The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2017
INTEL AGENCIES PRESENTED TRUMP WITH UNVERIFIED ALLEGATIONS THAT MOSCOW HAD COMPROMISING INFO ON HIM


In a bombshell report Tuesday evening, CNN reported that the heads of the nation’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama, President-elect Donald Trump, and eight senior lawmakers with a two-page summary of unverified reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Trump. The summary was presented as an appendix to the intelligence agencies’ report on Russian hacking efforts during the election, and also contained allegations of secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

On Tuesday night, not long after BuzzFeed News published the dossier of reports in full, with the caveat that its claims could not be verified, Trump responded on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT.” CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Politico

Russia on Wednesday denied it has compromising material on Trump, calling the dossier an “absolute fabrication” and an attempt to damage U.S.-Russian relations. “This is a clear attempt to damage our bilateral relations,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Truly, there are those who whip up this hysteria, who will break their necks to support this ‘witch hunt.’” Wall Street Journal

Journalists are claiming on Twitter and elsewhere that this material had been widely circulated in Washington for several months, and that many media outlets were working feverishly to verify the documents’ claims. Last month, Senator John McCain reportedly passed the documents to FBI Director James Comey.

The Guardian also reports that the “FBI applied for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The FISA court turned down the application asking FBI counterintelligence investigators to narrow its focus.” The FBI was reportedly granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed by the Guardian. Guardian

FBI Director Comey on Tuesday refused to say whether his bureau was investigating any possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, citing policy not to comment on what the FBI might or might not be doing. ‘‘I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not — in an open forum like this so I can’t answer one way or another,’’ Comey told the Senate’s intelligence committee. ‘‘The irony of your making that statement, I cannot avoid,’’ said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent. Boston Globe

A press conference with President-elect Trump, his first in 166 days, is scheduled for 11AM this morning.
Related:
Lawfare: About that Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath
Talking Points Memo: A Few Thoughts on the Big Story
Wired: How Spy Agencies Read that Bombshell Trump Report: With Caution
IN FAREWELL SPEECH, OBAMA URGES UNITY
In a farewell speech on Tuesday night from Chicago, President Obama urged Americans to unite to protect America’s democracy, warning that especially in the wake of the contentious presidential election, economic inequity, racism, and closed-mindedness threatened to shred the nation’s democratic fabric. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Related:
Read the full speech

JEFF SESSIONS ADDRESSES RACE, MUSLIM BAN, AND TORTURE AT CONFIRMATION HEARING
Sen. Jeff Session, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, addressed a series of contentious issues in a day-long confirmation hearing Tuesday that will continue today. Sessions rejected allegations that he has failed to protect the voting rights of black people and that he has praised the Ku Klux Klan. “These are damnably false charges,” Sessions said. “I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology.” He also said that he does not believe that Muslims as a religious group should be banned from entering the United States and that it was “absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military.” Sessions also announced during the hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Hillary Clinton and her use of private email servers as secretary of state. CBS News, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg

CONFIRMATION HEARING FOR REX TILLERSON BEGINS TODAY
Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today to face questions that will likely include his relationship with Russia, his company’s deals in conflict zones, and his views on climate change. NBC News, Wall Street Journal
Related:
Washington Post: Pompeo’s Confirmation Hearing to be CIA Director Postponed One Day

SENATORS PROPOSE NEW RUSSIA SANCTIONS
A bipartisan group of leading senators proposed on Tuesday new sanctions against Russia that would markedly increase Moscow’s economic isolation and could limit President-elect Donald Trump’s ability to improve ties with the Kremlin. The legislation would make more permanent some of the sanctions that President Obama put in place in response to allegations of election-related hacking by Moscow. Wall Street Journal

COMEY: RUSSIAN HACKERS GAINED ‘LIMITED ACCESS’ TO RNC
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey said that Russian hackers had penetrated the Republican National Committee’s computer records, but he called it a “limited penetration of old R.N.C.” computer systems that were “no longer in use.” New York Times

FBI and the hacked San Bernardino iPhone: The FBI has released 100 pages of documents about how it hacked into the locked iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, but much of the most important information has been redacted. CNET

ISIS trial: In opening statements of the trial of Ahmed Mohammed el Gam­mal, who is accused of acting as an ISIS recruiter, federal prosecutors in New York said Tuesday that Gammal used code words to hide his illicit activities, including calling the terror group “the company” and referring to terrorist training as an “internship.” New York Post


TALIBAN BOMBINGS KILL AT LEAST 30 NEAR AFGHAN PARLIAMENT
A twin bombing near the Afghan Parliament building in Kabul on Tuesday killed at least 30 people and injured 70 more. The Taliban attack during rush hour on Tuesday appeared to have targeted a bus carrying government personnel leaving a building close to the parliament. Guardian
 
 
TOP OP-EDS
How to battle terrorism in 2017: “The past year can be termed as one of war against international terrorism,” writes Georgi Asatryan in the National Interest. “Unfortunately, we have to recognize that it has not brought victory over this phenomenon. Furthermore, I would even frankly recognize that the terrorists have triumphed. 2016 has changed the nature of international terrorism.”

Ethics rules are national security rules: “Lawfare readers may be wondering what federal ethics law and policy has to do with national security,” writes Susan Hennessey in Lawfare. “The answer is a whole lot. Fundamentally, ethics policies governing the Executive and his cabinet are national security protections. As such, it is important that we recognize the national security implications of the incoming Administration’s positions on ethics.”

Iran’s ex-president was man of peace: “Rafsanjani was a man of peace and cooperation in foreign policy and of construction and development in Iran,” said Seyed Hossein Mousavian in CNN.com. “He worked to build a modern, progressive nation true to its history and religion while remaining at peace with its neighbors. His most significant legacy, however, will be of ingraining a mindset of moderation and aversion to radicalism in Iran and the region.”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  Afghanistan Forever on the Brink




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