Mueller Indictment: Russians Manipulated Social Media, Advertising and Political Rallies to Impact 2016 Election

Robert Mueller’s office released 37 page  indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for interference in the 2016 Presidential election.  According to Mueller’s office, a Russian organization based in St. Petersburg known as the Internet Research Agency used fake American social media profiles sometimes posing as political activists to wage “information warfare,” interfering with and manipulating the US election process.

According to today’s indictment, these activities began as early as 2014, with certain defendants traveling to the United States and obtaining VPN infrastructure, to obscure the origins of their activities so various accounts would appear to be based within the United States.  Alleged activities included purchasing online advertisements–and stealing identities to do so.  Moving offline the defendants and their co-conspirators solicited individuals to disparage or promote candidates, including hiring a woman to wear a costume portraying Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform at various political events, all while hiding their Russian identities.

These activities were done without proper regulatory disclosure and without registering as foreign entities.  Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who announced the indictment stated: “The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

DNC Chair Tom Perez released a statement, saying, “This indictment gives us a chilling look at just how sophisticated, well-funded and wide-ranging this attack on our democracy really was. It should send chills up the spine of every American.”   Perez points to the indictment as proof that the 2016 election was marred by Russian interference; including hacking into the DNC by Russian operatives as well as hacking into voter registration systems across the country, along with the now ubiquitous understanding of the Russian presence on social media and their attempts to foster disagreement and manufacture intense contention among already disagreeing Americans online.

Additionally, Perez points to Trump’s failure to act on the information presented by Mueller, referencing Trump’s attempts to diminish and discredit the Mueller investigation and his failure to direct intelligence officials to take action to prevent future attacks.   Perez:

“President Trump continues to deny these facts.  And Republican in Congress continues to spread falsehoods to tarnish the very investigation that is beginning to hold Russia accountable for its actions in 2016. If the president won’t uphold the oath he took to protect our nation’s security, he has no place in the Oval Office. And if Republican leaders in Congress can’t put the interests of our democracy before politics, they have no place in Congress.”

On the other side of the aisle, Kayleigh McEnany, an RNC spokesperson read the indictment to indicate that Russian interference was two-sided, with President-elect Trump also in the Russian cross-hairs.  She points specifically to rallies funded by Russian Roubles on November 12th and 19th of 2016, in the days following the election.   In an appearance on Fox News, she indicated that it was the Democrats who had deceived the country by emphasizing the Russian election interference.  She said, “Democrats deceived this country…and they were caught today.”

In a tweet today, president Trump stated that there was a lack of allegations in today’s indictment of any impact on the 2016 presidential election and highlighted his campaign’s lack of involvement.

Trump Tweet  Russian Election Indictment

However, a holistic reading of the indictment supports claims that Russian interference did appear to impact the 2016 election. The indictment offers a timeline of the defendant’s conspiracy that had a clear purpose: “impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”

You can read the indictment here.

For more on Election Legal issues, check out our Legislative, Election, Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Voting Law News.

This post was written by Eilene Spear of The National Law Review/The National Law Forum LLC.

President Trump’s Third, Indefinite Travel Ban Takes Blow from Courts

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland have temporarily blocked the implementation of President Trump’s most recent travel ban, which was issued by Presidential Proclamation on September 24, 2017 (Proclamation) and set to take effect October 18, 2017. The more sweeping ruling by the federal court in Hawaii blocks implementation of the Proclamation as to all countries except Venezuela and North Korea, and the decision by the Maryland federal court declares the ban unenforceable toward those individuals with a bona fide relationship to a person or entity in the United States (U.S.).

Essentially, the Proclamation imposes certain restrictions on the entry of nonimmigrants and immigrants who are nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia. The type of restriction varies from country to country and the restrictions are of indefinite duration. The Proclamation was allegedly crafted based on recommendations by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pursuant to Executive Order 13780, which included a requirement for a global review of each foreign government’s information sharing practices, policies, and capabilities.

For a detailed analysis of the Proclamation, which is President Trump’s third attempt at instituting a travel ban, please click here.

What Are the Takeaways from the Two Decisions?

The Hawaii Decision: U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ruled that the Proclamation likely exceeds the scope of presidential authority permitted by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. His ruling is effective nationwide and prohibits implementation of the Proclamation’s provisions, except as to nationals of North Korea and Venezuela.

