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Destabilising Saudi Arabia? Crown Prince consolidates control; eliminates rivals

Saudi Crown Prince’s attempts to concentrate power put Saudi Arabia’s whole system of governance at risk

Alexander Mercouris

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The round-up of Saudi Princes which took place on 5th November 2017 is simply the latest in a succession of purges initiated by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, as he tries to consolidate his position by getting his hands on all of Saudi Arabia’s levers of power.

As is often the case in purges of this kind, a large number of people have been rounded up on ‘corruption charges’ (the standard pretext used to conceal power struggles of this sort) in order to conceal the identity of the true target of the purge.

That target was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, the third in the triad of defence and security agencies which underpin the rule of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Family.

Of these three the largest and most powerful is the Saudi military, which Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman controls directly as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister.

The second is the Interior Ministry, which controls Saudi Arabia’s police and law enforcement agencies.

Its former head, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, was appointed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s own father, King Salman, in April 2015, shortly after King Salman succeeded to the throne following the death of King Abdullah, the previous Saudi King.

As Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef headed a sprawling police and internal security apparatus built up by his father Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, who was Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister from 1975 to 2012, and who was also briefly Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince for a few months before his death.

In addition, from February 2014 Prince Muhammad bin Nayef also became the head of Saudi Arabia’s external intelligence agencies in succession to the notorious Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was sacked following a disastrous “secret” meeting with Russian President Putin in the summer of 2013..

As Crown Prince, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef retained overall control of both of the Interior Ministry and of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agencies.  However he was abruptly demoted and  sacked from all his posts in the first purge engineered this year by Prince Muhammad bin Salman in June 2017. Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who up to then had been Deputy Crown Prince, then arranged to have himself declared Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince in direct succession to his father King Salman in place of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, making Prince Muhammad bin Salman the direct heir to the Saudi throne and the intended successor as Saudi King of his father King Salman when King Salman dies.

By securing Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s downfall, Prince Muhammad bin Salman therefore removed from the scene a powerful Prince who was a rival for the throne.

As might have been predicted, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s downfall then appears to have been followed by a purge of his supporters from his former power base – the Interior Ministry – and their replacement with people Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman presumably considers loyal to himself.  It seems that the powers of the Interior Ministry have also been significantly cut back.

Having eliminated one potential rival in the person of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and brought the Interior Ministry under his control, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has now turned his attention on another potential rival – Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah – and the third agency in Saudi Arabia’s security triad, the Saudi National Guard.

This is a huge well-equipped paramilitary force – it is said to number 100,000 men – which operates within Saudi Arabia as practically a parallel army to the ‘official’ Saudi army which is headed by Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Like the army the National Guard is equipped with heavy weapons (though not tanks) and has its own air arm consisting of helicopters and light aircraft.

Unlike the official Saudi army recruitment to the National Guard is restricted to members of tribes believed to be especially loyal to the Saudi Royal Family.

In effect it functions within Saudi Arabia as a sort of Praetorian Guard, protecting the Royal Family from the risk of an internal revolution or coup.  As such it also controls security in the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, the control of which gives the Saudi Royal Family its legitimacy (the official title of Saudi Arabia’s King is “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” ie. of Mecca and Medina).

The commander of the National Guard is therefore a key figure in the Saudi power structure.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, its now ousted head, was not only one of Saudi Arabia’s best connected  and most influential Princes, but he also had a continuous connection with the National Guard extending back to 1990, making it loyal to himself and an effective power base.  He became its commander in 2009.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah is also the son of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s former King, who was King from 2005 to 2015, making Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah therefore a potential rival for the Saudi throne.

Like Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah also belongs to a more senior generation of Saudi Princes born in the 1950s, who must be feeling unsettled by the meteoric rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who was born in 1985 and is only 32.

In addition it seems that Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah were friends, and political allies, a fact which would have made them doubly threatening to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and which would have ensured that the fall of the one would be followed swiftly by the fall of the other.

By ousting Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah from his position as commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is therefore looking to eliminate a powerful potential rival, and to bring the National Guard under his control.

If Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman can pull off the trick – and for the moment he seems to be doing so – he will have control of all of Saudi Arabia’s defence, intelligence, and internal security institutions – the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the country’s intelligence services and the National Guard – in his hands.

With Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman already in charge of Saudi Arabia’s economic policies and its civilian ministries, and with a purge of Saudi Arabia’s clerical establishment previously carried out in September, he must hope that this will concentrate all the levers of power in Saudi Arabia in his hands.

Though in the short term Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman appears to be achieving some success, it must be said that this is a high risk strategy.

Though Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, its King has never before ruled as an autocrat.  Rather he has ruled on behalf of the entire Saudi Royal Family as its trustee.

