President Trump decided within the last month to end a covert CIA program that armed and trained moderate anti-government rebels in Syria, a move long sought by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally, Russia, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
The program began in 2013 as a way to put pressure on Assad to resign, and will be phased out over the next few months, officials said. They also told the Post that Trump made his decision after talking with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 summit. "This is a momentous decision," a current official said. "Putin won in Syria."
The U.S. will still carry out its air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and provide training and equipment to primarily Kurdish rebels near ISIS's de facto capital, Raqqa. Some analysts fear that Trump's decision will embolden more radical groups in the country. "We are falling into a Russian trap," Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told the Post. "We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. ... We are really cutting them off at the neck."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that he hopes the news isn't true, because it would be "a complete capitulation to Assad, Russia, and Iran" and a big loss for "Syrians who have been relentlessly attacked by Assad, our Arab partners, and U.S. standing in the Middle East." Catherine Garcia
In late May, Qatari government websites were infiltrated by hackers as part of a plan orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates shortly before the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with the country, U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Post Sunday.
It is unclear if the UAE hacked the sites on its own or contracted the task out to someone else, the officials said. On May 24, a story appeared on the Qatar News Agency's website that included fake quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, that were pro-Iran and Hamas. The government said it sent out alerts within 45 minutes saying this was a hoax and the website had been hacked, but a video was posted to the agency's YouTube channel later that day and similar messages appeared on the government's Twitter accounts; even after Qatar made its announcement, Saudi Arabian news agencies were reporting on al-Thani's alleged comments.
The officials told the Post that last week, information gathered by intelligence agencies was analyzed and confirmed that on May 23, senior members of UAE's government spoke about their hacking plan and how to make it happen. The hacking took place not long after President Trump's visit to the region, where he attended a counterterrorism meeting with leaders from across the Persian Gulf. After the fake comments were posted online, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt all announced they were breaking off relations with Qatar.
The UAE's ambassador to the United States told the Post its report was false and his country "had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article." He added that Qatar was "funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas" and "inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors." Catherine Garcia
Last summer, U.S. spies gathered information on senior Russian officials discussing how to influence Donald Trump through his advisers, three current and former American officials told The New York Times.
They specifically focused on two men with indirect ties to Russian officials: Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, his foreign policy adviser. The information was deemed credible enough by intelligence agencies to pass along to the FBI, but it remains unclear if the Russians actually did try to influence Manafort and Flynn, who have both denied any collusion with the Russian government before the 2016 presidential election.
The U.S. spies heard some Russians bragging about how well they knew Flynn, the Times reports; in 2015, Flynn earned more than $65,000 from several companies linked to Russia, including the Kremlin-funded RT news network. For his part, Manafort spent more than 10 years working for political organizations in Ukraine, forging a close relationship with Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine who was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan testified that last summer, he was convinced "the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive." By the end of former President Barack Obama's term, he still had "unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf against either in a witting or unwitting fashion." Catherine Garcia
Over the past few weeks, associates of President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have received grand jury subpoenas as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, several people with information on the matter told CNN Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, is seeking business records from people who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was pushed out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, CNN reports. Investigators are trying to determine if Flynn committed any wrongdoing in the way he reported payments he received from clients linked to the Russian and Turkish governments. This is just one part of the inquiry into Russian election meddling, officials say.
In February, Flynn was forced to resign after it was found that he did not disclose the nature of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. between the election and inauguration. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the main Russia investigation. Catherine Garcia
Administration officials say President Trump is planning on appointing his friend Stephen A. Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, to lead a review of U.S. intelligence agencies, The New York Times reported Wednesday night.
Feinberg is also close to Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. Trump has railed against the intelligence agencies since his campaign days, and on Wednesday he accused them of being the reason why Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, resigned. (Trump actually asked him to step down after it was publicly reported that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and lied about it.)
Intelligence agents told The Times they are concerned that a review conducted by a Trump ally will curtail their independence. Trump's nominee for director of national intelligence, former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), is said to be especially angry over the move, which he views as an attempt to marginalize him before he's even confirmed. The White House has not announced the broad intelligence review and would not comment, but Feinberg did tell his company's shareholders that he is in discussions to join the administration.
Feinberg was reportedly also considered for two high-profile jobs — director of national intelligence and chief of the CIA's clandestine service, positions that are traditionally given to career intelligence officers and not friends of the president — and there is concern that this appointment is a first step toward placing him in a top intelligence position. As The Times wryly notes, Feinberg doesn't have any national security experience, but his private equity firm does have stakes in a private security company and two gun makers. Catherine Garcia
Michael Flynn, President Trump's national security adviser, has been going around the White House apologizing for the drama surrounding his contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States before the inauguration, an administration official told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Flynn had said he and Sergey Kislyak never discussed the sanctions imposed on Russia by former President Barack Obama in response to alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials backed him up. The administration official said that Flynn now admits he did speak with the ambassador about sanctions, multiple times, as reflected in transcripts of his phone calls. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is leading the White House's review of the matter, and some insiders are hopeful that Flynn will resign on his own accord.
Trump has told some people in confidence Flynn is no longer welcome in the White House, while others say he has expressed confidence in him, WSJ reports. Legal experts have said if Flynn promised to ease sanctions once Trump was in office, he may have violated a law that bars private citizens from engaging in foreign policy. Catherine Garcia
Report: Despite denials, Trump's national security adviser spoke about sanctions with Russian ambassador
Members of the Trump administration — including Vice President Mike Pence — have said Michael Flynn, President Trump's national security adviser, never spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States about U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump's inauguration. Several current and former U.S. officials have told The Washington Post and The New York Times that this isn't true, and Flynn and Sergey Kislyak did privately discuss the sanctions ordered by the Obama administration in late December over Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
On Wednesday, Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, twice told the Post that he and Kislyak did not discuss sanctions, but on Thursday, his spokesman told the paper Flynn now "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." Kislyak has confirmed he communicated with Flynn via text message, by phone, and in person several times, starting before the election, but would not say if they talked about sanctions. Nine "current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls," told the Post that the references to the sanctions were "explicit," and some believed the discussions were "inappropriate and potentially illegal."
Two of the officials said Flynn urged Russia "not to overreact to the penalties," and another said Kislyak was "left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time." The sanctions imposed by Obama remain in place. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, the Logan Act, has never been prosecuted, and officials say it would be very difficult to build a case against Flynn, the Post reports. Catherine Garcia
A visit to the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee by President Trump has been canceled over the company's worry that there might be protests related to his immigration and refugee ban, an administration official told CNN on Tuesday.
Trump had planned to sign executive orders related to American manufacturing while he was there, the official said. The Thursday visit was not announced publicly, but there were White House staffers in Milwaukee getting things prepared for the event. A White House spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that Trump is not expected to go to Milwaukee on Thursday, while Harley-Davidson released a statement saying there was never a visit planned this week to any of its facilities. Catherine Garcia