The Soufan Group Morning Brief




President Trump’s top pick to replace Mike Flynn as national security advisor, retired Navy SEAL Bob Harward, has turned down the job. Harward, now a senior executive at Lockheed Martin, reportedly wanted to bring in his own staff but was rebuffed by the White House. In a statement last night, Harward also cited family and financial reasons for his decision. The news is another setback for the Trump administration as it seeks to quickly restore some normalcy to the national security apparatus following Flynn’s resignation.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear if Flynn is now in some legal jeopardy based on reports that he told FBI agents last month that he did not discuss U.S. sanctions on Russia in a pre-inauguration phone call with that country’s ambassador to the United States. Intercepted communications that have surfaced since reportedly indicate that he did. But Flynn also followed his denial to the FBI by saying that he couldn’t recall all of the conversation, and FBI officials have reportedly said they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them. (WSJ, Reuters, CNN, WaPo)



President Trump said he would be issuing a new executive order on immigration next week, an acknowledgement that a reset was his best legal option, analysts say. “The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision,” Trump said during a news conference, referring to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked his travel ban. The White House has not indicated how it will revise the order, but the new version is almost certain to trigger another series of lawsuits, analysts say. (WSJ, CNN, WaPo)


Leak investigation: During a news conference Thursday, the president said he has instructed the Justice Department to open an investigation to determine who was responsible for what he said were “criminal” leaks that have damaged his administration. Trump did not directly answer questions about communications his aides may have had with Russia during and after the election. (NYT, Politico)


Russia reset? The president also used the press conference to say that the chances of a U.S rapprochement with Moscow had dimmed because the U.S. political climate and news reports about contacts between his aides and Russia were poisoning the prospect of better ties. He also cited recent Russian provocations, including a Russian ship cruising off the U.S. coast, as signals that a reset in the current political environment was unlikely. (WSJ)


Fears over the U.S. deep state: The barrage of leaks that has stricken the Trump administration has led some political analysts to compare the United States to countries like Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan, where shadowy networks within government bureaucracies undermine and coerce elected governments. (NYT)


Pence heads to Europe: This weekend, the vice president is expected to try to soothe European allies unsettled by President Trump’s unorthodox statements on Russia and NATO when he delivers an address on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, the first major foreign address for the new administration. (Reuters)

White supremacist plotter: Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, a South Carolina man with an apparent admiration for Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, has been arrested by the FBI and accused of plotting a similar attack. (WaPo)



The Islamist militant group claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing at a Sufi Muslim shrine in southern Pakistan that killed at least 70 people and injured more than 250. It is the second such attack ISIS has claimed in three months. Pakistan’s military vowed revenge, saying “each drop of the nation’s blood” will be avenged. (WSJ)


Iraq: Reporters visiting Mosul last month uncovered evidence of how ISIS attempted to indoctrinate dozens of children at an orphanage to adopt the militant group’s ultra-hardline ideology. (Reuters)

Syria: Turkey’s military says it is close to taking the northern Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS fighters. Analysts say the victory would expand Turkish influence in an area where it has created a de facto buffer zone. (Reuters)


Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, sought to distance himself from past inflammatory comments he has made about liberal Jewish groups, the Obama administration, and Democratic lawmakers. The confirmation hearing came one day after Trump upended decades of U.S. policy in saying that his administration wouldn’t necessarily push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (WSJ)


North Korea: Malaysian authorities said they will not release the body of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, until they receive DNA samples from next-of-kin. North Korean diplomats in Kuala Lumpur tried unsuccessfully to stop an autopsy from taking place. Three people--a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, and her Malaysian boyfriend--have so far been arrested in connection to the likely assassination. (WaPo)

Germany: Chancellor Merkel stressed the importance of German intelligence cooperation with the United States, and said she was confident it would continue under President Trump. Her comments came as she faced difficult questions from lawmakers looking into the NSA’s efforts to monitor communications in Germany in 2013. (WSJ)


Bring On the Special Prosecutor: “The need for an independent actor who can both investigate and prosecute criminal wrongdoing in the executive branch is clear, because the attorney general and the Justice Department cannot be reliably impartial about their own bosses,” write editors of the New York Times.


Mattis’s NATO Warning: “No one can accuse Mr. Mattis of harboring crypto-Putinist views or illusions about the nature of the threats facing the West from Islamist terrorism or authoritarian states like Russia, China and Iran,” write editors of the Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. defense chief steered clear of his boss’s more bombastic rhetoric about NATO being ‘obsolete’ and underscored the alliance’s centrality to American strategy. Here’s hoping the general’s tough love will spur action in NATO capitals.”

Moscow Resets Expectations as Disorder Reign in Washington: “Even amid this talk of Russian resurgence, the mood in Moscow is cautious — particularly about the disorder in Washington. In the U.S. there may be a perception that Russia is revelling in Mr Trump’s election, but the rollercoaster ride of contradictory policy pronouncements and the failure to quickly establish top-level communication with the US president are upsetting previously high Russian expectations,” writes Kathrin Hille in the Financial Times.


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The EU's Other Migrant Challenge

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