That means that the Saudi King has traditionally consulted widely within the Royal Family before making important decisions, and that he has always given power to other members of the Royal Family, to whom he has entrusted important functions such as the control of the Interior Ministry and of the National Guard.

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is throwing all that out of the window.  By seeking to concentrate all power in his own hands he really does seem to be aiming at making himself Saudi Arabia’s autocrat.

In the process he must be causing intense anger within the Saudi Royal Family, with many of its members furious at the way in which they are being shunted aside, and at the shabby treatment – as many of them will see it – of the Family’s senior Princes like Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah.

Beyond that the use of the issue of corruption as the cloak behind which to carry out the purge is one which is all but guaranteed to provoke further anger and alarm.

Saudi Arabia though possessing many of the trappings of a state is nonetheless ultimately the property of the Saudi Royal Family.  In such a system lines between what is corrupt and what is not inevitably become blurred.

The result is that what in many countries would be seen as corruption in Saudi Arabia is the accepted norm, becoming in effect the organising principle of Saudi Arabia’s government and society.

It is doubtful that most of the Saudi Princes, accustomed to thinking of the Kingdom’s wealth as their own collectively held personal property, even think of many of the things they do as corruption.

The result is that almost any prominent Saudi Prince can be classified as ‘corrupt’, with the term from their point of view having little or no meaning or having much relevance to the things they do.

In such a situation for Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to start jailing Saudi Princes because he calls things which all of them do and have been long accustomed to doing ‘corrupt’ is all but guaranteed to provoke alarm and anger across the rest of the Royal Family.

Since the accession of his father King Salman in 2015 Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has been remarkably active as he he looks to put into effect his own vision of himself and of the future of the Kingdom.

He has launched a war against the Houthis in the Yemen which by all accounts is not gong well.  He has also conducted a feud with Qatar which seems ill-advised, and he has now extended his meddling to the affairs of Lebanon as well.

He has also committed the Kingdom to a grossly over-ambitious and unrealistic economic policy, with the latest fantasy being the creation from scratch of an all-new industrial city for which there is no obvious purpose or need.

He is now acting to eliminate his rivals and to concentrate all power in the Kingdom in his hands, achieving thereby a position of greater power in Saudi Arabia than any Saudi King before him except for the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Said.

At the same time he is purging the country’s clerical establishment, enacting liberal innovations such as allowing women to drive cars, whilst declaring that he intends to replace Saudi Arabia’s stern Wahhabi religious ideology with a more ‘moderate’ version of Islam, which he claims – falsely – to have been that of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud.

This purported internal ‘liberalisation’ of Saudi Arabia looks to me like a ploy by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to gain popular support as he consolidates his power from the younger, more liberal and better educated members of the Saudi elite.

I am as skeptical of it as is Gilbert Mercier and I would add that it is anyway at odds with the reality of the rapidly growing centralisation of power in Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s own person which is now underway.

As I said in my previous discussion of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s grandiose economic policy, the person of whom his actions increasingly remind me is the late Shah of Iran.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman promotes an appearance of ‘modernisation’ and ‘liberalisation’ in order to disguise and justify his increasingly autocratic and arbitrary behaviour.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is doing this whilst pursuing a break-neck military build-up, a grandiose and completely unrealistic foreign policy, and an economic policy which is so grandiose that it has left all reality behind it.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has the unqualified support in all his follies of the US, whose Secretary of State Rex Tillerson almost certainly gave the purge the green light during the course of his recent visit to Riyadh.

In the case of the Shah it all ended in tears, with the Shah forced into ignominious exile by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Saudi Arabia is a very different society from Iran, lacking Iran’s history and its ancient culture and tradition of parliamentarianism and democracy.

The fact however remains that by acting to eliminate all rivals Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman must be provoking huge anger within Saudi Arabia, whilst by concentrating all power in his own hands he will have no one else to blame if things go seriously wrong.

Meanwhile his purported religious ‘liberalisation’ – because of the way it is being combined with his growing trend towards achieving personal power – is more likely to be seen as threatening by most sections of Saudi society than as attractive to them.

One way or the other by his recent actions Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has taken Saudi Arabia further down the road first to autocracy, and then to collapse.

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US Media is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference

The media’s mania over Trump’s Helsinki performance and the so-called Russia-gate scandal reached new depths on Monday

Joe Lauria

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The media’s mania over Trump’s Helsinki performance and the so-called Russia-gate scandal reached new depths on Monday

This article was first published by Consortium News and is republished with their permission.

The reaction of the U.S. establishment media and several political leaders to President Donald Trump’s press conference after his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday has been stunning.

Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows said:

“There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president.

Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.

Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not  realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.

Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions … never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.”

As soon as the press conference ended CNN cut to its panel with these words from TV personality Anderson Cooper: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, surely, that I’ve ever seen.”

David Gergen, who for years has gotten away with portraying himself on TV as an impartial political sage, then told CNN viewers:

“I’ve never heard an American President talk that way buy I think it is especially true that when he’s with someone like Putin, who is a thug, a world-class thug, that he sides with him again and again against his own country’s interests of his own institutions that he runs, that he’s in charge of the federal government , he’s in charge of these intelligence agencies, and he basically dismisses them and retreats into this, we’ve heard it before, but on the international stage to talk about Hillary Clinton’s computer server …”

“It’s embarrassing,” interjected Cooper.

“It’s embarrassing,” agreed Gergen.

Cooper: “Most disgraceful performance by a US president.”

White House correspondent Jim Acosta, ostensibly an objective reporter, then gave his opinion: “I think that sums it up nicely. This is the president of the United States essentially taking the word of the Russian president…over his own intelligence community. It was astonishing, just astonishing to be in the room with the U.S. president and the Russian president on this critical question of election interference, and to retreat back to these talking points about DNC servers and Hillary Clinton’s emails when he had a chance right there in front of the world to tell Vladimir Putin to stay the HELL out of American democracy, and he didn’t do it.”

In other words Trump should just shut up and not question a questionable indictment, which Acosta, like nearly all the media, treat as a conviction.

The Media’s Handlers

The media’s handlers were even worse than their assets. Former CIA director John Brennan tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

Here’s where the Republican Patriots are, Brennan: “That’s how a press conference sounds when an Asset stands next to his Handler,” former RNC Chairman Michael Steele tweeted.

Representative Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, said on Twitter: “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Russia poses a grave threat to our national security.”

All these were reactions to Trump expressing skepticism about the U.S. indictment on Friday of 12 Russian intelligence agents for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election while he was standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the press conference following their summit meeting in Helsinki.

“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The indictments, which are only unproven accusations, formally accused 12 members of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, of stealing Democratic Party emails in a hacking operation and giving the materials to WikiLeaks to publish in order to damage the candidacy of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictments were announced on Friday, three days before the summit, with the clear intention of getting Trump to cancel it. He ignored cries from the media and Congress to do so.

Over the weekend Michael Smerconish on CNN actually said the indictments proved that Russia had committed a “terrorist attack” against the United States. This is in line with many pundits who are comparing this indictment, that will most likely never produce any evidence, to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. The danger inherent in that thinking is clear.

Putin said the allegations are “utter nonsense, just like [Trump] recently mentioned.” He added: “The final conclusion in this kind of dispute can only be delivered by a trial, by the court. Not by the executive, by the law enforcement.” He could have added not by the media.

Trump reasonably questioned why the FBI never examined the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee to see whether there was a hack and who may have done it. Instead a private company, CrowdStrike, hired by the Democratic Party studied the server and within a day blamed Russia on very dubious grounds.

“Why haven’t they taken the server?” Trump asked. “Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server and what is the server saying?”

But being a poor communicator, Trump then mentioned Clinton’s missing emails, allowing the media to conflate the two different servers, and be easily dismissed as Gergen did.

At the press conference, Putin offered to allow American investigators from the team of special counsel Robert Mueller, who put the indictment together, to travel to Russia and take part in interviews with the 12 accused Russian agents. He also offered to set up a joint cyber-security group to examine the evidence and asked that in return Russia be allowed to question persons of interest to Moscow in the United States.

“Let’s discuss the specific issues and not use the Russia and U.S. relationship as a loose change for this internal political struggle,” Putin said.

On CNN, Christiane Amanpour called Putin’s clear offer “obfuscation.”

Even if Trump agreed to this reasonable proposal it seems highly unlikely that his Justice Department will go along with it. Examination of whatever evidence they have to back up the indictment is not what the DOJ is after. As I wrote about the indictments in detail on Friday:

“The extremely remote possibility of convictions were not what Mueller was apparently after, but rather the public perception of Russia’s guilt resulting from fevered media coverage of what are after all only accusations, presented as though it is established fact. Once that impression is settled into the public consciousness, Mueller’s mission would appear to be accomplished.”

Still No ‘Collusion’

The summit begins. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The indictments did not include any members of Trump’s campaign team for “colluding” with the alleged Russian hacking effort, which has been a core allegation throughout the two years of the so-called Russia-gate scandal. Those allegations are routinely reported in U.S. media as established fact, though there is still no evidence of collusion.

Trump emphasised that point in the press conference. “There was no collusion at all,” he said forcefully. “Everybody knows it.”

