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9 things to know about James Comey’s testimony

Former FBI Director Comey’s evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee confirms that there was no obstruction of justice by the President, either of the Russiagate probe or of the Flynn investigation.

Alexander Mercouris

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Former FBI Director Comey has concluded the open part of his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The quality of the questioning – both by Republicans and Democrats  – struck me as extremely poor.  I found Comey’s written testimony to the Committee published yesterday far more informative than his answers today.

This was largely the result of the Senators’ collective failure to ask pertinent questions or – given the short time for questioning permitted to each Senator – to coordinate their questioning properly with each other.

Here are the main points that came out from Comey’s testimony as I see them:

(1) Comey’s written testimony makes it clear what were the primary topics on the President’s mind in his discussions with Comey.  They were

(a) his desire for a statement by the Justice Department or the FBI that he was not personally under investigation; and

(b) his desire for an investigation of the leaks, which were destabilising his administration.

(2) Comey provided no evidence that the President interfered in or sought to interfere in the conduct of the Russiagate investigation.  On the contrary the details of that investigation do not seem to have been discussed by Comey and the President at all.

At one point in their discussions the President said that if any of the people in his campaign team were guilty of any wrongdoing then the law should take its course.  In light of this the whole obstruction of justice allegation in relation to the Russiagate investigation collapses.  I cannot see how it can be sustained any further.

I would add that Comey in fairness to him was at pains to say both in his verbal and in his written testimony that the FBI’s Russiagate investigation is a counter-espionage investigation into Russia’s alleged role in the US election not a criminal investigation.  I have discussed the relevance of this here.

(3) Comey confirmed that the President is not under under investigation as part of the FBI’s Russiagate probe.

(4) Comey resisted the President’s wish for a public statement saying that the President is not under investigation in the Russiagate probe.  His reasons for doing so were that the President might hypothetically come under investigation in the future, which might require a future statement contradicting any previous statement that he was not under investigation as part of the probe.

That is a totally wrong reason for refusing the President’s request whose logic is totally flawed.  I will discuss this in detail below.

(5) Unfortunately it is impossible to discuss Comey’s response to the President’s requests for an investigation of the leaks because shamefully the Senators showed no interest in this subject.  Comey’s written testimony wrongly downplays the importance of this issue.

Those are the main points to come out of Comey’s testimony.  There are two further points of less importance, though they seem to obsess the media commentators.  I will briefly touch on them.

(6) the President wanted the FBI to end its investigation of General Flynn, provoked by General Flynn’s now notorious telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.  However the President did not tell or order or threaten Comey to end this investigation, which continued regardless despite the President’s wish, and which does so still.  Comey’s later sacking was wholly unconnected to the President’s wish that the FBI end this investigation.

A point which is completely missed in all discussions of this question – and which none of the Senators brought up in their questioning of Comey today – is that this investigation commenced in December 2016 and relates to a single telephone call between the Russian ambassador and General Flynn.  The only criminal offence anyone has suggested General Flynn may have committed in connection with this call is one under the Logan Act, under which no one has been prosecuted in the two hundred years of its existence.

Notwithstanding this, and notwithstanding that the investigation has been underway for 6 months, there is still no sign of it ending, or of any decision being made whether to prosecute General Flynn or not.  That is a scandal, a much greater one than the fact that the President expressed a wish back in February that this absurd investigation be brought to an end.

(7) the President’s request to Comey for “loyalty” is so ambiguous and so open to differing interpretations – a fact admitted by Comey himself – that I don’t think anything turns on it.

Paul Ryan is almost certainly right in seeing this request as just another example of the President’s inexperience and lack of understanding of the proper etiquette he needs to follow in his interactions with senior officials.  Certainly I do not think this request is evidence of any intention by the President to interfere in the course of the Russiagate investigation, and since we now know from Comey that no such interference ever took place, there is no basis for using this request in any charge against the President for obstruction of justice.

There are two other points of factual interest that came out of Comey’s testimony today.

(8) Comey has admitted that it was he who leaked quotes from his attendance note of his meeting with the President on 14th February 2017, when the subject of the Flynn investigation was discussed.

This is very much Comey’s style.  He likes to give the impression of being an honest and straight talking cop, and this was very much a theme of his testimony today.  In reality he has all the deviousness of a long standing veteran of bureaucratic infighting, selectively quoting from his own attendance note so as heighten the drama of his own testimony, and so as to ensure that the focus during this testimony is on those topics that he wants it to be.

(9) It is now clear that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russiagate investigation was under active consideration two weeks before it was announced.  Comey admits this in his written testimony.

The publication of news of Sessions’s meetings with Russian ambassador Kislyak therefore had nothing to do with Sessions’s decision to recuse himself, which had already been taken before the publication of this information took place, and which he was about to announce anyway when the publication of this information took place.  Sessions’s statement announcing his decision to recuse himself all but said as much, and we now know from Comey that what it said was true.

