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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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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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