The Lawfare Podcast
Rational Security: The “Low Down Dirty Shane” Edition
This week on Rational Security, Alan and Scott were joined by co-host emeritus (and Washington Post star reporter) Shane Harris to talk over the week's news! Including:
- “Flight of the Valkyries.” Recently leaked U.S. intelligence reports allege that Wagner Group owner Yevgeniy Prighozin—who has privately and publicly feuded with the Russian military leadership in recent weeks and even threatened to pull his mercenary troops from the conflict—has been in contact with Ukrainian intelligence and offered to share Russian troop positions in exchange for concessions around the disputed city of Bakhmut. Is Prighozin trying to find a path to retreat? What do his actions tell us about the conflict?
- “Jerkiye Boy.” Twitter owner Elon Musk has come under criticism for the company’s latest bad call: censoring certain content at the request of the Erdogan government in Türkiye, just prior to national elections there. How should Twitter have responded to the demands of Turkish officials? And how has Musk’s erratic leadership affected the company’s approach to such issues?
- “BootLichter.” CNN and its CEO Chris Licht are experiencing blowback from the decision to host a town hall with former President Donald Trump before an audience of his supporters, at which he repeated an array of lies about the 2020 election results, the recent judgment finding him liable for sexual battery, and his potential legal exposure for retaining classified documents, among other items. Was CNN in the wrong? How should it handle Trump (and other candidates)?
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Breaking Down the Fireworks in Fulton County01:02:35Since a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, handed up an indictment in August of former President Donald Trump and 18 other defendants for their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia, all eyes had been on the defendants’ behavior and their legal fate. That was until an explosive filing by one of the defendants, Mike Roman, alleged that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had engaged in a kickback scheme through a romantic relationship she had with an outside prosecutor Willis had hired to participate in the case, Nathan Wade. Roman asked the presiding judge, Scott McAfee, to disqualify Willis and her office from the election case. Willis and Wade have since acknowledged their relationship but claim that Willis did not financially benefit from it.Last week, Judge McAfee held a two-day evidentiary hearing to determine whether Willis and Wade’s relationship presented a conflict of interest, requiring the removal of Willis and her office from the case. Lawfare Research Fellow Matt Gluck discussed the hearing and what’s likely to happen next with Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare Legal Fellow and Courts Correspondent Anna Bower, and Georgia trial and appellate lawyer and Fulton County court watcher Andrew Fleischman.
Chatter: President Biden’s Foreign Policy with Alex Ward01:21:44Joe Biden took office with a big ambition: To repair America’s reputation abroad and set the country on a new path, where foreign policy would be crafted with the middle class in mind. So writes journalist Alexander Ward, whose new book, The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump, chronicles Biden’s first two years in the White House. The central players in Ward’s cast as the president’s senior advisers, chief among them National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who, four years earlier, had expected to be serving in the Hillary Clinton administration. Ward joined Shane Harris to talk about the Biden team's early efforts to sketch out a new agenda, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the triumphs of the early days of war in Ukraine. His book offers a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at what may be one of the most experienced teams of foreign policy experts in a generation. Ward is a national security reporter at Politico. He was part of the reporting team behind one of the biggest scoops in recent memory, the leak of a draft opinion by the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade. Ward was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. Among the works mentioned in this episode:Ward’s book, The Internationalists: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/704738/the-internationalists-by-alexander-ward/ An excerpt from the book: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2024/02/19/jake-sullivan-globalization-biden-00141697 Ward’s newsletter at Politico: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily Ward’s scoop on the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473 Ward on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexbward?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
Intimidation of State and Local Officeholders with Maya Kornberg48:44As a new report on the intimidation of state and local officeholders from the Brennan Center for Justice points out, “The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol seemed to mark a new peak in extremist intimidation targeting public officials. But it was hardly the only act of political violence to break the period of relative stability that followed the assassinations of the 1960s.” Citing the 2017 shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, last year’s hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, and many other cases, the report paints a troubling picture of today’s climate of political violence in America. To talk through the report and its implications, Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic and Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Maya Kornberg, a Research Fellow at the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program and one of the report’s authors. They discussed how Maya and her team surveyed so many state and local officials across a number of jurisdictions, the pervasive risks and threats those officeholders face, and how these threats are distorting U.S. democracy as a whole.
The Authoritarian Playbook in 202551:25The advocacy group Protect Democracy last month issued an updated version of its report entitled, “The Authoritarian Playbook.” The new report is called, “The Authoritarian Playbook for 2025: How an authoritarian president will dismantle our democracy and what we can do to protect it.” It is a fascinating compilation of things that Donald Trump has promised to do and how they could likely be expected to affect American democracy if he is elected to a second term in office. To discuss the report, Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes spoke with two of its authors: Genevieve Nadeau and Erica Newland, both of Protect Democracy. They talked about what's new in the report, how much of it is speculation and how much of it is simply taking Donald Trump's words seriously, opportunities to mitigate the most dire consequences of which the report warns, and whether this is just baked into the American presidency when occupied by a truly authoritarian personality.
