The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Senate Releases 2,500 Pages About 2016 Trump Tower Meeting

The Senate Judiciary Committee released more than 2,500 pages of documents on Wednesday related to its investigation about a meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower between top Trump aides and a delegation of Russians who promised to help the campaign. The documents and interview transcripts reaffirm existing accounts of the meeting — that Donald Trump Jr. and top Trump aides sought “dirt” offered to them on Hillary Clinton and received at least one political intelligence tip, but received nothing as explosive as they had hoped.

The transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee fill in new details about how Trump Jr., President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were expecting a bombshell from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who arranged the Trump Tower meeting, told the committee he was anticipating a “smoking gun” from Veselnitskaya when he urged Trump Jr. to take the meeting.

The meeting — and whether President Trump knew about it — has become a central focus of Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump Jr. has told House investigators that he did not communicate with his father about the meeting before it happened. He told congressional investigators he was interested in “listening to information” about Clinton in the meeting. “I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen,” he said. Kushner said in an 11-page statement that he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the campaign and that he “did not remember” the Trump Tower meeting. CNN, CNBC, NPR

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s leadership said Wednesday that its investigation has determined that the Kremlin sought to help Trump win the presidential election, but that it will be several more months before the committee addresses the question of collusion. Washington Post
Related:
Washington Post: What Paul Manafort’s Trump Tower Notes Mean
New York Times: 5 Things the New Trump Tower Meeting Documents Tell Us
NPR: One Year Into The Job, 3 Big Lessons About Special Counsel Robert Mueller
ABC News: Russian Social Media Giant Offered Pro-Trump Effort During Campaign
New York Times: Top Republican Senator Says There’s ‘No Doubt’ Russia Favored Trump
Reuters: Mueller Issues Grand Jury Subpoenas to Trump Adviser’s Social Media Consultant

FBI INTERVIEWED AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR IN 2016 AS PART OF TRUMP PROBE
The government of Australia in 2016 allowed one of its ambassadors to be interviewed by the FBI as part of the agency’s investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. The secret meeting, which marked a break with diplomatic protocol, was held in London between FBI agents and Australia’s  ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer. The FBI initiated the sit-down after learning the ambassador had evidence that one of Trump's advisers knew in advance about Kremlin interference in the U.S. presidential election. The FBI probe, which would become the foundation for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, was code-named “Crossfire Hurricane.” CNBC, New York Times
 

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Enough with the gamesmanship. Dealing with North Korea requires pragmatism: “The improving relations between North and South Korea present a historic opportunity for denuclearization and lasting peace,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) writes in the Washington Post. “But we must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. The president’s impulsive and erratic approach to foreign policy has left our allies confused and our adversaries emboldened. If he wants to take advantage of this critical opportunity, he needs something that he has repeatedly been incapable of providing: disciplined leadership and a real strategy.”

Deciphering Kim Jong Un’s motives: “Trump should take a cue from President Richard Nixon. In preparing for his historic meeting with the Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972, Nixon made sure he understood how to play the game by thinking about his opponent’s aims. On a piece of paper, he outlined what Mao wanted, laid them out against the goals of the United States, and then mapped out areas of potential agreement,” Michael Green writes in Foreign Affairs. “Trump should do the same, thinking strategically about the motivations of all the summit’s key players: North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia.”

The way forward in Iraq: “An alliance between Mr. Sadr and Mr. Abadi would move Iraq toward a more stable, inclusive and less corrupt state of affairs.” Mina Al-Oraibi writes in the New York Times. “It would reduce Iran’s grip on the country and create a more balanced set of relations with its neighbors.”

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U.S. PROSECUTIONS OF WOULD-BE ISIS ATTACKERS DROP IN 2018
In December, FBI Director Christopher Wray said agents were tracking would-be lone wolf ISIS terrorists en masse, with about 1,000 active ISIS investigations spread across all 50 states. But while the FBI is pursuing hundreds of ISIS cases, it has been slow to prosecute the cases. A CNN analysis of court documents and government news releases shows a dramatic drop in ISIS prosecutions in 2018. The total number of publicly revealed ISIS indictments or guilty pleas in 2018 is only four, and there has been one publicly revealed ISIS arrest in 2018.

The peak year for ISIS prosecutions in the U.S. was 2015, when 57 people were charged with material support or related offenses. In 2016, the number of prosecutions fell to 34. The decline continued in 2017, with 26 indictments or pleas in ISIS cases. It is possible that there have been more than four ISIS prosecutions and one arrest in 2018, but the information is not available to the public. CNN

HASPEL WINS SENATE PANEL BACKING, CONFIRMATION EXPECTED
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10-5 behind closed doors Wednesday to advance Gina Haspel’s nomination as President Donald Trump's CIA Director pick, advancing the nominee to a full floor vote where she looks all but assured to win Senate confirmation. Two of the committee’s seven Democrats have said they are supporting Haspel, including Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel. The confirmation vote by the full Senate could occur before the end of the week. CNN
Related:
Wall Street Journal: Opinion: At the CIA, Immorality Is Part of the Job
CNN: How Gina Haspel’s Tough Approach to Terrorism Prepared Her to Become America’s Top Spy

CIA leaker Josh Schulte posted agency code online: Joshua Adam Schulte, the former CIA worker suspected of passing the agency’s hacking secrets to WikiLeaks, previously posted the source code for an internal CIA tool to his account on the public code-sharing site GitHub, The Daily Beast reported. That potential red flag was apparently missed by the spy agency just months after Edward Snowden walked out of the NSA with a thumb drive of secrets in 2013. Schulte, 29, worked at the CIA from 2010 to 2016. He was raided by the FBI on March 23, 2017, roughly two weeks after Julian Assange began releasing 8,000 CIA files. The Daily Beast

Former Cambridge Analytica employee testifies before the Senate: A former Cambridge Analytica employee who previously revealed that the company improperly harvested data from millions of Facebook users said Wednesday that he had been contacted by the FBI. The whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, made the comments ahead of testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wylie told senators that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group were “designed to activate some of the worst characteristics in people” and specialized in disinformation and propaganda. Speaking about Cambridge Analytica, he said he was concerned about “the level of engagement that the company had with Russia.” Wall Street Journal

FBI chief concerned about companies like ZTE: FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that he is “deeply concerned” about foreign companies like China’s ZTE gaining access to the U.S. telecommunications network, days after President Donald Trump promised via Twitter to help ZTE restore jobs after U.S. sanctions prompted it to suspend its main business operations. “We the FBI remain deeply concerned that any company beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values are not companies that we want to be gaining positions of power inside our telecommunications network,” Wray told a Senate panel. Politico, Reuters

DOJ Inspector General report on FBI handling of Clinton email probe entering final stages: The draft of a report from the Justice Department's internal watchdog, which addresses a wide-ranging set of allegations that department protocols were flouted when the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, has been completed. Inspector General Michael Horowitz informed lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday that his office has provided leadership at the Justice Department and FBI with a copy of the draft report for review. The report is not yet finalized. Lawyers for the individuals criticized in the report have an opportunity to review it with their clients and submit rebuttal points for consideration. That process is reportedly already underway. CNN

Guantanamo Bay detainee denied motion to show art: A man accused of helping plan the 9/11 attacks will not be allowed to publicly distribute art he makes in his cell at Guantanamo Bay after a judge denied a motion asking for Department of Defense restrictions to be lifted. The ruling by a military commission judge came down last week, said attorney Alka Pradhan, who represents Ammar al Baluchi. Al Baluchi’s attorneys had filed the motion in April, saying his rights were being violated because of the restrictions. Associated Press

Florida man charged with phoning bomb threat to mosque: A Florida man is facing federal charges that he phoned bomb threat messages into a mosque. Miami federal prosecutors said in Wednesday that 26-year-old Dustin Allen Hughes faces up to 10 years in prison. Authorities say no bomb was found. Hughes reportedly confessed after his arrest to leaving the messages because he wanted to upset and frighten Muslims. Associated Press


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INSPECTORS SAY CHLORINE LIKELY USED IN FEBRUARY ATTACK IN SYRIA
Banned chlorine munitions were likely dropped on a Syrian neighborhood in February, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Wednesday after laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the toxic chemical. The OPCW did not say who was behind the attack on Saraqib, which lies in rebel-held territory in the province of Idlib. But witnesses told OPCW investigators that the munitions were dropped in barrel bombs from a helicopter, a practice used by Syrian government forces. The OPCW is also investigating a suspected chemical attack on April 7 in the Douma enclave near Damascus, which prompted missile strikes by the U.S., France, and Britain. Those findings are expected by the end of the month. Reuters

Pentagon video reveals new details of deadly Niger ambush: A 23-minute video that was used to brief members of Congress on the October 2017 Niger ambush, which killed four U.S. soldiers and five Nigeriens, provides new insight into what went wrong. The video, produced by the U.S. military and given to CNN by the Pentagon, shows the body of Sgt. La David Johnson being recovered from under a tree in Niger 48 hours after he was killed in an ambush by ISIS fighters. The video, which says the there was an “inaccurate mission plan,” reveals more detail than was previously revealed by the Pentagon about how the mission was not properly authorized and how it diverged from the original plan. CNN

U.S. troops help repel major Taliban attack in Afghanistan: The U.S. military helped Afghan troops repel a major Taliban attack on the Afghan provincial capital Farah on Tuesday and Wednesday that punctured the security perimeter surrounding the city. It was unclear how close the Taliban came to capturing the city, which would have represented a major blow to the Afghan government. The insurgents claimed they briefly seized the city center, while the NATO-led coalition said it saw no direct evidence that they ever made it into the city. CNN


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BOLTON SAYS NORTH KOREA SUMMIT LIKELY TO GO FORWARD
President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday he believes the planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will happen, despite recent threats from Pyongyang to withdraw. Bolton said it is likely that the summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, will happen but that the meeting could be short if Kim doesn't agree to denuclearization. “If they haven't made a strategic decision that they're safer without nuclear weapons, that, as President Trump said, it could be a pretty short meeting in Singapore,” he said. Earlier Wednesday, Trump told reporters that “we have to see” whether the summit will occur. North Korea canceled high-level talks with South Korea on Wednesday and threatened to walk away from the summit with Trump to protest ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills. South Korea said on Thursday it would seek to mediate between the U.S. and North Korea. CNN, NBC News, Reuters
Related:
Politico: Trump’s North Korea Nobel Buzz Could Die With John Bolton
New York Times: North Korean Threats Are ‘Splash of Cold Water’ on Expectations for Talks
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Brushes Off Pyongyang’s Tough Talk, Proceeds With Planning for Summit




SOUFAN GROUP

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School
 
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