The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 15, 2017
MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle urged President Trump over the weekend to avoid picking a partisan for the FBI director job, as it became increasingly clear that the administration plans to move quickly to fill the role. The Justice Department reportedly had substantive conversations over the weekend with at least 8 candidates to lead the bureau, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas; former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan; Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser to George W. Bush; two federal judges, and others. Administration officials have suggested that Trump could make a selection before he leaves for his first overseas trip as president at the end of the week.  

But the president may run into unexpected resistance from both parties depending on the background of his nominee. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that in the wake of the furor over James Comey’s firing, selecting an FBI agent to lead the agency would allow the nation to “reset.” “It’s now time to pick somebody who comes from within the ranks, or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on Day 1,” said Graham, R-S.C. Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on Sunday said he supported the idea of refusing to vote on a new FBI director nominee until a special prosecutor is named. “I think there are a lot of Democrats who feel that way,” he said on CNN.

After Trump suggested on Friday that he may have secretly taped conversations with the ousted director, lawmakers from both parties also spent the weekend suggesting that if any tapes do exist, they need to be turned over to Congress. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times
Washington Post: Candidates Under Consideration to Lead the FBI
Wall Street Journal editorial: Obstruction of the Executive
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday that he thinks US institutions are under assault from President Donald Trump. “I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally -- and that’s the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system -- and I think as well our institutions are under assault internally,” Clapper told anchor Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union. Pressed if he meant US institutions were under assault internally from the President, Clapper responded, “Exactly.” CNN

9/11 hearings at Guantanamo: Pretrial hearings resume today in the 9/11 death-penalty case with a bid by a lawyer for an accused terrorist to stop the proceedings. Miami Herald

Appeal rejected for terrorism guilty plea: A federal appellate panel has dismissed an Ohio man's bid to appeal his 30-year prison sentence for plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol. The three Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled recently that 22-year-old Christopher Cornell had waived his broad appeal rights when he pleaded guilty last year to three charges including attempted murder of U.S. officials and employees in support of ISIS. Associated Press

North Korea said on Monday that the missile it tested on Sunday was a new ballistic missile that can carry a large, heavy nuclear warhead, warning that U.S. military bases in the Pacific were within its range. The missiles tested yesterday was what American officials called an intermediate-range ballistic missile, and is  believed to have a longer range than any other North Korean missile tested so far. It flew about 435 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan. New York Times, NPR, Washington Post
New York Times: If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They Are More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy

The cyberattack that spread around the globe over the weekend, hitting more than 100,000 businesses, hospitals and government agencies in at least 150 countries, has begun to infect more computers this week as users returned to work early Monday. The malware, which locks files and asks for payment to unlock them, hit businesses and institutions across the world, including shipper FedEx, train systems in Germany, a Spanish telecommunications company, universities in Asia, Russia's interior ministry and forced hospitals in Britain to turn away patients. Europe’s police-coordination agency estimated at least 200,000 individual terminals had fallen victim to the attack, while Chinese authorities put the number as high as 1 million worldwide. Wall Street Journal, NPR, New York Times
Guardian: The ‘Accidental’ Hero Who Halted Ransomware Attack

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Trump. But the meeting looks set to be fraught with tension. Last week, Erdogan’s top military and intelligence officials traveled here for a final effort to stop the administration from arming Syrian Kurdish fighters for an upcoming offensive in Raqqa against the Islamic State, only to be told by their U.S. counterparts that a decision to do so had already been made. Washington Post
Foreign Policy: The U.S. and Turkey Are on a Collision Course in Syria
Are there still public servants who will say no to the president? “As the country once again wonders whether justice can be nonpolitical and whether its leaders understand the most basic principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law, I recall yet another firestorm that erupted 10 years ago over the abrupt and poorly explained firing of top Justice Department officials in the midst of sensitive investigations,” writes Preet Bharara in the Washington Post. “The 2007 affair was not Watergate, the more popular parallel invoked lately, but the lessons of that spring, after the Bush administration inexplicably fired more than eight of its own U.S. attorneys, are worth recalling.”

Lawyerly integrity in the Trump administration: “An attorney who is a political appointee often faces a decision—like Comey’s last summer, or Rod Rosenstein’s last week—that is highly consequential and destined to be controversial no matter what he decides,” writes Jack Goldsmith in Lawfare. “The political appointee will almost always try to ‘do the right thing.’ (i.e. very few act in bad faith.) But even before one gets to the various pressures that can affect one’s judgment, figuring out the right thing can be hard.”

Misunderstanding terrorism: How the us vs them will never stop attacks: “Finding and stopping terrorists before they strike is often compared to looking for a needle in a haystack, a cliché that speaks to the difficulty of preventing a crime that, while deadly, is uncommon,” writes Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept. “Counterterrorism officials still suggest that the task would become easier if they could use profiling to target Muslim communities. In other words, if they could shrink the size of the haystack.
But a new book by Dr. Marc Sageman, a veteran counterterrorism researcher and former CIA operations officer, argues that this approach, even if carried to its fullest extension in a nightmare scenario for civil liberties, would still be ineffective, because jihadist terrorism is such a statistically rare phenomenon.”

The Syrian Crisis
A discussion with CNN Foreign Correspondent Clarissa Ward and Senior Crisis Advisor to Amnesty International Rawya Rageh
Fordham University School of Law
Thursday, May 18
113 West 60th Street

International Law and National Security: 
A View From Abroad on Current Trends in Targeting, Detention, and Trials

Benjamin Cardozo School of Law
Thursday, May 18
55 Fifth Avenue

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief.

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