- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
With Adam Rawnsley
Speak, memory. Presidential son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner says he has no recollection of two phone calls he reportedly shared with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak between April and November 2016, and is “highly skeptical these calls took place.”
The assertion comes in his opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Kushner will meet with on Monday as part of the panel’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The White House released the statement Monday morning.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner added.
Who could possibly know? In fact, when the campaign received an email purporting to be a note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the day after Trump won the presidency, “I was asked how we could verify it was real,” Kushner writes. So he sent an email to the owner of The National Interest magazine asking the name of the Ambassador, which he says he couldn’t remember. If only there were some agency somewhere within the U.S. government that could’ve helped with that query for the president-elect….
Senate hot seat. Kushner won’t appear under oath on Monday, or during another private grilling by the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee continues to negotiate with lawyers for Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort this week to have them appear, as well.
If it’s Sunday, it’s Trump surrogates struggling to agree. The first Sunday of the White House’s new communications team got off to a rough start, as Trump’s surrogates spent the day contradicting one another on national television over his support for a new round of Russia sanctions, and the president’s thinking on his power to pardon both his staff and himself.
Russia sanctions. “Throughout 2016, both Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin complained that American-led sanctions against Russia were the biggest irritant in the plummeting relations between the two superpowers,” the NYT’s David Sanger writes. “Now it is clear that those sanctions not only are staying in place, but are about to be modestly expanded — exactly the outcome the two presidents sought to avoid.”
Germany is also pushing for a new round of European Union sanctions on Russian individuals and companies involved in the energy sector.
Mystery man. The Atlantic profiles Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the 31 year-old National Security Council senior director for intelligence programs hired by Michael Flynn and the man who his successor, Gen. H.R. McMaster tried (and failed) to fire. The piece mentions two recent Foreign Policy stories, one detailing how alt-right Internet trolls are taking aim at members of the White House’s national security staff considered not fully loyal to Trump, and another on tensions between White House staff and McMaster.
Intel chiefs bash Trump. On Friday, John Brennan, former head of the C.I.A., and James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, delivered damning assessments of the Trump presidency, with Brennan urging members of Congress to resist Trump if he fires Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible collusion with the Russian government. “I hope, I really hope, that our members of Congress, elected representatives, are going to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough,’ and stop making apologies and excuses for things that are happening that really flout, I think, our system of laws and government.”
NYT vs. SOCOM. The New York Times says that head of U.S. Special Operations Command Gen. Tony Thomas — and Trump — got the timeline all wrong when they claimed the media exposed intel that scuttled a plan to get ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.
Did Trump order military to support his legislation? While presiding over the official commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va. on Saturday, president Trump urged the crowd of civilians and uniformed military to on call Congress to pass the defense budget, and push through his health care plan. Making such statements to the military could be construed as an order, and presidents have normally been careful not to overtly touch on politics when speaking to military audiences.
How about no. “I would argue now is probably not the best time to be doing this” — National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers expressing doubts about President Vladimir Putin’s offer of a joint U.S.-Russian cybersecurity task force.
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Fine. The White House says President Trump is likely to sign a Congressional sanctions bill that punishes Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders saying “We support where the legislation is now.” Nonetheless, Anthony Scaramucci, the White House’s new communications director, told CNN‘s Jake Tapper on Sunday that President Trump still does not believe the intelligence community’s conclusion about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Rexit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may leave the Trump administration before even serving a year in the post, two sources tell CNN. Friends familiar with Tillerson’s thinking say his frustration at being marginalized on important issues like State Department hiring and Iran policy might push him out sooner rather than later.
Alliances. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to sign a maritime security agreement with India when he visits in September in another sign that wariness about China’s territorial ambitions is driving its neighbors into each other’s arms.
South China Sea. Vietnam cancels gas drilling in a disputed part of the South China Sea after China, which has hired its own company to drill in the area, threatened to strike Vietnamese military bases in the region.
Berlin vs. Ankara. The feud between Germany and Turkey is escalating following the continued detention of German-Turkish human rights activists by Turkish authorities. Over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the relationship between the two countries is about to get an “overhaul” and that German companies should reconsider investing in Turkey. On Friday, Germany’s economy ministry also said it would be reviewing Turkey’s applications to purchase weapons from German producers.
Sanctions. Siemens is pulling out of a joint venture with Russia and filing criminal charges against officials at Technopromexport after accusing the company of diverting a turbine to Russian-occupied Crimea in violation of European Union sanctions.
Hacking. A group calling itself “Global Leaks” has provided emails it claims are from the inbox of United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, to the LobeLog, a Middle East-focused foreign policy blog. The messages purport to show a close relationship between the United Against Nuclear Iran advocacy group and al-Otaiba to LobeLog, but the outlet could not independently confirm the authenticity of the messages. The Global Leaks group has previously provided emails it claims belong to al-Otaiba to a handful of other news outlets.
Ukraine. “This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war and it is an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible” — Kurt Volker, the State Department’s new special envoy to Ukraine, blaming Russia for the violence in eastern Ukraine after 11 people were killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Under pressure. The U.K. trying to get Saudi Arabia and its allies to back off their campaign to boycott Qatar, joining the U.S. effort to resolve the dispute diplomatically. Bloomberg reports that British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson offered praise for Qatar’s commitments to combating terrorist financing and said he hopes that its Gulf neighbors “respond by taking steps toward lifting the embargo.” There are also signs that the effort to isolate Doha is flagging, as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia lift bans on Qatari media channels, including Al Jazeera — a frequently-cited source of irritation among Qatar’s rivals.
Idlib. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebel group, is now in control of the city of Idlib after defeating their Islamist rivals, Ahrar al-Sham. The two groups had cooperated in the past, forming joint operations rooms, but Ahrar al-Sham agreed to leave Idlib this weekend as part of a ceasefire agreement with the rebel group.
Optempo. Col. Scott Campbell, commander of the 355th Fighter Wing, tweets a picture of an A-10 Warthog’s nose as the 355th returns from a deployment supporting the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition, noting that the plane fired over 180,000 rounds of its 30 mm cannon while abroad. The munitions painted on the side of the A-10’s nose represent weapons expended in combat.
Iraq. Amid fears in Washington that Iran is expanding its influence in Iraq, the two countries’ defense ministers signed a defense memorandum calling for increased cooperation on security issues.
Downtime. What do jihadis do when they’re bored? The answer is surprisingly important. The Guardian takes a look at new research by Dr. Thomas Hegghammer on jihadi culture and how terrorists spend their down time. Jihadi music, videos, poetry, and even dream interpretation has created a culture appealing enough to help recruit thousands of young people, making it key an important window into understanding and countering radicalism.
Cloudy with a chance of THAAD. The Defense Department is gearing up for another test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in Alaska, according to Navy Times.
Photo Credit: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images