Editor’s Note: Samantha Vinograd is a CNN National Security Analyst. She served on President Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States. Modeled on the President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues President Trump needs to know to make informed decisions.
Here’s this week’s briefing:
Immigration: Relationship goals with Mexico
Your plan to make Central American immigrants wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed – along with your threats to close the border entirely – could put a serious strain on Mexican resources, and your own budding relationship with President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. While Mexico’s incoming government has denied there is an official deal, we assess that any extended “remain in Mexico” policy will have adverse consequences for the bilateral relationship. If your relationship goal is to create tensions with Mexico, extended stays for Central American migrants in Mexico or derogatory statements about Mexico’s own border security will do the trick.
Under your new plan, some of the asylum seekers currently at our southern border may be allowed to wait in the US while their applications are being processed. But the majority will likely be forced to stay in Mexico for an indeterminate time. The migrants will need food, housing, healthcare and other basic needs while they wait, and it remains unclear whether the population influx will raise any tensions in Mexico. While the Mexican economy rebounded last quarter, domestic poverty and inequality remain high. Obrador campaigned on giving money to Mexicans in need, not Central American migrants that the US does not want to take.
Over time, Obrador, who takes office December 1, may grow increasingly upset with your decision to place a strain on Mexican resources in order to save on your own. Obrador’s left-wing, populist campaign included promises of raising pensions for the elderly and increasing other social spending. So being asked to spend Mexican money on migrants that he thinks should be allowed in the US – rather than on programs to help Mexicans in need – could create a major rift.
Some of the migrants will also end up waiting in dangerous border towns, which presents an additional humanitarian risk, given that Mexico experienced its most murderous year on record in 2017. While we do not share your risk assessment that these migrants are themselves dangerous criminals, we do think that thousands of people who are stranded at a border for an extended period of time could be at risk of criminal activity, especially if they are in areas already prone to violence.
You are already deeply unpopular in Mexico and your relationship with Obrador could deteriorate quickly as he shores up his footing early in his term. Despite a warm embrace this summer, he could shift gears and direct his ire at you to maintain a strong standing domestically.
Saudi Arabia: Table for two
According to our analysis, contradicting the CIA’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and giving him a free pass will likely distance you from our other allies and impact our intelligence-sharing partnerships going forward.
While the response to Russia’s attempted assassination against Sergei Skripal was a multilateral one that resulted in the expulsion of Russian diplomats from more than 20 countries, your unilateral decision not to punish MBS is already causing problems with Turkey. The NATO ally issued a sharp rebuke this week and slammed what they called your “blind eye” approach to assigning responsibility for the assassination.
Many of our European allies have already taken action against Saudi Arabia by issuing their own sets of sanctions, while Germany, Denmark, and Finland have gone a step further and suspended arms deals with Saudi Arabia. We could see further action by the European Union as well as individual member states, especially if any intelligence about MBS’s direct role in the assassination becomes public. Additional sanctions could involve expelling Saudi diplomats, curtailing business with the Kingdom and publicly calling out the Crown Prince as a murderer. Despite the fact that the US did sanction over a dozen Saudis for the killing, the US could be left standing with Saudi Arabia while all our other allies take stronger action geared at upholding human rights and safeguarding the physical security of their residents.
Our intelligence-sharing relationships are already strained, and our allies may be even less inclined to share valuable information with us if they think you’re uninterested in basing policy decisions on these intelligence assessments.
Assange: Is extradition worth it?
News of the potential criminal charges against Julian Assange broke just days before Jerome Corsi, a Roger Stone associate, confirmed he is discussing a plea agreement with the special counsel’s office. Both incidents will likely continue to fuel speculation that a missing link between Russia, WikiLeaks and American individuals may be disclosed in the short term.
Because the Department of Justice has already charged Russians for hacking information and laundering it through a third party – “Organization 1” (WikiLeaks), charging Assange could be viewed as the first step in a complex process for seeking his release from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. If he is extradited to the United States, he could face trial, potentially on charges related to conspiracy against the US during the 2016 election.
With the recent departure of Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s talks with British authorities about Assange leaving the Ecuadorian embassy, the time may be ripe for increased efforts seeking his extradition to the US.
But we assess that any successful attempt to extradite Assange will in large part depend on the way the US government approaches Ecuador about the matter. You have previously attacked US courts and judges, and we assess that any critiques of the Justice Department’s decision to charge Assange could weaken the diplomatic outreach seeking his release and extradition.
As you determine whether to personally engage with the government of Ecuador to seek Assange’s release or with the British government to seek his extradition, we do want to flag a perception problem. Legal counsel is outside of our purview, so if there is any perception that you are considering curtailing efforts to charge or extradite Assange, those efforts could be viewed internationally as an attempt to interfere with Mueller’s investigation into possible links between WikiLeaks and members of your presidential campaign.
Brexit: Why May may need some help
With the EU’s historic “yes” vote on the UK’s Brexit plan on Sunday, British Prime Minister Theresa May has one final hurdle ahead of her – her own people. With just months until Britain’s official exit date, May now needs to gain Parliamentary approval for the Brexit deal, and we assess that she will face strong opposition to the exit plan from all sides, including from within her own Conservative Party. She may be looking for support wherever she can find it, including from you at the upcoming G20 summit.
Criticisms of May’s exit plan traverse a spectrum of complaints, including that the deal is too weak and gives up too much to the EU. In fact, almost no one in the UK or in Brussels is satisfied with the deal.
While there is some chatter about British Members of Parliament still trying to work out an alternative exit plan – or Brexit Plan B – you should expect May to decisively state that it’s this deal or no deal because of the looming departure deadline and the difficulties of getting a new deal approved in Brussels or in London.
You should expect May to be laser focused on whipping up votes for her deal until she is able to bring it forward for a vote in Parliament, including when you see her at the G20 later this month. She knows that you have been supportive of Brexit in the past, and because the exit deal comes with a hefty price tag for Britain (a $50 billion tab to settle up on its way out of the EU), she may be hoping you talk about a US-UK free trade deal that could ameliorate the financial hit her country will take next year.