The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 9, 2017
FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2017

Former FBI Director James Comey testified on Thursday that he believed President Trump had tried to derail an investigation into his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and accused the president of lying and defaming him and the FBI.
In three hours of riveting public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey said he believed that he was receiving an order when Trump said he “hoped” Comey would be able to end the FBI’s inquiry into Flynn. As to whether the president’s alleged statements amounted to obstruction of justice, Comey said, that was “a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.” It was the first public suggestion that prosecutors would investigate the president.
Asked why he was fired, Comey replied: “I take the president at his word — that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt, created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.” Comey also said that Trump had lied when he justified the firing by saying Comey had lost the confidence of an FBI in disarray. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, flatly denied any obstruction. “The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone,” he said. Kasowitz also accused Comey of leaking “privileged” communications with the president to the media. Comey admitted in his testimony that he asked a friend to pass his memos of his conversations with the president to the media after Trump tweeted last month an implicit threat that Comey “better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
Speaker Paul Ryan tepidly defended the president during Comey’s testimony, suggesting that Trump has encountered a steep learning curve in Washington. “The president’s new at this,” Ryan said. “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between [the Justice Department], FBI and White House. He’s just new to this.” Washington Post
New York Times: Comey’s Testimony Sharpens Focus on Questions of Obstruction
Lawfare: Did We Learn Anything New?
JustSecurity: The Biggest Bombshell Line from Comey on Obstruction of Justice
Los Angeles Times: Bad News for Trump: Republicans Aren’t Rushing to His Defense
Evan Osnos in the New Yorker:
“It is a remarkable measure of where the President stands, less than five months into his term: his party is seeking to defend him on the basis that his secret plea to the F.B.I. director, to abandon an investigation of a friend, did not rise to the level of an explicit order.”

Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View: “Hiding in plain sight is a potentially major new avenue for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia-related crimes: the possibility that President Donald Trump committed a federal crime by lying to Comey about his connections to Russia and activities on his 2013 visit there.”

Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View: “What we didn’t get from the public part of these hearings is anything that will cause pro-Trump or anti-Trump partisans to reconsider their basic positions.”

Jonah Goldberg in National Review: “When it comes to how the presidency works, Trump is an amateur, a bumbler and, very often, his own worst enemy.”

Todd Purdum in Politico: “Comey’s appearance Thursday will certainly rank with the great self-deprecating performances of past witnesses like Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal, or Sen. Sam Ervin, chairman of the Watergate select committee, who liked to insist that he was ‘just a country lawyer.’ In his own telling, Comey was just an ordinary guy doing his job in extraordinary circumstances, a bona fide Eagle Scout who, gosh darn it, is far too modest to say so out loud.”

Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare: “At the end of the day, the problem we face is stark. It is not okay to have a president who—as Jack Goldsmith put it last night - ‘does not remotely understand his role, status, and duties as President and Chief Executive’ and for whom ‘this failure infects or undermines just about everything he does.’ It is not okay to have a President who has so little regard for his oath of office that he cannot appreciate his deficiencies, has no desire to remedy them, and is thus prone consistently to behave in fashions repugnant to the very nature of the presidency.”
Editorials: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, National Review
Reality Winner, the 25-year-old NSA contractor accused of leaking a top-secret document to a news outlet, was denied bail on Thursday after she pleaded not guilty. During the detention hearing, a federal prosecutor said that Winner might have stolen or exposed other secrets before her arrest last week. It was not clear whether Winner had distributed classified information beyond a single NSA report related to Russian hacking activities. But AUSA Jennifer Solari said the authorities were concerned because Winner referred to “documents” during a telephone call with her mother. “I screwed up,” Winner, 25, allegedly said during the call.
According to Solari, Winner also plugged a peculiar query into an internet search engine last year: “Do top secret computers detect when flash drives are inserted?” She later placed such a device, which has not been recovered, into one such computer. Washington Post, New York Times, Slate

