The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mueller Accuses Paul Manafort of Witness Tampering

Federal prosecutors on Monday accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case.

In court documents, prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, said that the actions violated the terms of Manafort’s release while he awaits trial. They asked a federal judge to revise those terms or send him to jail until trial.

Prosecutors said that Manafort tried to contact witnesses by phone, through an intermediary and through an encrypted messaging program. One witness told the FBI that Manafort was trying to “suborn perjury,” prosecutors said. Two witnesses provided the texts to the FBI, which also searched Manafort’s cloud-based Apple account.

Prosecutors with Mueller allege that Manafort and his associate — referred to only as Person A — tried to contact the two witnesses by phone and through encrypted messaging apps. The description of Person A matches his longtime business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. New York Times, Washington Post, Politico


UK counterterrorism plans risk Britain’s freedoms: “Britain’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, has made an astonishing proposal among his raft of new counterterrorism strategies,” said Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. “It is that personal information possessed by MI5 on some 20,000 British ‘suspected’ citizens be declassified and shared with local authorities, police ‘and others.’ Since no one knows if they are on this list, they have no way of countering or correcting false identification or information. No one giving information to the state, including possibly the identity of the giver, will be able to trust its secrecy. Indeed if the list is not declared or even vetted, the suspicion must be that any MI5 intelligence on individuals will no longer be secret. This is not just a police state but an insecure state.”

Why does the federal government view racial groups as threats for terrorist violence? “Who comes to mind if you hear that the government wants to track ‘violent, terroristic acts that were driven by race-related extremist ideologies’?” asked Mary Sanchez in the Kansas City Star. “The white nationalist thugs who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Va., perhaps, carrying torches as they chanted vile threats to Jews, African-Americans and Latinos. Or maybe Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who slaughtered nine African-Americans in Charleston, S.C., as they gathered in fellowship and prayer. Surely that bloodshed qualified as the actions of a racist extremist. Nope. You’re focusing on the wrong race.”

Qatar won the Saudi blockade: “A year ago Tuesday, a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia imposed a historic land, maritime, and air blockade on Qatar. The measures were designed to strong-arm Doha to comply with a list of demands that involved alleged support for Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East,” writes Hassan Hassan in Foreign Policy. “A year on, however, Qatar has not only weathered the storm — it also appears to have emerged as the main winner of the conflict.”

Syria’s pro-Assad alliance is coming apart: “On one side of the divide is Iran, which seeks to consolidate its gains in Syria in order to apply military pressure on Israel,” writes Ilan Goldberg and Nicholas Heras in Foreign Affairs. “On the other side are the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Russia, all of which fear a major conflict with Israel that could undermine what they have fought for in the Levant over the past decade. These divisions may finally provide Washington with the opportunity it has been seeking to check Tehran’s ambitions in Syria.”

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For nearly a year, the denials from President Trump’s lawyers and spokeswoman were unequivocal. No, the president did not dictate a misleading statement last year released in his son’s name about meeting a Kremlin-tied lawyer at Trump Tower.

But in a confidential, hand-delivered memo to the special counsel, Trump’s lawyers acknowledged that, yes, Trump had dictated the statement. Prosecutors are asking whether the statement was part of an effort by the president to obstruct a federal investigation.

Even for a president whose false statements have been constantly cited by fact-checkers, this was a stark private acknowledgment of what was a repeated public falsehood. And it sums up the dilemma that Trump faces as he weighs whether to sit for an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

The misleading statement is but one aspect of Mueller’s investigation. But it highlights a communication strategy that the White House has used repeatedly: deny facts, attack news outlets and dismiss journalism as “fake news.” New York Times

A U.S. Army veteran has been charged in a Seattle court with attempted espionage for the Chinese government, the Justice Department said on Monday, in what appears to be another example of a high-profile mole hunt by F.B.I. investigators wary of Chinese spying against the United States.

The Justice Department said it had arrested Ron Rockwell Hansen of Syracuse, Utah, on Saturday, just before he entered Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to board a connecting flight to China. If convicted of attempted espionage, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Hansen, who began working as a civilian intelligence case officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s main intelligence arm, in 2006, is accused of “acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, bulk cash smuggling, structuring monetary transactions and smuggling goods from the United States,” the statement said.

Hansen traveled regularly to China and provided the information he had gathered at military and intelligence conferences in the United States to contacts in China associated with that country’s intelligence services, the statement said. It added that he had received at least $800,000 in “funds originating from China” since May 2013. New York Times

Trump asserts he can pardon himself: President Donald Trump said Monday that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, a bold assertion that raises the stakes as he and Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be headed toward a Supreme Court battle that could test once and for all how much a president is above the law. “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump quickly followed up with another tweet challenging Mueller’s legal authority. “The appointment of the Special Councel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” Trump wrote, misspelling Mueller’s title. “Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!” Bloomberg


Iran's supreme leader has ordered preparations to begin to increase uranium enrichment, ramping up pressure on European states struggling to keep the Islamic Republic in a nuclear accord.

“The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is duty-bound to prepare the ground for achieving 190 thousand SWUs,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted saying by Iranian state media, referring to a measure of uranium enrichment capacity.

He said that the increase would be “within the framework of the JCPOA for the time being,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear accord. Iran will inform the UN nuclear watchdog agency that preparations will begin on Tuesday, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was reported saying by state media. CNN, Reuters, BBC News

Niger group that killed 4 U.S. soldiers: A Nigerien soldier who survived being kidnapped by the militant group that killed 4 U.S. soldiers last year said that his former captors had no demands but just wanted to wage jihad and spoke of wanting to kill foreign soldiers in particular. He also witnessed them recruiting and training an army of children aged around 10. Guardian

Somalia’s gains under threat: The International Crisis Group warns in a new report that a year-old rivalry between Middle Eastern powers in Somalia is now threatening to destroy what gains have been made in the fragile, weak country. Washington Post

U.S. airstrikes kill more than two dozen al Shabaab militants: The U.S. military said Monday that it had carried out an airstrike in northern Somalia that killed 27 al-Shabab extremists. Associated Press, CNN

Nigeria’s army frees more than 100 Boko Haram hostages: Nigeria's army has rescued 148 hostages, most of them women and children, from Boko Haram militants. CNN


Britain’s spies stand accused of continuing to share intelligence obtained under torture, in breach of official guidance. The damning claim, outlined in a letter to the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is made by his Labour shadow, Emily Thornberry, and the shadow attorney-general, Shami Chakrabarti.

They point to unpublicized figures buried in the latest annual report from the Intelligence Services Commissioner (ISC), who has a statutory duty to review the way MI5, MI6 and GCHQ share intelligence. Guardian

London teen guilty of museum terror plot: A teenager has been found guilty of plotting a terror attack on the British Museum in London with Britain's first all-woman cell. Safaa Boular, 18, of Vauxhall, London, has become Britain's youngest convicted female Islamic State terrorist. BBC News, CNN

Saudi crackdown: While Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has gone further than any of his predecessors to relax the kingdom’s strict social rules, he is also overseeing one of the most ruthless crackdowns on perceived dissenters that the country has experienced in decades. The latest wave of arrests, in May, have focused in part on women and men who pushed for the right of women to drive, even though the Saudi government is set to begin recognizing that right on June 24. The message behind the crackdown, which has come despite scant evidence of public dissent, is that the crown prince alone intends to dictate the pace and scope of change. Wall Street Journal


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
International Law: A Casualty in the War on Terror?
Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights
Monday, June 18, 6-9PM
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

Center on National Security
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