The Maryland Decision: U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang found that the Proclamation likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution as well as the INA. As for the scope of the injunction issued by the Maryland district court, Judge Chuang ruled that the Proclamation is blocked as it would apply to those with a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. This language echoes that used by the U.S. Supreme Court when it temporarily restored President Trump’s second travel ban issued by Executive Order (E.O.) back in June of this year. In that decision, the Supreme Court temporarily allowed implementation of the E.O. but eliminated from its purview those with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Where Are We Headed?

These court actions are just the beginning of what is anticipated to be a protracted legal battle that may very likely head to the Supreme Court yet again. The Supreme Court was positioned to hear oral arguments on the legality of an earlier iteration of the travel ban this month. One of those cases has been dismissed, and the other will likely be dismissed as well. Both of the cases that were set for argument this month were based on the decisions of these same two federal courts that have issued injunctions on the Proclamation. This travel ban battle is far from over.

What Should Employers Do?

It is unlikely that the Proclamation in its current form will have much of an effect on employers because the current pool of affected travelers is very small. It is important to remember that the Proclamation is still in effect for certain government officials from Venezuela seeking visitor visas as well as travelers from North Korea who do not have bona fide relationships with persons or entities in the U.S.

U.S. consulates still exercise, however, a great deal of discretion in adjudicating visa applications. Thus, while the Proclamation may be “mostly dead” for now, individuals from the restricted countries should expect increased scrutiny and prepare for it accordingly with counsel. Additionally, we are just at the beginning stages. An appeals court or the Supreme Court could ultimately reinstate the Proclamation or a portion of its content. Thus, careful pre-planning for visa applications is crucial.

Here are a few things that an employer can do:

  1. Assess travel plans for employees of affected nationalities based on implementation.
  2. Consider the ability of those who are dual nationals to travel on a non-restricted country (under the ban) passport.
  3. Consider rescheduling meeting locations and using internet-based meeting options.
  4. When necessary, compile documentation and information for a potential waiver application under the standards set forth in the Proclamation even though it is not in effect in full, such documentation may be required to withstand the heightened scrutiny that will likely continue to be applied toward individuals from these targeted countries.
This post was written by Heather L. Frayre of Dickinson Wright PLLC., © Copyright 2017
For more Immigration legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Federal Immigration Resources Assisting in Hurricane Response in Texas

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is deploying staff and equipment for search and rescue efforts and to work at local, state, and federal emergency operations centers in Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas just as the state’s plan to outlaw sanctuary cities is about to go into effect.  Texas also has joined other states in threatening to sue President Donald Trump if he does not phase out DACA starting on September 5th.

Some of Houston’s more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants reportedly are afraid to seek shelter, fearing deportation.

To encourage undocumented workers in need of assistance to come into shelters, FEMA issued a statement, “Hurricane Harvey Rumor Control,” asking “all persons to follow the guidance of local officials and seek shelter regardless of their immigration status.”

ICE and CBP explained that:

It is not conducting immigration enforcement at relief sites such as shelters or food banks. In the rare instance where local law enforcement informs ICE of a serious criminal alien at a relief site that presents a public safety threat, ICE will make a determination on a case-by-case basis about the appropriate enforcement actions.

In an effort to assuage fears, the Mayor of Houston has offered to personally represent any individual facing deportation after seeking disaster relief.

In the meantime:

  • 50 CBP agents are staffing a U.S. Coast Guard Emergency Operations Center in Robstown, Texas

  • CBP is providing assistance to border patrol agents in Corpus Christi

  • CBP aircraft from Tucson are in Texas, along with 12 aircrew members, 5 support personnel and 3 agents certified in swift-water rescues

  • CBP’s Air and Marine Operations sent 4 hoist-capable Blackhawks to Houston to help with rescues

  • 50 Tucson area Special Operations Detachments agents are supporting public safety operations

Once the immediate danger subsides, workers will be needed to participate in the billion-dollar rebuilding effort. “Eduardo Canales, director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, said the state is at risk of losing much-needed low-wage workers – cleaners, cooks, carpenters and landscapers – who because of the crackdown may not stick around to help Texas communities recover from the storm.” Even before the hurricane, there was concern that undocumented workers would be leaving the state because of perceived anti-immigrant sentiment.

Beyond the emergency rescue and relief efforts, international trade and travel also has been affected and CBP is coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard and port authorities to resume operations as soon as possible.

