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TBR News May 31, 2018

May 31 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. May 31, 2018:”Trump has been a manipulative, thoroughly dishonest, businessman as evident in his methodology of non-payment of bills, planting false information, threatening those who dare to criticize him, constant boasting, chronic lying and short-term memory problems.

He has, unfortunately, brought his defects to the Oval Office and we constantly see such fictions rampant as ‘The Poisoned Russians in Britain,” “Spies in the Presidential campaign,” threats to put tariffs on various foreign imports, theats to use military force on perceived uncooperative former allies, and a host of other actions that Trump hopes will energize legions of far-right and Jewish voters to support him in the next election.

Because Trump has led an insulated life and gets what he wants by connivance and threats, he is out of touch with reality.

His negative actions are seen daily on the Internet and in the media and these build up with even the most stupid voter.

He has, often deliberately, antagonized such a large field of potential opponents that his hubris will destroy him and, in the end, cause chaos and disruption in the United States and many other countries.

Since Trump is used to having his way in the business world, he is of the opinion that his successful techniques in that field will work just as well in the political one.

The only positive aspect of the coming storm is that many disparate groups will join against Trump in a common cause and force him from the White House.

There will be many far right supporters, Jewish groups and others who will mourn his passing and as a parallel, today in Russia, who is fortunate to have a successful and effective president, there are still some who yearn for the return of the murderous Josef Stalin.”

The Table of Contents

  • Under Trump, the Israel lobby is a Hydra with many heads
  • The Case for Obstruction Trump and Russia No. 3
  • Trump pardons conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza
  • The FBI’s Use of Informants Is Full of Problems, but What Happened in “Spygate” Isn’t One of Them
  • Trump biography
  • Ukraine faked a Russian “dissident” death – just because they could
  • Ukraine’s cynical Arkady Babchenko deception
  • MEK’s Money Sure Can’t Buy Love

 

Under Trump, the Israel lobby is a Hydra with many heads

#IsraelLobby

Since Trump took office, the Israel lobby has mobilised four other powerful lobbies: Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex and Saudi Arabia

May 30, 2018

by Jonathan Cook

Middle East Eye

The Trump administration’s recent steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should surely lay to rest any doubts about the enormous, and dangerous, power of the Israel lobby in Washington.

Under Trump, the lobby has shown it can wield unprecedented influence – even by its usual standards – in flagrant disregard for all apparent US interests.

First, there was the move this month of the US embassy to Jerusalem, not quietly but on the 70th anniversary of the most sensitive day in the Palestinian calendar, Nakba Day. That is when Palestinians commemorate their mass expulsion from their homeland in 1948.

By relocating the embassy, Trump gave official US blessing to tearing up the 25-year-old peace process – and in choosing Nakba Day for the move, he rubbed the noses of Palestinians, and by extension the Arab world, in their defeat.

Then, the White House compounded the offence by lauding Israeli snipers who massacred dozens of unarmed Palestinians protesting at the perimeter fence around Gaza the same day. A series of statements issued by the White House could have been written by Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself.

At the United Nations, the US blocked a Security Council resolution calling for the massacre to be investigated, while Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN envoy, observed to fellow delegates: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

None of these moves served any obvious US national interest, nor did Trump’s decision the previous week to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that has long been reviled by the Israeli government.

In fact, quite the contrary: These actions risk inflaming tensions to the point of a regional war that could quickly drag in the major powers, or provoke terror attacks on US soil.

Wall of silence

It should be recalled that two decades ago, it was impossible even to mention the existence of an Israel lobby in Washington without being labelled an anti-Semite.

Paradoxically, Israel’s supporters exercised the very power they denied existed, bullying critics into submission by insisting that any talk of an Israel lobby relied on anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power.

The wall of silence was broken only with the publication in 2006 of a seminal essay – later turned into a book – by two prominent US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

But in a sign of the immense weight of the lobby even as it was being dragged into the light, the pair were unable to find a publisher in the US. Instead, the essay found a home across the Atlantic in the prestigious, if obscure, London Review of Books. One of the pair, Stephen Walt, has publicly admitted that his career suffered as a result.

Since then, a little leeway has opened up on the subject. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a staunch advocate for Israel, has conceded the lobby’s existence.

In 2011, he explained a well-established, if astounding, ritual of US politics: that the Congress greets every visiting Israeli prime minister more rapturously than the American president himself.

Friedman observed: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Intimidating Congress

Friedman was alluding to the network of Jewish leadership organisations and political action committees in the US, all of them hawkishly pro-Israel, that at election time can channel large sums of money for or against Congressional candidates.

It is not that these pro-Israel organisations control the Congress. It is that they have mastered the techniques of political intimidation. They understand and exploit a flawed American system that has allowed lobbies and their money to dictate the agendas of most US lawmakers. Congresspeople are vulnerable as individuals – not only to the loss of donations, but to a generously funded opponent.

In Trump’s case, the follow-the-money principle could not have been clearer. In the early stages of his battle to become the Republican party candidate for president, when most assumed he stood no chance and he was funding the campaign himself, he was relatively critical of Israel.

Hard as it is to believe now, he promised to be “neutral” on the Israel-Palestine issue; expressed doubts about whether it made sense to hand Israel billions of dollars annually in military aid; backed a two-state solution; and refused to commit to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

All of that got ditched the moment he needed big funders for his presidential bid. The kingmaker in the Republican party is Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire and champion of the kind of Israeli ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab politics in which Netanyahu excels. Adelson likes Netanyahu so much he even bought him a newspaper, Israel Hayom, which Adelson has grown into the largest-circulation daily in Israel.In the end, Adelson backed Trump’s election campaign to the tune of $35m. It was the need for Adelson’s support that ensured Trump appointed David Friedman, a long-time benefactor of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in the supposedly non-partisan position of US ambassador to Israel. And it was Adelson who was among the honoured guests at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem last week.

The anti-Semitism canard

Those who accuse anyone raising the issue of the Israel lobby of anti-Semitism either misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent what is being claimed.

No one apart from easily identifiable Jew haters is updating the century-old Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery by supporters of the Russian czar supposedly proving that “the Jews” sought world domination through control of the banks and the media.

For starters, the argument for the existence of an Israel lobby does not refer to Jews at all. It is about a country, Israel, and its outsize influence over the policies of the US.

Other countries or groups of US citizens try to exercise such influence, either through similar lobbies or through subterfuge.

No one would deny there is a Cuba lobby that helped influence US policy in seeking to oust revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. And most US lawmakers are currently frothing at the mouth about what they see as covert Russian efforts to influence US politics to Moscow’s advantage.

Why would we expect Israel to be any different? The question isn’t whether the lobby exists, but why the US political system is doing nothing to protect itself from its interference.

If Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s supposed hidden hand in the US is such a threat, why isn’t Israel’s?

Five lobbies in one

Rather than exposing and confronting the Israel lobby, however, US presidents have more typically bent to its will. That was only too obvious, for example, when Barack Obama folded in his early battle with Netanyahu to limit the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But under Trump, the Israel lobby has come to exercise unrivalled power, because it is now far more than just one lobby. It is a five-headed Hydra worthy of Greek mythology, and only one of its heads relates directly to Israel or organised American Jewry.

In fact, the lobby’s power now derives not chiefly from Israel. Since Trump’s election, the Israel lobby has managed to absorb and mobilise an additional four powerful lobbies – and to a degree not seen before. They are: the Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex, and the Saudi Arabia lobby.

Domestically, Trump’s election victory depended on his ability to rally to his side two groups that are profoundly committed to Israel, even though they are largely indifferent, or actively hostile, to the Jews who live there.

