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Overview of Special Counsel Mueller’s Indictments and Russiagate social media claims: much ado about nothing

Russiagate legal case going nowhere; social media claims absurd

Alexander Mercouris

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As the dust settles following the indictments Special Counsel Mueller issued yesterday I cannot avoid the feeling that Mueller has wielded a gigantic sledge-hammer only to hit empty air.

A quick rundown of the two indictments shows why:

Manafort/Gates indictment

Manafort and his associate Rick Gates have pleaded not guilty to all twelve counts of the indictment.  They have also issued a defiant statement denying collusion with the Russians during the election campaign, rejecting arguments that they ‘looted’ Ukraine and insisting that on the contrary they helped put Ukraine on a pro-European course, and ridiculing the suggestion that their transfers of money from overseas accounts into the US amount to a conspiracy against the US.

On their claim that they assisted Ukraine to pursue a pro-European course they are unquestionably right.

As many have pointed out it was President Yanukovych – whom they advised – who took the fatal decision to negotiate an association agreement with the EU, which if President Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions had been really pro-Russian he and they would never have done.

For the record Yanukovych never refused to sign the association agreement.  He merely postponed signing it until certain trade related problems which arose as a result of the association agreement were ironed out in further negotiations with the EU and the Russians.

Whatever view is taken of Paul Manafort – and I have already made mine clear – it is in my opinion by no means a foregone conclusion that a US court will find him guilty of the charges which are set out in the indictment.

Such cases are vastly difficult to prosecute with the defence always having the advantage over the prosecution in that it knows far more about the complex transactions that are the subject of the case than the prosecution does.

It is not a foregone conclusion that a jury will prefer the prosecution’s opinion of these transactions to the explanations of the defence, and as it happens I believe I am right in saying that most cases of this sort which are defended and do not end in a plea bargain end with an acquittal.

The most important point however about the indictment against Manafort and Gates is that it does not touch on the collusion allegations which are central to the Russiagate scandal at all.

Instead Mueller has committed himself to prosecuting a very complex fraud case against Manafort and Gates on a wholly unrelated Ukraine connected topic which is going to drain his resources.

What is going to make it even more difficult to motivate Mueller’s prosecutors who will have to conduct this case is that at the back of their minds they must know that it is highly likely that even if they secure Manafort’s and Gates’s conviction the case will end with a Presidential pardon.

One way or the other it is difficult to see how this indictment of Manafort and Gates takes the Russiagate conspiracy theory further forward at all.

Frankly it looks to me so far removed from the Russiagate claims, and the case it seeks to bring is so complex, that I strongly suspect that before long the US public and the US media will become bored with it.

Papadopoulos indictment

Since I wrote my two previous pieces on this indictment – which is currently dominating the headlines – (see here and here) a great deal more information has come to light about the background behind it.

Firstly, it turns out that Papadopoulos has never been asked to give evidence to either the Senate Intelligence Committee or the House Intelligence Committee, both of which are supposed to be investigating the Russiagate case.

Putting the tortuous explanations for this omission which have been given by the members of these two Committees to one side, that reinforces the view that Papadopoulos is small-fry whose activities do not touch on the central Russiagate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and who is not a credible witness.

I say that because the academic who plays such a central role in the indictment has now come forward and in an interview with the Daily Telegraph has poured scorn on the whole story set out in the indictment.  Here is what the Daily Telegraph reports him to have said

The London professor is not named in the official court documents but the Telegraph can disclose his identity as Professor Joseph Mifsud, honorary director of the London Academy of Diplomacy, which is affiliated to the University of Stirling in Scotland.

Prof Mifsud confirmed he was the London professor described in the document drawn up by special counsel Robert Mueller but vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He told the Telegraph: “I have a clear conscience.”…..

Prof Mifsud poured scorn on the FBI case, insisting he had no knowledge of any emails containing ‘dirt’ on Mrs Clinton.

His denial bolsters suggestions that Papadopoulos may have fabricated or at least exaggerated claims of his Russian connections to impress Trump campaign bosses back in the US.

Prof Mifsud said he had introduced Papadopoulos to the director of a Russian think tank because it was right for him – as one of Mr Trump’s then advisers – to understand better Russian foreign policy.

“We are academics,” said Prof Mifsud, “We work closely with everybody.”

He said he had also tried to set up Papadopoulos with experts linked to the European Union.

Prof Mifsud, a former official with Malta’s ministry of foreign affairs, confirmed some of the details of the inquiry – such as he met Papadopoulos at a meeting in Italy in March 2016 and ten days later in London.

But Prof Mifsud disputes the contents of the further crucial conversation said by the FBI to have taken place at a London hotel in April 2016.

According to the court document: “During this meeting, the Professor told defendant Papadopoulos that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials.

“The professor told defendant Papadopoulos that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained ‘dirt’ on then-candidate Clinton.”

Prof Mifsud told the Telegraph he was “upset” by the claims because they were “incredible”.

