinterpreted history in its opinion refusing to enforce a House Committee’s subpoena against former White House counsel Don McGahn. 

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Anna Salvatore is a rising freshman at Princeton University. She previously served as the editor in chief of High School SCOTUS, a legal blog written by teenagers. She is now a fall intern at Lawfare.

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