Leaders of the US alt-right – a loose coalition of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups – are infatuated with Israel but typically dislike Jews. That sentiment has been encapsulated by alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a “white Zionist”.

In short, the alt-right treasures Israel because it has preserved a long-discredited model of a fortress-like, belligerent racial homeland. They want the US reserved exclusively for an imagined “white” community, just as Israel defines itself as representing an exclusive Jewish community.

Trump’s reliance on the alt-right vote was highlighted by the early appointment to his administration of several leading figures associated with the movement, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka.

Fulfilling God’s prophecy

But more significant still has been the role of evangelicals. That is why Mike Pence, a devout Christian, was chosen as Trump’s running mate. Trump’s team understood that the votes of tens of millions of Americans were assured if Trump pandered to their prejudices.

And happily for Netanyahu, their keenest prejudice is fanatical support for Israel – and not just for Israel inside its internationally recognised borders, but also for Greater Israel, which includes many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land.

The Christian Zionists believe that Jews must be corralled into their biblical homeland to fulfil divine prophecy and bring about the Second Coming of the Messiah.

It was primarily for the sake of these Christian Zionists that Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. And it was why two evangelical pastors with a history of anti-Semitic remarks, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, were called on to offer their blessings at the opening ceremony.

Trump’s indebtedness to the evangelicals is one reason to be worried about his policies in the region. The Christian Zionists have no interest in fairness, justice or international law. Rather, they are prepared to inflame tensions in the Middle East – and even trigger Armageddon itself – if they think it might benefit Israel and further God’s prophecy.

Eisenhower’s warning

The military-industrial complex has enjoyed a much longer, if more veiled, influence on US politics. A former US army general who became president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the looming threat posed by an increasingly dominant corporate sector dependent on war profits back in 1961.

Since then, the power of these corporations has accreted and expanded in precisely the ways Eisenhower feared. And that has only helped Israel.

In the early 1980s, Noam Chomsky, the dissident US intellectual, observed in his book The Fateful Triangle that Israel and the US had different conceptions of the Middle East.

The US was then what Chomsky termed a “status quo power” that was mostly interested in preserving the existing regional order. Israel, on the other hand, was committed to destabilisation of the region – its Balkanisation – as a strategy to extend its hegemony over feuding, internally divided neighbouring states.

Today, it is not hard to see which vision of the Middle East prevailed. The US-headquartered war industries lobbied for – and have profited enormously from – an endless, global “war on terror” that needs their expensive killing toys. The West has even been able to market its wars of aggression against other sovereign states as “humanitarian” in nature.

The benefits to the military industries can be gauged by examining the ever-surging profits of large US arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon over the past decade.

Cultivation of fear

Israel has not only benefited from the sanctioning and dismemberment of regional rivals, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, but it has exploited the opportunity to make itself indispensable to these war-profiting industries.

It has, for example, been the linchpin in developing and refining new ways to exploit the cultivation of fear – most significantly, the ever-expanding “homeland security” industry.

Using the occupied Palestinian territories for experimentation, Israel has specialised in developing surveillance and biometric technologies, lethal and non-lethal crowd control methods, complex incarceration systems, psychological profiling of subjugated populations, and highly dubious redefinitions of international law to lift existing restraints on war crimes and wars of aggression.

That has proved invaluable to the military industries that have sought to profit from new wars and occupations across the Middle East. But it has also meant Israel’s expertise is much sought-after by US political and security elites who wish to pacify and control restless domestic populations.

Israel’s encouragement of the Middle East’s destabilisation has raised new threats in the US – of protest, immigration and terrorism – for which Israel has then supplied readymade solutions.

Israel has helped to rationalise the militarisation of police forces in the US and elsewhere, and provided the training. It has also gradually introduced to the US and other Western countries the kind of racial and political profiling that has long been standard in Israel.

That is the reason why Israeli academic Jeff Halper has warned of the danger that the “war on terror” could ultimately turn all of us into Palestinians.

Alliance with Saudi Arabia

But perhaps the most significant additional boost to Israel’s power in Washington has been its newfound and barely concealed alliance with Saudi Arabia.

For decades, the oil lobby in the US was seen as a counterweight to the Israel lobby. That was why Israel’s supporters traditionally reviled the US State Department, which was viewed as an Arabist outpost.

No longer. Trump, ever the businessman, has cultivated even stronger ties to the Saudis, hoping that arms and technology sales will revive the US economy and his political fortunes.

During a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the US in March, Trump noted: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

But Washington’s close ties to the Saudis are increasingly a boon to Israel rather than an impediment. The two have found common cause in their feverish opposition to Iran, and its Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon, and their determination to prevent them from gaining more power in the region.

Israel wants a military hegemony over the Middle East that Iran could undermine, while Riyadh needs an ideological and financial hegemony that Iran might be able to disrupt.

And the Palestinians – the only issue that continues formally to divide Israel and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly viewed by bin Salman as a chess piece he is ready to sacrifice in exchange for Iran’s destruction.

Trump tore up the nuclear accord agreed by Obama with Iran with such incendiary abandon this month because his two Middle East allies jointly demanded he do so.

And the indications are that he may do worse – even attacking Iran – if the pressure from Israel and the Saudis reaches a critical mass.

Time for a little humility

All of these various lobbies have long wielded significant power in Washington, but remained largely separate. In recent years, their interests have come to overlap considerably, making Israel ever more unassailable in US politics.

Under Trump, their agendas have aligned so completely that this multi-headed lobby has as good as collectively captured the presidency on matters that concern it most.

That is not to say that the Israel lobby will not face future challenges. Other pressures are emerging in reaction to the unaccountable power of the Israel lobby, including progressive voices in US politics that are, for the first time, breaking with the long-standing bipartisan nature of the debate about Israel.

Bernie Sanders’s unexpected surge in the Democratic nomination race for the presidency, the rise of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the growing alienation of young US Jews from Israel, and the US public’s ever-greater exposure on social media to Israel’s crimes are signs of trends it will be difficult for Israel to counter or reverse.

Israel is getting its way at the moment. But hubris is a fault we have been warned about since the time of the ancient Greeks. Israel may yet come to learn a little humility – the hard way.

 

The Case for Obstruction Trump and Russia No. 3

There’s Plenty of Evidence That Trump Sought to Block the Russia Probe, but It Will Take More Than That to Bring Him Down

May 31, 2018

by James Risen

The Intercept

Given Trump’s conflicting explanations for firing former FBI Director James Comey, it may be difficult to prove his intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the most important things to understand about Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia case, is that he helped nail New York mob boss John Gotti, the gangster known as the “Teflon Don.”

One of the most important things to understand about Donald Trump, the con man and hustler who happens to be president, is that he comes from the mob-tinged New York real estate industry and knows exactly what happened to Gotti and other mob bosses felled by racketeering prosecutions waged by the likes of Mueller.

Trump knows that Mueller is now conducting the same kind of racketeering investigation in the Trump-Russia case, and it frightens him.

Mueller is approaching his Trump-Russia investigation in the same way he and his fellow Justice Department prosecutors went after Gotti and other mobsters. He is rolling up Trump loyalists. He is slowly but surely climbing the ladder from low-level operatives to more prominent figures, and holding the threat of prison over their heads to get them to flip and talk about people higher up the ladder. Eventually, Mueller’s racketeering case will make its way to Trump.

Whenever Mueller seems to be making progress, Trump tries to distract. That is why a desperate Trump has been turning to crazed loyalists like Rudy Giuliani to go on cable news and spout incoherent attacks on the Mueller investigation. And it explains why Trump and his minions are now trying to focus the public’s attention on the FBI’s use of an informant to falsely claim that Trump was illegally spied on by the purported “deep state” during the 2016 campaign. To be sure, there is plenty of ugly history behind the FBI’s use of informants. In the 1960s, the FBI infiltrated the anti-war movement and other political organizations; more recently, it has used informants to entrap people in ginned-up terrorism cases.

