The Soufan Group Morning Brief




Democratic policymakers are pushing newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from managing a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election following disclosures that Sessions himself had contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the campaign. Sessions, then a U.S. senator and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, did not mention those communications during his Senate confirmation hearing. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” he said at his January 10 hearing.


Justice Department officials said Sessions met with the ambassador in his capacity as a member of the armed services panel rather than in his role as a Trump campaign surrogate. “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” a spokesman for Sessions said last night.


In a statement, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who questioned Sessions on the topic during the hearing, called his testimony “at best misleading,” noting, “It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately.” (WaPo, NYT, Reuters, WSJ, CNN)


New York Times: Obama Admin Rushed to Preserve Intel on Russia Hacking



U.S. officials say that computers and cellphones seized by U.S. counterterrorism forces during a raid in Yemen in January may help thwart future al-Qaeda attacks by providing insights into hidden explosives the group is making and new training methods. But it remains unclear how much the materials will advance the U.S. military’s knowledge. Officials say they have not yet revealed any specific plots and not led to any counterterrorism strikes in Yemen or elsewhere. (NYT)


Building the wall: So far, DHS has identified only $20 million that can be redirected to the multi-billion-dollar project. The funds would be enough to cover a handful of contracts for wall prototypes, the department said, but not enough to begin construction of an actual barrier. (Reuters)


North Korea options: The Trump administration is reviewing options, including the use of military force, to blunt the Kim regime’s nuclear threat. U.S. officials have on several occasions said that all options were on the table to deal with North Korea. (WSJ)


Ex-CIA officer: Sabrina De Sousa, who was convicted in absentia for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian terrorism suspect, thanked the Trump administration and the new leadership at the CIA for helping to lobby the Italian government to commute part of her prison sentence. (WaPo)


‘Dreamer’ detained: Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant from Argentina whose deportation protection under the Obama administration had lapsed, was detained by immigration officials after voicing her fear of removal at a news conference in Mississippi. (WSJ)


Jon Huntsman: President Trump is reportedly considering the former U.S. ambassador to China during the Obama administration as his top envoy to Moscow. Huntsman’s name has already been circulated for secretary of state and deputy secretary. (NYT)

Muslim centers threatened: Authorities are investigating letters threatening violence toward a mosque and a Muslim community center in Silver Spring, Maryland, and another mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. (WaPo)



A report by the United Nations says the Syrian army and opposition forces both committed war crimes in Aleppo last year by targeting civilian populations. Overall, the war crimes involved siege tactics by the Assad regime, which cut off food and basic supplies while it conducted airstrikes in civilian areas, including on hospitals, clinics, aid convoys, and schools. The report also said opposition forces indiscriminately shelled neighborhoods and prevented civilians from leaving. (WSJ, CBS, BBC)

Battle for Mosul: ISIS fighters launched a counterattack against U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in western Mosul during an overnight storm, intensifying the battle for the militants' last major urban stronghold in Iraq. The UN says more than 176,000 civilians have fled the city since the offensive began last month. (Reuters)

China: Ethnic Uighur fighters training in Iraq are preparing for a holy war with China, according to a video released this week purportedly by the Islamic State group. Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people from western China's Xinjiang region, have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. (Reuters)

Sinai: Analysts say that the escalating violence against both Muslims and Christians is exposing the weakness of the Egyptian army in securing the region, despite pledges by President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to do so. (WSJ)


Will Russia Fix Syria? “No one doubts that Mr. Assad prefers to stand over a broken country than not to stand at all. The betting in Europe and the Middle East, however, is that Russia may think differently. Having claimed victory in Syria, it is loath to be saddled for the long term,” writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times.


What ISIS Fighter Think of Trump: “As time went on, these jihadists began to argue that Trump represents ‘real’ America. Trump was saying what Americans and politicians always privately thought about Muslims but were too afraid to say in public. In their eyes, Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to fool American Muslims by insisting, deceptively, that there was a separation between “Islam” and “terrorism,” that the war on terror was only targeting terrorists, not Muslims,” writes Amarnath Amarasingam in Politico.

Trump Is Right to Spend More on Defense: “More funding would surely be a good thing, although the issues of how much and what for are complicated. No one should be under any illusions that a higher Defense Department topline guarantees a more capable armed forces,” writes Michele Flournoy in the Washington Post.


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Remarkable Pivot in U.S. International Affairs 

Center on National Security
Fordham University School of Law
150 W. 62nd St. 7th Floor
New York, NY 10023 US
Copyright © 2016 Center on National Security, All rights reserved.