This post was written by Meredith K. Stewart of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

President Trump Announces Withdrawal from Paris Agreement on Climate Change

President Trump announced on Thursday his intention to initiate a formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, a global agreement designed to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. The President indicated that the United States would move forward with the pull-out and possibly attempt to re-negotiate the agreement in order to get “terms that are fair to the United States.”  President Trump frequently discussed pulling out of the Paris Agreement while on the campaign trail, citing concerns regarding its potential impact on the American economy, particularly the energy sector.

While the President’s intentions are clear, the path forward is less obvious. The U.S. cannot immediately exit the Paris Agreement and several nations, including Germany, France, and Italy, announced in a joint statement that “that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated.”  In addition to announcing withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, President Trump also indicated that the U.S. would immediately halt the remaining $2 billion of the $3 billion in aid to developing countries pledged by President Obama as a part of the Green Climate Fund, which also is a component of the UNFCCC.

The Paris Agreement’s formal processes does not allow for a notice of withdrawal to be submitted until November 4, 2019, after which it will take one year for such notice to become effective. Assuming adherence to this process, the earliest the U.S. can formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement is November 5, 2020, one day after the next presidential election.  Because the Agreement’s only binding obligations are certain reporting requirements, the withdrawal is viewed by some as a symbolic gesture, since any federal GHG reduction measures resulting from the Paris Agreement would still need to be pursued through domestic legislation or regulatory action.  As a practical matter, irrespective of the Paris Agreement the administration can—and likely will—take steps to alter federal climate change policy.

Paris Agreement Background

The Paris Agreement builds on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty signed by President George H. W. Bush and ratified by the United States Senate in 1992. The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015 as part of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UNFCCC.  Following its initial adoption, President Obama ratified the Paris Agreement as an “executive agreement” on September 3, 2016.  The Paris Agreement was ultimately signed by 195 parties, ratified by 146 nations and the European Union, and entered into force on November 4, 2016.

The Paris Agreement directs signatory nations to develop voluntary GHG reduction measures, known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which convert to “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) after a nation ratifies the Paris Agreement.  The Paris Agreement further provides for periodic updates to NDCs in order to continually “enhance” emission reductions targets.  The Paris Agreement’s only binding provisions are reporting obligations largely governed by the UNFCCC and “global stocktakes” that occur every five years.  These reporting measures were designed to help track total carbon emissions and progress towards meeting each NDC.  However, actual attainment of an NDC is voluntary and the Paris Agreement has no legally binding enforcement mechanism. The Paris Agreement also directs wealthier nations to help developing nations reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, but again these actions would be taken on a voluntary basis.

What happens next?

The UNFCCC made a formal statement in response to President Trump’s announcement that it “regrets” the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and that it remains open to discussion of the rules and modalities currently being negotiated for implementation of the Paris Agreement.  At the same time, the UNFCCC stated that the Paris Agreement has been “signed by 195 Parties and ratified by 146 countries plus the European Union [and] cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”  Based on this statement and similar statements from France, Germany, Italy, and other nations, it appears that any near-term renegotiation of the Paris Agreement is unlikely.

Regardless of whether the United States is a party to the Paris Agreement, multinational corporations will still be subject to GHG reduction programs in other nations as those nations attempt to fulfill their NDCs. In addition, France and other nations have indicated the possibility of imposing a carbon tax on American imports from certain industries if the United States does formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Under the Paris Agreement, the United States established its NDC as a goal of reducing GHG emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, by 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent. It is important to note that the U.S. is in the first sustained period where greenhouse gas emissions have decreased while economic growth has increased, largely the result of increased reliance on natural gas, improved vehicle fuel economy, state and regional GHG programs, and growth in renewable energy.  These factors are likely to persist even if the U.S. leaves the Paris Agreement.  And even in the absence of U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement or additional federal action, U.S. GHG emissions are expected to decline by about 15-18 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The federal Clean Power Plan was one measure that was expected to further reduce U.S. GHG emissions. However, that program is subject to ongoing legal challenges and has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  There also are various lawsuits underway seeking to compel the federal government to take action on climate change. See e.g., Juliana v. United States, No. 6:15-cv-01517-TC (D. Or. Nov. 10, 2016).   Apart from litigation, the Trump Administration has indicated a willingness to modify the Clean Power Plan (should it be upheld) and reconsider other federal regulations and programs directed at GHG emissions and climate change, such as motor vehicle emissions standards.  These processes will take time to play out and, in combination with ongoing state-level programs, will ultimately determine the course of climate change policy in the United States for the remainder of the Trump Administration.