But there is no evidence that the FBI engaged in any of those abusive tactics in the Trump-Russia investigation. Trump simply wants to depict himself as the victim of partisan intelligence operatives so that he can discredit and distract from Mueller’s actual investigation. It is the same kind of ploy he tried last year, when he claimed that he had been wiretapped.

In fact, the stunning number of very public actions taken by Trump to distract from or impede the Russia inquiry – a number that grows almost daily — suggests that he has been desperate to make the investigation go away from the moment it began.

I believe that it is obvious – and has been for more than a year – that Trump is doing everything he can to obstruct any investigation into evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election. If that means discrediting the FBI, the Justice Department, and other government agencies, Trump will do it. He is quite willing to destroy crucial governmental checks and balances to impede the investigation.

This is my third column for The Intercept about the Trump-Russia case. Given all the conspiracy theories, false controversies, and Trump’s other efforts at distraction – which the media dutifully reports in mind-numbing detail in excruciatingly narrow and incremental stories – it is easy to lose the thread of the Trump-Russia narrative. My objective in this series of columns is to step back and look at the big picture.

While Trump tries to make you look the other way, I want to remind you of the big events, like the fact that Trump fired the FBI director to stop the Trump-Russia inquiry.

This third column is very straightforward. It is about whether Trump has attempted to impede the efforts, first by the FBI under then-Director James Comey and now by Mueller, to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians win the White House.

The answer, unequivocally, is yes.

There are many open questions about other aspects of the Trump-Russia narrative, but not about this. Trump has been trying to block the investigation from the very start. The only real questions about this aspect of the case are whether Trump’s efforts to impede the inquiry will meet the legal definition of obstruction of justice, whether he will be criminally charged with obstruction of justice, and whether he will face impeachment in Congress.

And one more: Will Trump fire Mueller if he thinks he is getting too close to making the case for obstruction?

Trump’s efforts to derail the investigation have been very public and are becoming increasingly unbalanced.

Trump’s current focus on what he calls “Spygate” is straight from the playbook he has been using since the investigation began. He is trying to distract the public from the substance of the investigation by publicly spouting conspiracy theories and other wild claims.

During the 2016 campaign, the FBI asked Stefan Halper, an American who was an emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, to act as an informant in its fledgling investigation of Russian election interference and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Halper, a former Republican operative, was asked by the FBI to talk to Trump foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both of whom the bureau believed were in contact with the Russian government.

Halper’s informal talks with the Trump advisers don’t seem to have yielded much. But press reports about his role as an FBI informant gave Trump and his loyalists fresh ammunition to attack the FBI.

Trump purposefully and falsely branded Halper as a “spy” planted inside his campaign. To sway public opinion, he tried to make Halper’s role and the FBI’s inquiry sound far more nefarious than it was.

Giuliani recently acknowledged in a television interview that Trump and his camp are waging a battle to discredit Mueller’s investigation if the case ends up going to Congress for impeachment proceedings, which are, by definition, political and subject to the whims of public opinion. “Eventually, the decision here is going to be: impeach [or] not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats, and Republicans are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury … is the American people. And the American people … Republicans largely, independents pretty substantially, and even Democrats, now question the legitimacy of [Mueller’s probe],” Giuliani said on CNN last weekend.

Trump so successfully cast the Halper episode as a right-wing fever dream that congressional Republicans demanded briefings on Halper’s role in the investigation. The FBI and the Justice Department gave in and agreed to brief some Democrats as well. Afterward, like so many Trump conspiracy theories before it, the Halper case began to fizzle. Most Republicans had little to say, while Democrats said the briefings showed that there was no substance to Trump’s charges. Eventually, even some Republicans began to break with Trump on the Halper matter. Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that there was no evidence that the FBI had been spying on the Trump campaign. Most surprisingly, Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and Draco Malfoy lookalike who has long been one of the GOP’s leading conspiracy theorists, now says that the FBI’s use of Halper was appropriate.

“Spygate” is just the latest in a long string of actions by Trump designed to impede the investigation.

Before Mueller, Trump went after Comey when he was running the Russia investigation. Like Mueller, Comey quickly came to see Trump’s similarity to the mob bosses that he had pursued as a prosecutor in New York, particularly after Trump began trying to pressure Comey to do his bidding.

Unlike the close-mouthed Mueller, Comey has been very public and explicit in comparing Trump to a mobster. In his recent memoir, Comey describes one meeting with Trump this way: “As I was sitting there, the strangest image filled my mind. I kept pushing it away because it seemed too odd and too dramatic, but it kept coming back: I thought of New York Mafia social clubs, an image from my days as a Manhattan federal prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s. The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. Cafe Giardino. I couldn’t shake the picture. And looking back, it wasn’t as odd and dramatic as I thought it was at the time.”

The Trump-Comey relationship got off to a rocky start, when Comey had to brief the president-elect on the contents of the infamous Steele dossier. Comey told Trump about an unconfirmed allegation included in the dossier that during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Trump had spent a night at the Ritz Carlton with prostitutes and been filmed by Russian intelligence. Days later, after BuzzFeed published the dossier, Trump called Comey to vent about it.

About two weeks later, on January 27, 2017, Trump again called Comey and asked him to come to the White House for dinner that night. When Comey arrived, he discovered that he was the only guest.

Over dinner, Trump asked Comey whether he wanted to stay on as FBI director. Since Trump had previously asked him the same thing, and Comey had already told him that he did, Comey rightly suspected that this was a veiled threat.

“Now it was pretty clear to me what was happening,” Comey writes in his book. “The setup of the dinner, both the physical layout of a private meal and Trump’s pretense that he had not already asked me to stay on multiple occasions, convinced me this was an effort to establish a patronage relationship.”

“I expect loyalty,” Trump told him over dinner.

Comey says he responded: “You will always get honesty from me.”

Comey came away from the dinner feeling like he had just met with a Mafia boss who was trying to strong-arm him.

On February 14, Comey met Trump again at the White House, this time with a group of other officials. At the end of the meeting, Trump asked Comey to stay behind for a private talk. When everyone else had left the room, Trump told Comey that he wanted to talk about Gen. Michael Flynn, his onetime national security adviser, who had resigned the day before amid questions about his contacts with Russia and for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about them.

Trump told Comey that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in his dealings with the Russians, and then made a statement that sounded to the FBI director a lot like an effort to obstruct justice: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey says he replied only that Flynn was “a good guy,” but did not say that he would let the matter go.

“At the time, I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December,” Comey writes in his book. “I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency. Imagine the reaction if a President Hillary Clinton had asked to speak to the FBI director alone and urged him to back off the investigation of her national security advisor.”

On March 30, Trump called Comey and told him that the Russia investigation, then being run by the FBI, was a “cloud” over his presidency, and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud.” Trump also asked him to make public the fact that Trump was not personally under investigation, which Comey had previously told him privately.

On April 11, Trump called Comey again and made another veiled threat, saying: “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.” This was apparently a reference to their dinner in which Trump had demanded Comey’s loyalty.

On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey in the midst of the FBI’s investigation of evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was the most public and consequential action taken by Trump in the growing obstruction case against him. It ultimately led to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel to conduct an independent investigation into the Trump-Russia case.

At first, Trump suggested that a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey for his handling of the Clinton email investigation prompted the firing. But Trump couldn’t control himself and soon admitted to a television reporter that he was really thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired the FBI director.

The day after he fired Comey, Trump told visiting Russian officials: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” according to a memo describing the discussion.

During those early months, Comey wasn’t the only person Trump sought to pressure on the Russia investigation.

