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Trump lashes ‘obstruction of justice’ claims

US President Trump lashes obstruction of justice claims pointing out that no crime has so far been identified the prosecution or investigation of which he is supposed to have obstructed.

Alexander Mercouris

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US President Donald Trump has lashed out in against allegations circulating today that he is now under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice.

Not for the first time President Trump is absolutely right.  As I have repeatedly pointed out, 10 months of investigation have discovered no evidence of collusion between anyone in Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, and following former FBI Director Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee it is now known that the US intelligence services accept that Russian meddling in the US election – if it even took place – had no effect on the outcome of the election and that President Trump himself is not under investigation for colluding during the election with the Russians.

In light of all this, in any rational world everyone should see that there is no substance to this scandal, leading to this pointless investigation being closed down.

However, as has been very obvious for a very long time, the real purpose of those people driving this scandal is not to uncover collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Apart from a few paranoid people I doubt by now that anyone in authority any longer believes that such collusion took place.

Instead the purpose behind the scandal is (1) to embarrass Donald Trump and ideally engineer his removal from office; and (2) to prevent any move towards a rapprochement between the US and Russia, even though that is the policy Donald Trump advocated in the election, and which he won the election on.

To that end – since there is a limit to how far an investigation into claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians can be taken when there is no substance behind them – the focus has now shifted to the only very marginally more substantive issue of obstruction of justice.

I say “only very marginally more substantive issue of obstruction of justice”, because as I have said though President Trump’s conversations with Comey were extremely unwise, they do not amount to an obstruction of justice.

That is not just my view. Here is what Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University has to say about this issue

The desire for some indictable or impeachable offense by President Trump has distorted the legal analysis to an alarming degree. Analysts seem far too thrilled by the possibility of a crime by Trump. The legal fact is that Comey’s testimony does not establish a prima facie — or even a strong — case for obstruction.

It is certainly true that if Trump made these comments, his conduct is wildly inappropriate. However, talking like Tony Soprano does not make you Tony Soprano. Trump is not the first president to express dissatisfaction with an investigation by the Justice Department. Former president Bill Clinton made clear his own dissatisfaction with the investigations of his administration under then-Attorney General Janet Reno. It is no surprise that Trump wanted to see these investigations end. Indeed, he had a virtual hashtag to that effect.

The crime of obstruction of justice has not been defined as broadly as suggested by commentators. While there are a couple of courts with more expansive interpretations, the crime is generally linked to obstructing a pending proceeding as opposed to an investigation. Most courts have rejected the application of obstruction provisions to mere investigations. The manual used by federal prosecutors makes that same distinction. Even if a prosecutor was able to extend the definition of obstruction, there would remain the need to show that Trump sought to “corruptly” influence the investigation. Trump telling Comey that Michael Flynn is “a good guy,” and that he hoped Comey would let the matter drop is hardly a “cancer,” let alone a crime, growing on the presidency.

Flynn had just resigned the day before Trump allegedly asked Comey whether he could now drop the investigation of Flynn. Trump had been told by Comey that he is not under investigation (three alleged confirmations by Comey that are equally inappropriate). Trump could say he felt Flynn had suffered enough. For a defense lawyer, a charge of obstruction on these facts would be a target-rich environment.

 In the end, a prosecutor should never seek to indict a president absent a lead-pipe cinch of a case. This is no lead-pipe cinch. Of course, there is also the problem of actually indicting a sitting president if there was a crime and evidence to fit it. Many academics believe that a sitting president cannot be indicted. It remains an open question. After all, judges have faced indictment before impeachments. Yet, the president remains the head of the executive branch handling such prosecutions.

The proper course is for a president to be impeached and removed before any prosecution. It is no gift to a president. Impeachments are not subject to the rules of evidence or even the criminal code. Presidents can face a much broader array of evidentiary demands with far less protection under due process rules. A president can also be impeached for acts that are not technically crimes. Abuse of office is a classic example. However, analogies to Watergate show little understanding of those articles of impeachment. The first article against President Nixon was an obstruction allegation, but it was expressly linked to actual and serious crimes, including the criminal break-in at the Watergate. The article specifically listed an array of personal actions taken by Nixon and his subordinates to procure false statements, obstruct investigators, and “to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.”

Ironically, those who want a criminal charge on this record are committing the very offense that they accuse Trump of committing: disregarding the law to achieve their desired goal. It would be a highly dangerous interpretation to allow obstruction charges at this stage. If prosecutors can charge people at the investigation stage of cases, a wide array of comments or conduct could be criminalized. It is quite common to have such issues arise early in criminal cases. Courts have limited the crime precisely to avoid this type of open-ended crime where prosecutors could threaten potential witnesses with charges unless they cooperated.

We do not indict or impeach people for being boorish or clueless … or simply being Donald Trump.

To which I would add a point which ought to be obvious, and which I have made repeatedly, and which President Trump alludes to in his latest tweet, which is that for any obstruction of justice charge to stick there has to be some evidence of the actual existence of a crime the prosecution or investigation of which is being obstructed.

No such crime has been identified in the Russiagate case – almost certainly because no such crime was ever committed – whilst in the case of the Flynn investigation – which is the one that President Trump is actually being accused of obstructing – 6 months after the investigation was launched and 4 months after President Trump’s now famous conversation with Comey no charges have been brought against Flynn even though the whole case against Flynn stems from a single telephone conversation he had with Russian ambassador Kislyak of which a complete transcript exists.

As it happens I am far from sure that Special Counsel Mueller actually is investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice.  The Washington Post article that launched this claim looks to me to be based on a deduction that Mueller is investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because Mueller’s investigators intend to interview Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett.

It seems to me that these are people whom Mueller would want interviewed anyway as part of the original Russiagate investigation, and I think it is going too far to assume that simply because his investigators are going to interview them that means Mueller’s investigation has been expanded to look into allegations of obstruction of justice.

The Washington Post story is sourced to our old friends “five people briefed on the interview requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly”.

Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee made it clear that information provided by these sort of anonymous sources is not always reliable (to put it mildly) and that he disputes a now notorious New York Times article, which appeared on 14th February 2017 (the same day incidentally that Trump had his now famous conversation with Comey in which they supposedly discussed Flynn).  That article was also sourced to our old friends the anonymous sources (“four current and former American officials”) and contained the sensational claim that

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election

Interestingly but unsurprisingly, despite Comey saying publicly and on oath that he disputes the New York Times story, the New York Times continues to stand by the story, preferring what it says it was told by its anonymous sources to what Comey says publicly on oath.

President Trump has tweeted his doubts about whether some of these anonymous sources actually exist and have not simply been made up, and frankly I am starting to have my doubts as well.  The episodes of the latest Washington Post story and of the New York Times article of 14th February 2017 reinforces those doubts

If Special Counsel Mueller really is investigating the President for obstruction of justice then the President ultimately has no one to blame but himself.  His meetings with Comey were as I have repeatedly said extraordinarily unwise, and though there is no legal case for obstruction of justice on the known facts (which I am sure are all the facts there are) there is at least an appearance of impopriety which Mueller may feel he has no choice but to look into.

Having said this, in the absence of any actual legal case for obstruction of justice I cannot imagine that Mueller’s investigation will in the end do the President any real harm.  Ultimately it may even be in the President’s interests to have Mueller look into this issue.  If Mueller exonerates the President fully of this charge – as on the facts he is bound to do – then it is impossible to see how any impeachment based on this charge can get off the ground.

In the meantime the President is showing wisdom by having his officials in the White House refer questions about this matter to Marc Kasowitz, his lawyer.  I hope he continues to exercise the same restraint in what is now a legal case.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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