The Soufan Group Morning Brief




The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously rejected an effort by the Trump administration to lift a nationwide injunction on an executive order temporarily banning U.S. entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The president responded by telling reporters that the ruling was “a political decision” and said his administration would win an appeal “in my opinion, very easily.” The Justice Department is likely to file an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.


In its ruling, the three-judge panel firmly reasserted the judiciary’s role in reviewing national security policy. “Although the courts owe considerable deference to the President’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action,” the court said. (NYT, WSJ, Reuters)

Lawfare: How to Read the Ninth Circuit’s Opinion
Washington Post: Trump Gets a Powerful Lesson in Role of Judiciary


National Security Adviser Mike Flynn reportedly discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia, as well as other issues, with that country’s ambassador to the United States before the Trump administration took office. Some analysts question whether these actions would violate the Logan Act, a never-prosecuted law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy. The White House had previously denied that any discussion of sanctions had taken place during the calls. But nine current and former officials told the Washington Post that Flynn explicitly made reference to sanctions in the calls. (WaPo, NYT)



The wall along the southwest border that President Trump has pledged to build -- and to make Mexico pay for -- would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, according to an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security. The estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12 billion cited by Trump and other estimates from Republican congressional leaders. (Reuters)


Kushner: the ‘shadow secretary of state:’ The president’s 36-year-old son-in-law, who came to the White House with no foreign policy experience, has reportedly become a primary point of contact for foreign leaders reaching out to the administration. (WaPo)


Senators criticize counter-extremism program: A group of Democratic senators denounced a plan by the White House to rebrand a government program on countering violent extremism, saying narrowing its focus solely to Islamic threats could jeopardize security and might be illegal. (Reuters)


Gorsuch remarks: White House officials claimed that the Supreme Court nominee was not referring to President Trump’s recent denigration of judges when he said privately that he was disheartened by attacks on the courts. Gorsuch was referring broadly to any attacks on the judiciary, the White House said. (NYT)


Canada visit: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will head to Washington on Monday for his first meeting with President Trump. The pair are expected to discuss bilateral economic ties. Trump has made the renegotiation of NAFTA a top administration priority. (WSJ)

Racist emails: The FBI is investigating a series of mass emails sent to students at the University of Michigan this week threatening violence against Jews and blacks. (JTA)



Hashem al-Sheikh, the leader of a new alliance of Syrian Islamist factions, pledged in a video recording to escalate attacks against the Syrian army and its Iranian-backed allies. The ranks of the jihadist alliance have reportedly swelled in recent weeks with fighters defecting from more moderate Free Syrian Army rebel groups, who are angered by their readiness to engage in diplomacy with President Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters)


Meanwhile, in Syria, an errant Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers fighting to capture the town of al-Bab from ISIS forces. President Putin expressed condolences for the deaths in a call with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The incident signals the complexities of a protracted campaign by various international forces against ISIS. (WSJ)

Gen. wants more troops in Afghanistan: Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said a few thousand more coalition troops are needed to help end the stalemate in the country. There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops conducting counterterrorism operations and training the Afghan army. (WSJ)


President Trump told President Xi Jinping in a call Thursday evening that the United States would respect the longstanding “One China” policy, reversing his earlier expressions of doubt about the diplomatic understanding. Analysts say the concession was designed to put an end to a lingering chill in the bilateral relationship. The leaders had not spoken since the week after Trump was elected. (NYT)

Trump criticized U.S.-Russia nuke deal: In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump reportedly denounced the New START treaty, which caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads. Trump told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying it favored Russia. (Reuters)


Will SCOTUS Back Trump?: “The pivotal question for the court will be this: How much deference should the courts give the executive branch to set policy? Traditionally, on issues of immigration and national security, courts have given the White House a great deal of leeway, leaning hard toward upholding executive action that might plausibly be constitutional,” writes Richard Primus in Politico.  


Trump and the Nuclear Triad: “It would certainly be nice if conditions permitted the United States to cut its nuclear weapons, but with growing North Korean nuclear threats, increasing military competition with a nuclear-armed China, and renewed Russian nuclear sabre rattling, the Trump administration’s decision to continue with plans to modernize all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad should be celebrated,” writes Matthew Kroenig in Foreign Affairs.

Trump’s Judicial Debacle: “President Trump’s immigration executive order has been a fiasco from the start, but the damage is spreading as a federal appeals court on Thursday declined to lift a legal blockade. Now the White House order has become an opening for judges to restrict the power of the political branches to conduct foreign policy,” write editors for the Wall Street Journal.


Revisiting Guantanamo Bay
Where We've Come, Where We're Headed
February 14, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Losing the 'Stalemate' in Afghanistan

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