In March 2017, before he fired Comey, Trump asked two top intelligence officials — the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and NSA Director Mike Rogers — to say publicly that they saw no evidence that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians. Both declined.

After he was fired, Comey decided he would go to the press, at least indirectly. He used a law professor friend as an intermediary. The friend told the New York Times about Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice by pressuring Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. The resulting media firestorm prompted Rosenstein to appoint Mueller to investigate the Trump-Russia case. Rosenstein’s decision so angered Trump that he has reportedly wanted to fire him ever since.

Trump also wanted to fire Mueller almost as soon as he was appointed. He was only stopped when his own White House counsel said he would quit rather than carry out the order.

Trump has gone to great lengths to quash the investigation, even getting directly involved in crafting a misleading statement to the press about the purpose of a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., and campaign officials. The meeting was designed to get dirt on Clinton, but the press statement said it was about Russian adoption policy.

It seems unlikely that Mueller will seek to criminally charge and prosecute a sitting president. But if Mueller writes a report to Congress that could be used in impeachment proceedings, there is historical precedent for a focus on obstruction. During Watergate, the first count in the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon included charges of obstruction of justice.

The big question in this case will be whether Trump’s actions meet the legal definition of obstruction. As president, he has the power to hire and fire senior officials, like the FBI director. And given all of Trump’s various early explanations, including the laughable notion that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Clinton email case (which, incidentally, almost certainly helped Trump win the election), it may be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what exactly drove him to fire Comey. Trump has been so public and said so many contradictory things that it will also be difficult to parse his words and intent on many other actions.

What’s more, if Mueller gets enough evidence to make an obstruction case against Trump but still can’t prove the underlying case of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the obstruction case will ring hollow. Trump’s supporters will almost certainly rally to him, claiming he is just being punished for his efforts to fight back against a partisan takedown.

It’s important to remember what Trump thinks of his voters and how strongly he believes they will always side with him. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

 

Trump pardons conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza

May 31, 2018

BBC News

President Donald Trump has issued a pardon to conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted in 2014 of violating campaign finance laws.

D’Souza, 57, was found guilty of making an illegal campaign contribution of $20,000 (£15,000) to a New York politician.

He was sentenced to five years of probation for violating federal campaign law after admitting the crime.

D’Souza “was treated very unfairly by our government”, Mr Trump tweeted.

“Mr D’Souza accepted responsibility for his actions, and also completed community service by teaching English to citizens and immigrants seeking citizenship,” said a White House statement from spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Thursday.

“In light of these facts, the President has determined that Mr D’Souza is fully worthy of this pardon.”

As he signed the order, Mr Trump told reporters that he spoke to D’Souza by phone last night, adding that “he almost had a heart attack” when the president told him of his decision.

This is Mr Trump’s fifth full pardon. Among the president’s prior pardons are Arizona Sherriff Joe Arpaio – who is now running for senate – and former Bush White House aide Scooter Libby.

He later told reporters that he was considering pardoning lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and commuting former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s sentence.

Who is Dinesh D’Souza?

D’Souza, who is a conservative filmmaker and political commentator, pleaded guilty in 2014 to using straw donors to illegally contribute money to a Senate campaign for his friend Wendy Long.

He pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing two “straw donors”, or those who make political contributions in their own name, using another person’s money.

The case was brought by then US-Attorney Preet Bharara, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama before he was fired by Mr Trump in 2017.

He has stirred controversy on social media for his offensive comments directed towards Mr Obama.

In 2013, following the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, D’Souza tweeted: “I am thankful this week when I remember that America is big enough and great enough to survive Grown-Up Trayvon in the White House!”

While Mr Obama was in office, he accused him in a Forbes magazine cover story of adopting “the cause of anti-colonialism” from his Kenyan father.

In his 2016 film Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party – which became one of the highest grossing documentaries of the year – he accused Mrs Clinton of encouraging her husband’s sex scandals.

“She orchestrated all of this!” he says, in the film’s narration. “She used his addiction to make him dependent upon her!”

The dark depths of hatred for Hillary Clinton

More recently he made headlines when he criticised survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting in February that left 17 people dead.

Florida lawmakers voted against opening debate on legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons.

“Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs,” D’Souza tweeted. He later apologised.

During the 2016 presidential election, D’Souza tweeted that he relished “the frustration” of the Republican party over Trump’s wins.

Sending a message

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC Washington

Donald Trump is flexing his pardoning muscles again – and accomplishing several objectives.

First of all, the move is sure to thrill right-wing true believers and anger liberals, which is something the president seems to take particular glee in doing.

D’Souza, who first gained public attention as a conservative academic, had morphed into a political commentator and provocateur, producing works that blamed the “cultural left” for the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and accused leading Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of a variety of crimes, conspiracies and corruption.

The pardon also sends a message that the president is willing to use his powers to absolve those convicted of what he views as political persecution – in line with similar efforts on behalf of anti-immigration Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Bush administration staffer Scooter Libby.

While D’Souza admitted to campaign finance violations, some conservatives have insisted that he was singled out by federal prosecutors because of his political beliefs.

With a number of Trump allies in the legal crosshairs – including, in the case of the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, for possible campaign finance offences – D’Souza’s pardoning may be a not-so-subtle signal that Donald Trump has their back.

 

The FBI’s Use of Informants Is Full of Problems, but What Happened in “Spygate” Isn’t One of Them

May 31, 2018

by Trevor Aaronson

The Intercept

The #Spygate conspiracy theory started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet from President Donald Trump:

Donald J. TrumpVerified account @realDonaldTrump 

“Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.”  David Asman  @LouDobbs @GreggJarrett   Really bad stuff!

Initial reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post described the “spy” as a U.S. professor living in the United Kingdom who had met with Trump campaign aides on orders from the FBI in the summer of 2016.

The reports provided enough detail about the informant — or, to use the FBI’s preferred term, “confidential human source” — that some quick Googling allowed journalists, including The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, to identify him as Stefan Halper, a retired University of Cambridge professor who was involved in an effort in 1980 to help Ronald Reagan spy on President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign. Halper, who worked for three previous Republican administrations and reportedly provided information to the CIA, has raked in more than $1 million in U.S. Defense Department contracts in just the last five years.

As with many of Trump’s conspiracy theories, #Spygate contains a kernel of truth. The FBI has an informant problem. With more than 15,000 informants today — 10 times as many as J. Edgar Hoover had during his era of intrusive surveillance operations — the FBI has loose regulations on how agents can recruit and run informants, who turn to the bureau to make a lot of money or avoid deportation, among other reasons. A decade ago, the FBI spied on Muslims throughout southern California with no reason for suspicion other than their religion. Informants regularly commit crimes, including while investigating accused terrorists. The bureau’s roster of informants has included terrorists such as Al Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi, murderous criminals such as mobster Whitey Bulger, and even traitors to their causes like Ernest Withers, who reported to the FBI as he was building a reputation as the photographer of record for the civil rights movement.

With #Spygate, Trump has wrapped his conspiracy theory — that the FBI inserted an informant into his presidential campaign — around a fundamental truth about the FBI’s misuse of informants and then, further burnishing his reputation as a modern-day P.T. Barnum, sent it into the world with plenty of rhetorical flourish.

“The FBI could be the world’s most successful PR agency. They excel at making themselves look good. You realize that early on as an agent,” said Jeffrey A. Danik, a retired supervisory FBI agent. “The problem with the FBI today is that they’ve come up against one of the truly great marketing geniuses in Donald Trump. Their normal PR and spin is getting hammered by the PR spin master. He knows exactly which word will sell. ‘Spy’ is perfect.”

