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Russiagate: Proof Obama’s Justice Department placed Trump campaign under surveillance

FISA surveillance of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort before, during and after Presidential election confirmed.

Alexander Mercouris

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An unintended though unsurprising paradox of the Russiagate investigation is that though it has failed to produce any evidence of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign team – because no such collusion took place – it is increasingly flushing out evidence of disturbing behaviour against the Trump campaign by former officials of the Obama administration.

Thus a few days ago we had the admission from Susan Rice that members of Donald Trump’s transitional team were placed under surveillance before the inauguration for no other reason supposedly than that they met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (a US ally) and that she then circulated (“unmasked”) their identities for no very clear reason internally across the US bureaucracy.

Surveillance of Paul Manafort and of the Trump campaign

Now we have confirmation that Paul Manafort, who was briefly chaired Donald Trump’s campaign team and who continued to play an active role in the campaign thereafter, was the subject of two FISA warrants obtained by Obama’s Justice Department, and was placed under surveillance before, during and after the Presidential election, and that he was still under surveillance at the start of this year.

The confirmation has come in a story published by CNN, which along with the New York Times and the Washington Post has been the main media outlet driving the Russiagate scandal.

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

Note the careful use of the word “wiretap” the implications of whose I will discuss below.

The surveillance of Manafort took place over an extended period, with a short during 2016.  It was carried out on two different pretexts.

The first supposedly related to the allegations which have swirled around Manafort and which originate in Ukraine that he had some sort of corrupt relationship with the previous Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, which was overthrown in February 2014 as a result of the Maidan coup, and which he undoubtedly did work for

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort’s firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.

All three firms earlier this year filed retroactive registrations with the Justice Department.

It hasn’t proved easy to make a case.

Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation. 

The FBI and Justice Department have to periodically seek renewed FISA authorization to continue their surveillance.

Note the admission that no evidence of wrongdoing by Manafort involving Ukraine has come to light, and that CNN does not make clear when the FISA authorised surveillance as opposed to the FBI investigation of Manafort’s dealings with Yanukovych began.

This supposedly Ukraine related surveillance of Manafort apparently ended at some point in the first half of 2016.  By May 2016 Manafort at least was no longer under surveillance.  However the surveillance later resumed, possibly in August 2016 or perhaps a little later, this time under the aegis of the Russiagate investigation

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

It is unclear when the new warrant started. The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It’s not known what they found.

The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.

It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.

(bold italics added)

Here it is worth making a number of points.

(1) It is now clear that Paul Manafort is the main focus of Robert Mueller’s investigation and that the success or failure of the investigation and of the whole case of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia rests on Mueller being able to press a case against him.

(2) It is completely unclear (at least to me) why a FISA warrant was used to carry out the first Ukraine related surveillance of Manafort, which ended some time in early 2016.

On the face of it the FBI investigation of Manafort that was taking place at that time seems to have centred on allegations of corruption by Manafort involving his dealings in Ukraine.  That would suggest a criminal not a counter intelligence probe.

In that case any surveillance of Manafort connected to that probe would appear to a require a conventional warrant issued by a conventional criminal court, not a secret warrant, issued by the FISA court, which is an intelligence connected court.

This is important since if Manafort had been placed under surveillance as a result of a conventional warrant issued by some conventional criminal court he would at some point have presumably been informed about it, and which would have been in a position to contest it.

Instead the secret intelligence related FISA court was used, suggesting a counter intelligence operation, resulting in Manafort being placed under surveillance presumably without his knowledge and possibly for an extended period (the CNN article says that the FISA warrant had to be renewed repeatedly).

I am not familiar with US legal practice, but on the face of it this looks to me like a case of misuse of the FISA court and its procedures to make possible extended surveillance of a US citizen against whom no evidence of wrongdoing was ever found.

In light of this, especially since CNN says that the FISA warrant was repeatedly renewed despite no evidence against Manafort coming to light, the Ukraine related allegations which have been made against Manafort start to look like an excuse rather than the true reason for the surveillance.

(3) As the CNN article admits, the application to the FISA court, both in connection to the Ukraine related investigation and in relation to the Russiagate investigation, was authorised by senior officials of Obama’s Justice Department and of the FBI.  In the latter case that would undoubtedly have included the FBI’s director, James Comey, who at the time was leading the investigation.