A U.S. aircraft shot down a "pro-Syrian regime" drone after it fired upon a group of U.S.-led coalition forces in southeastern Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon said. The incident marks a significant escalation around the Tanf border crossing, a vital link that connects Iraq and Syria. Iran considers the area — mostly made up of scrub and desert — part of an integral supply route that connects Tehran with Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Washington Post, Los Angeles Times
At least five assailants in this week’s deadly Tehran attacks were recruited by ISIS from inside Iran, the government said Thursday, a strong indication they were Iranian citizens. A government statement issued Thursday about the attacks said the five male assailants had left Iran at an unspecified time to fight for the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, and in Raqqa, Syria, the group’s de facto capital. They returned to Iran last July or August under the leadership of a commander with the nom de guerre Abu Aisha, the statement said, and had “intended to carry out terrorist operations in religious cities.” The statement did not specify whether they were Iranian citizens or provide further information about an additional female assailant.
Iranian news media also reported that the civilian casualty toll had risen to 17 dead and 52 wounded, as the police presence in the Iranian capital increased noticeably. New York Times, NPR
Guardian: What is Fueling ISIS’s Wave of Ramadan Violence?
Foreign Policy: By Rubbing Salt in Iran’s Wound, Trump Accomplished Nothing
ISIS claims killing of two Chinese in Pakistan: ISIS says it has killed two Chinese nationals who were abducted from southwest Pakistan by armed men in late May. BBC News

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain suffered a major setback in a tumultuous election on Thursday, losing her overall majority in Parliament and throwing her government into uncertainty less than two weeks before it is scheduled to begin negotiations over withdrawing from the European Union.
In April, May decided to call an early election in a bid to increase her party’s majority and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. But it has backfired decisively. Voters dealt her a stinging rebuke and left her Conservative party with 318 seats -- short of the 326 seats needed to win a majority in Britain’s 650-seat Parliament. The opposition Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, was projected to be on track for 262 seats, up 30 from 2015, significantly elevating Corbyn’s standing after predictions that his party would be further weakened.
On Friday, May resisted calls to resign, and said she would be forming a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party, a small Northern Irish party whose 10 seats are enough to give the Conservatives enough seats to govern. Guardian, BBC News, Wall Street Journal
The Economist: Theresa May’s Failed Gamble
Four Arab nations on Friday placed dozens of people and groups with suspected links to energy-rich Qatar on a terrorism blacklist, deepening a diplomatic dispute between key U.S. allies that threatens to destabilize the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt designated 59 individuals and 12 charities as terrorists in a joint statement published by the Saudi news agency early Friday morning. The list included the spiritual leader of the Sunni Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as several Qatari-funded charities. Washington Post, Guardian
New York Times: Hacking in Qatar Highlights a Shift Toward Espionage-for-Hire
Authorities in Germany announced on Thursday that they had arrested a 23-year-old Syrian who is suspected of working for the ISIS’s news agency, which announces claims of responsibility for the group’s attacks. the Syrian — a man identified only as Mohammed G., who was arrested on Wednesday — reportedly arrived in Germany in September 2015. “Once he arrived, he acted as a contact person between the news agency Amaq, which is considered part of Islamic State, and possible assailants of the terror organization,” the authorities said. New York Times
Why it’s becoming impossible to stop the terrorists: “The attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge were carried out by extremists who had nothing in common apart from a view of the world that places the murder of innocent people at the heart of a warped ideology,” writes Robert Verkaik in the Guardian. “Their different ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds demonstrate the size of the task now facing counter-terrorism agencies in the UK.”
On foreign policy, Trump isn’t a complete disaster: “Although there is certainly a lot to worry about in Trump’s approach to the world (leaving aside his domestic policies, a separate and equally serious subject), there are several hopeful signs,” write David Gordon and Michael O’Hanlon in the Washington Post. “His critics (including us) need to remember these facts, and support his good decisions, even as we continue our strong critiques when he goes astray.”
Kushner’s not-so-secret channel to Putin: “Russian banks conduct legitimate business with law-abiding companies around the world, including American banks,” writes Evelyn Farkas in the New York Times. “But their close ties to the Russian government make Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Mr. Gorkov worthy of deeper scrutiny. Mr. Gorkov is part of the Putin power vertical. When Mr. Kushner spoke to him, he was also talking to the Kremlin, and we should know what they discussed.”

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

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