The FBI’s defense has been to disassociate itself from the term “spy,” even though that is exactly what FBI informants do whether they are working criminal or national security investigations. Instead, the bureau’s surrogates have been peddling the fiction that its informants have not been a constant source of scandal.

Former FBI Director James Comey commented this month that FBI informants are “tightly regulated,” a demonstrably false statement. (Read the FBI’s “Confidential Human Source Policy Guide” for yourself.)

Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent who wears a T-shirt bearing the red, white, and blue words #ComeyIsMyHomey when she’s not defending her former employer on CNN, argued in a Washington Post op-ed that informants deployed in national security investigations are somehow different from the ones used in criminal inquiries. She described Halper as an “intelligence source,” rather than an informant — a convenient but meaningless distinction, because FBI informants aren’t siloed. An informant could be working a criminal investigation one day and a national security inquiry the next, or a criminal investigation could become a national security concern, and vice versa. That’s a primary reason that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as FBI director, argued against a post-9/11 proposal to split the bureau into two agencies, one for intelligence and another for criminal investigations.

But while the FBI’s defenders seek to distance the bureau from the word “spy,” giving #Spygate even more momentum, they’re not talking about one clear sign that Trump’s claim of politically motivated spying is indeed a conspiracy theory.

Halper, the FBI’s informant, was a U.S. citizen living in London. Because he was overseas, he would have been considered, in the FBI’s parlance, an “ET CHS” — extraterritorial confidential human source — which means that the FBI would have been required to follow significantly more onerous rules than if he were spying in the United States.

Under the FBI’s informant guidelines, agents are permitted, through time-limited investigations known as “assessments,” to use informants to spy on people in the U.S. without having reason to believe they are committing crimes or posing national security concerns. Assessments have so few safeguards that their use in politically motivated spying is not implausible, though there’s no known case of this to date.

But assessments aren’t available to the FBI when working outside the U.S. To deploy an overseas informant, the FBI’s informant guidelines require agents to have a full investigation open. Such an investigation requires an “articulable factual basis” — in other words, evidence that a national security concern might exist or criminal activity may be occurring. An unsubstantiated tip, while enough to support the opening of an assessment, would not be enough to initiate a full investigation that could be used to task an informant working internationally.

Halper reportedly met with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in July 2016, prior to the FBI’s opening of its Trump-Russia investigation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane. This by itself is not scandalous, since the FBI was at the time investigating Russia’s alleged efforts to recruit Page as a spy of their own. In 2013, the bureau had obtained recordings of Russian agents discussing their approaches to Page. Those recordings, coupled with Page’s meeting with Russian officials in Moscow in July 2016, likely would have been enough to open a full investigation, making Halper’s activity in London perfectly justifiable under FBI rules.

Halper’s later known activity — meeting with Trump campaign aides Sam Clovis in August 2016 and George Papadopoulos in September 2016 — happened after the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, which again would have required an “articulable factual basis,” making baseless and politically motivated spying of the kind that Trump has alleged highly unlikely.

What’s more, because the FBI ran Halper as an overseas informant, any spying would have been documented in Delta, the FBI’s program for managing informants, creating a long paper trail about why the FBI chose to use Halper and what agents tasked him with doing. This is likely among the classified information Trump demanded that FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provide to select senators and congressional representatives.

After reviewing the FBI’s materials, Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy this week dismissed #Spygate on Fox News as the conspiracy theory that it is

So let’s clear this all up: The FBI’s informants can run afoul of the law and internal regulations, and FBI informants are indeed spies. But there’s no evidence yet to suggest Halper’s actions were rooted in the political motivations of FBI agents.

 

Trump biography

by Christian Jürs

Donald John Trump (June 14, 1946)

He is of German/Scottish origin. One of his German relatives was an Arnold Trumpf, b, 27 October 1892 in Gifhorn and died 7, January 1985 in Garmish-Partenkirchen. Trumpf was a member of the Nazi party number 389 920 from 1 December 1930. He was a member of the SS Race and Settlement Office as an SS-Oberfürer

Trump was born and grew up in New York City. He received a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Trump took over running his family’s real estate business in 1971, renamed it The Trump Organization, and expanded it to involve constructing and renovating skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, and golf courses. He also started various side ventures, including branding and licensing his name for real estate and luxury consumer products.

He managed the company until his 2017 inauguration as President of the United States.

Trump also gained prominence in the media and entertainment fields. He co-authored several books, and from 2003 to 2015 he was a producer and the host of The Apprentice, a reality television game show.

Trump owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants from 1996 to 2015. According to the American financial Forbes magazine, he was the world’s 544th richest person as of May 2017, with an estimated net worth of $3.5 billion.

In 1977, Trump married his first wife, Czech model Ivana Zelníčková. They had three children: Donald Jr. (b. 1977), Ivanka (b. 1981), and Eric (b. 1984). Ivana became a naturalized United States citizen in 1988. The couple divorced in 1992, following Trump’s affair with actress Marla Maples.

In October 1993, Maples gave birth to Trump’s daughter, who was named Tiffany after the upper-class Tiffany & Company. Maples and Trump were married two months later in December 1993. They divorced in 1999, and Tiffany was raised by Marla in California.

In 2005, Trump married his third wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida. Her original name was Melanija Knavs, born on April 26, 1970 at Novo Mesto, SR Slovenia, SFR Yugoslavia

In 2006, Melania became a United States citizen and gave birth to a son, March 20, 2006, Barron William Trump. Melania and Barron moved to the White House on June 11, 2017,

Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy, but his hotel and casino businesses were declared bankrupt six times between 1991 and 2009 in order to re-negotiate debt with banks and owners of stock and bonds. Because the businesses used Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they were allowed to operate while negotiations proceeded.

Mr. Trump was quoted by Newsweek magazine in 2011 saying, “I do play with the bankruptcy laws – they’re very good for me” as a tool for trimming debt.

The six bankruptcies were the result of over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York: Trump Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (1992), Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Castle Hotel and Casino (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009).

As president, Trump has frequently made false statements in public speeches and remarks. Trump uttered “at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days” in office according to The New York Times, and 1,318 total in his first 263 days in office. The Washington Post, also wrote, “President Trump is the most fact-challenged politician that The Fact Checker has ever encountered… the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.”

Mr. Trump has a history of making racially-charged statements and taking actions perceived as racially motivated.

In 1975, Mr. Trump settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1973 alleging housing discrimination against black renters. In 1989, he was accused of racism for insisting that a group of black and Latino teenagers were guilty of raping a white woman in the Central Park jogger case even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

He continued to maintain this position as late as 2016.

Mr.Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign with a speech in which he described Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.

One of Mr.Trump’s campaign managers, Paul Manafort, had worked for several years to help pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovich win the Ukrainian presidency.

Other Trump associates, including former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn and political consultant Roger Stone, have been connected to Russian officials. Russian agents were overheard during the campaign saying they could use Manafort and Flynn to influence Trump.

Members of Mr.Trump’s campaign and later his White House staff, particularly Flynn, were in contact with Russian officials both before and after the November election In a December 29, 2016 conversation, Flynn and Kislyak discussed the recently imposed sanctions against Russia; Mr.Trump later fired Flynn for falsely claiming he had not discussed the sanctions.

Donald Trump has pursued business deals in Russia since 1987, and has sometimes traveled there to explore potential business opportunities. In 1996, Trump trademark applications were submitted for potential Russian real estate development deals. Mr.Trump’s partners and children have repeatedly visited Moscow, connecting with developers and government officials to explore joint venture opportunities. Mr.Trump was never able to successfully conclude any real estate deals in Russia. However, individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump properties, and following Mr.Trump’s bankruptcies in the 1990s he borrowed money from Russian sources. In 2008 his son Donald Trump Jr. said that Russia was an important source of money for the Trump businesses.

