Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore
Wednesday, December 2, 2020, 3:30 PM

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

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended today that Americans avoid traveling during the holiday season, reports the New York Times. Even a small number of infected travelers could “translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of the travelers’ health branch of the CDC. The agency has shortened the suggested quarantine period from 14 days to seven for people who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.

The United Kingdom has given emergency-use permission to a coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioTech, writes BBC News. Pfizer said that 800,000 doses of the vaccine will soon arrive in the region, where elderly people in nursing homes and nursing home staff top the priority list. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to point out the distribution challenges of the vaccine—according to the BBC, the vaccines must be stored in ultra-cold refrigerators, which currently exist in major hospitals.

Earlier this summer, the Justice Department investigated a potential scheme in which a large political contribution would be exchanged for a presidential pardon. According to the Washington Post, documents filed in court are heavily redacted, and the targets and status of the investigation are unclear.

President Trump is reportedly weighing whether to grant preemptive pardons to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, his three eldest children and his son-in-law. The New York Times reports that in talks with his senior advisers, the president has expressed concern that the Biden Justice Department would seek retribution against him by targeting his children. Donald Trump Jr. was a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, although he wasn’t charged with wrongdoing, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, lied to federal authorities in order to obtain a security clearance.

Attorney General Bill Barr has appointed John Durham, a controversial U.S. attorney, to probe any potential wrongdoing in the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Durham has been investigating the FBI’s handling of the case since May 2019, and Politico observes that his new status as special counsel grants him more political protection to continue his probe into the Biden administration.

Three prominent activists have been sentenced to jail in Hong Kong for protesting the state’s draconian national security law, writes the Associated Press. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam received sentences ranging from seven to 13.5 months on charges of organizing and inciting recent protests outside police headquarters. Yamini Mishra, the regional director of Amnesty International, said, “By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next.”

D.C. District Court Judge Jeffrey White struck down the Trump administration’s new restrictions on high-skilled foreign workers’ visas, reports Politico. He wrote that the administration bypassed the required period of public comment on the new rules, and it failed to provide evidence for its claims that COVID-19’s impact on the labor market justified scrapping the comment period.

President-elect Biden plans to keep FBI Director Christopher Wray, according to the Times. The decision to leave Wray in place marks a return to presidential norms, as FBI heads are confirmed by the Senate for 10-year terms and are seldom fired. A senior Biden official said that the president-elect will only keep Wray, of course, if President Trump doesn’t fire him first.

A Department of Homeland Security watchdog will investigate whether the department surveilled Americans’ phones without a warrant, reports the Wall Street Journal. The revelation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general came in response to a letter signed by five Democratic senators, who asked in October whether law enforcement agencies could legally purchase Americans’ cellphone data.

Normalized relations between Israel and Sudan may be in peril, according to the Times of Israel. Just a month after the two countries established formal ties, the Sudanese government is threatening to cut them once more unless the U.S. Congress passes a law protecting Sudan from terrorism-related lawsuits. “Legislators are reportedly deadlocked,” writes the Times of Israel, “over a clause that would block victims of past terror attacks from seeking new compensation from Sudan.”

Boko Haram claimed responsibility yesterday for a recent massacre in which 76 Nigerian farmworkers were killed. Deutsche Welle writes that gunmen on motorcycles attacked scores of laborers in a rice field near the state of Borno’s capital, and the search for victims’ bodies continues a few days later. In a short video, one of the gunmen claimed that they attacked the farmers in retribution for seizing Boko Haram fighters and bringing them to the police.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Rohini Kurup shared the Justice Department’s court filing about a potential scheme involving bribery in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Gregory D. Johnsen argued that the Trump administration should not designate Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist organization.

Jordan Schneider shared an episode of the ChinaTalk podcast featuring an interview with Rasheed Griffith, the host of the China in the Caribbean podcast.

David Priess and Jacob Schulz encouraged readers to apply to be a Lawfare Institute research assistant.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast featuring an interview with Michael Daniel, formerly President Obama’s top cybersecurity adviser on the National Security Council. Baker also spoke with Jamil Jaffer, Nate Jones and Maury Shenk about the latest news in cyberlaw.

Robert Chesney and Steve Vladeck shared an episode of the National Security Law Podcast entitled “The Blah-to-Coup Ratio is Increasing.” They discussed the latest in national security legal developments, with topics including the Biden administration’s future policy on Guantanamo Bay and potential nominees for the Secretary of Defense.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast entitled “Why Businesses Need to Take Espionage Seriously.” Quinta Jurecic sat down with Bill Priestap and Holden Triplett to discuss their Lawfare articles on how state intelligence agencies are attacking private businesses.

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.

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