SitRep: Trump Refusing Intel Briefings; China Slams Trump’s Security Advisor; Congress Readies Russia Hack Investigations
Mattis About to Get His Waiver; Navy in a Budget Battle with Pentagon Bosses; Deadly Airstrike in Iraq; And Lots More
In an interview with Time magazine, President-elect Donald Trump again flatly denied that the Russian government was involved in launching cyber attacks on the Democratic party and a top advisor to Hillary Clinton during the presidential election. Trump said that despite the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered.” Asked if he thought the various U.S. intel agencies were politically-driven in their assessment, Trump replied, “I think so.”
As a result of his distrust of Washington’s intel community, Time’s Michael Scherer writes, “Trump has chosen not to consistently make himself available for intelligence briefings,” since the election, according to his aides. At one point during the campaign, Trump openly called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s servers.
Because reasons. Trump has stuck to his position for months, but has declined to offer any evidence for this belief. For the record, on October 7, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement concluding that “the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”
Congress not so sure. The President-elect’s refusal to accept the intel community’s assessment may put him on a collision course with Congress, as both Democratic and Republican members are demanding investigations into the attacks.
For the D’s. Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Wednesday to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the hacks. No Republicans have signed onto the bill so far, but Swalwell told reporters he’s sure they’ll get bipartisan support once Congress comes back to town in January.
Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, charged on MSNBC Wednesday that by denying Russian involvement, Trump “has essentially become really a propaganda piece for the Kremlin.” Meanwhile the White House has yet to respond to a letter signed by every Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee looking for the declassification of more information “concerning the Russian government and the US election,” according to the request.
For the R’s. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tx.) – who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security — said, “Russia’s recent hacks should be a wake-up call, and a call to action. We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy. When they do, we must respond forcefully, publicly and decisively.” In the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has pledged to launch an investigation, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said his committee is looking into holding closed-door hearings on the issue.
“We have committee members that are interested and we certainly intend to pursue what if any interference took place,” Corker said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Corker is also being considered by Trump to be his nominee for Secretary of State.
FP’s John Hudson has more on charges being leveled by some Democrats on the Hill that a renewal of U.S. sanctions on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea are being delayed by Republicans close to the Trump administration.
Speaking of intelligence. Over in Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman took on claims in Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s book that China was part of a secret alliance of countries including Cuba, North Korea, Russia, China working with “radical Islamists” to undermine the United States. In response to the claims, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a press conference that he hoped everyone could “base their opinions on facts when taking a position.”
Mattis to get his waiver. Democrats on Capitol Hill are ready to allow limited debate over whether or not to issue a legal waiver to allow Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, retired Marine general James Mattis, to serve FP’s Paul McLeary, John Hudson and Dan De Luce report.
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith of Washington told FP that while Trump has picked some “spectacularly unqualfiied” nominees to fill his administration so far, “if the president-elect somehow accidentally picks high quality, very intelligent people, I’m not going to let the fact that they’re generals get in the way of at least having somebody in the executive branch who knows what they’re doing.”
Rubio calls for China sanctions. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has introduced a bill proposing sanctions — including asset freezes, travel bans, and visa restrictions — on “any Chinese person” who contributes to construction or development projects in any contested area of the South China Sea, writes FP’s Emily Tamkin. “The bill also urges a more muscular U.S. response to China’s territorial ambitions. It calls for the United States to “continue and expand” freedom-of-navigation operations meant to challenge China’s claims, and calls for the United States to meet Chinese ‘provocations’ with ‘commensurate actions that impose costs on any attempts to undermine security in the region.’ Rubio hasn’t managed to attract any co-sponsors for his bill.
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China is doubling down on its peacekeeping commitment to South Sudan, sending 120 more troops to the violence-plagued country after losing two soldiers in fighting months ago. The AP reports that the troops will be followed by 580 more peacekeepers as part of the U.N.’s 12,000-strong contingent in the country. The relatively new country plunged into conflict after a clash between forces aligned with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. The loss of two Chinese peacekeepers shocked citizens back home, unaccustomed to see Chinese military casualties.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says President-elect Donald Trump told him “we should fix our bad relations” in a recent phone call. After the call, he said he “felt like a saint” because of the warm reception from Trump. Duterte has urged citizens to murder those they suspect of being drug addicts or dealer and many vigilantes in the country have taken up the call to lawlessness. After receiving criticism on the policy from the Obama administration, Duterte has called for the expulsion of American special operations troops, the cancellation of joint exercises and a closer relationship with China and Russia.
Russia’s military lost one of its rising stars in an artillery attack in Aleppo, the Daily Beast reports. Prior to his death, Col. Ruslan Galitsky had an apparent career in Russian covert operations, receiving a decoration for his service fighting in Ukraine’s Russian-backed rebel enclaves, where he served with Russia’s 5th Independent Tank Brigade. Galtisky also served with the secretive 64722 unit and may have been advising a Syrian armored unit at the time of his death in Aleppo.
An airstrike in Iraq appears to have gone horribly wrong with reports that warplanes hit a market in the city of Qaim, killing 52 men, women, and children. Al Jazeera reports that the strike was carried out by an Iraqi air force Sukhoi jet. On Twitter, U.S. military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve Col. John Dorrian wrote that American aircraft “did not conduct strikes in the area around the time of the incident.” Anbar province legislator Mohammed al-Karbouli called for an investigation into the strike and said the incident aids Islamic State propaganda.
The Afghan government is worried about what it says are warming ties between Russia, Iran, and the Taliban, VOA News reports. Afghan senate chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar said the government has found evidence of “cooperation” between the countries and the Taliban. Afghan officials and locals along the border with Iran tell the news outlet that high-ranking Taliban members live in Iran and fighters often travel across the border between the two countries. Afghan lawmakers are also unnerved by comments from Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov claiming Russia’s “interests coincide” with the Taliban because both are against the Islamic State.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is refusing to follow Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s orders to cut $17 billion from the service’s budget, Navy Times reports. Mabus is hesitant to cut into the Navy’s shipbuilding because it could be difficult to make up for lost time given the lengthy process to construction. One anonymous defense official also tells the Times that cutting the shipbuilding budget now would make little sense given that Trump administration officials are certain to reverse the cuts once in office in January.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary