The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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Monday, May 7, 2018

CIA Nominee Offered to Withdraw

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to become the next CIA director, sought to withdraw her nomination Friday after some White House officials worried that her role in the interrogation of terrorist suspects could prevent her confirmation by the Senate, according to multiple reports.

Haspel faces a tough confirmation hearing on Wednesday, and told the White House she was interested in stepping aside if it avoided the spectacle and potential damage to the CIA’s reputation and her own.

Senior White House aides, including legislative affairs head Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, were taken aback by her stance and rushed to Langley, Va., to meet with Haspel at her office late Friday afternoon. Discussions stretched several hours, officials said, and the White House was not entirely sure she would stick with her nomination until Saturday afternoon.

Haspel, who serves as the CIA’s deputy director and has spent 33 years in the agency, most of it undercover, faces some opposition in Congress because of her connection to the interrogation program, which was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In late 2002, Haspel reportedly oversaw a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, where one al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. Another detainee also was waterboarded before Haspel’s arrival.

Three years later, Haspel was reportedly involved in the CIA’s destruction of nearly 100 videotapes that recorded the men’s interrogations, touching off an investigation by a special prosecutor who ultimately decided not to bring charges against those involved.

Those who support her nomination say her critics are attempting to torpedo her nomination without all the relevant facts. Haspel is on the Hill today for meetings with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, Guardian

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A cheat sheet to the Trump circus: “As the litigations and investigations move forward, it’s worth taking a step back and considering the various legal fronts on which the president is fighting simultaneously — filtering out as much noise from the signal as we can so the stakes are clear,” writes Quinta Jurecic in the New York Times. “Think of what follows as a cheat sheet to the legal circus surrounding the White House.”

The challenge of reinstating sanctions against Iran: “It took the combined efforts of Congress and two U.S. presidents—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—nearly a decade to cripple Iran’s economy,” writes Peter Harrell in Foreign Affairs. “Rebuilding economic pressure after Washington pulls out from the JCPOA would be an even greater challenge, given international opposition to the U.S. withdrawal and scant international support for renewed sanctions.”

Don’t scuttle the Iran nuclear deal: “I see no possible advantage in casting aside” the Iran nuclear deal, writes British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the New York Times. “Only Iran would gain from abandoning the restrictions on its nuclear program.”

The nuclear deal keeps America from confronting Iranian aggression: “Once Trump is out, Washington can get serious about the regime’s misbehavior,” writes Reuel Marc Gerecht in The Atlantic.

Editor's Picks


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NSA TRIPLES COLLECTION OF U.S. DATA FROM PHONE COMPANIES
The National Security Agency vacuumed up more than 534 million records of phone calls and text messages from American telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon last year — more than three times what it collected in 2016, an official report revealed on Friday.

Intelligence analysts are also more frequently searching for information about Americans within the agency’s expanding collection of so-called call detail records — telecom metadata logging who contacted whom and when, but not the contents of what they said. The new report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, did not indicate why the data collection had increased so dramatically. But Alex Joel, the office’s chief civil liberties officer, told the New York Times that the NSA had not reinterpreted its legal authorities to change the way it collects such data. New York Times, Reuters

GIULIANI SAYS TRUMP MIGHT REFUSE A MUELLER SUBPOENA
Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined President Trump’s legal team, said Sunday that the president would not have to comply with a subpoena issued by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and could invoke the Fifth Amendment if he does sit down with him.

“We don’t have to” comply with a subpoena, Giuliani said in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week.” “He’s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.” Washington Post, New York Times, NPR
Related:
Wall Street Journal: Trump Team Takes a More Aggressive Stance on Mueller Probe

TWO TOP COMEY ADVISERS RESIGN FROM THE FBI
Two top advisers to James Comey when he was director of the FBI resigned from the bureau on Friday. James Baker was a longtime confidant of Comey’s, serving as the bureau’s general counsel, and Lisa Page was an FBI lawyer who advised Comey while serving under his deputy director, Andrew McCabe. She was assailed by conservatives after texts that she had exchanged with the agent overseeing the investigation into links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia were made public. The two resignations were unrelated. New York Times, Politico


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IRAQI AIR FORCE TARGETS ISIS IN SYRIA
The Iraqi air force carried out airstrikes against “a position for ISIS commanders” south of Dashisha inside Syrian territory on Sunday morning, according a government statement. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the strikes near Syria's border with Iraq, a statement from his office said.

The Iraqi air force has already carried out several air strikes against IS in Syria since last year, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State. CNN, Reuters

MOSQUE ATTACK IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN KILLS 14
A bombing inside a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more. The blast took place during afternoon prayers at the mosque in the city of Khost. The mosque was also being used as a voter registration center for parliamentary elections set for October, marking the latest in a series of attacks on election-related facilities. NPR

NORTH KOREA CALLS OUT WHITE HOUSE OVER ‘MISLEADING’ CLAIMS
Pyongyang on Sunday criticized what it called “misleading” claims that Trump's policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to the negotiating table. The North’s official news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman warning the claims are a “dangerous attempt” to ruin a budding detente on the Korean Peninsula after Kim's summit late last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Associated Press


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PAKISTAN’S INTERIOR MINISTER IS SHOT
Pakistan’s interior minister narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt Sunday evening when a gunman slipped into a small crowd of supporters and colleagues surrounding the minister, firing a shot that pierced his right shoulder.

The attacker was quickly apprehended and the minister, Ahsan Iqbal, taken to a hospital; government officials said he was in stable condition. The shooting, which took place in Punjab Province, left Pakistanis on edge as the country prepares to hold general elections as early as July.
New York Times, NPR

PUTIN INAUGURATED FOR FOURTH TERM
Russian President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated Monday to a fourth term as president – placing him on a path to become his country's longest-serving leader since Communist dictator Josef Stalin. By the end of his new term, Putin will have ruled for 24 years.
NPR, BBC News

LASERS, MISSILES HEIGHTEN U.S.-CHINA MILITARY TENSIONS
Tensions between the United States and China flared on two military fronts as Washington accused the Chinese of harassing American pilots flying over the African nation of Djibouti and warned of consequences to the deployment of missiles on artificial islands China has built in disputed waters in the South China Sea. A Pentagon spokesperson said personnel at China’s military base in Djibouti have in recent weeks been aiming powerful lasers at American aircraft and that the lasers had caused minor eye injuries to two American pilots.
New York Times



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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