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Following Donald Trump’s wiretap accusations Clapper and Comey make only qualified denials

Former DNI Clapper and {reportedly) current FBI Director Comey make strictly qualified denials of President Trump’s wiretap claims.

Alexander Mercouris

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Following Saturday’s charges come Sunday’s denials.

On Saturday in a series of tweets Donald Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping his office in Trump Tower.  A few hours later Obama responded with a statement published by his spokesman which neither admitted nor denied the wiretap but which said that Obama himself had never ordered surveillance within the US on anyone.

Then came an interview for NBC by Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.  In it in carefully chosen words Clapper said that he had “no knowledge” of any FISA court authorising wiretaps of Trump Tower, and that no section of the US intelligence community which he supervised had carried out such a wiretap.

Some sections of the media – especially in Britain the BBC and the Guardian – have reported these denials in a way that gives the impression to a casual viewer or reader that Clapper has denied the existence of the wiretap outright.  This is certainly not so.  Clapper carefully words were

[For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw] there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign…..I can’t speak for other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity

(bold italics added)

In words which have received far less publicity, Clapper also denied that he had seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and said that the report on Russian interference in the election submitted to Obama and Trump, a redacted version of which was provided to Congress, and a further redacted (and content free) version of which was made public, made no such claim

Clapper was also asked on “Meet the Press” if he had any evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while the Kremlin was working to influence the election.

“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper said, based on the information he had before his time in the position ended.

“We did not include anything in our report … that had any reflect of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report,” he said. “We had no evidence of such collusion.”

A few hours after Clapper’s comments, there appeared an article in The New York Times drawing on the usual anonymous sources.  This claimed that shortly after the President published his tweets on Saturday FBI Director Comey contacted the Justice Department to say that the President’s claim that Obama had ordered Trump’s phone in Trump Tower wiretapped was false, and asked the Justice Department to publish a retraction (as of the time of writing the Justice Department has published no such retraction).

In a comment which I see as intended to goad Comey into publishing his own statement denying the President’s claims, The New York Times questions why he has not done so

It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue a statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own records and is in a position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.

As I recall, The New York Times initially also made the very strange claim that because Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russia, Comey was finding it difficult to find anyone in the Justice Department competent to handle his request.

That cannot be true since Sessions’s statement on Friday made it clear that it would be the acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente who would henceforth be supervising the investigation and who Comey would therefore be dealing with.  I notice that the current version of the story in The New York Times no longer makes this claim.

It is always difficult (and perhaps unwise) to comment on something someone is reported to have said based on accounts of what that person is reported to have said which are provided anonymously and at second hand.  Assuming however that The New York Times story is true (as I believe) and assuming that Comey’s concerns are also being reported accurately (which with some qualifications I also believe) then Comey is not actually denying that a wiretap took place, merely that Obama ordered it.  Here is the first paragraph of The New York Times report

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

This is of course what Obama said in his statement on Saturday, and which (as I have already pointed out) is almost certainly true

The statement does not deny that Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower was wiretapped. Nor does it deny that Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ (a flexible word the precise meaning of which has never been made clear) or members of his campaign team were placed under surveillance.

Instead it indirectly denies that Obama himself or people working directly under him in the White House ordered these actions.  It does so by denying they have ever ordered surveillance of any US citizen, something which by the way is almost certainly true.

The statement hints than any order to wiretap Donald Trump’s office or for carrying out surveillance on Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ was the work of officials in the Justice Department, and it seeks to shift responsibility – or blame – onto them.

This too is almost certainly true.

(bold italics added)

On the face of it therefore Comey’s comments – if they are being reported accurately – do not add anything to what following Obama’s statement of Saturday we already know.

Certain other comments attributed to Comey in The New York Times article are attracting less attention, though they are actually very interesting.

Firstly, it seems that what drove Comey to contact the Justice Department is concern that Donald Trump’s tweets on Saturday implied that the FBI by wiretapping his office had broken the law.

Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump levelled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.

Comey’s concern here is entirely legitimate.  As I have said previously, if there was a wiretap and if it was authorised by a court after an application made in the proper way by the Justice Department, then the wiretap was legal.  Comey is absolutely right to want to set the record straight about this.  Presumably in the absence of a public statement that will be done over the course of the Congressional inquiries which the President has now requested.

The second point is even more interesting, which is that The New York Times story again essentially confirms that the FBI investigation into the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is drawing a blank.

