The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Mike Flynn, resigned last night following revelations that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials about his pre-inauguration conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn initially denied discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia, but transcripts of his calls later showed that he had. The Justice Department had reportedly warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn could be subject to blackmail for these communications.


“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn said in his resignation letter.


The White House said it was replacing Flynn with retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, as acting national security adviser. Meanwhile, Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander at U.S. Central Command, has become the leading contender to succeed Flynn, according to administration officials. He served under James Mattis and reportedly remains an ally of the defense secretary. (NYT, Reuters, WaPo, WSJ)


Wall Street Journal: Flynn Departure Unlikely to Cool Congressional Probes

Washington Post: Flynn’s Exit Shows That Some Rules Still Apply

Politico: Why Trump Let Flynn Go



Attorneys for the Trump administration said in a brief filed yesterday that they would continue to defend the president’s executive order on immigration in the federal appeals court in San Francisco, which last week refused to reinstate it. Legal analysts say the Justice Department has moved at a more measured pace since its setback last Thursday, a sign that it will not file an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court. (NYT)


Meanwhile, a federal judge in Virginia said the executive order on immigration was likely unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction blocking part of it. Unlike the Seattle court’s ruling, Judge Leonie Brinkema’s injunction covers only Virginia, and only the section of the order suspending entry from the seven Muslim-majority countries. (WSJ)


Guantanamo test: The White House is mulling what to do with an al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Khaybar, who is being detained in Yemen and is wanted in New York on terrorism charges. Analysts say Khaybar represents an early legal and policy test for Trump, who during his campaign promised to fill Guantanamo with terrorism suspects. (NYT)


U.S. sanctions Venezuela’s VP: The Trump administration has placed Venezuela’s vice president, Tareck El Aissami, on a sanctions list for allegedly aiding drug traffickers. The move freezes his assets in the United States and blocks U.S. companies and individuals from doing business with him. (WSJ)


Open-air Situation Room?: President Trump is drawing criticism for holding a top-level national security discussion in an unsecured space at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly discussed how to respond to North Korea’s ballistic missile test at a table while waiters and club members came and went. (WaPo)


Muslim group rejects funding: An Islamic school in California turned down $800,000 in federal grants aimed at fighting violent extremism, the fourth organization to reject money for the program. Many at the school felt the president’s rhetoric singling out Islamic extremism and his travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries had gone too far. (AP)

Mnuchin confirmed: The U.S. Senate confirmed Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood financier, to be Treasury secretary. He is expected to be a central player in Trump’s plans to overhaul the tax code and negotiate trade deals. (NYT)



A new study from Human Rights Watch says that Syrian government forces used chlorine gas attacks as they advanced into rebel-held portions of east Aleppo late last year. The attacks reportedly resulted in the deaths of nine civilians, including four children, and wounded roughly 200. Forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad have used chlorine weapons sporadically since 2014. (WaPo)


Hamas selects hardliner as Gaza leader: Yehya Sinwar, a militant hardliner who served more than 20 years in Israeli prisons for killing soldiers, has been chosen as the new leader of Hamas in Gaza. The U.S. State Department added him in 2015 to a list of designated terrorists. (WSJ, NYT)

ISIS online: As the Islamist group confronts its downfall on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, it is looking to preserve its global influence online, according to a new report from King’s College London. The group’s media wing has already begun to repurpose videos, images, and messages to depict the ­Islamist state it sought to establish as an idyllic realm destined to be restored. (WaPo)

UN condemns North Korean missile: The UN Security Council denounced North Korea's weekend missile launch and urged members to enforce existing sanctions against the reclusive state. Analysts note that China was particularly keen to see how the new leadership in Washington would react to the test.  (Reuters, WSJ)

Netanyahu visit: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begins meetings in Washington today ahead of a critical summit with President Trump tomorrow. Netanyahu hopes to reset bilateral relations after eight years of tensions with the Obama administration over settlements and the Iran nuclear deal. (WSJ)


Kremlin Is Starting to Worry About Trump: “The Kremlin is perfectly aware that Democrats want to use Russia to discredit and possibly impeach Trump while Republican elites want to use Russia to deflate and discipline Trump. The Russian government fears not only Trump’s downfall, of course, but also the possibility that he could opportunistically switch to a tough anti-Moscow line in order to make peace with hawkish Republican leaders in Congress,” write Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes in Foreign Policy.


Trump, Islam, and the Clash of Civilizations: “This tendency to conceive of the west in civilisational or even racial terms — rather than through ideology or institutions — also helps explain the Trump team’s sympathy with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and hostility to Angela Merkel’s Germany. Once the west is thought of as synonymous with “Judeo-Christian civilisation” then Mr Putin looks more like a friend than a foe,” writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times.

Trump’s First Foreign Policy Success? “Trump is no paragon of self-control when it comes to realistically assessing the threats America faces. Far from it: He routinely exaggerates the dangers posed by Islamic terrorism and the Islamic State. But when it comes to North Korea, his reserve is laudable,” writes Isaac Stone Fish in the Atlantic.


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: Taking Aim at the 'Caliph'

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