(4) The CNN article all but says that Donald Trump himself was caught up in the surveillance of Manafort.

The article says that Manafort continued to have regular meetings with Trump right up to the start of this year whilst the surveillance was underway.  CNN also says that Manafort had what CNN calls a “residence” in Trump Tower, where Donald Trump until he moved to the White House had his main residence and office.

CNN claims not to know whether Manafort’s “residence” was “wiretapped”.  In reality, given that Manafort was under surveillance, and given that the ostensible reason for the surveillance was to investigate claims of collusion between him as a member of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, it beggars belief that it wasn’t.

As CNN admits, back in March President Trump caused a storm when he claimed in a series of tweets that his telephones in Trump Tower had been wiretapped on President Obama’s orders during the election period.

The claim was widely ridiculed and criticised.  However it is now confirmed that the telephones of Paul Manafort – at the time one of Donald Trump’s closest associates – were indeed being ‘wiretapped’ during the election period, with the virtual certainty that Manafort’s telephones in his “residence” in Trump Tower – the same building where Donald Trump had his main residence and office – were part of this ‘wiretap’.

Moreover given Trump’s and Manafort’s closeness to each other at the time, and the physical proximity between them since they were occupying “residences” in the same building, it is hardly implausible that Trump from time to time used the telephones in Manafort’s “residence” during the election period, in which case his conversations would have been picked up as a result of the ‘wiretap’.

Though the evidence is not yet conclusive, I am going to express here my view that it was this chain of events which was the probable cause of Donald Trump’s outburst in March.

(5) Lastly, CNN provides a clue as to what it was which precipitated the renewed interest in Paul Manafort, which resulted in the surveillance of him resuming in late summer or early autumn.

Manafort was ousted from the campaign in August. By then the FBI had noticed what counterintelligence agents thought was a series of odd connections between Trump associates and Russia. The CIA also had developed information, including from human intelligence sources, that they believed showed Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his intelligence services to conduct a broad operation to meddle with the US election, according to current and former US officials.

Compare these words with the very similar words in a Washington Post article dated 23rd June 2017

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump…..

The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distant long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.

The intelligence on Putin was extraordinary on multiple levels, including as a feat of espionage.

For spy agencies, gaining insights into the intentions of foreign leaders is among the highest priorities. But Putin is a remarkably elusive target. A former KGB officer, he takes extreme precautions to guard against surveillance, rarely communicating by phone or computer, always running sensitive state business from deep within the confines of the Kremlin

(bold italics added)

Here is what I wrote about these words in the 23rd June 2017 Washington Post article in an article which I wrote on 24th June 2017

That this refers to the Trump Dossier is clear from the highlighted words.

The Trump Dossier purports to be a “report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the US Presidential race”, which is exactly what the report mentioned in the article is said to be.

The timing is right, with the early parts of the Trump Dossier dated to June 2016 and Brennan sending out his memorandum to Obama in August 2016.

No other report other than the Trump Dossier fitting the description of the report in the Washington Post article is known to exist, and the Washington Post article says that “Putin is a remarkably elusive target”, which makes it all but certain that no other such report exists.

Moreover the Washington Post article slips out these further very interesting comments about the report mentioned in the article

Despite the intelligence the CIA had produced, other agencies were slower to endorse a conclusion that Putin was personally directing the operation and wanted to help Trump. “It was definitely compelling, but it was not definitive,” said one senior administration official. “We needed more.”

Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.

(bold italics added)

The Trump Dossier is not a US confection but was compiled by Christopher Steele, who is British, and who is a former agent of the British intelligence agency MI6.  The fact that the Washington Post story says that “the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country” therefore again clearly points to the Trump Dossier, which originated not in the US but in Britain.

In light of these comments I do not think there is any doubt that it is the early sections of the Trump Dossier that are being referred to, and which were what caused Brennan to send his memorandum to the White House in August.

The close similarity in words between June’s Washington Post article and the latest article published by CNN revealing the surveillance of Paul Manafort again points to the Trump Dossier as being the cause.

In other words it was the circulation of the Trump Dossier over the course of the summer, and the credence given to it by some officials in the Obama administration and the CIA, which led to the surveillance of Manafort being resumed in the late summer or autumn of 2016.