This post was written by Brook J. Detterman, Leah A. Dundon and Kristin H. Gladd of Beveridge & Diamond PC.

Trump’s First Hundred Days and Cybersecurity

calendar hundred days Executive Order Delay Trumps Administration Policy Development

President Trump’s first hundred days did not produce the event that most people in the cybersecurity community expected – a Presidential Executive Order supplanting or supplementing the Obama administration’s cyber policy – but that doesn’t mean that this period has been uneventful, particularly for those in the health care space.

The events of the period have cautioned us not to look for an imminent Executive Order. While White House cybersecurity coordinator Robert Joyce recently stated that a forthcoming executive order will reflect the Trump administration’s focus on improving the security of federal networks, protecting critical infrastructure, and establishing a global cyber strategy based on international law and deterrence, other policy demands have intruded. Indeed as the 100-day mark approached, President Trump announced that he has charged his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with developing a strategy for “innovation” and modernizing the government’s information technology networks. This is further complicating an already arduous process for drafting the long-awaited executive order on cybersecurity, sources and administration officials say.

The Importance of NIST Has Been Manifested Throughout the Hundred Days

The expected cyber order likely will direct federal agencies to assess risks to the government and critical infrastructure by using the framework of cybersecurity standards issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a component of the Department of Commerce.

The NIST framework, which was developed with heavy industry input and released in 2014, was intended as a voluntary process for organizations to manage cybersecurity risks. It is not unlikely that regulatory agencies, including the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, the enforcement agency for HIPAA, will mandate the NIST framework, either overtly or by implication, as a compliance hallmark and possible defense against sanctions.

NIST has posted online the extensive public comments on its proposed update to the federal framework of cybersecurity standards that includes new provisions on metrics and supply chain risk management. The comments are part of an ongoing effort to further revise the cybersecurity framework. NIST will host a public workshop on May 16-17, 2017

Health Industry Groups Are Urging NIST to Set up a ‘Common’ Framework for Cybersecurity Compliance

Various health care industry organizations including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Security have asked NIST to help the industry develop a “common” approach for determining compliance with numerous requirements for protecting patient data. Looking for a common security standard for compliance purposes, commenters also argue that the multiplicity of requirements for handling patient data is driving up healthcare costs. Thus, the groups urge NIST to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration “to push for a consistent standard” on cybersecurity. One expects this effort, given strong voice in the First Hundred Days, to succeed.

The Federal Trade Commission is Emerging as the Pre-eminent Enforcement Agency for Data Security and Privacy

With administration approval, the Federal Communications Commission is about to release today a regulatory proposal to reverse Obama-era rules for the internet that is intended to re-establish the Federal Trade Commission as the pre-eminent regulatory agency for consumer data security and privacy. In repealing the Obama’s “net neutrality” order, ending common carrier treatment for ISP and their concomitant consumer privacy and security rules adopted by the FCC, the result would be, according to FCC Chairman Pai, to “restore FTC to police privacy practices” on the internet in the same way that it did prior to 2015. Federal Trade Commission authority, especially with regard to health care, is not without question, especially considering that the FTC’s enforcement action against LabMD is still pending decision in the 9th Circuit. However, the FTC has settled an increasing number of the largest data breach cases The Federal Trade Commission’s acting bureau chief for consumer protection, Thomas Pahl, this week warned telecom companies against trying to take advantage of any perceived regulatory gap if Congress rolls back the Federal Communications Commission’s recently approved privacy and security rules for internet providers.

OCR Isn’t Abandoning the Field; Neither is DoJ

While there have been no signal actions during the First Hundred Days in either agency. The career leadership of both has signaled their intentions not to make any major changes in enforcement policy.  OCR is considering expanding its policies with respect to overseeing compliance programs and extending that oversight to the conduct off Boards of Directors.

The Supreme Court Reaches Nine

Many would argue that the most important, or at least most durable, accomplishment of the Trump Administration to date is the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Justice Gorsuch is a conservative in the Scalia mold and is expected to case a critical eye on agency regulatory actions. There is no cybersecurity matter currently on the Supreme Court’s docket, but there will be as the actions and regulations of agencies like the FTC, FCC and DHHS are challenged.