He also described as a “laughing stock” a suggestion in the report that he had introduced Papadopoulos to a “female Russian national” described as a relative of President Vladimir Putin. The FBI statement later asserts that the claim by Papadopoulos that the woman was a relative was not true.

Papadopouls also appeared to over-exaggerate the extent of his Russian contacts in messages to the Trump campaign, according to court documents. In one email sent to the Trump campaign Mr Papadopoulos says he has just been introduced to the Russian Ambassador in London. He has since admitted the pair never met.

(bold italics added)

Professor Mifsud’s account appears to support the second theory about Papadopoulos which I outlined in my second article about him yesterday: that he is a Walter Mitty character with an uncertain grasp of reality.

It is worth remembering that the only two witnesses to the now famous conversation between Professor Mifsud and Papadopoulos in April 2016 during which Professor Mifsud is supposed to have made his comment about the Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and possessing thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails were Professor Mifsud and Papadopoulos.

Professor Mifsud categorically denies making the comment.  Papadopoulos admits to lying to the FBI and it now seems certain that it was he who fabricated the tales of his dealings with “Putin’s niece” and with Russia’s ambassador to London.

There is no reason to doubt Professor Mifsud’s denial, whilst Papadopoulos’s conduct strongly suggests that it was he who made the comment up. 

The trigger was obviously the furore over Hillary Clinton’s misuse of a private server for her emails whilst she was Secretary of State, which was approaching its peak at the time the comment was supposed to have been made.

As to Papadopoulos’s motive for making up the comment, it was obviously done Walter Mitty style in order to impress his bosses at Trump campaign headquarters. 

That was why Papadopoulos also misrepresented the nature of Professor Mifsud’s contacts with the Russians and the background of the Russian woman with whom he was having dealings – whom he sought to pass off as Putin’s niece – and why he invented a meeting with Russia’s ambassador Yakovenko which never took place.

In the event, it is clear from the indictment that by the time Papadopoulos reported the comment no one at Trump headquarters was any longer taking him seriously.  That was why the comment was never followed up.

The “evidence” of a Walter Mitty character – which is anyway not evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians – is not evidence which can be taken seriously, which is why Papadopoulos has only been charged with lying to the FBI, and why the Senate and House Intelligence Committees have shown no interest in him.

In no sense is Papadopoulos any sort of “star witness” and I cannot believe Special Counsel Mueller thinks he is.

Over the next couple of days and weeks I expect this to become clear, and Papadopoulos to fade from view.

Social media claims

To my mind these claims constitute the single most absurd element of the whole Russiagate conspiracy theory, though given the way these claims are being used to clamp down on dissident opinions they are also the most dangerous.

Briefly:

(1) As RT has rightly pointed out the alleged ‘Russian election posts’ constituted no more than 0.74% and 0.004% of the content carried by Twitter and Facebook respectively, most of this material was published either the year before or after the election, and much of it concerned material of no conceivable relevance to the election, including material about puppies.  The level of absurdity reached in discussing this material is best illustrated by the fantastic theories about the ‘weaponising’ of Pokemon Go;

(2) As RT has also rightly pointed out, Twitter actually pitched a proposal to RT for RT to spend millions on advertising during the election, a fact Twitter neglected to point out to the US Senate Intelligence Committee and which has been almost completely ignored by the media; and

(3) Google now says that there is no evidence that RT manipulated YouTube or violated its policies during the 2016 US Presidential election campaign.

This is not really a case of a mountain moving to produce a mouse, since the mouse in this case is so infinitesimally small that it can only be seen through a microscope.

The idea that a tiny number of advertisements and comments on Facebook and Twitter – some in the case of Twitter actively pitched for by Twitter itself – swung the US Presidential election towards Donald Trump in the face of the mass artillery of the US media – which overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton – ought to be too ridiculous to take seriously.  That anyone believes that anyone in Moscow honestly thought that they would is even more ridiculous.

Frankly, apart from a tiny minority of truly paranoid people, I doubt anyone who is properly informed about it genuinely believes it.

Summary

The swirl of revelations over the last few weeks has therefore produced the following:

For the Russiagate conspiracy theory: two indictments neither of which refer to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, one of which is concerned not with Russia but with Ukraine, the other of which is against a Walter Mitty character because he lied to the FBI, and a mass of claims about a Russian influence campaign on YouTube and social media which essentially amount to nothing.

Against the Russiagate conspiracy theory: confirmation that both the foundation documents of the Russiagate conspiracy theory – the CrowdStrike report into the alleged Russian hacking and the Trump Dossier – were paid for by the DNC and in the case of the Trump Dossier also by the Hillary Clinton campaign.  For a detailed discussion of the implications of this see this excellent article by Joe Lauria.

It should not be difficult to see on which side of the ledger the evidence is building.

In the meantime the sum total of what has come out of the Manafort and Papadopoulos indictments can be summed up quickly: nothing at all.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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