The Soufan Group Morning Brief

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2017

FBI Director James Comey will appear Monday before the House Intelligence Committee, where he will face questions on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that he was wiretapped by President Obama during the campaign. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers is also scheduled to testify before the panel.

A number of lawmakers said over the weekend that new documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department provided no proof to support Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower. “Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added, “There was no FISA warrant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, also said there is no proof of a wiretap. But he did say there was “circumstantial evidence of collusion” at the outset of the congressional investigations into purported Russian election meddling, as well as “direct evidence” that Trump campaign figures sought to deceive the public about their interactions with Russian figures. Wall Street Journal, NBC News, Washington Post
New York Times: What to Expect When Comey Meets with the House Intelligence Committee
New York Times: Russia Inquires Overlap in a Tangle of Secrets and Sniping
CNN: The Key Players in Monday’s Russia Hearing
BBC: NSA’s Ledgett: Claims GCHQ Wiretapped Trump Are ‘Nonsense’

Neil Gorsuch, chosen by President Trump to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday for a three-day confirmation hearing. Many Democrats, still angry over the GOP’s unwillingness to give President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, have said they will oppose Gorsuch on principle. Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, as well as Gorsuch’s involvement with controversial national security policies as a George W. Bush administration lawyer, are expected to be prime topics of questioning. NBC News, Politico

Saudi officials are hoping President Trump will back their effort to dismantle a U.S. law passed last fall that allows U.S. terror victims to sue the Kingdom. A massive lobbying effort to unwind the law is already underway, even as 9/11 families head to court in the coming weeks, seeking a punitive payout that experts say could exceed $1 trillion. Wall Street Journal, Stars and Stripes

Law enforcement officials in New York City say President Trump’s proposed budget could cripple efforts to fight terrorism in the city. The budget slashes $190 million in Homeland Security funding for the Big Apple, imperiling everything from intelligence analysis to active-shooter training. “Under the president’s proposal, nearly all federal funding to the NYPD would be eradicated,” James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner, said at a briefing last Thursday. “This funding is absolutely critical. It is the backbone of our entire counter-terrorism apparatus.” NY Daily News, Washington Post

Trump leans on Special Forces: President Trump is embracing an Obama-era strategy of relying on Special Operations forces to combat terrorism overseas, but is also giving the Pentagon more latitude in its operations, reports the New York Times.

Trump expands CIA’s powers over drones: President Trump has given the CIA secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon. Wall Street Journal

Nashiri appeals to Supreme Court: Lawyers for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the man accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let them challenge their client's military detention in federal court. The lawyers hope to challenge Nashiri’s detention before his Guantanamo death-penalty tribunal — because, they allege, the CIA subjected him to years of “physical, psychological and sexual torture.” Miami Herald
New York Times: CIA Torture Left Scars on Guantanamo Prisoner’s Psyche for Years

Al Qaeda conviction: A confessed al Qaeda member was found guilty in Brooklyn federal court last week of fighting in an attack in Afghanistan that killed two U.S. soldiers. The conviction of Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun was unusual because Harun refused to appear in the courtroom during the two week trial, and because of the defense’s decision not to put on a case. New York Post, NY Daily News

U.S. military officials maintain that a drone strike last week on Aleppo targeted and killed scores of al Qaeda militants, but local residents say several dozen civilians were also killed when the strike hit  a mosque during evening prayers. BBC News, Washington Post

North Korea said on Sunday that it had conducted a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine. Kim Jong-un called the development “a great event of historic significance,” and South Korea acknowledged on Monday that the test represented a technological breakthrough. The test came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Beijing, where he appeared to be trying to build a constructive and “results-oriented” relationship with Chinese leaders after taking a new, more aggressive stance toward North Korea during an earlier visit to Seoul. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post

French election: After a foiled terror attack at Orly Airport in Paris on Saturday, terrorism returned to the forefront of the French presidential campaign this past weekend. The airport incident, which is being probed by an anti-terrorism prosecutor, involved an assailant who snatched a weapon from an officer in the south terminal before being shot and killed by a special army patrol. The five main candidates in the presidential election will debate this evening. Bloomberg
The revolt of the judges: “Why are so many judges being so aggressive” about Trump’s immigration ban? ask Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic in Lawfare. “We think the answer lies in judicial suspicion of Trump’s oath. It goes to the question of whether the judiciary means to actually treat Trump as a real president or, conversely, as some kind of accident—a person who somehow ended up in the office but is not quite the President of the United States in the sense that we would previously have recognized.”

Trump’s foreign policy doctrine: “The emerging Trump foreign policy doctrine might be summed up this way: escalate to de-escalate,” writes Josh Rogin in the Washington Post. “The administration may be ramping up U.S. involvement in the short term in crisis zones as a means of finding an exit strategy.”

No more ‘strategic patience’ on North Korea: “A very good idea now, and one of the few that might actually reduce the threat of war, would be for the past three presidents to issue a joint statement saying that the situation has now become serious, that they agree with Tillerson’s statement that “strategic patience” has failed, and that the Trump administration will enjoy bipartisan support as it moves to confront the new reality,” writes Walter Russell Mead in the American Interest. “Clinton, Bush and Obama may not agree on much, but all of them have to be aware that the timer on the North Korean time bomb is ticking toward zero.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Syria: The Humanitarian-Security Nexus

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