On this point corporate media has been more deluded than normal as they clutch for straws to prove the collusion theory. As one example of many across the media with the same theme, a New York Times story on Friday, headlined, “Trump Invited the Russians to Hack Clinton. Were They Listening?,” said Russia may have absurdly responded to Trump’s call at 10:30 a.m. on July 27, 2016 to hack Clinton’s private email server because it was “on or about” that day that Russia allegedly first made an attempt to hack Clinton’s personal emails, according to the indictment, which makes no connection between the two events.

If Russia is indeed guilty of remotely hacking the emails it would have had no evident need of assistance from anyone on the Trump team, let alone a public call from Trump on national TV to commence the operation.

More importantly, as Twitter handle “Representative Press” pointed out: “Trump’s July 27, 2016 call to find the missing 30,000 emails could not be a ‘call to hack Clinton’s server’ because at that point it was no longer online. Long before Trump’s statement, Clinton had already turned over her email server to the U.S. Department of Justice.” Either the indictment was talking about different servers or it is being intentionally misleading when it says “on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”

This crucial fact alone, that Clinton had turned over the server in 2015 so that no hack was possible, makes it impossible that Trump’s TV call could be seen as collusion. Only a desperate person would see it otherwise.

But there is a simple explanation why establishment journalists are in unison in their dominant Russian narrative: it is career suicide to question it.

As Samuel Johnson said as far back as 1745: “The greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than that they are in fashion …since vanity and credulity cooperate in its favour.”

Importance of US-Russia Relations

Trump said the unproven allegation of collusion “as had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”

The American president said the U.S. has been “foolish” not to attempt dialogue with Russia before, to cooperate on a range of issues.

“As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics or the media or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct,” Trump said. “Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forwards the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”

This main reason for summits between Russian and American leaders was also ignored: to use diplomacy to reduce dangerous tensions. “I really think the world wants to see us get along,” Trump said. “We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90 percent of the nuclear. And that’s not a good thing, it’s a bad thing.”

Preventing good relations between the two countries appears to be the heart of the matter for U.S. intelligence and their media assets. So Trump was vilified for even trying.

Ignoring the Rest of the Story

Obsessed as they are with the “interference” story, the media virtually ignored the other crucial issues that came up at the summit, such as the Middle East.

Trump sort of thanked Russia for its efforts to defeat ISIS. “When you look at all of the progress that’s been made in certain sections with the eradication of ISIS, about 98 percent, 99 percent there, and other things that have taken place that we have done and that, frankly, Russia has helped us with in certain respects,” he said.

Trump here is falsely taking credit, as he has before, for defeating ISIS with only some “help” from Russia. In Iraq the U.S. led the way against ISIS coordinating the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. But in the separate war against ISIS in Syria, Russia, the Syrian Arab Army, Kurdish forces, Iranian troops and Hizbullah militias were almost entirely responsible for ISIS’ defeat.

A grand deal? (Photo: Sputnik)

Also on Syria, Trump appeared to endorse what is being reported as a deal between Russia and Israel in which Israel would accept Bashar al-Assad remaining as Syrian president, while Russia would work on Iran to get it to remove its forces away from the northern Golan Heights, which Israel illegally considers its border with Syria.

After a meeting in Moscow last week with Putin, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he accepted Assad remaining in power.

“President Putin also is helping Israel,” Trump said at the press conference. “We both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. They would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. In that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. Israel will be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.”

Trump also said that the U.S. and Russian militaries were coordinating in Syria, but he did not go as far as saying that they had agreed to fight together there, which has been a longstanding proposal of Putin’s dating back to September 2015, just before Moscow intervened militarily in the country.

“Our militaries have gotten along probably better than our political leaders for years,” Trump said. “Our militaries do get along very well. They do coordinate in Syria and other places.”

Trump said Russia and the U.S. should cooperate in humanitarian assistance in Syria.

“If we can do something to help the people of Syria get back into some form of shelter and on a humanitarian basis…that’s what the word was, a humanitarian basis,” he said. “I think both of us would be very interested in doing that.”

Putin said he had agreed on Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron on a joint effort with Europe to deliver humanitarian aid. “On our behalf, we will provide military cargo aircraft to deliver humanitarian cargo. Today, I brought up this issue with President Trump. I think there’s plenty of things to look into,” Putin said.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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The biggest sign of Trump – Putin summit success is the outrage it created

US president’s remarks called anything from “fair” to “high treason and impeachable” as American Deep State gets called out more strongly than ever

Seraphim Hanisch

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US president's summit remarks called "high treason and impeachable" as American Deep State gets called out more strongly than ever

It is when the hornet’s nest gets beaten and knocked out of the tree that the hornets get really dangerous. It is when the fire ant hill gets stirred with a stick and dug up that the ground seethes with angry ants who are ready to bite anything to defend themselves. And so it is with the elements of the American Deep State, as their vaunted hopes of hanging Trump from the noose of RussiaGate got beaten to the ground and destroyed, not only by the president’s meeting with the Russian head of state, but also by the response from President Vladimir Putin himself after the summit.