©2017 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

President Trump Will Welcome Palestinian President to White House, Meet with Australian Prime Minister in New York City

White HouseCongress Will Hold Hearings on Human Trafficking, Remittances and International Development, While Also Focusing on a Longer-Term Funding Measure for the Remainder of Fiscal Year 2017

President Donald Trump welcomed Argentine President Mauricio Macri to the White House last Thursday. In a joint statement, the two leaders committed to expanding bilateral trade and investments; strengthening cooperation to counter narco-trafficking, terrorist financing, money laundering, corruption and other illicit finance activities; and increasing cooperation on cyber policy. President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday. The President will travel to New York City on Thursday for an event and will also meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

President Trump signed multiple executive documents last week, including a Memorandum on aluminum and national security interests, as well as Executive Orders (E.O.) on veterans affairs, energy, agriculture, land management, and education. President Trump marked his 100th day in office with a Make America Great Again rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after signing two more E.O.s related to trade on Saturday.

On Friday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis honored two U.S. Army Rangers who died Thursday in Afghanistan. He said: “They carried out their operation against [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan] in Afghanistan before making the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and our freedoms.”

Congress passed a short-term measure on Friday to fund the Federal Government for another week, allowing both chambers additional time to negotiate a longer-term measure that will fund the Government through the end of Fiscal Year 2017.  The Senate also approved the nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture last Monday. Congress is in session this week.

North Korea – U.S. Continues Pressure on the International Community

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired the U.N. Security Council on Friday, where he focused on North Korea’s illegal nuclear program and its continued provocative activities. He sought to get the Council to act and leverage additional pressure on North Korea, saying:

“For too long, the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea. Those days must come to an end.”

He outlined steps that the international community could undertake to leverage North Korea into abandoning its nuclear program. The White House released a brief statement on Friday afternoon acknowledging President Trump was briefed on North Korea’s failed missile test that day.

On Wednesday, after a briefing to the Senators at the White House, Secretary Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a joint statement on North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests, saying each provocation jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to U.S. allies and the U.S. homeland. The officials noted: “We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the D.P.R.K. in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue. We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our Allies, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region. The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Allies.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford also participated in the Senate briefing.  In a summary, the Defense Department recapped North Korea as an urgent national security threat and a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. Government.

On 27 April, the head of U.S. Pacific Command recommended that the U.S. military develop capabilities that can directly defend against North Korean artillery. Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Adm. Harry Harris shared that the U.S. currently cannot counter an artillery barrage from North Korea. He explained the missile defense system that the United States is deploying to South Korea, is only designed to intercept ballistic missiles. North Korea currently possesses roughly 4,000 artillery pieces positioned near the demilitarized zone. Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) noted that these pieces had the potential to target the South Korean capital, Seoul, and its metropolitan area of 26 million people.

South Korea – McMaster Affirms Missile Defense

On 30 April, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster confirmed that the United States would adhere to its agreement with South Korea for a new missile defense system, but indicated that payment for the system might be renegotiated. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, also known as THAAD, is being rolled out in response to military provocations from North Korea.

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” McMaster shared that he told his South Korean counterpart that “until any renegotiation, that the deal’s in place,” but explained that, “what the president’s asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing.” President Donald Trump said in a recent interview that he “informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid” for the missile defense system.

Syria, Iraq – Combating ISIS

The Pentagon gave an update last Friday on the U.S. and Coalition military forces’ efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coalition forces conducted 24 strikes consisting of 30 engagements against ISIS targets in Syria. In Iraq, Coalition forces conducted eight strikes consisting of 24 engagements against ISIS targets, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government. The destruction of ISIS targets in both countries also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, according to task force officials.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday at a U.N. Security Council session she chaired on the humanitarian crisis in Syria:

“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to…the images don’t lie. The humanitarian workers don’t lie. The fact that they can’t get the assistance they need – that’s not lying. What is, is to continue to give Russia a pass for allowing this terrible situation to occur. I will continue to press the Security Council to act, to do something, regardless of if the Russians continue to veto it, because it is our voice that needs to be heard.”

The Department of State designated Mubarak Mohammed A Alotaibi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order E.O. 13224 on 27 April.  Alotaibi is the Syria-based deputy leader of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) affiliate in Saudi Arabia, which was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a SDGT under E.O. 13224 on 19 May 2016.

On 24 April, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions targeting 271 Syrian individuals in response to the 4 April sarin gas attack in Syria. According to an accompanying press release, the action – one of the largest OFAC has ever taken – targets employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). They have been added to OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals (also known as the SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order 13582, “Blocking Property of the Government of Syria and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to Syria.” The full list of newly-designated individuals can be found here.

