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The Trump Russia Wiretap scandal: has the corner turned?

Ceasing of leaks following wiretap allegations suggests at least a pause in the war between the President and his opponents.

Alexander Mercouris




It is now almost a week since President Trump tweeted his incendiary allegation that former President Obama had had his phone bugged.

Since then there have no more leaks seeking to discredit the President or to destabilise his administration, whilst the demands for the resignation of Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, seem to have stopped.  Whether this is only a temporary respite or whether a real corner has been turned remains to be seen.

At this point I feel it might be useful to say something about two claims that have been made by the President’s opponents since he made his claim.  These are

(1) that the President’s officials are staying silent and are failing to speak out in support of what the President said; and

(2) that the President has provided no evidence to support his claim.

Both these assertions are true.  They are not however the whole truth, and showing how this is the case casts a further light on this strange affair.

Firstly, a day after the President made his claim the administration announced that neither he nor anyone else in the administration would comment publicly on the claim further but that the President had asked Congress to investigate “the abuses of power by the Obama administration”, which presumably would also include investigating his claim.

I am not an expert on US public and constitutional law, but I would not be surprised if there were legal explanations for this silence, with the issue possibly sub judice whilst Congressional and possibly other investigations into this issue are underway.  It may also be the case that the President’s legal advisers have advised him that it is anyway in his interest not to have this question discussed further in the media whilst the investigations are underway regardless of whether the issue is technically sub judice or not.

Putting these points aside, the far more interesting point is surely the lack of comment from the other side.

As I have written previously, Obama and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have made publicly only qualified denials, with Obama denying that he ordered the wiretap and Clapper denying that any part of the intelligence and security bureaucracy he supervised was involved in any wiretap, but both leaving it open that a wiretap might have occurred but been carried out by someone else.

FBI Director James Comey for his part is alleged by an anonymously sourced article in The New York Times to have also denied that Obama ordered a wiretap, which however again leaves open the possibility that a wiretap might have been carried out on the orders of someone else.

Interestingly Comey attended a public meeting with the media present two days ago at which he had the perfect opportunity to confirm publicly his anonymously reported denial.  He pointedly failed to do so, instead bragging that he would continue as FBI Director for another 6 years.

Comey’s continued failure to make a public statement must inevitably increase suspicions that he does not want to say something in public which could be construed later as a denial of a wiretap which actually took place, whilst his public bragging that he will continue as FBI Director for a further 6 years must also inevitably give rise to suspicion that his principle concern all along was to seek assurances from the Justice Department that he has done nothing improper or illegal, and that his bragging shows that he has received those assrances.  I would stress that at this point in time these are suspicions only.  However Comey’s own conduct inevitably invites them.

Meanwhile the most important people of all involved or potentially involved in this affair – the former top officials of Obama’s Justice Department Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates – who must surely know the whole truth, have pointedly said nothing.

Lynch’s and Yates’s silence should no more be construed as an admission of a wiretap than the qualified denials by Obama, Clapper and Comey should be.  Moreover just as there may be valid legal explanations for the President’s silence and for that of his advisers, so there may be valid legal explanations for the silence of Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates.

I do however find it interesting that whilst the media has been busy speculating about the reasons for the silence of the President and his officials, no-one is commenting on the silence of Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates and of the other officials of Obama’s Justice Department, who are the ones who surely know the full truth about this affair.

As for the lack of evidence behind the President’s claim, concern about the absence of evidence to support a claim comes strangely from people who have been busy for months spreading dark and evidence-less stories of collusion by the President and his campaign team with Russia.  The best comment I have seen about the demented quality of this comes from Glenn Greenwald, who is of course both a trained lawyer and (as his comment shows) no supporter of the President’s

I’ve been asked often why I’ve written so much against the prevailing sentiments on Russia and Trump. It’s not just because this obsessive narrative distracts from Trump’s genuinely consequential actions or from the need to find an effective vessel for activism against über-right-wing nationalism. It’s not just because it’s driven by ugly and historically familiar anti-Russian xenophobia, nor because it dangerously ratchets up tensions between two nuclear-armed, traditionally hostile countries. Those things are all true, but that’s not the main impetus.

Above all else, it’s because it’s an offensive assault on reason. This kind of deranged discourse is an attack on basic journalistic integrity, on any minimal obligation to ensure that one’s claims are based in evidence rather than desire, fantasy, and herd-enforced delusions. And it’s emanating from the most established and mainstream precincts of U.S. political and media elites, who have processed the severe disorientation and loss of position they feel from Trump’s shock election not by doing the work to patiently formulate cogent, effective strategies against him, but rather by desperately latching onto online “dot-connecting” charlatans and spewing the most unhinged Birther-level conspiracies that require a complete abandonment of basic principles of rationality and skepticism.

(bold italics added)

In light of all that it should come as no surprise that the very same people who condemned the President for making a claim for which they said he produced no evidence then promptly did the same thing themselves, claiming that the President got the whole idea from an article in Breitbart.

There is not a scintilla of evidence to support that claim, which can be no more than a guess.  There must be at least a possibility that the President, who presides over the most gigantic intelligence and national security bureaucracy in human history, obtained his information from them, and that the stories which appeared in the media just before the President made his own revelations public were sourced from his advisers, specifically from Steve Bannon, who has connections to some of the media outlets that published the stories.  That was my assumption in the hours after the President made his claims, and I would have thought it was the natural one.

It is to be earnestly hoped that the relative silence that has descended over this tangled affair during the last week now continues.  To say that so far there has been more heat than light would be a gigantic understatement.  With multiple investigations now underway, the correct thing to do is not to try to second guess them or manipulate them through strategically placed leaks, but to leave them alone to do their job so that they can report fully and calmly what they find.

In the meantime I would repeat my view that based on all the information which we have seen so far, it is the surveillance of the President and his associates during and after the election, for which ample evidence exists, which is the real scandal, and not the half-baked conspiracy theories of some gigantic conspiracy between the President and Russia, of which there is no evidence at all.

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran



Via RT

Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”



Via Zerohedge

Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran



Authored by Al Masdar News:

Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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