The long-awaited (or long feared maybe) July 16th Helsinki Summit between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin is now being entered into the annals of history. What history will say eventually about this remains to be seen, but the reaction of the mainstream press and some political officials really resembles the angry hornets more than anything.

Fox News gave a great summary of some of the comments, which are listed here as headlines, with each a story in itself:

Trump blasts Mueller probe, Putin denies meddling as leaders tout summit as ‘success’

RECAP: Putin admits he wanted Trump to beat Hillary; both agree there was no collusion

Media slams Trump following Putin summit: ‘One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president’

Dem Senator: There’d be ‘huge uproar’ from GOP if Obama believed Putin over intel community

Kremlin critic Bill Browder fires back at Putin after press conference

‘It’s glaring hypocrisy:’ Terror expert compares reaction of Trump’s Russia efforts to Obama’s

And the UK Daily Mail gave some interesting details in one of their reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin told a room full of U.S. and Russian reporters that he wanted Donald Trump to win the presidency in 2016 – and Trump said he believed Putin’s denials of interfering in 2016 – in just two of the many revelations in a joint press conference that only fueled the spectacle of the Russia story.

And RT followed with much more on this:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he actually wanted Donald Trump to win the 2016 US presidential election. Russia, however, did not contribute to Trump’s win by any means, he insisted.

“Yes, I wanted him to win, because he talked about the need to normalize US-Russia ties,” Putin said, answering a direct question from a journalist during the joint press conference with Donald Trump following the Helsinki summit.

“Candidate Trump was talking about the need to re-establish relations with Russia. That led to an opinion among the Russian people that he was the preferable candidate. That’s natural,” Putin said.

The Russian president left the second part of the question unanswered, however, regarding whether he “instructed” his officials to help Trump, since he had discussed the allegations of meddling earlier during the press conference.

“Russia did not interfere and is not going to interfere into American domestic affairs,” Putin stated, adding that this point had been made repeatedly. Moscow was ready to participate in a joint investigation with the US of any such allegations, however, if any real evidence was presented, the Russian leader said. Such work could be conducted by a joint Russian-US cybersecurity group, the idea of which was floated by Putin during his last meeting with Trump in Hamburg.

The hornets were extremely angry:

Not all of the hornets were Democrats. Some notable Republicans got into the fray as well.

Fox News reported this statement made by a ranking Republican:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been out of Washington for months battling brain cancer, issued a blistering statement calling the performance “disgraceful.”

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world,” McCain said, calling the president’s comments at the press conference “a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency.”

Even the House Speaker, Representative Paul Ryan, said, “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”

And Fox went on:

Other Republicans, while not as fierce as McCain, also criticized Trump, reminding him that Russia is not considered a “friend” of the U.S.

“Russia is not our friend. Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans. Our intelligence community, including the current one, concluded this, as did the Majority House Intelligence Committee report, as did our fellow Americans who served on grand juries which returned true bills on two separate occasions,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a statement, urging administration officials to “communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.”

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., also stressed that Putin “is not our friend and never has been.”

And one more of these reactive folks is none other than William Browder, the Hillary donor who is accused of stealing some $238 million from Russia through tax fraud. When President Putin addressed the issue of William Browder to President Trump, this probably got Mr. Browder a bit alarmed. However, he has a lot of accolades in the US presently as a “expert” on Putin, really one who helps fuel the “Putin is a monster, choose your flavor” narrative, and he took to Fox News to fire back at President Putin:

Putin’s plan, which Trump called an “incredible offer,” was to question the 12 Russians indicted for allegedly meddling in the election, allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team to be present — if U.S. officials “reciprocate.” Putin suggested this would mean Russian agents could be present for questioning U.S. officers “of interest” to them.

“So we can bring up Mr. Browder,” Putin said during the joint press conference, accusing his associates of illicit activity in Russia.

“I’m not even an American citizen,” Browder told Fox News. “I’m a British citizen and have lived here for 29 years.”

The Duran has run a few pieces about this man, and what Mr. Browder did not tell Fox News was WHY he is a British citizen. Neither did Fox ask, apparently.