Afghanistan – Review of U.S. Policy

Defense Secretary Mattis added another stop to his Middle East trip last week that focused on a theme of combatting ISIS. The Secretary was in Kabul, Afghanistan, last Monday. At a press conference Secretary Mattis said of the 21 April Taliban attack on an Afghan military base and mosque that killed more than 100 people: “As if we needed a reminder of the type of enemy we’re up against, the killing of Afghan citizens and soldiers — protectors of the people — just as they were coming out of a mosque, a house of worship, it certainly characterizes this fight for exactly what it is. These people have no religious foundation. They are not devout anything, and it shows why we stand with the people of this country against such heinous acts perpetrated by this barbaric enemy and what they do.”

Regarding President Trump’s directive to review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Secretary Mattis said: “This dictates an ongoing dialogue with Afghanistan’s leadership, and that’s why I came here: to get with President Ghani and his ministers and hear directly and at length from … General Nicholson to provide my best assessment and advice as we go forward.”

NAFTA – U.S. Withdrawal Averted

President Trump considered signing an order last week that would have withdrawn the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After news of the possible action emerged, the leaders of Mexico and Canada, interested stakeholders, and Members of Congress rallied to call the White House and urge against such action. President Trump said in an interview on Thursday: “I was all set to terminate [NAFTA]. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” Later in the interview, the President added he reserves the right to change his mind – “I can always terminate.”

Nominations – Update

The Senate has yet to schedule a final vote on Amb. Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to serve as U.S. Trade Representative.  A vote is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Last week, President Trump announced his intent to nominate the following individuals: (1) Kari A. Bingen to serve as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  Ms. Bingen currently serves as the policy director for the House Armed Services Committee. (2) Robert Story Karem to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.  Mr. Karem most recently served on the Presidential Transition Team as an advisor to Central Intelligence Agency Director, Mike Pompeo, during his confirmation process.  He previously served in the White House as a Middle East policy advisor to former Vice President Richard B. Cheney.

Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Wining the Fight Against Human Trafficking: The Frederick Douglass Reauthorization Act.”

  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Examining the U.S. – E.U. Covered Agreements.”

  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing to consider the nomination of the Honorable Terry Brandstad, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.

  • On Wednesday, 3 May, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to consider the following bills:

    • R. 1625 – To amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to include severe forms of trafficking in persons within the definition of transnational organized crime for purposes of the rewards program of the Department of State, and for other purposes.

    • R. 1677 – To halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes.

    • R. 2200 – To reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and for other purposes.

  • On Wednesday, 3 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Global Philanthropy and Remittances and International Development.”

  • On Thursday, 4 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “International Development: Value Added Through Private Sector Engagement.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 3 May: President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

  • 4 May: President Trump travels to New York City, where he will hold a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

  • May: Formal notification to Congress of intent to renegotiate NAFTA expected

  • 25 May: President Trump to attend the NATO Leaders Meeting in Belgium

  • 26-28 May: President Trump to attend the G-7 Leaders’ Summit in Taormina, Sicily

  • 18-20 June: SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbor, Maryland

ARTICLE BY Stacy A. Swanson and Pooja Virkar of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

© Copyright 2017 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

President Trump Signs New Executive Order: “Buy American and Hire American”

On April 18, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) titled “made in the USA buy american and hire americanBuy American and Hire American.” The stated purpose of this EO is to protect the American economy by having the U.S. government and agencies focus on purchasing goods made in America, and to also protect American workers. The first part of the EO includes text that focuses on conducting studies and putting forth plans for federal agencies to immediately maximize the use and procurement of materials and products made in the United States—or “Buy American.”

The second part of the EO includes text that focuses on “Hire American,” that is, reviewing current U.S. immigration laws, specifically as they relate to nonimmigrant visa categories. A summary of the second part of the EO is below:

Ensuring the Integrity of the Immigration System in Order to “Hire American”:

  • The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security are tasked with proposing new rules and issuing new guidance with the intent of protecting U.S. workers and eliminating fraud or abuse.

  • In addition, the text of the EO directs that reforms should be focused on ensuring that H-1B status is only granted to those who are the “most-skilled” or the “highest-paid.”

This EO comes only a few weeks after various U.S. federal agencies tasked with administering immigration law issued guidance and decisions with the intent of preventing fraud and abuse in the immigration system, specifically the H-1B program. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor all released statements and/or policy with regard to the H-1B program.  To see a summary regarding these statements and/or policies, please visit our previous post.

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