That means that the publication of the information about Sessions’s meetings with the Russian ambassador was leaked so as to put Sessions’s announcement in a false light, and so as to create an impression that there was something sinister about Sessions’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, when this was not the case.

That is my summary of what we have learnt from Comey today.  Has Comey’s testimony taken us any further forward?

Firstly, though we can expect the usual lurid headlines, I cannot see anything which remotely amounts to a convincing case for obstruction of justice in anything that Comey said during his testimony today.  Even allowing for the fact that impeachment is a political rather than a legal process, I cannot see how in the absence of any case for obstruction of justice impeachment proceedings can get off the ground, and I expect those claims to fizzle out over the next few weeks.

Secondly, it should be said clearly that the President’s requests to Comey that there be a public statement confirming that he was not personally under investigation were perfectly proper and legitimate, even though the President was wrong to address them to Comey personally, and should have done so through the Department of Justice.

The President was perfectly right to say that the constant insinuations in the media that he might be under investigation for colluding with the Russians was putting his Presidency under “a cloud” and was interfering with his ability to conduct foreign policy, and given that he was not under investigation the President was fully justified in wanting to have the fact that he was not under investigation made public.

As for Comey’s resort to hypothetical scenarios in order to deny the President’s request, it should be said clearly that this was wholly inappropriate, and the fact that Comey during his testimony hid behind the alleged opinions of one of his investigators in order to justify his refusal shows that he knows it.

As to the reason Comey gave for refusing the President’s request, that an announcement that the President was not under investigation might have to be publicly contradicted if the President ever were to come under investigation in the future, it should be said clearly that the reasoning here is fundamentally flawed, for reasons which are not difficult to explain.

Obviously should the President ever come under investigation then the FBI and the Justice Department must make the fact public, and it would be wholly wrong if they did not.  That should happen irrespective of whether or not there had been a previous announcement that the President was not under investigation.   The one should in no sense be dependent on the other.

Comey’s implication that there would only have to be a public announcement of an investigation of the President if a previous announcement had been made that the President was not under investigation – so that this previous statement would have to be ‘corrected’ – is not only completely wrong.  It is actually utter nonsense and Comey knows it.  It is astounding – and lamentable – that it seems that none of the Senators do.

Comey is an enigma is in the Russiagate case.  There is some evidence that initially he resisted the hysteria which is driving it.  For example he refused to sign Clapper’s notorious October 2016 statement accusing the Russians of meddling in the US election.

At some point however Comey seems to have let himself become swept along by the hysteria, possibly because he was unnerved by the criticisms of his decision to drop the case against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server, and wanted to make up with the Democrats – who he probably thought would win the election – by taking their Russiagate claims seriously.

The result is a series of bad decisions which have been central in driving the Russiagate case, and which show that despite Comey’s tortuous denials by the time of the election he had clearly become totally committed to the Russiagate case, and was conducting it in a grossly partisan way.

Firstly, there was the truly bizarre decision to accept the opinion of a private company – CrowdStrike – that Russia was behind the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers, rather than have the FBI investigate the fact for itself.

Secondly is the credence shown to the ludicrous Trump Dossier, which Comey is now known to have been instrumental in adding as an appendix to the classified ODNI report shown to Trump in January, and which has been an essential part of the Russiagate investigation ever since.

Thirdly there was the truly bizarre decision to accede to Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s paranoid demands for a criminal investigation under the Logan Act of General Flynn’s telephone conversation with Russian ambassador Kislyak.

That Comey’s relations with the President subsequently collapsed in acrimony in light of all this is hardly surprising.  Moreover it is clear that Comey could see what was coming, and that within days of the inauguration he was busy preparing his defence for the inevitable falling out with the President he must have known was bound to come.

I do not believe Comey’s claim that it is not his usual practice to make attendance notes of his meetings with senior officials.  On the contrary, both as a state official and a lawyer, I am sure Comey makes such attendance notes as a matter of course.

However it is clear that in this case he prepared his attendance notes and circulated them amongst his colleagues in a particular way in order to use them in the battle with the President which he knew was coming.  The fact that he selectively leaked quotes from the attendance notes in order to bolster his case before he gave his testimony confirms as much.

In the event, though the President acted extremely unwisely in his interactions with Comey, Comey ultimately has nothing to show.

The worst that can be said about the President is that his personal loyalty to General Flynn – and possibly his feelings of guilt about the way he dismissed him – led him to speak very indiscreetly about Flynn’s case to Comey.  However since he did not tell Comey to drop the case against Flynn or in any way pressure Comey to do so, and since the case continues anyway despite being totally absurd, I cannot see how a scandal – let alone grounds of impeachment – can be conjured up out of this.

In all other respects Comey’s evidence today was a damp squib, revealing nothing truly sinister or new.  Once the hysteria dies down more and more people will start to see that.  Already the President’s legal team are making that very point.

Once again, because of his own mishandling of Comey, the President faces some difficult headlines over the few days.  If he handles them sensibly, and leaves it to his legal team to respond to them, he has nothing however to worry about.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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