There was enough light simply blasted into the formerly murky intrigue of the US – Russia relationship to get a whole lot of people’s attention. They are not happy about it, and the fallout from this will likely continue for days and weeks to come.

President Trump was wry about this, as he knows he will never win with the mainstream press, especially about Russia, as noted in the Daily Mail:

Trump landed in Helsinki for his high-stakes summit with Putin on Sunday after ranting that no set of concessions – no matter how large the consequences – would be good enough for media critics he branded the ‘enemy of the people.’

‘Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia,’ he said, ‘over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!’

Trump sent out the missive focusing about how his actions would be perceived in the press after indicating in an interview that he had low expectations for the summit and failing to articulate what goals he had in mind for the face-to-face.

 

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Clinging to Collusion: Why Evidence Will Probably Never Be Produced in the Indictments of ‘Russian Agents’

Mueller’s indictment against 12 GRU agents who allegedly carried out the DNC hack is fact free and does not support charge of collusion against Trump campaign.

Joe Lauria

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Mueller's indictment against 12 GRU agents who allegedly carried out the DNC hack is fact free and does not support charge of collusion against Trump campaign.

This article was first published by Consortium News and is republished with permission.

The indictment of 12 Russian ‘agents,’ which included no collusion with Trump’s team, is essentially a political and not legal document because it is almost certain the U.S. government will never have to present any evidence in court, reports Joe Lauria. 

Charges against 12 Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking emails from the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election were announced by the U.S. Justice Department on Friday at the very moment President Donald Trump was meeting Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and just days before a summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

A central claim of Russia-gate has been that the Russian government with help from the Trump campaign stole emails from the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign and then gave those emails to WikiLeaks for publication to damage Clinton’s quest for the White House.

Until Friday however, the investigation into the allegations had produced no formal indictment of Russian government interference in the election. Like previous U.S. government accusations against Russia for alleged election meddling, the indictment makes assertions without providing evidence. Indictments do not need to show evidence and under U.S. law, indictments are not considered evidence. And it is highly unlikely that the government will ever have to produce any evidence in court.

Friday’s indictments do not include any charges against Trump campaign members for allegedly colluding with the Russian government to carry out the hacks. That has been at the core of allegations swirling in U.S. media for two years. If the alleged co-conspirators “known” to the DOJ were on the Trump team, the indictments do not say. There is only a hint that “unknown” persons might be.

In announcing the indictments at a press conference Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said: “The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet. There’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.”

The indictment alleges that Russian agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, communicated on Aug. 15, 2016 with “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump campaign, mostly like advisor Roger Stone, who has spoken about communicating with Guccifer 2.0. The indictment says Guccifer offered to “help u anyhow,” apparently indicating that Stone did want Guccifer 2.0’s help.

Clinging to ‘Collusion’

The lack of evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia has never stopped Democrats and their media outlets from believing unnamed U.S. intelligence sources for two years about such collusion. “Collusion” is the title of a best-selling book about the supposed Trump-Russia conspiracy to steal the election, but such a charge is not to be found.

The indictment excluding collusion also undermines the so-called Steele dossier, a work of opposition research paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign masquerading as an intelligence document because it was compiled by a former MI6 agent. The memos falsely claimed, it turns out, that Trump’s people started colluding with Russia years before he became a candidate.

But even after Friday’s indictments failed to charge anyone from Trump’s team, the Democratic media continued to insist there was collusion. A New York Times story, headlined, “Trump Invited the Russians to Hack Clinton. Were They Listening?,” said Russia may have absurdly responded to Trump’s call at 10:30 a.m. on July 27, 2016 to hack Clinton’s private email server because it was “on or about” that day that Russia allegedly first made an attempt to hack Clinton’s personal emails, according to the indictment, which makes no connection between the two events.

If Russia is indeed guilty of remotely hacking the emails it would have had no evident need of assistance from anyone on the Trump team, let alone a public call from Trump on national TV to commence the operation.

And as Twitter handle “Representative Press” pointed out: “Trump’s July 27, 2016 call to find the missing 30,000 emails could not be a ‘call to hack Clinton’s server’ because at that point it was no longer online. Long before Trump’s statement, Clinton had already turned over her email server to the U.S. Department of Justice.” Either the indictment was talking about different servers or it is being intentionally misleading when it says “on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”

GRU HQ, Moscow.

Instead of Trump operatives, the indictments name 12 Russians, allegedly agents from the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. The agents “knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the ‘Conspirators’), to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the 29-page indictment says.

“Starting in at least March 2016, the Conspirators used a variety of means to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton (the ‘Clinton Campaign’), including the email account of the Clinton Campaign’s chairman,” the indictment says.

