The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 12, 2017
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Saturday that he plans to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and undeclared meetings with Russian officials. Sessions would be the highest government official to testify before the committee in its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and his testimony would come less than a week after Comey appeared before the committee. The committee has not confirmed the Tuesday date for Sessions’ testimony and is still discussing whether to allow him to testify in an open or closed session.
Democratic senators urged the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to take place publicly rather than behind closed doors. “These matters, which are directly related to threats to our democratic institutions, are of the utmost public interest. I believe we owe the American people transparency,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a letter to the committee's leadership. A number of committee members also expressed concern that Sessions could be attempting to avoid testifying in public by canceling his previously scheduled appearances on the Justice Department budget before the Senate and House Appropriations committees this week. He will be sending his deputy to testify before those committees instead.  CNN, Reuters, New York Times

Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland say they will sue President Trump on Monday, alleging that he has violated anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by accepting millions of dollars in payments and benefits from foreign governments since moving into the White House. The lawsuit, the first of its kind brought by government entities, centers on Trump’s choice to retain ownership of his company when he became president. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh say Trump has broken many promises to keep separate his public duties and private business interests. If a federal judge allows the case to proceed, Racine and Frosh say, one of the first steps will be to demand through the discovery process copies of Trump’s personal tax returns, adding that the fight would most likely end up before the Supreme Court. Washington Post
Republicans called on President Trump on Sunday to reveal whether he has tapes of private conversations with former FBI Director James Comey and, if he does, to provide them to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Special Counsel appointed to oversee the FBI investigation into the Russian investigation. “I don’t understand why the president just doesn’t clear this matter up once and for all,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). She added that she would support the issuing of a subpoena if the White House refuses to reveal whether the tapes exist. “We’ve obviously pressed the White House” about the matter, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. When he was asked about the issue last week following Comey’s testimony, Trump said “I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future.” Associated Press, Washington Post
President Trump called former Comey “cowardly” on Sunday on Twitter and said he thought leaks coming from Comey could be “far more prevalent” than believed. Following Comey’s appearance before the Senate last week, Trump called the former FBI director a “leaker” on Twitter and said that he was “vindicated” by Comey’s testimony, despite “so many false statements and lies.” On Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said Comey had “proven himself to be a liar in all this.” NBC News, Washington Post, USAToday
Associated Press: AP Fact Check: James Who? Trump Paints Comey as a Stranger
Chelsea Manning, the Army private who spent seven years behind bars and was convicted of disclosing classified government documents to WikiLeaks, said she felt compelled to leak information because of “a responsibility to the public.” Formerly known as Bradley Manning, she left prison last month after her 35-year sentence was commuted by former President Obama earlier this year. In her first televised interview since leaving prison, Manning said she was prompted to give the 700,000 military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks because of the human toll of the “death, destruction and mayhem” she saw as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning said she did not think her leaks would threaten national security. Associated Press, Washington Post
New York Times: The Long, Lonely Road of Chelsea Manning
Trump to nominate counterterrorism coordinator: President Donald Trump intends to nominate Nathan Sales as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, the White House said on Friday. Sales previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security and as Senior Counsel in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. Reuters

The United States carried out an air strike on al Shabaab militants in Somalia on Sunday. Somalia said its special forces joined in the attack to destroy one of the group's main training and command posts. The drone strike was the first by the United States in Somalia under new authorities granted by President Trump in March and was conducted in coordination with regional partners, the Pentagon said. “This was a successful strike that destroyed a key al Shabaab command and supply hub. This will ultimately disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia,” Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi said. Last week, al-Shabaab killed 59 people in an attack on a military base in the semi-autonomous Puntland region in northern Somalia. Reuters, ABC News
