Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore
Wednesday, September 9, 2020, 3:19 PM

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


Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Justice Department lawyers will defend President Trump against a defamation lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll, reports The New York Times. Carroll, a well-known journalist, alleges that Trump raped her in Manhattan in the 1990s and then lied about knowing her. Government lawyers are intervening in the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which gives government employees immunity from defamation lawsuits if they were acting within the scope of their official duties. In this case, Justice Department lawyers argue Trump was acting in his official capacity when he denied knowing Carroll. To Lawfare contributing editor Steve Vladeck, “The question is, is it really within the scope of the law for government lawyers to defend someone accused of lying about a rape when he wasn’t even president yet?” 

A federal judge in Pennsylvania denied the Trump campaign’s request to segregate ballots in drop boxes from those cast in person, reports Zoe Tillman of Buzzfeed News. President Trump had enjoined Pennsylvania to separate mail-in ballots from ballots cast in person in case the former are eventually disqualified. Judge Nicholas Ranjan opted neither to grant nor deny the injunction until the state supreme court has examined the relevant issues under state law. 

Last week, the Moria refugee camp in Greece identified its first case of Covid-19. Now the camp of 13,000 people has been utterly destroyed by fires, writes BBC News. It is not clear how the blazes started, although a local government official believes that arsonists “took advantage of strong winds” to kindle the camp. Refugees are now fleeing Moria without any sense of what to do or where to go. So far, both the European Union and the German government have pledged to accommodate survivors. 

Another massive refugee camp is facing difficulties this week. Home to 40,000 survivors of the civil war in Syria, the Azraq camp in Jordan confirmed its first two cases of the coronavirus this week, reports The Washington Post. The overflowing and suffering camp will require further medical aid, protective equipment and funding, according to the director of Care International in Jordan. 

A promising trial for a Covid-19 vaccine was halted yesterday after a volunteer fell seriously ill, writes NPR. The drugmaker AstraZeneca, which is running the trial with Oxford University, has refused to explain the nature of the patient’s illness, and it is now reviewing whether the incident was caused by the vaccine or happened by chance. 

Afghanistan’s vice president narrowly avoided death in a bombing today, reports The New York Times. Government officials suspect that the Taliban is behind the attack that killed 10 bystanders. Senior Vice President Amrullah Saleh is a harsh opponent of the terrorist group, and he survived a similar suicide bombing last July that killed 20 of his co-workers. 

A Saudi court reduced the sentences of Jamal Khashoggi’s killers, writes The Wall Street Journal. The five men who murdered and dismembered the Washington Post columnist were originally sentenced to death, but now they will serve twenty years in prison. “Agnes Callamard, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior officials to be investigated, said the final Saudi rulings lacked legal and moral legitimacy,” notes the Journal. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may violate international law by breaching a withdrawal agreement with the European Union, writes The Washington Post. If passed, a  bill backed by Johnson would mandate paperwork-free trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a move that a Conservative Party politician admitted would contravene international law “in a very specific and limited way.” Analysts have expressed concerns about what Johnson’s actions mean for the rule of law. 

Last summer, a person linked to the State Department drove on the wrong side of the road in England and killed a teenage motorist named Harry Dunn. Today Dunn’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver in U.S. federal court, according to The Washington Post. Analysts say that the suit marks an increase in tensions between the United States and Great Britain, because after the official flew to America in August 2019 citing diplomatic immunity, the U.S. ignored British requests to extradite her for a criminal trial. 

The populous Chinese city of Ningbo has reported a 27% decrease in local births, reports The South China Morning Post, fueling Chinese concerns about a rapidly aging population. Ningbo, home to 8.5 million people, has vowed to improve its public transit and its daycare options so that families are motivated to have more children.  

China is under scrutiny for detaining an Australian citizen named Cheng Lei, writes BBC News. Cheng, a Beijing-based journalist, disappeared in August without contacting friends or relatives, and a few days ago the Chinese government claimed she was under “residential surveillance” for supposedly endangering China’s national security. The remaining two Australian journalists working in China flew home yesterday after being interviewed by Chinese police. Analysts see Cheng’s disappearance, and Australia’s recent travel warning to its citizens, as part of a worsening of economic and political ties between Australia and China. 

#BoycottMulan is trending on Twitter after the remastered Disney film was released on September 4, reports The Verge. Critics note that the main actress, a Chinese native, endorsed a crackdown in Hong Kong last summer on pro-democracy activists, writing on Weibo that “I support the police in Hong Kong.” The film also filmed certain scenes in Xinjiang, the province where the Chinese government is systematically detaining, interrogating and reeducating Uighur Muslims. 

The U.S. Air Force conducted an exercise with robot dogs last week, according to CNN. The digital dogs, which resemble sturdy brown grasshoppers more than they do beagles, were sent from C-130 airplanes in the Mojave Desert to look for potential threats to humans. Compared to other legged robots, they are thought to be less mechanically complex and more adaptable to carrying sensors and radios. 

The head of the U.S. military’s Central Command vowed today to halve the number of American troops in Iraq, reports The New York Times. The move comes one week after President Trump met with the Iraqi prime minister to negotiate a rollback. 150,000 American soldiers served in Iraq at the peak of the Iraq War, but only 5,200 troops have stayed there to continue advising military partners. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said that advances in the fight against the Islamic State have made this troop reduction possible. 

President Trump was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize by a member of Norway’s parliament, writes Deutsche Welle. Rep. Tybring-Gjedde, who also nominated Trump in 2018 after his meeting with Kim Jong Un, said that this time he was impressed by the president brokering a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This year there were more than 300 other nominees for the Nobel Prize, the most on record. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Monica M. Ruiz, Jacquelyn G. Schneider and Eli Sugarman asserted that the Department of Justice should establish meaningful partnerships with universities to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity. 

David Kris listed four takeaways from General Paul Nakasone’s recent Foreign Policy article, “How to Compete in Cyberspace.” 

Chuck Rosenberg explored whether the president can claim executive privilege for advice received after the election and before the inauguration. 
David Priess and Tia Sewell announced that Lawfare’s “Collusion Reading Diary” is now available on Kindle as an ebook

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast on “Everything You Wanted to Know about the Hatch Act But Were Afraid to Ask.” Benjamin Wittes sat down with Amanda Kane Rapp, senior counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Lawfare senior editor Scott R. Anderson to talk about what the law permits.

Stewart Baker argued that there was bias in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. 

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

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.

Subscribe to Lawfare