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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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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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