The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2017

FLYNN-RUSSIA CONTROVERSY SWIRLS OVER WHITE HOUSE

The resignation of national security advisor Mike Flynn after he misled senior U.S. officials about his prior contacts with the Russian government marks the latest chapter in a months-long saga in which President Donald Trump has been shadowed by the former Cold War rival. Two of Trump’s former advisors, Paul Manafort and Carter Page, left his presidential campaign amid questions about their links to Moscow. The FBI reportedly questioned Flynn in January, shortly after the White House denied he had talked to the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions. It is unclear what Flynn told agents, but lying to the FBI is a crime, and charges have been brought against officials in previous administrations for lying to federal investigators, analysts say.

 

The FBI and the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee continue to investigate ties between Trump associates and Russia. Phone records and intercepts show that people close to Trump had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, around the time Russia was allegedly trying to interfere in the presidential contest by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence that Trump’s team colluded with Moscow to influence the election. (WaPo, WSJ, NYT)

Related:

New York Times: The Timeline of Flynn’s Phone Call With Russia

New Yorker: Time for a Proper Investigation of Trump’s Russia Ties

NBC News: White House Kept Pence in Dark About Flynn

Wall Street Journal: Navy SEAL Top Contender to Replace Flynn

Washington Post: Senators to Deepen Probe of Russia

Reuters: Russia Tells U.S. It Will Not Return Crimea

 

U.S. DROPS INSISTENCE ON TWO-STATE SOLUTION

On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump, the White House said the U.S. objective was peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but that it did not necessarily need to take the form of a two-state solution. The comments marked a dramatic break from decades of U.S. policy. Political analysts note that Netanyahu has officially advocated for a two-state solution since a landmark speech in 2009, but in practice he has continued to approve settlements that the international community believes undermine that goal. (NYT, WSJ)

 

Gorsuch and the Fourth Amendment: President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court could clash with the White House over unreasonable searches and seizures. Trump has issued two immigration-related executive orders that suggest that non-citizens don’t enjoy the same protections as citizens. Meanwhile, Gorsuch has interpreted the Fourth Amendment as a property-based right, where, according to Prof. Colin Miller of the University of South Carolina, “citizenship wouldn’t matter.” (Bloomberg)

 

NATO: Defense Secretary Mattis is expected to discuss defense spending and counterterrorism in Brussels at his first NATO summit today. U.S. allies are hoping for assurances that the Trump administration is committed to the 28-nation alliance after Trump called it “obsolete” and said the U.S. was over-contributing financially to it during his presidential campaign. (RFE/RL, WSJ)

 

‘Dreamer’ detained: Federal agents have detained a 23-year-old Mexican man, Daniel Ramirez Medina, who was brought to the United States illegally as a child and given a work permit during the Obama administration. Immigration officers reportedly arrested Medina for his gang affiliation and alleged threat to the public. Civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit yesterday in a Seattle federal court challenging what they described as the unconstitutional detention. (Reuters, WSJ)

 

White House Counsel: Donald McGahn, who has represented Donald Trump since before his election, has been at the center of virtually every controversy confronting the new administration. Those who know him say he is a consummate Washington insider with an independent streak. (WaPo)

Guantanamo letter: A group of Republican senators wrote President Trump asking that he suspend the parole-style review board at the prison and grow its detainee population. The letter was released a day after the prison’s commander said he had not seen any draft of an anticipated executive order that will drive the Trump administration’s law of war detention policy. (Miami Herald)




Battle for Mosul: Parts of eastern Mosul reportedly remain under siege despite claims that they have been liberated of ISIS forces. Analysts say the reality is a reminder that even though major progress has been made toward ending ISIS rule in Mosul, a complete victory for the Iraqi government is still a ways off. (NYT)

Hezbollah: The Lebanese Shiite militant group has become a powerful and highly effective fighting force amid Syria’s sectarian conflict, analysts say. The Israeli military said in December that research they conducted indicated the group had a 30,000-strong force. (FT)



BROTHER OF NORTH KOREAN LEADER KILLED

Kim Jong-nam, the estranged older half brother of Kim Jong-un, was killed under mysterious circumstances at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian authorities have arrested a suspect and are reportedly searching for two women who police said fatally attacked him. Experts on North Korean politics speculate that the country’s leader ordered the assassination of his older half sibling, who at one time had been the heir apparent. (WSJ, NYT)

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi government has since 9/11 made progress in removing or toning down much of the content in textbooks that critics say helped create a generation of Islamic extremists. However, analysts say that a review of the latest online editions shows some language denigrating other religions or condoning violence. (WSJ)


 
TOP OP-EDS

The Humbling of a President: “Trump has come face to face with the checks and balances built into the Constitution and with the difficulty of commanding a huge bureaucracy of federal workers who value their role as public servants. He has seen anew the power of a free press to dig and report and hold those in power accountable. He has felt the power and sting of leaks from inside the government. There’s nothing new about any of this. It has been true for past presidents. Trump is learning the lesson painfully,” writes Dan Balz in the Washington Post.

 

Flynn May Want to Call ACLU: “It is ironic, therefore, that Flynn himself may be the first victim of civil liberties abuse during the Trump administration,” writes Timothy Edgar on Lawfare. “The surveillance that ensnared Flynn was almost certainly targeted at the Russian ambassador and therefore was lawful; the leaks regarding the substance of those conversations, however, were a civil liberties abuse.”

 

Merkel’s Last Stand: “Germany isn’t prepared to take over the leadership of the Atlantic alliance from the United States, much less that of the broader international order that Washington has historically underwritten. But Europe’s biggest economy is nevertheless holding the continent together: Berlin, not Brussels, has become the EU’s true capital and the guarantor of its stability,”writes Paul Hockenos in Foreign Affairs.

Trump Is Violating the Constitution: “The president of the United States is supposed to serve the American people, not himself, and certainly not the interests of foreign states. President Trump chose to seek this office, and this responsibility. He is trying to have it both ways, serving himself, his family, and his far-flung business interests while simultaneously making foreign and domestic policy decisions that will inevitably have direct effects on his personal holdings,” writes David Cole in the New York Review of Books.

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