In 1996 Mr.Trump partnered with Liggett-Ducat, a small company, and planned to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. Trump commissioned New York architect Ted Liebman, who did the sketches.

In 1987 Mr.Trump visited Russia to investigate developing a hotel

In Russia, Mr.Trump promoted the proposal and acclaimed the Russian economic market. At a news conference reported by The Moscow Times, Mr.Trump said he hadn’t been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow” in contrast to other cities had visited “all over the world.

By this time, Mr.Trump made known his desire to build in Moscow to government officials for almost ten years ranging from the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (they first met in Washington in 1987) to the military figure Alexander Lebed.

Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, showed Trump plans for a very large shopping mall to be located underground in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The mayor complimented Mr.Trump’s suggestion that this mall should have access to the Moscow Metro, and it was eventually connected to the Okhotny Ryad station. Although the 1996 residential development did not happen, Mr.Trump was by this time well known in Russia.

Between 2000–2010, Mr.Trump entered into a partnership with a development company headquartered in New York represented by a Russian immigrant, Felix Sater. During this period, they partnered for an assortment of deals that included building Trump towers internationally and Russia was included. For example, in 2005 Slater acted as an agent for building a Trump tower alongside Moscow River with letters of intent in hand and “square footage was being analyzed.”

In 2006, Mr.Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka stayed in the Hotel National, Moscow for several days, across from the Kremlin, to interview prospective partners, with the intention of formulating real estate development projects.

Sater had also traveled to Moscow with Mr. Trump, his wife Ivanka and son Donald Jr.

Mr. Trump was associated with Tevfik Arif, formerly a Soviet commerce official and founder of a development company called the Bayrock Group, of which Sater was also a partner.

Bayrock searched for deals in Russia while Trump Towers company were attempting to further expand in the United States. Mr. Sater said, “We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia,” on the scale of “…a large Vegas high-rise.”

In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump International Hotel and Russian investors

During 2006–2008 Mr.Trump’s company applied for a number of trademarks in Russia with the goal of real estate developments. These trademark applications include: Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home.

In 2008, Mr. Trump spoke at a Manhattan real estate conference, stating that he he really prefered Moscow over all cities in the world and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times.

Mr.Trump had received large and undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products such as wine, ties, or mattresses, which would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns

A secret KGB memo under date of February 1, 1984 concerned the necessity of making an expanded use of the facilities of cooperating foreign intelligence services—for example, Czechoslovakian or East German intelligence networks.

The most revealing section concerned kompromat.

The document specifically requested any compromising information about Donald Trump, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs, intrigues, speculation, bribes, graft … and exploitation of his position to enrich himself. Plus any other information that would compromise the subject (Trump) to his country’s authorities and the general public. Naturally the information could be used to cause him serious problems in his country if exposed.

Finally, the report mentioned that his attitude towards women was also of interest. The point of interest would be if he was the habit of having affairs with women.

Mr. Trumps’ first trip to Moscow came after he found himself seated next to the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin in 1986. His original position was Soviet ambassador to the U.N. Dubinin’s mission as ambassador was to make contact with America’s business elite.

There was a luncheon held by Leonard Lauder, the son of Estée Lauder. Mr. Trump was invited to meet the Ambassador. Ambassador Dubinin spoke fluent English and during the course of the luncheon Trump spoke at length with the Ambassador who proposed that Trump build a large luxury hotel, directly across from the Kremlin, in association with the Soviet government.

Mr.Trump at once became interested in the project and expressed his willingness to cooperate on such a project.

By January 1987, Mr.Trump had become a “prominent person” status and therefore Ambassador Dubinin deemed Mr.Trump interesting enough to arrange his trip to Moscow. U.S.-based Soviet diplomat, Vitaly Churkin—the future U.N. ambassador—was of assistance in this project.

Mr. Trump first visited the Soviet Union on July 4, 1987.

Mr. Trump flew to Moscow for the first time, together with his wife Ivana and Lisa Calandra, Ivana’s Italian-American assistant. Ambassador Dubinin’s invitation to Trump to visit Moscow was a standard operation exercise by the KGB.

The Trump trip was orchestrated by the Intourist Agency which was under the control of the KGB. Its duty was to investigate and monitor all foreigners coming into the Soviet Union.

The Trumps were treated with great courtesy by Soviet officials and they were housed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, at the bottom of Tverskaya Street, near Red Square.

The hotel was connected to the Intourist complex next door and was under KGB control.

The Lenin suite had been fixed for electronic surveillance.

In November of 2013, the Miss Universe pageant was held iin Moscow

It was there that  Mr. Trump — then the pageant’s owner — spent several days socializing with Russia’s business and political elite and becoming acquainted with a wealthy developer whose connections his son would later seek to capitalize on. The developer, Aras Agalarov, offered to pass on information about potential rival Mrs. Clinton from Russia’s top prosecutor to help a projected Trump presidential campaign.

The contest was held at Crocus City Hall, a venue owned by Agalarov. The event would be a family affair: Agalarov’s son, a pop singer named Emin, performed on stage and his wife was a judge.

Mr.Trump remained on good and productive terms with the Agalarov family, at one point, appearing in a music video with Emin and sending him a videotaped greeting on his 35th birthday.

During his trip to Moscow on November 9-11, 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, Mr.Trump surrounded himself with business people and those necessary to sign a deal which would bring a Trump Tower project to Moscow. These were: Aras Agalarov, Emin Agalarov,Yulya (Yulia) Alferova,Herman Gref, Artem Klyushin, Vladimir Kozhin, Chuck LaBella, Rotem Rosen, Phil Ruffin, Alex Sapir, Keith Schiller, Roustam Tariko and Bob Van Ronkel.

At first, President Putin, who had planned on meeting Mr.Trump at the pageant, sent numerous individuals tied to the Russian construction sector to the event to discuss potential lucrative building plans and to ascertain Mr. Trump’s attitudes.

President Putin to establish a distance, stated he was unable to attend the pagent because of a last-minute visit from the King of the Netherlands.

Previous to this meeting, there had been no positive positions on the possibility that Mr. Trump, with Russian assistance and financing, might construct a luxury hotel in Moscow. Trump made several tweets thanking individuals in Moscow and bragging about his future plans. Then on November 12th, 2013 Trump posted a link to the Moscow Times, remarking that his organization was working on building a luxury hotel in Moscow “@AgalarovAras I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”

This hotel deal was finalized during Trump’s weekend stay in Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant. At the Four Seasons Hotel at Ulitsa Okhotnyy Ryad, 2, a private meeting was held between Mr. Trump and President Putin. As the President is fluent in English, no other person was present. President Putin praised the business abilities of Mr. Trump and said that he would be a “refreshing person” as President of the United States. President Putin said that his people would be pleased to support Mr. Trump and that if this support was deemed material in achieving a victory, President Putin had one request to make of Mr. Trump. President Putin said his best wish was to establish “friendly and cooperative attitudes” by both parties, firmer business contacts and an abandonment of the policy of threats to the Russian Republic. President Putin stressed that certain very right-wing groups in America had been constantly agitating against him and against the Russian Republic and he hoped that Mr. Trump, if elected, could ignore these few people and work with, not against the Russian Republic. Mr. Trump repeatedly assured the President that he woud be most eager to do just that and he agreed to work with various people in the United States who were friendly towards, and had connections with, the Russian Republic.

This most important conversation was recorded as a form of kompromat. And it is certain that a direct quid pro quo took place in November of 2013 between President Putin and Mr. Trump.

