SitRep: Screwin’ the Mooch-edition; Kushner to Interns: ‘We Were Too Disorganized to Collude’
By Elias Groll with Adam Rawnsley Farewell, sweet prince! We barely knew you, Anthony Scaramucci! Moving with ruthlessness to consolidate power in the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly used his first day of work to fire Scaramucci from his post as communications director, ousting the flamboyant financier a mere 10 days after he ...
By Elias Groll with Adam Rawnsley
By Elias Groll with Adam Rawnsley
Farewell, sweet prince! We barely knew you, Anthony Scaramucci! Moving with ruthlessness to consolidate power in the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly used his first day of work to fire Scaramucci from his post as communications director, ousting the flamboyant financier a mere 10 days after he was hired.
Kate Brannen has the details here.
Scaramucci’s firing adds to a turbulent week for a White House already roiling over the firing of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the resignation of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who refused to work alongside Scaramucci.
Kelly appears to be moving quickly to impose order on a fractious White House operation, and by firing Scaramucci, the retired Marine general removed a free-wheeling operative who had claimed he reported directly to the President Trump, circumventing the chief of staff.
Scaramucci’s tenure in the White House may have been brief, but he will not soon be forgotten. He began with a virtuoso performance in the White House press room that concluded with a kiss blown to the media. A few days later he called up the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza and delivered a rant featuring some of the most memorable one-liners in recent Washington history. (“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”)
Marines everywhere. As FP’s Tom Ricks points out, Kelly’s elevation to chief of staff adds yet another retired Marine officer to the government’s senior-most ranks. Between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joe Dunford, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Kelly in the White House, former Marine officers are in key decision-making positions.
One can only wonder how National Security Adviser and Army Gen. H.R. McMaster feels.
Oh, and lest we forget, Bob Mueller, the man running the FBI’s sprawling investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, is also a former Marine officer. Has he called up Spicer and Priebus yet?
You can’t fix stupid. White House consigliere Jared Kushner told a group of congressional interns that the Trump campaign was too disorganized to conspire with Russian operatives attempting to install his father in law in the Oval Office. “They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told the interns on Monday, according to notes of the talk obtained by FP’s Jenna McLaughlin. The full story has more details on Kushner’s candid remarks.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @eliasgroll and @arawnsley. Your regular host Paul McLeary is off and enjoying some well-deserved R & R, and FP’s Elias Groll will be doing his best to fill in.
Ukraine. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has endorsed a plan to send lethal arms to Ukraine in order to help deter Russian aggression, but it’s still unclear where the White House stands and the plan could linger for months without a decision, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plan, supported by the State Department, comes amidst an increase in violence as a nominal ceasefire in eastern Ukraine continues to fray.
Russia-gate. The Washington Post delivers the latest scoop on the White House’s response to probes of Kremlin meddling: President Donald Trump personally dictated son Donald, Jr.’s misleading statement about a December meeting with a Russian lawyer. Trump aides advocated for being transparent about the get together, but the president overruled his subordinates. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth,” one adviser told the Post.
Everything is fine! President Donald Trump definitely isn’t worried about North Korea. “We will handle North Korea. We are gonna be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything,” he told the White House press pool on Monday.
Beijing isn’t amused. In a scathing editorial personally attacking President Trump, Chinese state media argued the American leader can’t blame Beijing for failing to rein in North Korean nuclear and missile ambitions. “Emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula,” Chinese propagandists wrote in Xinhua, referring to a series of Trump tweets from Sunday calling on Beijing to take stronger action against Pyongyang.
Nope, still haven’t stopped worrying. On the heels of Tehran’s recent successful space launch, FP’s Jeffrey Lewis delivers some sobering implications for the parallels between Iranian and North Korean missile development. “It’s not that Iran can’t build an ICBM; it’s that Iran is choosing not to,” Lewis writes. Just about the only thing holding Tehran back from doing so, Lewis argues, is the landmark deal trading sanctions relief for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program — an agreement the Trump administration is trying to rip up.
Cold launch. North Korea’s missileers aren’t resting on their laurels after their latest missile test. Sources tell CNN that U.S. intelligence believes the North has carried out an ejection test of the Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile it’s been working on, with spies eyeing “highly unusual and unprecedented levels” of submarine activity off of Sinpo.
Charlie don’t surf. With little attention being paid to the South China Sea, Bill Hayton of Chatham House explains how Vietnam has bent the knee to China in this key waterway, and Beijing has threatened military action against its neighbors. “Hanoi has been looking to Washington for implicit backing to see off Beijing’s threats,” Hayton writes. “And while Washington eats itself over Russian spies and health care debates, one of the world’s most crucial regions is slipping into Beijing’s hands.”
High stakes hide and seek. North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch this weekend may not have been that big of a surprise to U.S. intelligence. The Hwasong-14 missile launched on Friday raised alarm bells because it demonstrated the North could reach the U.S. mainland with a nuclear missile, but the test, which took place at night from a road-mobile launcher in the center of the country, raised the prospect that the U.S. might not be able to detect one fired during a war. But a U.S. government source tells The Diplomat that American intelligence picked up signs of the launch at least 24 hours beforehand, meaning Kim Jong-un’s missiles might not be as tricky to find as some feared.
Talking points. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has repeatedly used Qatar’s hosting of a Taliban embassy in Doha as a talking point to show the country’s alleged support for Islamist militants. But emails purportedly hacked from the inbox of the Emirati ambassador to the U.S. show that the UAE was competing with Qatar to host the Taliban embassy in Abu Dhabi instead. UAE officials confirmed to the New York Times that they wanted to host the facility but say they did so out of a desire to facilitate U.S. talks with the insurgent group.
DIY strategy. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is upset that the White House hasn’t offered a strategy for the war in Afghanistan yet, so he’s taking matters into his own hands, writing one as part of an amendment to the defense authorization bill. The Hill reports that McCain says the strategy will be “based on the advice of some our best military leaders” and offer an alternative to what he calls the “don’t lose strategy” currently in place.
No Crimeas, thank you. Belarus is officially banning “little green men,” passing a law that says the country will treat the presence of any armed foreign troops on its soil as an act of aggression even if those troops aren’t sporting national markings on their uniforms. The legislation is a reaction to Russia’s use of troops in unmarked uniforms to invade and annex the Crimean Peninsula and an apparent warning to Russia that Belarus would not react well to a similar attempt.
Exit strategy. Newly-appointed White House chief of Staff John Kelly has been all smiles and praise for the Trump administration and its agenda but CNN says sources close to Kelly claim that the former Homeland Security chief was on the verge of resigning after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The cable news outlet reports that Kelly phoned Comey shortly after his firing and offered to resign but was talked out of the move by Comey.
Punked. A trickster from the U.K. conned White House staff by pretending to be Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus, fooling Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and since-ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci into sending real responses to the forged personas. Experts say the incident, while harmless, shows how vulnerable White House staff and other government officials in sensitive positions are to the threat of spear phishing by nation-state intelligence services.
El Jefe. The Trump administration has sanctioned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in the wake of his attempt to create a new legislative body and rewrite the country’s constitution. Venezuela’s declining economy combined with Maduro’s attempts to consolidate power have sparked violent demonstrations and some observers expect that the Trump administration could apply sanctions to more senior Venezuelan officials and target its oil sector if the crackdown continues.
The iron price. Someone hacked HBO and allegedly got their hands on a copy of the script for the next Game of Thrones episode and 1.5 terabytes worth of other data. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, HBO confirmed that it had been the victim of a breach but declined to go into details about what data hackers accessed while inside the company’s networks.
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