The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Special counsel Robert Mueller announced charges on Monday against three advisers to President Trump’s campaign and laid out the most explicit evidence to date that his campaign was eager to coordinate with the Russian government to damage his rival, Hillary Clinton.

The former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, surrendered to the FBI and pleaded not guilty to charges that he laundered millions of dollars through overseas shell companies — using the money to buy luxury cars, real estate, antique rugs and expensive clothes. Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime associate as well as a campaign adviser, was also charged and turned himself in.

But information that could prove most politically damaging to President Trump came an hour later, when it was announced that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was cooperating with investigators. In court documents released on Monday, federal investigators said they suspected that Russian intelligence services had used intermediaries to contact Mr. Papadopoulos to gain influence with the campaign, offering “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton in April 2016 in the form of “thousands of emails.”

The double-barreled court filings ratchet up the pressure on everyone under scrutiny in the investigation, lawyers said, in part because they show that Papadopoulos began cooperating with the FBI three months ago. “In unsealing it, [Mueller] knows he’s sending messages to at least three or four other operatives and their lawyers that he’s got somebody in his corner who could be damaging to their interests,” Randall Samborn, a former senior aide on the George W. Bush-era special counsel investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, told Politico.

“This is the way you kick off a big case,’’ said Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense lawyer in Chicago who once worked as a federal prosecutor in New York alongside Andrew Weissmann, who is working with Mueller. “There’s a ton that we don’t know,” Paul Fishman, who was U.S. attorney in New Jersey from 2009 until this year, told the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Politico, Washington Post

Top Democratic lobbyist resigns: Powerful Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta said Monday he’s stepping down from the firm he and his brother built – an unexpected, bipartisan shock wave from special counsel Robert Mueller III’s indictment of Paul Manafort. Podesta’s firm is reportedly under investigation by Mueller for work it did for Manafort -- organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S. Politico, NPR
Washington Post: Upstairs at Home, With the TV On, Trump Fumes Over Russia Indictments
Politico: Murdoch-Owned Outlets Bash Mueller, Seemingly in Unison
Wired: What the Papadopoulos Plea Says About Mueller’s Next Moves
Lawfare: Mueller’s Show of Strength: A Quick and Dirty Analysis
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday that they believe they have the legal authority to conduct operations against terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, and said there was no need for a new war authorization to replace the one passed immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They also told lawmakers that any attempt to place time limits or geographical constraints in a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force could cripple efforts to fight terrorists.

The deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger earlier this month has again focused attention on whether Congress has ceded too much war fighting authority to the White House.

“War is fundamentally unpredictable,” Mattis said. “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who could hope that we haven’t the will to fight as long as necessary.” Washington Post, Reuters, NPR, CBS News
New York Times: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11 War?

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl appeared on the witness stand at his sentencing hearing Monday and described his five years in Taliban captivity, a graphic and at times disturbing account delivered hours after the presiding judge rejected his attorneys’ appeal to have the case dismissed over remarks made by President Trump during his campaign for the White House.

“It was never my intention for anyone to be hurt,” said Bergdahl, 31, while reading from prepared remarks. He apologized for the “horrible mistake” of abandoning his post in Afghanistan and endangering other U.S. troops tasked with finding him after his disappearance in 2009. They suffered, he said, “because of my bad choices.”

During two hours of questioning from his lawyers, Bergdahl talked about the physical abuse, including living in a metal cage for much of the time, being beaten and burned by his captors, and being chained spread-eagle to a bed. He was so weak at times that he couldn’t even stand up and didn’t know who he was or where he was, he said.

The defense expects to be done with witness testimony on Wednesday, and then after closing arguments, the case will be in the judge's hands, with a decision possibly as soon as the end of this week. Washington Post, ABC News

War court prosecutors at Guantanamo asked the presiding judge on Monday to hold a hearing and declare three civilian attorneys in contempt of the war court for failing to show up for the USS Cole case. Veteran death-penalty defense attorney Rick Kammen and colleagues Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears resigned from the team defending USS Cole defendant Abd al Rahim al Nashiri on Oct. 11 over a classified ethical conflict. The judge said, under his reading of the rulebook, they cannot leave the case without his permission and ordered them to Guantánamo on Sunday’s Pentagon shuttle. They refused.

Prosecutors argued first that, by failing to come to court as ordered, the lawyers have “caused a qualifying disorder of these proceedings ... without legal justification or excuse.” Moreover, they said that, if the judge builds enough of a record about the situation and his authority through witnesses, he need not give them a possibility to appeal and they be “punished summarily.” Miami Herald

Government lawyers on Monday fought the ACLU’s request to represent a U.S. citizen picked up on the Syrian battlefield for allegedly fighting with ISIS militants. The unidentified American, who has not been charged, surrendered to U.S.-backed fighters around Sept. 12. He is detained as an unlawful enemy combatant in Iraq, but has not been given access to a lawyer.

Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a petition in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenging his detention and seeking to provide him legal counsel.

In its response filed late Monday afternoon, Justice Department attorneys argued that the ACLU is asking to represent and provide legal counsel to an individual it does not know, has never met and does not officially represent. The government said the ACLU's "attempt to interject itself as the advocate for an individual who came into U.S. military custody less than seven weeks ago, was identified as an enemy combatant and is currently detained in Iraq pending a determination of his further disposition is improper, unnecessary and should be dismissed."

In a potential precedent for future indefinite military detentions in the young Trump administration, it warns the court against opening “the floodgates to ‘intruders or uninvited meddlers’”—thereby asserting that military jailers can better determine a detainee’s interest than can defense attorneys. Daily Beast, Associated Press

Judge blocks Trump’s transgender military ban: A federal judge on Monday blocked President Donald Trump from implementing a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, D.C., ruled preliminarily that Mr. Trump’s ban, announced on Twitter in July and formalized in a presidential memorandum in August, is likely unconstitutional. She issued an injunction that bars its implementation for now while legal proceedings continue. Wall Street Journal

North Carolina torture hearings: The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture will hold a public hearing Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 to explore North Carolina’s role in supporting the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Commissioners will hear testimony on the CIA’s program which, through the company Aero Contractors Ltd., used North Carolina airports as staging grounds for extraordinary renditions in which flights detained suspected terrorists abroad and transported them to CIA “black sites” and third-party countries, where they were illegally detained and tortured. Daily Tar Heel

U.S. forces have captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya for his alleged role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the White House announced on Monday.

“Yesterday, on my orders, United States forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya,” President Donald Trump said in a statement on Monday. “To the families of these fallen heroes: I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten, and they will never be forgotten.”

The statement provided no details about al-Imam’s alleged role in the 2012 attack, the militant organization he is affiliated with, or where U.S. special forces captured him. Al-Imam is in U.S. custody, according to the Department of Justice, and will be presented before a federal judge in Washington, D.C. once he arrives in the United States.

His capture comes as the attack’s suspected mastermind -- Ahmed Abu Khatallah -- is currently on trial in Washington. CNN, Slate, Politico, CBS News

The Trump administration said Monday it would contribute an initial $60 million to help five nations in Africa’s Sahel region build a cross-border counterterrorism force but balked at a plan to provide multilateral support through the United Nations.

Security forces of the five Sahel countries — Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania — cannot cross each other’s borders to pursue attackers, and coordination among them has been limited. Earlier this year, with strong support from France, the former colonial power that has 4,000 troops in the region, the countries proposed forming their own 5,000-strong cross-border force. Since then, the force, known as the G5, has recruited troops, built a headquarters, and written an operational plan and budget. France has contributed money, along with other European governments and the European Union. Washington Post, The Hill
We’re loosening the rules for killing. This won’t end well: “The U.S. military is going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, and Americans should be worried,” writes Daniel Mahanty in USA Today. “New changes to U.S. counterterrorism policy, branded as getting decisions out of the White House and into the hands of commanders in the field, are going to make it easier to kill more people, in more places, with fewer explanations. In many ways, the latest and least bounded mutation of America’s war on terror may end up complicating, rather than simplifying, the job of our nation’s spies, soldiers and diplomats, now and for decades to come.”

Congress could accidentally unleash Trump’s war powers: “Sixteen years after voting for a war on terrorism that turned the world into a global battlefield, the Senate is taking a tentative step at reconsidering the law that authorized that conflict, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. Yet the leading replacement for the AUMF might, in the guise of reasserting congressional power over the war, be even more of a blank check,” write Andrew Desiderio and Spencer Ackerman in the Daily Beast. “There is no consensus for how strictly [the AUMF] should bind the president’s conduct of the war. And there is concern in civil libertarian circles that not only is [Sen. Tim] Kaine’s alternative insufficient, it might inadvertently give Trump even more warfighting power than he presently has.”

America never understood Iraq: “For America, the short, sharp fighting in northern Iraq has revealed a brutal truth: Its dream of a democratic and federal, united Iraq is over,” writes Robert Ford in The Atlantic. “Ironically, that dream dies just as the Americans and their allies are winning major battlefield victories against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But as the fighting shows in Iraq and foreshadows in Syria, Washington never had a political plan to deal with the underlying ethnic and sectarian contests for power that originally gave birth to ISIS.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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