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Comey’s note: ‘obstruction of justice’ and Donald Trump (analysis)

Former FBI Director Comey’s note of his conversation with President Trump is not evidence of obstruction of justice or even close.

Alexander Mercouris

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As The New York Times broke the story of a note by former FBI Director Comey written immediately after a meeting on 14th February 2017 between Comey and President Trump, the Democrats and the mainstream stirred up a predictable firestorm, with claims that the memo is proof Trump has been interfering in the FBI investigation into Russiagate and therefore constitutes an ‘obstruction of justice’

On the strength of these claims further claims have been made that Trump’s alleged interference in the FBI investigation is impeachable.  Many have pointed out that ‘obstruction of justice’ was a key charge in the impeachment proceedings which were being prepared against Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, and which caused him to resign.

Is there any substance to any of this?  A number of points are in order.

Firstly, it is standard practice for lawyers and officials to make notes of all business related conversations they undertake and to distribute them to their colleagues.  There is nothing unusual or surprising about Comey drafting a note of his conversation with the President and circulating it amongst the senior staff of the FBI.  What would in fact have been extraordinary and alarming would have been if he had not do so.  The mere fact that Comey made and circulating a note following a meeting with a President who had only just entered office and who Comey would therefore scarcely know is not therefore a sign he was being put under pressure.

It is highly likely the President or his staff made their own record of the meeting.  We do not know the circumstances or location in which the meeting took place.  However if the meeting took place in the Oval Office it is a virtual certainty that Presidential staffers were present, and that a note and quite possibly a full transcript of the meeting was made.

President Trump has hinted that his meetings with Comey were tape recorded.  Whilst that is possible there is no confirmation of it and President Trump’s hint is actually rather ambiguous.  Until more is known it is better not to speculate about this possibility.

Secondly the subject that was discussed during this conversation was not the FBI’s Russiagate counter-espionage investigation but the FBI’s investigation of General Flynn following upon General Flynn’s telephone conversation on 29th December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The sequence of events is that General Flynn resigned on 13th February 2017 following publication of reports in the media on 9th February 2017 which claimed that Flynn had lied to Vice-President Pence by supposedly telling Pence that he had not discussed with Kislyak during this conversation the subject of the sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia on 29th December 2016 (the same day as Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak) whereas in fact he had done so.  The conversation between Trump and Comey of which Comey made a note took place on the following day, 14th February 2017.

Comey’s note has not been published and the New York Times does not claim to have seen it.  However it was apparently read out to one of its reporters who recorded it saying the following

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

If this is an accurate record of Comey’s note then I struggle to see how it constitutes evidence of obstruction of justice and if this note were ever produced in a normal trial on such a charge I have no doubt a capable defence attorney would have no difficulty convincing a court that it was not.

The note does not show Trump ordering Comey to drop the investigation, or even asking him to.  It merely expresses the hope he would do so given Trump’s belief that Flynn had done “nothing wrong”.

That is also my view, which I have expressed frequently, as for example in my detailed discussion of the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation which can be found here.

More to the point it is also appears to be the view of several of the investigators and officials involved in looking into Flynn’s case, a fact revealed in the original Washington Post article of 9th February 2017

The nature of Flynn’s pre-inauguration message to Kislyak triggered debate among officials in the Obama administration and intelligence agencies over whether Flynn had violated a law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with that debate. Those officials were already alarmed by what they saw as a Russian assault on the U.S. election.

U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.

Officials also cited political sensitivities. Prominent Americans in and out of government are so frequently in communication with foreign officials that singling out one individual — particularly one poised for a top White House job — would invite charges of political persecution.

Former U.S. officials also said aggressive enforcement would probably discourage appropriate contact. Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said that he was in Moscow meeting with officials in the weeks leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win.

“As a former diplomat and U.S. government official, one needs to be able to have contact with foreigners to do one’s job,” McFaul said.

(bold italics added)

The law in question is the Logan Act of 1799 which has never been enforced against any US citizen at any point in US history, but which Acting Attorney General Sally Yates conjured up in order to bring Flynn down.

In the event, following this conversation between Trump and Comey on 14th February 2017, the Logan Act investigation against Flynn has ground on with no end in sight.  Though it is based on a single conversation between Flynn and Kislyak which took place on 29th December 2016 and of which a complete transcript exists, like every one of Comey’s investigations three months later it has produced no result, with no indication that Flynn is either going to be prosecuted under the Logan Act or not.

This has allowed Sally Yates, who Republicans suspect was responsible for the illegal leak of details of the classified transcript of the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak to the media, to go on publicly trashing Flynn’s reputation by giving testimony to Congress and interviews to the media in which she has repeated her preposterous claim that the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak somehow exposed Flynn to blackmail by the Russians.

In the meantime, presumably because prosecuting Flynn under the Logan Act is proving too “daunting”, there is now talk of him being prosecuted for the totally separate and entirely unrelated charge of breaching the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he accepted fees from RT and from Turkey.  All I will say about that is that though Flynn’s accepting these payments was a matter of public knowledge no-one spoke of prosecuting him because of them before.

The Washington Post article of 9th February 2017 spoke of concerns that prosecuting Flynn might “invite charges of political persecution”.  Three months later it is impossible to characterise the treatment of him in any other way.  Whatever Flynn’s faults, it is a shameful treatment of a military officer who has served his country.

Putting all this aside, since Comey’s note shows Trump neither instructing Comey nor requesting Comey to drop the investigation against Flynn, nor of Trump putting pressure on Comey to do so, but merely shows Trump expressing the “hope” Comey would do so, in any sane world no charge of obstructing justice or of perverting the course of justice brought upon it could possibly stick.

The trouble is that as by now should be obvious there is nothing remotely sane about Russiagate.  If there were it would have collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity long ago.

Moreover since impeachment is a political process in which the courts have no say, it would be up to the Senators, with all their partisanship and their feverish speculations, and not the courts or the lawyers, who would decide whether the words reported in Comey’s note amounted to an obstruction of justice.

I have to say that even allowing for that I find the idea that impeachment proceedings might be brought on the strength of the words in Comey’s note altogether too absurd to believe it will happen, much less that such impeachment proceedings (which require the support of two-thirds of the Senate) if brought would succeed.  However given the extent of the hysteria nothing any longer looks impossible.

One point I would make, which is a point made to me by my colleague Adam Garrie.

Much has been said about how the Russians supposedly meddled in the US’s elections in order to undermine the American people’s faith in US democracy.  The latest twist in the story shows that the Russians have no need to do this.

If on the strength of the wording in Comey’s note Donald Trump is impeached just a few months after he was inaugurated President, then the US elite will have done more damage to the American people’s faith in their democracy than the Russians or anyone else could ever do.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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