On June 16, 2015, Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for President

Ukraine faked a Russian “dissident” death – just because they could

May 31, 2018

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

The Ukrainian government has stretched the truth beyond credibility on more than one occasion: those snipers in the Maiden who started firing on both sides during the “revolution” turned out not to have been soldiers loyal to the Yanukovich regime. With billions of US tax dollar going to subsidize what may be the most corrupt government on earth, the Ukrainians contend they’re as pure as the driven snow. That’s disingenuous, to say the very least: lying through their gritted teeth is more like it. And now once again they have proven how dicey they are, with their make-believe “government” ruled over by grasping oligarchs, their disorderly country roiling with neo-Nazi thugs out to kill Jews, homosexuals, and leftists, and their distinctively un-European penchant for political murders, rampant thuggery, stealing as a way of life, and untrammeled aggression against their own people.

I’m talking about the faked death of Russian anti-Putin activist Arkady Babchenko, which was staged by the SBU – the Ukrainian political police – supposedly in order to prevent Babchencko’s actual assassination by sinister Russian agents. They claim one of these Bad Guys has been captured, but we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of him, and probably won’t. Indeed, the whole story is likely a lie: this was simply yet another propaganda campaign designed to blacken the name of Putin and his regime. The pattern is clear: the Skripal fraud, the Russia-gate hoax, and the list of provocations – all the way back to Viktor Yushchenko’s acne – goes on. This is Cold War II, folks, and don’t you forget it.

I love how all the Usual Suspects immediately decided that Putin was the culprit: Little Marco Rubio, professional Russophobe Anders Aslund (“the obviously Russian murder”), Euro-weenie Carl Bildt, anonymous Mensch-bot “Caroline O”, Guardian “reporter” Shaun Walker – who is normally a shill for Kiev, and is awfully mad about this deception  (as he should be) – the evil Natasha Bertrand, a reporter  for a business publication  whose hatred of Putin is only a little less than her hatred of our President, the ridiculous Daily Beast, which under Noah Shachtman’s tutelage has turned into the neocon version of the News of the World. And of course embittered Russian immigrant Julia Ioffe, who once accused Trump of having sex with his own daughter, fell for it and then freaked out when the truth came out. All the major media outlets fell for it, reporting the “murder” – complete with sketchy accounts of Putin’s other alleged crimes – with a straight face. All joined in an orgy of confirmation bias:

Everyone in the “respectable” media fell for it and published it as the truth because it fit right in with their preexisting views: the Western media sees events involving Russia and its periphery though the fog of confirmation bias, and they make no bones about it. Accounts of the fake “murder” were padded with speculative descriptions of  Russian journalists and “dissidents” who met an untimely end, either in Russia or abroad: the clear implication being that Putin personally ordered their deaths.

Evidence? Oh, our “news” media has long since dumped that former necessity overboard.

That’s why the English-speaking media has been so eager to trumpet the Ukrainian’s every absurd claim: because virtually everything that comes out of Kiev is a fabrication, starting with the origins of their Western-backed coup d’etat, and extending to their explanation for the war in the Eastern part of the country. And that suits Western reporters just fine. After all, who but a few honest bloggers are challenging them? It’s only when the brazen dishonesty of Kiev’s shills is thrown in their faces, as in the case of Babchenko’s deception, that their indifference to truth comes out.

The Ukrainians never had much credibility to begin with: they always exaggerate or else completely make up their propaganda points, and one always had to fact check them within an inch of their lives to get an approximation of the truth. Now their credibility is utterly nonexistent: never again will we take what they say with anything but several very large grains of salt. Certainly, from this point onward, no reliable news organization will take them at their word.

Indeed, the entire picture of Ukrainian society that we have been fed by the mainstream media, ever since the “revolution” that overthrew democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovich, has been a lie. We were told it is a nation of “freedom fighters” struggling to get out under the thumb of retro-Soviet Russians: its long-suffering people are really committed democrats who just want a taste of freedom for once. The reality is quite the opposite: Ukrainian civil society is a mass base of ultra-nationalist fanatics who have no use for democracy and are infected with a neo-Nazi bacillus that keeps popping up everywhere: in government, in the military, and in the streets, where the fascists attack gays, political opponents, and anybody they don’t like.

The lesson of the Babchenko fraud is that we can’t trust the Ukrainians to tell the truth about anything. Their constant claims of Russian “aggression” – when it’s their own people who are rebelling against the tyranny of Kiev – are false. The claims of poverty – when their greedy oligarchs are sucking up cash, courtesy of the US taxpayers, at a rapid rate – are disingenuous. The charge that the rebels, and the Russians, rather than they themselves, are violating the Minsk accords – it’s all lies, told with a straight face, and one wonders if our government officials even pretend to believe them.

Ukraine is a dagger pointed at the very heartland of Russia: our troops training their soldiers a few miles from the Russian border is a provocation that could easily lead to a showdown between the two nuclear-armed superpowers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump disdained getting involved in the region: where, he wanted to know, is the American interest? After winning, he was pressured into approving lethal aid to Kiev, and as a result the war has gotten predictably bloodier, and more intractable.

Ukraine is an albatross hung ‘round our necks, an “ally” without value or credibility: a government of liars and manipulators, who intervened directly in our 2016 election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf, and who now have the nerve to ask the Trump administration for support.

Ukraine is one big tripwire that could get us into a major conflict with Russia: that, of course, is what the War Party wants. The Democratic party, which has made hatred of Russia its top talking point, is committed to a policy of provocation that can only lead to war. Trump, who has said he wants to get along with Russia, has been stymied by his own staff, and by the permanent government, which is pushing a new cold war along with their shills in the mainstream media.

Many were fooled by the public relations campaign which sought to depict the coup leaders in Kiev as the heirs of the old Soviet dissidents: they are nothing of the sort, and their latest caper – an exercise in brazen deception – underscores just how phony they really are.

What’s needed is an end to US aid to Ukraine, the withdrawal of our troops from Ukrainian territory, recognition of Crimea as a Russian province, and a strict enforcement of the Minsk accords, which Ukraine refuses to honor. That is the key to peace in the region, and the only policy that serves American interests

 

Ukraine’s cynical Arkady Babchenko deception

Ukraine’s secret service faked journalist Arkady Babchenko’s killing ― to foil an actual murder plot against him. The country’s government must now reveal what it knows to restore its credibility

May 31, 2018

by Bernd Johann

DW

Leaning that someone is in fact alive and well is usually cause for celebration. But when news broke that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko’s death had been faked to deceive the public, many were left feeling bewildered or even aghast. Ukrainians, as well as friends and observers abroad, were shaking their heads in disbelief when it was revealed that Kremlin-critic Babchenko’s feigned murder was an elaborate ploy hatched by the Ukrainian secret service.

The ordeal was, according to Ukrainian authorities, used to foil an actual Russian-orchestrated plot to kill Babchenko and others. Evidence presented by Ukraine’s secrete service and public prosecutor to prove this claim, however, remains flimsy. There is footage showing the alleged mastermind of the murder plot being arrested on a street, as well as a video of cash being secretly exchanged to pay for weapons and an assassin. No faces can be made out but what is said can be heard.

German president deceived

It is clear that Babchenko willingly participated in the secret service ploy. He was even photographed lying in a pool of blood ― an image that went around the world to document a murder that never happened, sanctioned by Ukrainian authorities. Evidently, the purpose of the ploy was to garner maximum attention. Even German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was visiting Kyiv at the time, was made to believe this elaborate lie.

This extreme case of fake news not only cast a dark shadow over Steinmeier’s visit to Ukraine, but also doubt on the credibility of Ukrainian leaders. Granted, covert investigations and utmost secrecy are sometimes necessary to expose and prevent criminal plots. And Ukraine has good reason to deploy such methods in light of Russia’s four consecutive years of military aggression against the country ― including its perfidious meddling in the Donbass region and its political deceptions and propaganda campaigns.

