The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday via Twitter that he will ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity. “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote. He added that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the decision was made based “on what was best for the military” and was made in consultation with the president’s national security team.

The ban would reverse a decision by the Obama administration to allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. That move had been approved by the Department of Defense but was still under final review. In June, Defense Secretary James Mattis approved a six-month delay in allowing transgender recruits to join the military. At the time, Mattis said the delay would give military leaders a chance to review the policy’s potential impact.

Trump’s comments drew condemnation from civil rights and transgender advocacy groups, some of whom vowed to challenge the policy in court. The ACLU called the policy “outrageous” and accused Trump of rejecting “basic humanity” of transgender service members. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also criticized the policy. “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity,” said Senator John McCain. “To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military,” Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement. “There are already transgender individuals who are serving capably and honorably,” he added. CNN, New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post
ABC News: Effect of U.S. Military Ban on Transgender Troops Remains to Be Seen
Washington Post: Trump’s Stance on LGBT Rights Has Always Been Confusing
The Hill: Trump Triggers Storm with Transgender Ban
USA Today: Trump’s Ban Leaves Transgender Troops in Limbo, and His White House and Pentagon Scrambling

President Trump renewed his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, questioning on Twitter why Sessions had not fired the acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, over McCabe’s wife’s political ties to Hillary Clinton. “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives,” Trump wrote on Twitter. By adding McCabe to a growing list of what the president views as Sessions’ management failures, Trump spurred further speculation that he is considering firing his attorney general. Vice President Mike Pence praised Trump’s “candid” remarks on Sessions, while also stressing that he and the president appreciate Sessions’ work at the Justice Department.. Politico, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN

McCabe took over the agency after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey in May. He has remained in place while Trump’s nominee to replace Comey, Christopher Wray, has undergone the confirmation process. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is set to send a letter to the Justice Department asking whether Sessions violated his recusal from the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election when he recommended the firing of Comey. CNN
New York Times: Allies Warn Trump of Conservative Revolt Unless He Backs Off Sessions
Washington Post: Trump Talks Privately About the Idea of a Recess Appointment to Replace Sessions
NPR: Sessions Has Long Shown Unwavering Support For Trump

Scaramucci calls for inquiry over leak of financial form: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Wednesday on Twitter that he plans to contact the FBI and Justice Department regarding a leak of his financial disclosure. The financial disclosure form that Scaramucci filed with the government appeared on Politico on Wednesday night, showing that he has assets worth as much as $85 million. He mentioned White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the tweet, which he later deleted, prompting some administration officials to believe he was blaming Priebus. Scaramucci said that was incorrect, further tweeting that it was a “public notice to leakers that all [senior administration] officials are helping to end illegal leaks.” Washington Post, New York Times

House Judiciary Committee votes to probe Comey and Clinton’s 2016 campaign: Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to request documents about former FBI director James Comey’s conversations with the Obama administration and journalists, amending and replacing a Democratic resolution that was designed to obtain documents about Comey’s firing by President Trump. The amendment turns the focus to questions raised by some Republicans and the Trump administration over Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use and alleged “leaks” of memos he authored in which he documented his interactions with Trump. Washington Post, The Hill

Deal struck on Russia-Iran sanctions bill curbing Trump’s power: House and Senate Republicans have reached a deal to send President Trump a bill that could limit his power to lift sanctions against Russia. The House this week passed the legislation, 419-3, to enact new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, clearing the far-reaching measure for action by the Senate. Two administration officials say that Trump is likely to sign the bill. On Wednesday, meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country will respond in a “reciprocal” manner if the bill, which imposes sanctions on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, becomes law. Bloomberg, CNN, Washington Post, Associated Press

Partisan tensions flare after Kushner interview: Tensions flared among members of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as lawmakers clashed over the panel’s treatment of Jared Kushner during a closed door hearing the day before as part of its inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy for acting “as a second attorney for Mr. Kushner” during the interview. Following the interview, Gowdy said the panel uncovered no new information about potential connections between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign. Bloomberg, Politico

Russia says 4 military police battalions deployed to Syria: Four battalions of Russian military police are currently deployed in safe zones in Syria, according to Russian defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The chief of the Russian General Staff said last week that Russian military police were in one safe zone in Syria, however he did not elaborate on numbers. Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed on a plan in May to establish four deescalation zones in Syria. Associated Press

Dozens killed in deadly Taliban attack on Afghan military base: At least 26 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in southern Kandahar province. The Afghan air force said it carried out strikes backing up soldiers on the ground during the hours-long attack on the base, which began late Tuesday and ended early on Wednesday. One senior army source said up to 12 soldiers are still missing following the assault, which he described as a “very heavy attack.” A member of Kandahar’s provincial council said there was prior intelligence that the Taliban would attack in large numbers. France 24, New York Times

U.S.-Somalia mission detains suspected al-Shabaab associate: The U.S. military says a mission in Somalia has detained a suspected associate of the al-Shabaab extremist group who once lived in the U.S. Africa Command Spokeswoman Jennifer Dyrcz said Wednesday that Abdirizak Tahlil is accused of “facilitating the use of improvised explosive devices in Somalia” and is detained by Somalia’s government. She said his capture was led by Somalia’s military with “limited tactical advisory support” from U.S. forces. The Trump administration recently approved stepped-up military efforts against al-Shabaab. Associated Press

Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating fake Facebook personas, according to a U.S. congressman and two other people briefed on the effort. About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to him. Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election, but the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported. Facebook said it did not believe the spies were able to get the targets to download malicious software or give away their login information, which they believe may have been the goal of the operation. Reuters

EU court rules against airline passenger information sharing: The European Court of Justice on Wednesday dealt a blow to the EU’s policy of sharing information about airline travellers, saying that a long-standing arrangement with Canada over passenger name record systems violated people’s privacy. In its ruling, the court said the European Commission went too far when it gave Canada access to detailed information about airline passengers and stored this data for up to five years. The court’s opinion endangers similar agreements with the U.S. and Australia. Politico

British judge rejects legal challenge to counter-terrorism strategy: A British judge rejected on Wednesday a case brought against the government's counterterrorism strategy, according to lawyers for the claimant, a Muslim activist. Salman Butt had claimed the government’s “Prevent” program breached his right to free speech by directing universities to restrict some speakers from addressing students. Rejecting Butt's case, Judge Duncan Ouseley ruled that universities could disregard the advice in certain cases and that the right to free speech was not restricted, the lawyers said. The “Prevent” program, which is aimed at halting the spread of radical ideology, has come under fire in recent years, with critics saying it stigmatizes individuals and breeds distrust within communities. Reuters

Teenage girl accused in court of plotting terror attack in the UK: British authorities have charged a 17-year-old girl from London with terror offenses after she plotted to commit an attack in the country. The girl allegedly married an ISIS fighter in Syria via Skype and is accused of receiving instructions on how to use the weapons and asking for help in carrying out an attack between December 2016 and April 2017. The ISIS fighter was reportedly killed in a drone strike in April. The girl, who is believed to be from a Moroccan background, appeared at Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday. Her lawyer said she would plead not guilty. The Guardian

Britain and Australia urge China to do more on North Korea threat: Britain and Australia urged China on Thursday to do more to persuade North Korea to drop its nuclear and missile programs. Earlier this month North Korea, which has warned Australia could be the target of a strike, said it conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. and other countries have indicated frustration that China has not done more to rein in the regime of Kim Jung Un. “With international influence comes responsibility. It is now for Beijing to use the influence it has over the North Korean regime to get it to abandon its program,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in Sydney. Reuters
The Iranian cyberthreat is real: “Iran is capable of causing a lot of havoc through cyberspace,” Trey Herr and Laura K. Bate write in Foreign Policy. “The Gulf has more than its share of political rivalries and long-standing antipathies, and Iran’s status as a growing power in cyberspace means that these vulnerabilities only appear poised to worsen.”

Why is the Trump administration empowering al-Qaeda in Syria? “Alienating the Sunni population is not the way to win the war against Islamist radicalism,” Marc A. Thiessen writes in the Washington Post. “Right now, al-Qaeda has established itself as the tip of the spear in the fight against the Assad regime, so many Sunnis who do not share al-Qaeda’s ideology are flocking to al-Qaeda because it is the only game in town for fighting Assad....Instead of undermining these efforts, we are helping them, by focusing almost exclusively on the Islamic State and driving the Sunni population to ally itself with al-Qaeda.”

The dangerous politicization of the military: “Here’s the danger in that, and in the president’s words this past weekend: If you keep treating the U.S. military like a privileged class—a class of men and women above the citizens it swore to defend—it will start acting like it,” Andrew Exum writes in The Atlantic. “America has already taken on some characteristics of a banana republic of late, with long-standing ethical rules ignored (with the tacit blessing of the Congress) and the president’s relatives given positions of power within the government. So a next logical step would be a military like that of Egypt, or Turkey, or Pakistan, where the military officer corps is a political-economic actor that operates not only out of service to the citizenry but also to protect its own craven political and economic interests.”

How to negotiate with the Taliban: “Washington’s experts nearly all agree that the U.S. should seek a political, not a military, solution to the war in Afghanistan,” Javid Ahmad writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom in Washington is wrong. Such ideas not only embolden the Taliban and its patrons, but also undercuts the Afghan war effort and insults America’s sacrifices in Afghanistan...The Trump administration needs to pursue a strategy that simultaneously engages the Taliban on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

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