A U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force said Sunday it had captured a northwestern neighborhood of Raqqa from ISIS. This marked the second district to fall to U.S.-backed forces in days after the the launch of a wide offensive to take the city. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian Democratic Forces now control Romaniah and the eastern neighborhood of Mashlab. The fighters have also entered Raqqa’s western neighborhood of Sabahiya and the industrial district in the east. Associated Press
Reuters: Russia Says Tells U.S. Not to Strike Syrian Pro-Government Forces Again
Associated Press: Jordan Troops Killed 5 Suspected Infiltrators from Syria
U.S. Special Operations Forces are assisting the Philippine military in its battle against ISIS-affiliated fighters, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said Saturday. The forces have been deployed at the request of the Philippine government, the embassy said. The Philippine armed forces have been fighting the ISIS-linked Maute militants for control of the city of Marawi in the southern Mindanao region. The Pentagon said that U.S. Special Operations Forces have been providing support in the south “for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations.” The number of troops there ranges between 50 to 100 at any given time, the Pentagon said. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday he had not expected the battle for Marawi to be as serious as it has turned out. He said the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines.” CNN, The Guardian
New York Times: Duterte, Focused on Drug Users in Philippines, Ignored Rise of ISIS
Taliban deputy leader insists no hand in Kabul attacks: The head of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network has ruled out any involvement in a wave of deadly bombings in Kabul and western Afghanistan. The Afghan government has blamed the Haqqani network for a truck bombing in Kabul's diplomatic quarter on May 31, the deadliest in the Afghan capital since 2001. The Taliban disavowed any responsibility soon after the explosion, and Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani repeated the denial in an audio message posted on the group’s website on Sunday. Associated Press, Agence France Presse
Ramadan toll shows ISIS in pitched recruiting race: As its territorial holds in Iraq and Syria slip from its grasp, ISIS has threatened to make this year's Ramadan a bloody one at home and abroad. With attacks in Egypt, Britain, and Iran, among others, and a land-grab in the Philippines, the group is trying to divert attention from its losses and win over supporters around the world during the month of Ramadan. Associated Press
Suspected al Qaeda militants attack Yemen army camp: Suspected al Qaeda militants launched a car-bomb and gun attack on an army camp in southeastern Yemen early on Monday, leaving at least 10 militants and two soldiers dead. The assault near the town of Baddah in oil-producing Hadramout province came after a lull in attacks by the Islamist militant group. Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been detained at his home ahead of planned anti-corruption protests in Moscow, his wife said on Monday. His supporters are expected to descend on Moscow city center today after a last-minute call by Navalny to demonstrate at a central thoroughfare leading to the Kremlin rather than a location outside the heart of the city. Police have detained a number of people trying to demonstrate and the prosecutor's office warned that police would take action against any unauthorized demonstrations. Navalny is seeking to mount massive protests and build support as he campaigns for a March 2018 presidential election bid, despite uncertainty over whether President Vladimir Putin's government will allow him on the ballot. BBC News, Radio Free Europe, Reuters
Qatar willing to listen to Gulf concerns: Qatar is ready to listen to the concerns of Gulf Arab states that have cut diplomatic and economic ties, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, Kuwait said Sunday as it tried to mediate a solution to region’s worst crisis in years. Kuwait, which has retained ties with Qatar and has often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, said it wanted to resolve the dispute “within the unified Gulf house.” On Monday, Qatari Finance Minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi said the country can easily defend its economy and currency against the sanctions by the Saudi-led bloc. Reuters, Bloomberg
Iraq denies that Qatari ransom was sent to armed groups: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday rejected claims by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that a $500 million ransom was paid by Qatar to Shia armed groups in Iraq to secure the release of 26 kidnapped Qatari hunters. Abadi said the money was received by the government of Iraq and that the sum was still in the Iraqi central bank. Al Jazeera