Ukraine must lay the cards on the table

But must Ukraine really resort to such Russian methods? Even cynically feigning a murder? Was it really necessary to bring such immense, if only brief, sorrow to Babchenko’s family and friends? Is there any additional evidence that Ukraine’s secret service and public prosecutor can present to justify this harrowing deception? Now is the time for Ukraine to step toward and lay the cards on the table, to show allies like Germany and other nations what it actually knows. A good opportunity for Ukraine to do so is right now, during German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ visit to the country.

If Ukraine fails to fully account for Babchenko’s feigned death, it will severely harm its international image, which, due to insufficient reforms especially in terms of tackling graft, is already tarnished. Hopefully Ukrainian leaders realize just how much is at stake in terms of their country’s credibility. The Babchenko case has provoked bewilderment and confusion both inside Ukraine and abroad. Now is the time for Ukraine to fully account for its conduct.

MEK’s Money Sure Can’t Buy Love

But it can buy a lot of politicians

May 29, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The UNZ Review

Iran’s radical Marxist cult Mohajedeen e Khalq, better known by its acronym MEK, is somewhat reminiscent of the Israel Lobby’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in that it operates somewhat in the shadows and is nevertheless able to punch well beyond its weight by manipulating politicians and understanding how American government functions on its dark side. MEK promotes itself by openly supporting a very popular hardline policy of “democratic opposition” advocating “regime change” for Iran while also successfully selling its reform credentials, i.e. that it is no longer a terrorist group. This latter effort apparently convinced then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 2013 as she and President Barack responded to the group’s affability campaign by delisting MEK from the government list of terrorist organizations.

This shift in attitude towards MEK was a result of several factors. First, everyone in Washington and the Establishment hates Iran. And second, the Executive Order 13224, which designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, ipso facto defines any group fighting against it as one of the good guys, justifying the change

MEK is best described as a cult rather than as a political movement because of its internal discipline. Its members are, according to the testimony of those who have somehow escaped, subjected to considerable indoctrination best described as brainwashing. Though not exactly imprisoned, adherents are kept isolated and separated insofar as possible and cannot contact their families. Their possessions are collectivized so they have no money or other resources. If they are in contravention of the numerous rules that guide the organization they are punished, including physically, and there are reports of members being executed for trying to escape.

The current head of the group is Maryam Rajavi, the wife of the deceased co-founder of MEK, Massoud. She is reported to be politically savvy and speaks excellent English learned in part to enable her to communicate with adoring American politicians. The group itself was founded in 1965. Its name means “People’s Holy Warriors,” derived from its Marxist/populist roots and its religiosity. It was not unlike the Taliban which developed in adjacent Afghanistan. During the 1970’s it rebelled against the Shah and was involved in bombing and shooting American targets. It executed U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lewis Hawkins in 1973 as he was walking home from the U.S. Embassy and in 1975 it killed two American Air Force officers in their chauffer driven car, an incident that was studied and used in CIA training subsequently as an example of how not to get caught and killed by terrorists. Between 1976 and 1978 the group bombed American commercial targets and killed three Rockwell defense contractors and one Texaco executive.

MEK welcomed the Iranian revolution and also the occupation of the U.S. Embassy but soon fell afoul of the Ayatollah Khomeini regime. It eventually moved to join Iran’s enemy Saddam Hussein in Iraq and participated on the Iraqi side in the bloodletting that followed when the two countries went to war in 1980-8. For that reason alone, MEK is particularly hated by most Iranians and the repeated assertion that it is some kind of “Iranian democracy” alternative is ridiculous as the people in Iran would never accept it. In terms of the duplicity surrounding its marketing, it is reminiscent of Iraqi con artist Ahmed Chalabi, who also had little following inside Iraq but was able to convince Pentagon geniuses like Paul Wolfowitz that he represented some kind of democratic movement. At the time Chalabi was also secretly working for Iran.

MEK was protected by Saddam and later by the U.S. invaders who found a weapon to use against Iran useful. They were housed in Camp Ashraf near Baghdad, and later, after Ashraf was closed, at so-called Camp Liberty. In 2013, when the Iraqis insisted that they go elsewhere the President Barack Obama facilitated their removal to Albania under the auspices of the United Nations refugee program, with the $20 million dollar bill being footed by Washington. The organization’s political arm, the National Council of Resistance or Iran (NCRI), meanwhile established itself in Paris under the control of Maryam Rajavi, in part to place it closer to the American and European sources of its political legitimacy and financing. In 2001, to make itself more palatable, the group had renounced violence.

The MEK folks in Albania have become a bit of a problem. Through various additional migrations they have multiplied and now number around 3,000 and have largely adhered to their cultish ways even though one of the original objectives of the move into Europe was to somehow deprogram and “deradicalize” them in an environment far removed from Iran-Iraq. Part of the problem is that the Albanian government likes the U.N. subsidies used to support the MEK associates, but it will not let them work as they have no legal status and they cannot resettle or lead normal lives. So they resort to criminal activity that includes promotion of fraudulent charities, drug trafficking and even a form of slavery in which their own people are sold and traded as laborers. The temporary solution has been to move the MEK out of a rundown university property in the capital Tirana to a more remote site in northern Albania dubbed Ashraf-3, but local people believe that that is just kicking the can down the road and that MEK should be forced to go somewhere else, preferably in the United States, which seems to like them so much.

Also, Albania is majority Muslim and has been subjected to the same Saudi Arabian ultra-conservative wahhabi promotion backed by lots of money that has plagued many states in the Middle East. Albanians accustomed to the mild form of Turkish Islam suddenly found themselves confronting the Sunni-Shia divide and also the MEK as agents of both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Many outraged Albanians see the unreformed MEK in their midst as a terror time bomb waiting to go off, but the government, under pressure from the U.S. Embassy has not sought their removal.

Meanwhile back in the United States everything involving the non-deradicalized MEK is just hunky dory. MEK and the NCRI are enemies of Iran and also seem to have plenty of money to spend, so they buy high ranking American speakers to appear at their events. Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton have appeared regularly, as have Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen. At a 2015 appearance in Paris, Giuliani brought the crowd to its feet by calling for “Regime change!” after shouting out that the “Ayatollah must go!” In August 2017, Senators Roy Blunt, John Cornyn, Thom Tillis and Carl Levin met with Rajavi in Paris. Newt Gingrich also considers himself a friend of the Iranian resistance while Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor and wife of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke in Paris for five minutes in 2015 and was paid $50,000. The payments made to the other politicians have not been revealed.

And then there is the Saudi and Israeli angle. Saudi Arabia is now the major funder of MEK/NCRI. It’s intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal spoke before the group in 2017. Israel funded the group in its early days and its external spy service Mossad continues to use MEK stay-behinds in Iran to assassinate scientists and tamper with computer systems. The CIA, which recently expanded its anti-Iran task force, it also working closely with MEK. And Giuliani, Bolton, Chao are all in the White House inner circle, which, not coincidentally, is baying for Iranian blood.

Lost in all of the above is any conceivable American interest. It is difficult to even make the claim that Iran threatens the United States or any vital interest and the drive to decapitate the Mullahs, both literally and figuratively, really comes from Riyadh and Tel Aviv. And there is potential collateral damage where it really might matter as MEK cultists continues to sit and fester in a holding pattern maintained by Washington in the heart of Europe. What comes next? War of some kind with Iran is appearing to be increasingly likely given recent remarks by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, threating to crush the Iranians. Is Washington intending to send the MEK warriors on sabotage missions inside Iran, something like the resistance to the Germans in World War 2? Maybe Giuliani and Bolton know the answer to that question.

 

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