Obvious Timing

The timing of the announcement was clearly intended to embarrass Trump as he was meeting the Queen and to undermine his upcoming meeting with Putin on July 16. The indictments may also have been meant to embarrass Russia two days before the World Cup final to be held in Moscow.

Pressure was immediately brought on Trump to cancel the summit in light of the indictments, which may have been the main goal in the timing of their announcement. “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement less than an hour after the indictments were announced. “President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections,” Schumer said.

With no apparent irony, The New York Times reported, “The timing of the indictment … added a jolt of tension to the already freighted atmosphere surrounding Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin. It is all but certain to feed into the conspiratorial views held by the president and some of his allies that Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors are determined to undermine Mr. Trump’s designs for a rapprochement with Russia.”

Russia Denies

Meanwhile, back in Washington … (ABC screenshot)

The Russian government on Friday strongly denied the charges. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry called the indictments “a shameful farce” that was not backed up by any evidence. “Obviously, the goal of this ‘mud-slinging’ is to spoil the atmosphere before the Russian-American summit,” the statement said.

The Ministry added that the 12 named Russians were not agents of the GRU.

“When you dig into this indictment … there are huge problems, starting with how in the world did they identify 12 Russian intelligence officers with the GRU?” said former CIA analyst Larry Johnson in an interview with Consortium News. Johnson pointed out that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was not allowed to take part in the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on alleged interference by the GRU. Only hand-picked analysts from the FBI, the NSA and the CIA were involved.

“The experts in the intelligence community on the GRU … is the Defense Intelligence Agency and they were not allowed to clear on that document,” Johnson said.

“When you look at the level of detail about what [the indictment is] claiming, there is no other public source of information on this, and it was not obtained through U.S. law enforcement submitting warrants and getting affidavits to conduct research in Russia, so it’s clearly intelligence information from the NSA, most likely,” Johnson said.

CrowdStrike’s Role

The indictment makes clear any evidence of an alleged hack of the DNC and DCCC computers did not come from the FBI, which was never given access to the computers by the DNC, but instead from the private firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC. It is referred to as Company 1 in the indictment.

“Despite the Conspirators’ efforts to hide their activity, beginning in or around May 2016, both the DCCC and DNC became aware that they had been hacked and hired a security company (“Company 1”) to identify the extent of the intrusions,” the indictment says.

Dimitri Alperovitch, a CrowdStrike co-founder, is also a senior fellow at the anti-Russian Atlantic Council think tank.

The indictment doesn’t mention it, but within a day, CrowdStrike claimed to find Russian “fingerprints” in the metadata of a DNC opposition research document, which had been revealed by DCLeaks, showing Cyrillic letters and the name of the first Soviet intelligence chief. That supposedly implicated Russia in the hack.

CrowdStrike claimed the alleged Russian intelligence operation was extremely sophisticated and skilled in concealing its external penetration of the server. But CrowdStrike’s conclusion about Russian “fingerprints” resulted from clues that would have been left behind by extremely sloppy or amateur hackers—or inserted intentionally to implicate the Russians.

One of CrowdStrike’s founders has ties to the anti-Russian Atlantic Council raising questions of political bias. And the software it used to determine Russia’s alleged involvement in the DNC hack, was later proved to be faulty in a high-profile case in Ukraine, reported by the Voice of America.

The indictment then is based at least partially on evidence produced by an interested private company, rather than the FBI.

Evidence Likely Never to be Seen

Other apparent sources for information in the indictment are intelligence agencies, which normally create hurdles in a criminal prosecution.

“In this indictment there is detail after detail whose only source could be intelligence, yet you don’t use intelligence in documents like this because if these defendants decide to challenge this in court, it opens the U.S. to having to expose sources and methods,” Johnson said.

If the U.S. invoked the states secret privilege so that classified evidence could not be revealed in court a conviction before a civilian jury would be jeopardized.

Such a trial is extremely unlikely however. That makes the indictment essentially a political and not a legal document because it is almost inconceivable that the U.S. government will have to present any evidence in court to back up its charges. This is simply because of the extreme unlikelihood that arrests of Russians living in Russia will ever be made.

In this way it is similar to the indictment earlier this year of the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg, Russia, a private click bait company that was alleged to have interfered in the 2016 election by buying social media ads and staging political rallies for both Clinton and Trump. It seemed that no evidence would ever have to back up the indictment because there would never be arrests in the case.

But Special Counsel Robert Mueller was stunned when lawyers for the internet company showed up in Washington demanding discovery in the case. That caused Mueller to scramble and demand a delay in the first hearing, which was rejected by a federal judge. Mueller is now battling to keep so-called sensitive material out of court.