Joel Braunold on the State of the Gaza Crisis01:00:34The conflict in Gaza is headed toward a critical juncture. Israeli political leaders have signaled their intent to assault Rafah, one of the final safe havens for displaced Gazan civilians—a move that U.S. and other international leaders fear could trigger a humanitarian crisis, or the long-term displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. Meanwhile, negotiations for both a ceasefire and a longer term resolution of the crisis are ongoing, but have little to show thus far. To discuss the many moving pieces of the Gaza conflict, Lawfare Senior Editor Scott R. Anderson sat down once again with Joel Braunold, Managing Director at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and someone who has long been involved in Middle East peace efforts. They discussed the current state of Israel’s military operations, how it is impacting (and being impacted by) domestic politics in Israel and elsewhere, and the significance of recent events ranging from the International Court of Justice’s grant of provisional measures to the Biden administration’s efforts to sanction the perpetrators of West Bank settler violence—all with an eye for better understanding where this crisis may yet be headed.
Lawfare Archive: Christopher Moran on ‘Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA’38:51From December 10, 2016: This week at the Hoover Book Soiree, Jack Goldsmith interviewed Christopher Moran, a professor at the University of Warwick, on his book “Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA.” Moran's work is a history of CIA memoirs, but it's also a history of the Agency itself and its efforts to shape its image in the public eye. How does an organization whose work depends on keeping secrets justify its efforts within a democratic society?
Rational Security: The “Licking the Cow” Edition01:17:56This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were once again joined by co-host emeritus Benjamin Wittes to talk through the week's big national security news, including:“Constitutional Annoyance.” Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Trump v. Anderson, the case weighing whether former President Trump’s involvement in Jan. 6 should disqualify him from being able to stand as a candidate in 2024 under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. And the justices, for once, seemed almost unified in their skepticism of the idea that he should be—though there was far less agreement as to why. Where is this case headed? And what will its ultimate impact be on the 2024 election and beyond?“Putting the Hur(t) On.” Special Counsel Robert Hur completed his investigation into President Biden’s alleged mishandling of classified documents last week and, while he opted not to bring any charges, his lengthy final report has caused a stir: not just for laying out Biden’s apparent mishandling of classified documents over an extended period of time but also for citing Biden’s advanced age and apparent memory issues as grounds for not prosecuting—observations that have reignited anxieties regarding Biden’s capacity to stand for reelection. Was Hur out of line or just doing his job in making these observations? And how will his conclusions impact events moving forward, including the prosecution of former President Trump for his own mishandling of classified documents?“‘I Can’t Pay the Rent,’ ‘But You Must Pay the Rent!’” Former President Trump has resumed his role as enforcer over the defense spending level of NATO members, suggesting most recently that he would encourage Russia to do whatever it wants with any members who fail to meet their commitments—comments that have triggered new anxiety over how NATO may fare in a second Trump presidency. How serious are these comments? What should folks be doing in response?For object lessons, Alan recommended the weirdness of Donald Glover's new spy remake, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." Quinta urged listeners to check out a recent New York Times piece on "How Mark Meadows Became the Least Trusted Man in Washington." Scott mourned the end of football season by endorsing the sportsfan comedy of Annie Agar. And Ben announced that he had completed his quest to identify the worst rhetorical question headline ever.
Trump’s Trials and Tribulations: A Wild and Woolly Week01:25:43It’s another episode of “Trump’s Trials and Tribulations,” this one recorded before a live audience on Zoom on Friday afternoon. It’s been a wild week in Trump coverage. We’ve got a judgment from New York, we’ve got the best evidentiary hearing ever held in Fulton County, we’ve got Tyler McBrien at the scheduling conference for the New York criminal trial, and we’ve got updates from Florida and Washington.Joining Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes were Lawfare Senior Editor Roger Parloff, Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien, and Lawfare Legal Fellow and Courts Correspondent Anna Bower, and they covered it all. They also took audience questions from Lawfare Material Supporters and, this week, guests.To be able to submit questions to the panelists, you should become a Material Supporter at lawfaremedia.org/support.
Lawfare Archive: Jim Baker on FISA Errors45:51From April 10, 2020: Jim Baker served as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was also the counsel for the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Justice Department, where he supervised FISA applications. He joined Benjamin Wittes in the virtual Jungle Studio to discuss Inspector General Michael Horowitz's shocking report on inaccuracy in FISA applications, and the problems at the FBI that led to these errors.