The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 13, 2017
TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017
FEDERAL APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS FREEZE ON TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN

A second federal appeals court on Monday ruled against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on people entering the United States from six Muslim-majority nations. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals used narrow grounds to reject the administration’s bid to undo a Hawaii federal judge’s decision blocking the temporary ban, ruling that Trump’s March 6 order violated existing immigration law.
 
The administration has already sought a Supreme Court review of a similar decision issued last month by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. While the 4th Circuit also ruled against the ban, its reasoning was that Trump’s revised executive order violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. In briefs filed Monday in the Supreme Court, lawyers challenging the ban urged the court not to hear the Trump administration’s appeal to the 4th Circuit’s  decision or to stay the injunctions entered in the two cases. They said the cases might be moot as soon as Wednesday, as the 90-day suspension of entry contemplated by the revised executive order is set to expire then. Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters
 
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration was reviewing the decision and believes the travel ban is “lawful” and that it will ultimately be upheld by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the ban is needed for national security purposes. “President Trump knows that the country he has been elected to lead is threatened daily by terrorists who believe in a radical ideology, and that there are active plots to infiltrate the U.S. immigration system - just as occurred prior to 9/11,” Sessions said in a statement. CNN, Politico
Related:
Reuters: U.S. Targets Iraqis for Deportation in Wake of Travel Ban Deal
New York Times: America Needs Closure on the Travel Ban
ABC News: Travel Ban: Where Things Stand and What Comes Next

SESSIONS TO TESTIFIES TODAY; WHITE HOUSE DECLINES TO SAY WHETHER IT WILL INVOKE EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will publicly testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, where senators are expected to press him about what he did—and did not do—after President Trump reportedly asked former FBI Director James Comey in February to end the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Sessions has also come under scrutiny from senators over his failure to disclose meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. As a result, Sessions recused himself from involvement in the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. Session’s involvement in Comey’s firing raises questions about whether he violated the terms of his recusal. Washington Post, New York Times
 
Ahead of the testimony on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said it would be “premature” to say whether the White House would invoke executive privilege to limit the scope of Sessions’ testimony. Spicer declined to comment on President Trump’s views of Session’s decision to testify. “He’s going to testify. We’re aware of it, and we’ll go from there,” he said. Spicer also refused to say whether tapes exist of Trump’s conversations with former FBI Director Comey. Associated Press, Politico
Related:
Just Security: Five (Not-So-Obvious) Questions that Attorney General Jeff Sessions Should be Asked
ABC News: Questions AG Jeff Sessions is Likely to (or Should) Face During Testimony Before the Senate Intelligence Committee
Washington Post: Why Jeff Sessions’ Testimony on Russia is So Important
CNN: Can Jeff Sessions Avoid Some Questions by Citing Executive Privilege?
 
TRUMP CONSIDERING TERMINATION OF SPECIAL COUNSEL
President Donald Trump may be considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller from his position overseeing the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, a friend of the president said Monday. “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he’s weighing that option,” CEO of conservative Newsmax Media Christopher Ruddy told NewsHour. He added, “I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.” Ruddy’s comments appeared to take the White House by surprise. “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
 
Mueller has repeatedly come under fire from supporters of President Trump in recent days. A shift from targeting former FBI Director James Comey to targeting Mueller became apparent over the weekend, when one of the president’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to rule out the possibility the president might fire Mueller. Politico, PBS Newshour
Related:
New York Times: Ivanka Trump Says Father Felt ‘Vindicated’ by Comey Testimony
 
Trump gives Priebus until July 4th to clean up White House: President Trump has set a deadline of July 4 for a shakeup of the White House that could include removing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, according to administration officials and outside advisors. He is reportedly considering bringing on his former campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie as a White House senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, respectively. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the deadline for Priebus, adding “whoever is saying that is either a liar or out of the loop.” Politico
 

 
MATTIS SAYS OPTIONS ON AFGHANISTAN TO BE PRESENTED TO TRUMP SOON
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday he would present options for a regional strategy on Afghanistan to President Donald Trump “very soon.” He told the House Armed Services Committee that the administration is “looking at everything from the situation between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, Iran and that whole South Asia area.” Mattis said a request by head of the U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, for additional troops would mostly be made up of forces who would train, advise, and assist Afghan personnel.
 
Reports emerged in April that the Trump administration was carrying out a review of Afghanistan and considering sending between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops there. A truck-bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Over the weekend, three U.S. soldiers were killed and a fourth wounded in an attack carried out by an Afghan soldier. Reuters, CNBC
 
ISIS CALLS FOR RAMADAN ATTACKS IN U.S., EUROPE
ISIS is calling on its supporters to carry out attacks in the United States and Europe during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. An audio message circulated online on Monday, spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajer called on ISIS followers to launch attacks in the United States and Europe, as well as Russia, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Philippines. In praising attacks last week in Tehran claimed by the group, al-Muhajer called Iran “weaker than a spider’s web.” The authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified, but the voice was the same as a previous audio message purported to be from the spokesman. Reuters, Associated Press
Related:
Washington Post: Bloody Combat in a Philippine City Highlights U.S. Concerns About ISIS in Asia
 
Nigeria army says it killed Boko Haram leader:
A top Boko Haram commander was among many insurgents killed Sunday as soldiers fought to rescue nine children being trained at a secret camp, a Nigerian official said Monday. Soldiers on their way to an Islamic extremist camp in Borno State were ambushed by Boko Haram fighters and killed many of the insurgents, including one of its commanders Abu Nazir, Nigerian army spokesman Brig. Gen. Sani Usman said. Associated Press
 