Iran arrests almost 50 after deadly Tehran attacks: Iran has arrested almost 50 people in connection with twin attacks on Tehran claimed by ISIS that killed 17 people last week, as security forces stepped up efforts to crack down on suspected militants. Iran also said its security forces killed the mastermind of the attacks on Saturday. “The commander of this terrorist group was based in the border regions, but after the attacks left the country,” Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said. Reuters
Police say Manchester attacker built bomb ‘alone at his flat’: Suspected Manchester Arena attacker Salman Abedi most likely built the bomb used in the attack last month while “alone in his flat,” but investigators are still unsure of whether or not he had help carrying out the attack, police said Sunday. “We now have a deep understanding of Salman Abedi’s movements in and out of the country in the weeks leading up to the attack,” Russ Jackson, Head of Counterterrorism Policing for northwest England, said Sunday. “We understand how the chemicals and equipment were obtained and where the bomb was assembled.” ABC News
Emmanuel Macron’s party on track to claim majority in France’s parliament: The centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron looks on course to win a landslide victory following the country’s first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. Projections show La République en Marche (LREM) and its MoDem ally set to win up to 445 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. The final outcome will be decided in the second round of voting next Sunday. BBC News, France24, New York Times
President Trump cares more about himself than his country: “From former FBI director James B. Comey’s account this past week of his conversations with President Trump, a very clear, if disturbing, picture emerged of what the president worries most about. It’s not broader questions of law, government or national security. He’s got one paramount thing on his mind: himself,” Karen J. Greenberg writes in the Washington Post. “It’s hard to imagine packing more lessons into one hearing than Comey did Thursday. Chief among them was that justice, however embroiled with politics, does not exist to subsidize a cult of personality. It exists to honor the rule of law and the processes upon which our democracy is built. For that to happen, the country needs a president who can see beyond himself to the larger mark he is making upon our democracy. Without that vision, Comey’s appearance seemed to suggest, the country’s hallowed institutions are in peril.”
Is Putin Getting What He Wanted With Trump? “Did some of the characters in Mr. Trump’s circle seek to ratchet up their status or fatten their wallets by sucking up to Russians and wittingly or unwittingly expose themselves to foreign intelligence operatives? Maybe. Yet the collusion story is ultimately a sideshow. What’s consequential is the tale of Russia’s penetration of Trumpworld in order to try to influence United States policy,” Stephen Kotkin writes in the New York Times. “Mr. Trump, for many years, was talking to Russian oligarchs and, according to Russian officials, became a walking listening device for the Kremlin. Is it true? We shall learn in due course, when penetration rather than collusion rightly takes center stage.”
Why foreign aid is critical to U.S. national security: “In the 21st century, weapons and warfighters alone are insufficient to keep America secure...This week, we will join 14 other experienced former four-star generals and admirals in submitting testimony to Congress that military power alone cannot prevent radicalization, nor can it, by itself, prevent despair from turning to anger and increasing outbursts of violence and instability,” Admiral Michael Mullen and General James Jones write in Politico. “Strategic development assistance is not charity; it is an essential, modern tool of U.S. national security. Foreign assistance should be respected — and budgeted — as an investment in the enhancement of stability in the world’s most vulnerable places, not as a no-strings-attached giveaway to poorer nations.”
Of Laws, Not Men: “The president’s actions raise fundamental questions about his commitment to the rule of law and his understanding about his role in assuring the fair and impartial execution of our laws,” Jeffrey H. Smith writes in Just Security. “As they should, [the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the armed forces] fiercely protect their independence and honor their heritage and culture. Their politically appointed leadership must understand one of their key roles is to insulate the institution from improper political influence. These efforts, and the institutions themselves, must be supported by all Americans, beginning with their oversight committees in the Congress.”
Trump’s travel ban is useless. Terrorists mostly come from our own backyard: “Instead of a travel ban, the best way to deal with the scourge of jihadist terrorism is to enlist rather than alienate Muslim communities, because peers and family members are best positioned to notice radicalization or plotting. Indeed, Muslims already are leading anti-radicalization efforts in their communities, and we should support these efforts,” Peter Bergen writes in the Washington Post.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Trump Doctrine in the Gulf

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