SESSIONS RECUSES HIMSELF FROM RUSSIA PROBE
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said yesterday afternoon that he would not participate in any investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. "I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign," he told reporters at a news conference. His decision follows revelations that he twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and did not disclose the encounters when questioned, under oath, by Congress. Sessions rejected any suggestion that he tried to mislead anyone with his answers, but he did note that he should have been more careful in his testimony. (AP, Reuters, NYT)
CNN: More Trump Advisors Had Meeting With Russia’s Ambassador
Washington Post: Sessions Says He Doesn’t Know if Russia Favored Trump in Election
New York Times: Russian Envoy Cultivated Powerful Network in U.S.
Pence’s email hacked: The U.S. vice president used a private email account that was breached last spring while he served as governor of Indiana. He reportedly used the AOL account, which was opened in the mid-1990s, to conduct official business. A spokesman for Pence said his use of the account was consistent with previous governors. Hackers used his contacts to launch a phishing attack against his contact lists, and send financial scam emails.(Indy Star, WaPo, AP)
Trump pushes military budget: The president used a new U.S. aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia, as a backdrop to promote his plans to “rebuild” the country’s armed forces with a $54 billion increase in military spending. (NYT)
Al-Shabab: The Trump administration is reportedly considering widening the counterterrorism campaign against al-Shabab in Somalia. Recommendations to the White House would allow U.S special forces to increase assistance to the Somali National Army and give the U.S. military greater flexibility to launch more preemptive airstrikes.
Deportations: Sixty-one current and former local police chiefs and sheriffs penned a letter to President Trump urging him to soften his aggressive drive to enlist their forces in the removal of millions of undocumented immigrants. (Guardian)
Mosque Fires: Mosques in several U.S. states have been set fire to in recent weeks, a disturbing trend that comes amid increased fear about hate crimes against minority religious groups. (BuzzFeed)
Syria: Backed by Russian warplanes, Syria’s military recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS militants for the second time in a year. Syrian troops seized Palmyra in March of last year but lost it to the militants in December. (USA Today)
Iraq: Government security forces have discovered that ISIS converted a rail tunnel in Mosul into a massive training camp, including a shooting range, obstacle course, mosque, and clinic. More than 150 recruits could train there at a time, sources said. (WSJ)
Meanwhile, the cameraman who is said to have filmed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declaring the establishment of the Islamic State’s rule in Iraq and Syria was killed in an airstrike west of Mosul. (Iraqi News)
Germany: Police arrested two Syrian nationals suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. One of the men, identified as 35-year-old Abdalfatah H.A., reportedly killed three dozen employees of the Syrian government with his al-Nusra unit in 2013. The arrests are the latest in what appears to be an effort by German authorities to move against a growing number of radical Islamists in the country. (Politico, NYT)
Egypt’s Mubarak: The country’s top court cleared former President Hosni Mubarak of any responsibility for the killing of hundreds of people during the 2011 protests that ended his 30-year rule. The decision sweeps away the final legal hurdle to his release from detention, analysts say. (NYT)
Sweden: The non-aligned scandinavian country has decided to reintroduce its military draft amid fears of Russian aggression. Sweden and Finland are not in Nato but cooperate closely with the security alliance. (BBC)