In both the IRA case and Friday’s indictments, the extremely remote possibility of convictions were not what Mueller was apparently after, but rather the public perception of Russia’s guilt resulting from fevered media coverage of what are after all only accusations, presented as though it is established fact. Once that impression is settled into the public consciousness, Mueller’s mission would appear to be accomplished.

For instance, the Times routinely dispenses with the adjective “alleged” and reports the matter as though it is already established fact. It called Friday’s indictments, which are only unproven charges, “the most detailed accusation by the American government to date of the [not alleged] Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election, and it includes a litany of [not alleged] brazen Russian subterfuge operations meant to foment chaos in the months before Election Day.”

GRU Named as WikiLeak’s Source

The indictment claims that GRU agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, (who says he is a Romanian hacker) stole the Democratic documents and later emailed a link to them to WikiLeaks, named as “Organization 1.” No charges were brought against WikiLeaks on Friday.

Assange: Denied Russia was his source. (CNBC screenshot)

“After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled ‘wk dnc linkl.txt.gpg,’” the indictment says. “The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had ‘the 1Gb or so archive’ and would make a release of the stolen documents’ this week.’”

WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange, who is in exile in the Ecuador embassy in London, has long denied that he got the emails from any government. Instead Assange has suggested that his source was a disgruntled Democratic Party worker, Seth Rich, whose murder on the streets of Washington in July 2016 has never been solved.

On Friday, WikiLeaks did not repeat the denial that a government was its source. Instead it tweeted: “Interesting timing choice by DoJ today (right before Trump-Putin meet), announcing indictments against 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers for allegedly releasing info through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.”

Assange has had all communication with the outside world shut off by the Ecuadorian government two months ago.

Since the indictments were announced, WikiLeaks has not addressed the charge that GRU agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, were its source. WikiLeaks’ policy is to refuse to disclose any information about its sources. WikiLeaks’ denial that the Russian government gave them the emails could be based on its belief that Guccifer 2.0 was who he said he was, and not what the U.S. indictments allege.

Those indictments claim that the Russian military intelligence agents adopted the personas of both Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks to publish the Democratic Party documents online, before the Russian agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, allegedly supplied WikiLeaks.

The emails, which the indictment does not say are untrue, damaged the Clinton campaign. They revealed, for instance, that the campaign and the Democratic Party worked to deny the nomination to Clinton’s Democratic Party primary challenger Bernie Sanders.

The indictments also say that the Russian agents purchased the use of a computer server in Arizona, using bitcoin to hide their financial transactions. The Arizona server was used to receive the hacked emails from the servers of the Democratic Party and the chairman of Clinton’s campaign, the indictment alleges. If true it would mean the transfer of the emails took place within the United States, rather than overseas, presumably to Russia.

Some members of the Veterans’ Intelligence Professionals for Sanity argue that metadata evidence points to a local download from the Democratic computers, in other words a leak, rather than a hack. They write the NSA would have evidence of a hack and, unlike this indictment, could make the evidence public: “Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked. The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods.”

That argument was either ignored or dismissed by Mueller’s team.

The Geopolitical Context

US enabled Yeltsin’s reelection.

It is not only allies of Trump, as the Times thinks, who believe the timing of the indictments, indeed the entire Russia-gate scandal, is intended to prevent Trump from pursuing detente with nuclear-armed Russia.  Trump said of the indictments that, “I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia. I think that we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good chance — a very good relationship with President Putin.”

There certainly appear to be powerful forces in the U.S. that want to stop that.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Wall Street rushed in behind Boris Yeltsin and Russian oligarchs to asset strip virtually the entire country, impoverishing the population. Amid widespread accounts of this grotesque corruption, Washington intervened in Russian politics to help get Yeltsin re-elected in 1996. The political rise of Vladimir Putin after Yeltsin resigned on New Year’s Eve 1999 reversed this course, restoring Russian sovereignty over its economy and politics.

That inflamed American hawks whose desire is to install another Yeltsin-like figure and resume U.S. exploitation of Russia’s vast natural and financial resources. To advance that cause, U.S. presidents have supported the eastward expansion of NATO and have deployed 30,000 troops on Russia’s borders.

In 2014, the Obama administration helped orchestrate a coup that toppled the elected government of Ukraine and installed a fiercely anti-Russian regime. The U.S. also undertook the risky policy of aiding jihadists to overthrow a secular Russian ally in Syria. The consequences have brought the world closer to nuclear annihilation than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

In this context, the Democratic Party-led Russia-gate appears to have been used not only to explain away Clinton’s defeat but to stop Trump — possibly via impeachment or by inflicting severe political damage — because he talks about cooperation with Russia.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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