A legal ‘dream team’ looking at Trump — What next for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi? — How a crippling shortage of analysts let the London Bridge attackers through — Jeff Sessions denies third meeting with Russia envoy
The Senate testimony of ex-FBI boss James Comey dominated the headlines last week, but the latest announcements from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation could be a more ominous indication of trouble on the horizon for the Trump administration.
Mr Mueller, who was tasked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with overseeing the Justice Departments inquiry into possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives, is staffing up his office – and bringing in some prosecutorial heavy-hitters.
The hires could be an indication of the direction of the probe and the seriousness with which Mr Mueller is taking the enterprise.
Consider Michael Dreeben. On Friday afternoon the National Law Journal reported that the deputy solicitor general, a criminal-law expert who has argued more than 100 cases before the US Supreme Court, would be joining the special counsel team on a part-time basis.
“Mueller’s selection of Dreeben suggests that the special counsel is looking very carefully into whether criminal laws were broken by the Trump campaign and the president’s associates,” writes Cristian Farias of the Huffington Post.
Then there’s Andrew Weissmann, head of the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, who joined the team in late May. He is perhaps best known for his investigation into Volkswagen scheme to bypass emissions requirements on some of its autos. From 2002 to 2005 Weissmann oversaw the Enron energy company inquiry that ended in the prosecution and imprisonment of its top executive, Kenneth Lay.
If Mr Mueller’s investigation touches on the president’s business interests, including allegations of Russian financial entanglements, Weissmann would be the kind of experienced legal hand best suited for the job.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is reported to have been freed from jail in Libya after six years. So what next for the son of Col Muammar Gaddafi, who once appeared poised to succeed his father as leader of the North African country?
Libya and its militia politics is nothing if not complicated and is in a permanent state of flux. No-one can quite put their finger on why his release has been announced but some believe it could be linked to the wider, ongoing conflict between rival militia and political groups. (…)
There is a long list of militias, politicians, influential businessmen and ordinary Libyans who will always oppose him.
But some Libyans who have suffered since his father was ousted in 2011 may support him.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi would also be supported by armed blocs who believe they could be stronger against their rivals with him by their side. At present, it is believed this could include some political and military forces in the east of the country, led by the controversial military strongman, Khalifa Hefter. (…)
The Gaddafi legacy is still strongly associated with tyranny and is a time that many Libyans do not necessarily want to go back to – but many also now feel it is the “lesser evil”.
What is already clear following last Saturday’s attack, during which three attackers killed eight people and injured almost 50 in an eight-minute rampage, is that Britain’s security services had collated a surfeit of reliable, well-sourced material on the perpetrators. Of the London Bridge attackers, Khuram Butt, 27, had been reported to the anti-terror hotline in 2015 and investigated by MI5 for his highly public ties to the banned al-Muhajiroun network.
Another, Youssef Zaghba, 22, was interrogated by Italian police, who told UK intelligence he was at risk of radicalisation. He was also added to the Schengen Information System, an EU-wide database that gives UK police details of 8,000 jihadis in Europe.
The pattern was repeated in the two attacks that preceded the latest atrocity. The suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, who carried out the Manchester attack was known to MI5 and categorised under its prioritisation matrix as P4 – priority 4 – which denotes suspects who might be at risk of re-engagement but are deemed not to be planning an attack and therefore downgraded as a security risk.
Khalid Masood, 52, who carried out March’s Westminster Bridge attack using an almost identical modus operandi to the London Bridge attack, was also classified in the P4 tier at the time, essentially regarded as an Islamist but not a threat.
So why did they all slip through the net? Some security experts warn of an analytical deficit in the heart of the government’s intelligence infrastructure, claiming a lack of human resources to decode and contextualise the myriad snippets of information, terabytes of chatter, tipoffs, sightings and wiretaps that cumulatively help to form the modern intelligence picture. (…)
The data is there. But, on at least three fateful occasions, the expert analysis has gone missing.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has denied during a Congress hearing having undisclosed meetings with Russian officials at a Washington DC hotel.
America’s top law official also told the Senate Intelligence Committee any suggestion he colluded with the Kremlin was “an appalling and detestable lie”.
His remarks come days after sacked FBI boss James Comey said he believed he was fired to change the Russia probe.
Mr Sessions had recused himself from any probe in Russia’s alleged meddling.
The Senate committee is of one several congressional panels that, along with a special counsel, is also investigating whether any Trump campaign officials colluded with the alleged Kremlin plot.“I recused myself from any investigation into the campaigns for President, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honour against scurrilous and false allegations,” Mr Sessions said in an opening statement on Tuesday. (…)
Mr Sessions acknowledged he met Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak twice, but suggested he could not remember whether he met the envoy at a foreign policy speech event for then-candidate Donald Trump at the Mayflower Hotel on 27 April 2016, as US media have reported.
“I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials. If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian Ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it,” he told senators.
INTEL TODAY DIARY — JUNE 14 2017