In addition to being concerned about potential attacks on the bureau’s credibility, senior F.B.I. officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public’s expectations that the federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

(bold italics added)

This is very twisted language which shows that The New York Times is not reporting this part of the story straightforwardly.  However the meaning is clear enough.  The FBI is worried that the more discussion of its investigation there is – extending all the way to discussions by no less a person than the President himself of court approved wiretaps – the more people will fall for the false ‘no smoke without fire’ argument, and will feel let down by the FBI when it eventually announces that its investigation has drawn a blank.

This is an entirely valid concern, and is one of several reasons why such investigations are supposed to be confidential.

This is the second confirmation within a few hours from people who have held posts within the national security bureaucracy that the endlessly repeated claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are not supported by evidence.  The first was made by Clapper (see above) and the second was made anonymously to The New York Times by officials of the FBI.

These admissions follow a continuous pattern of admissions from officials within the national security bureaucracy now stretching back months that inquiries into claims of collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia are drawing a blank.

Not only in the present paranoid atmosphere are these admissions being ignored, but the security agencies are being constantly bullied to divert more and more resources into more and more inquiries to find the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which officials of the security agencies repeatedly say is not there.

Students of political witch-hunts eg. the Popish Plot in Seventeenth Century England, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, or the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s, will recognise the phenomenon.

The position therefore as of the time of writing is that Obama has denied – though in a very convoluted way – that he ordered a wiretap (though he has hinted that if there was a wiretap it was the Justice Department which requested it), Comey is reported as having also denied that Obama ordered a wiretap, and Clapper has denied that the part of the bureaucracy that he supervised sought or carried out a wiretap.

These are not denials that a wiretap took place.  Neither are they admissions that it did take place.  I have repeatedly warned against the logical error of inferring a positive from a negative, and of treating a denial of one thing as an admission of something else.   What it is fair to say is that the fingers are being pointed towards Obama’s Justice Department, and that so far its senior officers – Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates – are staying silent.

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Vladimir Putin calls new Ukrainian church ‘dangerous politicking’

President Putin said creation of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” is against Church canon and that the West drove Constantinople to do it.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In an interview with the Serbian newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti ahead of his visit to Serbia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, a schismatic agglomeration headed by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists was “dangerous politicking.” He further noted that:

The establishment of the new religious entity in Ukraine is nothing but an attempt “to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.”

“Yet, hardly anyone in the U.S. or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this,” Putin said.

“Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking,” he said.

President Putin had more things to say in the interview, and we present what he said in full here (emphasis ours), as reported on the Kremlin.ru website:

Question: The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian ”schismatics“ by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.

On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the USA and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called “unifying synod”. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.

Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared ”obtaining complete independence from Moscow.”

Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine’s largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.

Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.

Evidently, Ukraine’s leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put interconfessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.

All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.

Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs.

The situation continues to degrade in Ukraine, and though the Orthodox faithful of the Autonomous but Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the hardest hit, worry over Ukrainian lawlessless-made-law has the Jewish community in that country nervous as well. This is perhaps to be expected as the Azov Brigade, a neo-Nazi aligned group that is hypernationalist, is a good representation of the character of the “hate Russia at all costs” Ukrainian nationalists. A parallel piece in Interfax made note of this in a piece dated January 17th 2019:

[A] bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada introducing a procedure by which parishes can join the new Ukrainian church makes it easier to seize places of worship, and supporters of autocephaly have already started doing this across the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.

“They need this law to seize our churches. You can’t just come with a crowbar to someone else’s barn, but now the law allows you to do so. They aren’t creating something of their own, but are trying to steal what’s ours,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vasyl Anisimov told Interfax on Thursday.

The religious entity set up in December with Constantinople’s involvement and called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “in fact doesn’t yet exist in nature. It’s fake. It doesn’t have any parishes of its own or government registration,” he said.

However, “the supporters of autocephaly don’t have plans to create anything of their own at all, so they have chosen the path of takeover, and the authorities are helping them in that,” Anisimov said.

“Hence, the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada today is in fact absolute lawlessness,” he said.

“If you pass legislation affecting an industry, you should talk to industrialists, and if it’s legislation on the agricultural sector, talk to farmers. And here legislation on a church is passed, and moreover, this legislation is aimed against this church, it is protesting, and Jews are protesting, too, because this legislation may affect them as well – but nobody is listening, and they change the law for the sake of an absolutely absurd and unconstitutional gimmick. But, of course, it’s the people who will ultimately suffer,” Anisimov said.

 

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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