Conduct of the Manafort investigation

In the last few weeks Robert Mueller’s investigators have put Manafort through the legal equivalent of the ‘third degree’.  The extent of the pressure on him is set out in an article which has appeared in the New York Times

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.

Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.

“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”

In the event these aggressive tactics appear to have come up with nothing.  On 6th August 2017 Mueller’s boss Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – the man who would have to approve any prosecutions or indictments before they were issued – gave an interview to Fox News (discussed by me here) in which he cast cold water on suggestions that any indictment was pending.

That Manafort is failing to ‘crack’, and that the investigations of him are drawing a blank – with no evidence presumably being found of the secret offshore bank accounts the investigators were looking for – is all but admitted by the CNN article

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive…..

Manafort previously has denied that he ever “knowingly” communicated with Russian intelligence operatives during the election and also has denied participating in any Russian efforts to “undermine the interests of the United States.”

The FBI wasn’t listening in June 2016, the sources said, when Donald Trump Jr. led a meeting that included Manafort, then campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, with a Russian lawyer who had promised negative information on Hillary Clinton.

That gap could prove crucial as prosecutors and investigators under Mueller work to determine whether there’s evidence of a crime in myriad connections that have come to light between suspected Russian government operatives and associates of Trump.

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort’s firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.

All three firms earlier this year filed retroactive registrations with the Justice Department.

It hasn’t proved easy to make a case.

Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation. 

(bold italics added)

CNN is here conflating the results of the two probes: the probe into the corruption allegations against Manafort connected to his dealings with Ukraine, and the separate probe into the Russiagate allegations.

However it is clear that the corruption allegations are going nowhere (“it hasn’t proved easy to make a case”) – a further indication incidentally that the July search of Manafort’s residence came up with nothing – whilst the surveillance of Manafort which began last year has apparently produced no evidence of illegal collusion between Manafort and Russia at all (“Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive…..”).

That incidentally was already admitted by CNN in an article it published on 4th August 2017 – shortly after the search of Manafort’s residence – which admitted that Manafort was not being accused of any wrongdoing, and that the evidence of illegal collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia was simply not turning up

Even at the FBI, there’s a measure of frustration over the investigation.

After a highly contentious year investigating Hillary Clinton’s private email servers and being accused of swinging the election against her, the FBI finds itself again where officials tried not to be: amid a politically treacherous investigation that has hobbled a new President.

Worse yet, some FBI officials fear the question of whether there was any criminal coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may never be answered.

One challenge is that tantalizing pieces of intelligence are missing key links because they did not develop long enough for investigators to determine their significance. These include intercepts monitored by US intelligence that showed suggestions of illegal coordination but nothing overt.

Those missing links mean that the FBI and Mueller’s prosecution team may not have enough evidence to bring charges related to possible illegal coordination with a foreign intelligence service. Instead, prosecutors could pursue financial crime charges unrelated to the election.

Investigators also face a big hurdle: those participating in the intercepted communications were foreigners, outside the reach of the FBI, who may be exaggerating or lying about events.

Some FBI officials also blame media coverage dating back to last summer for prompting some communications to cease, and making it more difficult for investigators to monitor the interactions of Russians and campaign associates.

(bold italics added)

For my detailed discussion of this 4th August 2017 CNN article here.

Compare these comments in CNN’s 4th August 2017 article about “missing links” with the frankly desperate claim in CNN’s latest article that the reason these “missing links” are not being found is because Manafort was not under surveillance for a period last year when these “missing links” might have been found (“That gap could prove crucial….”).

Given the aggressive tactics which Mueller’s team have been using as revealed in the New York Times article, and the fact that these tactics are drawing a blank, it is completely unsurprising that – as CNN revealed in its 4th August 2017 article – some of Mueller’s investigators are now taking out private liability insurance.

CNN has learned some of the investigators involved in the probe are buying liability insurance out of concern they could become targets of lawsuits from those who are being investigated, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. The Justice Department covers legal fees for employees sued in the course of their duties, but some of the lawyers want extra protection.

The Justice Department and special counsel’s office both declined to comment on the liability concerns.

(bold italics added)

Summary

What do all these revelations tell us about the state of the Russiagate investigation?  In my opinion the position can be summarised as follows:

(1) the complaints made by Donald Trump and his associates that the Obama administration placed at least some of them under surveillance before, during and after the election are turning out to be true.

