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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

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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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Erdogan accepts Syria DMZ off-ramp, in deal with Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 111.

Alex Christoforou

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The deal struck in Sochi averts a large scale Syria’s offensive on Idlib, as Turkey gives it guarantee to monitor what will effectively become a demilitarized zone.

According to the agreement, troops from Russia and Turkey will enforce a new demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Idlib, from which ISIS/Al Qaeda rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

Speaking alongside Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the 15 to 20 km-wide zone would be established by October 15th. The DMZ would require a complete “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib, including the rebranded Al-Qaeda affiliated Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Putin also noted that heavy weapons would be withdrawn from the DMZ by all opposition forces by October 10th, which is a move supported by the Syrian government.

The Russian President described the agreement as a “serious result” further saying that “Russia and Turkey have confirmed their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms”.

Erdogan said both his country and Russia would carry out coordinated patrols in the demilitarized zone:

“We decided on the establishment of a region that is cleaned of weapons between the areas which are under the control of the opposition and the regime.”

“In return, we will ensure that radical groups, which we will designate together with Russia, won’t be active in the relevant area.”

According to Al Jazeera Iran’s foreign minister has hailed an agreement between Turkey and Russia to avert an assault on the Syrian rebel-held Idlib province, as an example of “responsible diplomacy”.

An agreement to halt plans for an offensive on the last major rebel-held stronghold was announced in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday after a meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On his Twitter account, Zarif wrote: “Intensive responsible diplomacy over the last few weeks-pursued in my visits to Ankara & Damascus, followed by the Iran-Russia-Turkey Summit in Tehran and the meeting (in) Sochi-is succeeding to avert war in #Idlib with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror. Diplomacy works.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the agreement reached in Sochi, which for now avoids full scale conflict in Idlib, Syria. Who won, who lost, and which interests were met with the DMZ agreement?

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Via Xinhuanet

An anticipated Syrian military offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib is on hold after Turkey and Russia reached a deal following Ankara’s guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, experts said.

The deal was reached Monday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, as the two sides agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold.

This agreement brings Turkey to a position of giving a guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, the experts said.

“Moscow is convinced that it would not be able to handle the burden of a humanitarian tragedy in case of a military offensive in Idlib,” said Metin Gurcan, a Turkish security analyst with the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabanci University.

Russia has also secured its airbases in northern Syria, including its airbase in Hmeymim as a guarantee by Turkey under the Sochi agreement, he said.

Gurcan recalled a trilateral summit of Turkey, Iran and Russia held in Iranian capital Tehran early September, which ended without agreement as Erdogan’s call for a ceasefire in Idlib was rejected by Moscow and Tehran.

Erdogan’s proposal for a ceasefire by all parties in Idlib was rejected by Putin on the grounds that those groups were not represented at the table there, he said.

“Now Turkey has given a guarantee on behalf of radical groups which Putin earlier said that ceasefire cannot be discussed because they were not represented at Tehran meeting,” Gurcan said.

Now everyone is curious how Turkey has given guarantee to Moscow and how will those radical groups accept a proposal for demilitarization by surrendering heavy weapons and withdrawing from the demilitarized zone, Gurcan noted.

“Ankara has given this promise relying on its military power on the ground and on its capacity to convince armed opposition groups,” he said.

Turkish army has reinforced its presence in Idlib in the past few months, and Turkey has 12 military outposts with 1,200-1,300 troops on the border line of the province separating the rebel stronghold from the pro-Iran militia-controlled South of Aleppo and the government-controlled southeast, Gurcan said.

Rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, in the region are gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”

Putin and Erdogan agreed on Monday in Sochi to create a 15-20 km buffer zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops by Oct. 15.

The agreement entails the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib as well as “heavy weaponry from this zone,” Putin said at the joint press conference after signing the deal with Erdogan.

By the end of the year, transportation routes between the key port of Latakia and Aleppo as well as the city of Hama must be restored, Putin added.

The Russian leader also said all heavy weapons had to be withdrawn from the zone by Oct. 10, according to Erdogan’s proposal.

Ankara has been warning against any military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian regime forces in Idlib, warning that it would lead to a humanitarian crisis and refugee influx to the Turkish border.

Turkey and Russia, along with Iran, are guarantors of the Astana deal which declared ceasefire in four de-escalation zones in Syria, including Idlib.

Turkey will deploy more troops in Idlib province after the Sochi deal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

“We will need extra troop reinforcements. Turkey and Russia will patrol on the border areas. Civilians and moderate (opposition) will stay here,” Cavusoglu said.