SUSPECTED NORTH KOREAN DRONE SPIED ON U.S. ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEM
A suspected North Korean drone took photographs of an advanced U.S. anti-missile battery in South Korea before crashing on its way home, the South Korean military said on Tuesday. The drone, mounted with a camera, was found last week in a forest near the border with North Korea. It was similar in size and shape to a North Korean drone found in 2014 on an island near the border. “We confirmed that it took about 10 photos,” of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. The official said more analysis was being conducted, including to determine whether the drone had already transmitted the photos of the THAAD site. Reuters, Associated Press
 
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared North Korea the “most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security” before the House Armed Services Committee on Monday. “North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has increased in pace and scope,” Mattis said. “The regime’s nuclear weapons program is a clear and present danger to all, and the regime’s provocative actions, manifestly illegal under international law, have not abated despite United Nations’ censure and sanctions.” Washington Post, Reuters
 
IRAN BLAMES U.S. FOR REGIONAL INSTABILITY, CREATION OF ISIS
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday blamed the United States for instability in the Middle East. “That (the) US arms a terrorist group is what causes instability,” Khamenei wrote on Twitter, calling Washington’s fight against ISIS “a lie.” He added that while President Trump accuses Iran of supporting terrorists, “terrorism in this region has American roots.” CNN, Reuters
 
Khamenei’s comments amid regional tensions between Qatar and other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that accuse Doha of financing terrorism. Also on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that a blockade against Qatar by Gulf states was “very complex situation” and it was an area where common ground had to be found.
 
Qatar recently hired the law firm of John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General under George W. Bush, to audit its efforts at stopping terrorist funding. Reuters, Associated Press
Related:
Associated Press: Qatar’s Ties with Iran and Islamist Groups
Washington Post: U.S. Universities in Qatar Wary of Diplomatic Upheaval Isolating the Country
 
Over 1,000 arrested in Russian anti-corruption protests: Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 100 cities in Russia on Monday to denounce corruption and political stagnation despite official attempts to stifle the expression of outrage. Around 1,400 people were arrested and there were reports that tear gas was used on demonstrators. The protests followed the arrest of anti-corruption leader Aleksei Navalny. A Moscow court sentenced him to 30 days in jail on Monday for organizing an unauthorized protest. New York Times, CNN
 
Manchester bombing was planned for months, Libya says: The bomb attack in Manchester last month that killed 22 people had been planned since December, security officials in Libya said. The perpetrator, Salman Abedi, was being watched in Libya more than a month before the attack. Officials in Tripoli have complained about poor security cooperation with the UK, which they say must be improved to prevent further attacks. BBC News
TOP OP-EDS

Between the lines of Jim Comey’s testimony: “As Comey was careful to point out, it was not the function of his testimony to prove or disprove any case against Trump or anyone else. Building such a case remains within the jurisdiction of Robert Mueller, the newly appointed special prosecutor and former FBI director. Moreover, as a former FBI agent, I know the importance of reading between the lines; and in this case, a great deal went unsaid both about the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the peril the president himself could face,” Ali Soufan writes in The Atlantic. “Where Trump is focused on fending off accusations instead of countering Russian aggression, Comey has shown himself prepared to sacrifice his own career in order to uphold the rule of law and protect the integrity and investigative independence of the FBI.  In a political environment hopelessly polluted by ‘alternative facts,’ Americans desperately need real ones.”
 
If Trump fires Mueller (or orders his firing): “The first issue is what supposed misconduct might constitute the basis for Mueller’s removal. The standard for firing special counsel, remember, is ‘misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.’ It is hard to see what Mueller has done that would warrant termination under this standard,” Jack Goldsmith writes in Lawfare.
 
Why breaking encryption to combat terrorism carries risks: “It is easy to see why governments have been lashing out at tech companies,” John Thornhill writes in Financial Times. “Undoubtedly, they could — and should — do more to expunge material that fuels extremism. There are encouraging signs that they are doing just that. But to force them to make encrypted communications less secure would be a risky and potentially counterproductive move. Far better for governments to collaborate with those tech companies in myriad other lawful ways to counter the terrorist scourge.”
 
Comey’s a whistleblower, not a leaker: “Slamming a high-profile whistleblower as a petulant leaker sends a worrisome message to rank-and-file governmental employees who may encounter misconduct. Typically, we protect and praise employees who leak wrongdoing because we recognize that such leaks can be the best way to expose waste, fraud and abuse,” Eric Columbus writes in Politico. “During the Obama years, Republicans lauded the efforts of employees who exposed what they viewed as government malfeasance, and were appropriately vigilant for signs of retaliation against them…But if whistleblowers are derided as self-serving leakers for daring to expose abuses, fewer will come forward. The GOP’s attacks on Comey provide little cause for optimism.”
 
How the London attacks reveal a gateway to terrorism: “Nowadays, states and organizations no longer have a monopoly on the planning and production of terrorist violence. A growing diversity of other actors that are capable of effecting transformative change through terrorism have entered the picture in recent years. These actors include a growing number of informal networks and individual terrorist entrepreneurs,” Assaf Moghadam writes in the Washington Post. “These new actors have not emerged in a vacuum but in an environment increasingly conducive to terrorist collaboration: a formidable and persistent ideology — jihadism — that serves as a key motivator for mutually beneficial cooperation. The Internet, and especially new social media platforms, provide a cheap and effective medium for cooperation. And new and enduring armed conflicts, such as those in Syria and Yemen, offer ample opportunities for militant actors to collaborate on the ground.”
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