Paul Manafort was placed under surveillance well before the election through what looks like a misuse of the FISA process.  During the election he was placed under surveillance again, as was Carter Page, who however had only a peripheral role in the Trump campaign. The fact that the FISA process was used shows that in both cases shows senior officials of Obama’s Justice Department were involved, and that this was not a conventional legal process, with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing existing such as might have justified obtaining a conventional criminal warrant.

Almost certainly Donald Trump was caught up in the surveillance – as he apparently found out to his great anger in March – with the surveillance being expanded after the election to take in other Trump associates such as Flynn and Kushner, often on the flimsiest pretexts, such as that they had had meeting with the Crown of Abu Dhabi, who is actually the US’s friend and ally, and who denies that he had any role in setting up a secret backchannel between the Trump transition team and Russia.

Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Adviser, has now admitted arranging for the identities of the Trump associates caught up in the surveillance to be revealed and circulated throughout the US bureaucracy, though no proof of wrongdoing or of illegal collusion with Russia by any of these people has ever come to light.

(2) By contrast all efforts to find proof of wrongdoing which might justify this surveillance are drawing a blank, with the investigators becoming increasingly desperate and aggressive as they search for evidence of wrongdoing which is simply not appearing, because of course it doesn’t exist.

An ill-conceived and improperly conducted search of Paul Manafort’s house followed up by what appear to have been unwarranted threats of a pending criminal indictment appears to have seriously backfired, coming up with nothing useful, leading to recriminations within Mueller’s team with some of them taking out legal liability insurance presumably following threats of legal action by Manafort’s lawyers.

Conclusion

Back in March, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s claims (which he has never retracted) that President Obama had his telephones wiretapped during the Presidential election, I wrote that it was the way the Obama administration had used the US intelligence community to conduct surveillance of Donald Trump and his campaign team during the election despite the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing by any of them which was the true scandal of 2016

What we now learn is that the Obama administration, of which Hillary Clinton was once a part, used the US’s federal security and intelligence agencies during the election to spy on Hillary Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, and on his campaign.  They did so despite the fact that no evidence existed or has ever come to light of any wrongdoing by Donald Trump or by anyone else working on his behalf or for his campaign such as would normally justify surveillance.

This is the true scandal of the US Presidential election of 2016.  By contrast the various claims of Russian interference in the election are unproven and threadbare and almost certainly wrong, whilst the claims of illicit contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia are undoubtedly false and wrong.

This statement has to be qualified in that we now know that evidence was in fact believed to exist at the time the surveillance was ordered, with some of the people who ordered the surveillance apparently believing in this evidence.  The evidence in question was however almost certainly the Trump Dossier, an uncorroborated and obviously concocted document, to which no credence should ever have been given.

The big question of the Russiagate scandal should be not whether collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia ever took place.   The despairing comments of the investigators leaked to CNN show that no proof of this will ever be found because no such proof exists.

The big question is whether the true scandal of the 2016 election, the fact that during the election Obama’s Justice Department and the US intelligence community undertook surveillance of the campaign team of Hillary Clinton’s Republican opponent, will ever be publicly admitted in the US.

The fact that we now have revelations of surveillance of Paul Manafort and Carter Page during the election, and admissions that following the election the surveillance was further extended to include still more members of Trump’s campaign team, under the fact that this surveillance was carried out on either false (the meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi) or flimsy (the Trump Dossier) pretexts, and that no senior official of the US government or member of the Congress, and no part of the establishment media, seem at all concerned, provides the answer to that question.

 

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Neil
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Neil

That all makes sense.
We will all see who really meddled in the US election. It was the US, of course, as always, everywhere.
US is like a weasel accusing a chicken of stealing his eggs.

Hamletquest
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Hamletquest

So back to square one for the US agencies who conspired to undermine the democratic process of the presidential elections.
But as a soft coup has now had to be carried out and a military junta is now in control of the levers of state we can expect much of this to disappear. Brushed under the carpet as surely as Trump has been carpet bagged…

Guy
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Guy

Looking forward to the Russian Foreign Ministry acting on the directive to pursue through the US justice system the questionable treatment of their embassies. That promises to be another circus that will leave non natives in awe.

Latest

Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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