Another outcome of the Sochi deal is that Turkey and Russia prevented a possible attack by the United States in Idlib, Naim Baburoglu from Aydin University said.

He recalled that the U.S. was giving signals that it wanted to intervene in the situation in Idlib, if Syrian government troops launch an assault on the rebel stronghold.

Washington recently threatened to take swift and decisive actions against any use of chemical weapons in Idlib.

“This agreement showed that the U.S. has room for maneuver only in the east of Euphrates and Manbij region,” Baburoglu said.

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Pat Buchanan: “The Late Hit” On Judge Kavanaugh

Wha exactly is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org:


Upon the memory and truthfulness of Christine Blasey Ford hangs the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his reputation and possibly his career on the nation’s second-highest court.

And much more. If Kavanaugh is voted down or forced to withdraw, the Republican Party and conservative movement could lose their last best hope for recapturing the high court for constitutionalism.

No new nominee could be vetted and approved in six weeks. And the November election could bring in a Democratic Senate, an insuperable obstacle to the elevation of a new strict constructionist like Kavanaugh.

The stakes are thus historic and huge.

And what is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

When she was 15 in the summer of ’82, she went to a beer party with four boys in Montgomery County, Maryland, in a home where the parents were away.

She says she was dragged into a bedroom by Brett Kavanaugh, a 17-year-old at Georgetown Prep, who jumped her, groped her, tried to tear off her clothes and cupped her mouth with his hand to stop her screams.

Only when Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, laughing “maniacally,” piled on and they all tumbled off the bed, did she escape and lock herself in a bathroom as the “stumbling drunks” went downstairs. She fled the house and told no one of the alleged rape attempt.

Not until 30 years later in 2012 did Ford, now a clinical psychologist in California, relate, in a couples therapy session with her husband, what happened. She says she named Kavanaugh as her assailant, but the therapist’s notes of the session make no mention of Kavanaugh.

During the assault, says Ford, she was traumatized. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me.”

Here the story grows vague. She does not remember who drove her to the party. She does not say how much she drank. She does not remember whose house it was. She does not recall who, if anyone, drove her home. She does not recall what day it was.

She did not tell her parents, Ford says, as she did not want them to know she had been drinking. She did not tell any friend or family member of this traumatic event that has so adversely affected her life.

Said Kavanaugh in response, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Mark Judge says it never happened.

Given the seriousness of the charges, Ford must be heard out. But she also needs to be cross-examined and have her story and character probed as Kavanaugh’s has been by FBI investigators as an attorney for the Ken Starr impeachment investigation of Bill Clinton, a White House aide to George Bush, a U.S. appellate judge and a Supreme Court nominee.

During the many investigations of Kavanaugh’s background, nothing was unearthed to suggest something like this was in character.

Some 65 women who grew up in the Chevy Chase and Bethesda area and knew Kavanaugh in his high school days have come out and spoken highly of his treatment of girls and women.

Moreover, the way in which all of this arose, at five minutes to midnight in the long confirmation process, suggests that this is political hardball, if not dirt ball.

When Ford, a Democrat, sent a letter detailing her accusations against Kavanaugh to her California congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, Ford insisted that her name not be revealed as the accuser.

She seemingly sought to damage or destroy the judge’s career behind a cloak of anonymity. Eshoo sent the letter on to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who held it for two months.

Excising Ford’s name, Feinstein then sent it to the FBI, who sent it to the White House, who sent it on to the Senate to be included in the background material on the judge.

Thus, Ford’s explosive charge, along with her name, did not surface until this weekend.

What is being done here stinks. It is a transparently late hit, a kill shot to assassinate a nominee who, before the weekend, was all but certain to be confirmed and whose elevation to the Supreme Court is a result of victories in free elections by President Trump and the Republican Party.

Palpable here is the desperation of the left to derail Kavanaugh, lest his elevation to the high court imperil their agenda and the social revolution that the Warren Court and its progeny have been able to impose upon the nation.

If Kavanaugh is elevated, the judicial dictatorship of decades past, going back to the salad days of Earl Warren, William Brennan, Hugo Black and “Wild Bill” Douglas, will have reached its end. A new era will have begun.

That is what is at stake.

The Republican Senate should continue with its calendar to confirm Kavanaugh before Oct. 1, while giving Ford some way to be heard, and then Kavanaugh the right to refute. Then let the senators decide.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

The Russian ministry said the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, but this did not stop them from executing “the provocation.” Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came just a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,”the statement said.

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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