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Washington does the unthinkable, kills Syrian troops and helps ISIS

U.S. air strikes on Syrian army positions at Deir Ezzor looks like the U.S. is warning Russia, as the Lavrov – Kerry agreement unravels.

Alexander Mercouris

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News of the US air strikes on the Syrian military positions near the besieged eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor comes as Russian criticism of the US failure to abide by the terms of last Sunday’s Lavrov – Kerry agreement is intensifying.

The first point to make about this attack is that though the US immediately backed off after receiving a Russian warning, the US claim that the attack was a mistake stretches credulity to breaking point.

The US says the situation in Syria is complicated, which is true, and says that this is the reason for the attack, which it insists was a mistake.  The key point however is that though the situation may be complicated in other parts of Syria, it is not complicated in Deir Ezzor at all. 

There are only two parties fighting each other in this part of Syria: the Syrian army and ISIS.  Other Jihadi groups in this part of Syria have either been driven out by ISIS or have been absorbed by ISIS, which is the only military force fighting the Syrian army in this area.

It is just possible that the US confused Syrian troops with ISIS troops, and attacked them by mistake in this area.  However given the comprehensive surveillance means the US has at its disposal, that hardly seems likely.  

Besides it is not clear why the US is carrying out air strikes against ISIS in the area of Deir Ezzor at all, when the only force which is fighting ISIS in this area is not any one of the US’s allies or supposed allies but the Syrian army.

As it happens, the Russians and the Syrians say the attack was made near a Syrian air force base which ISIS was attacking, enabling ISIS to capture a defence line near the base.  If so, it is all but inconceivable the US didn’t know this, and didn’t know who it was attacking.

The second point to make about this attack is that it appears to have been followed almost immediately by an ISIS attack on the Syrian troops who were targeted by the air strike. 

On the face of it that makes it look like a US military air strike carried out to provide air support to an attack on the Syrian army carried out by ISIS troops.

Though that would be shocking if it were true, it is not the first time that there has been an air attack by US led coalition aircraft on Syrian troops fighting ISIS in this area. Exactly the same thing happened in this same area on 6th December 2015.

On that occasion the Russians did not disclose the nationality of the aircraft that attacked the Syrian army positions near Deir Ezzor on 6th December 2015, though they made it fairly clear that they knew who they were.  They did however say that the aircraft belonged to the US led coalition.   The US denied carrying out the strike, and claimed that the Russians had carried out the strike by mistake themselves.

On this latest occasion the Russians have publicly identified the attacking aircraft as American.  It seems four aircraft were involved: two F16s and two A10s.  Moreover the US on this occasion has admitted carrying out the strike.

What is going on?

It is very difficult to see this as anything else other than as an intended warning by the US to the Russians.  The events of the last few days leading up to the strike show why such a warning might have been given.

In the last few days, and in the last few hours especially, the Russians have been stepping up their criticism that the US is not abiding by the terms of the Lavrov – Kerry agreement that was reached on 9th September 2016. 

The Russian military has publicly complained that only the Syrian army is abiding by the cessation of hostilities that was agreed by Lavrov and Kerry last Sunday.  RT reports a senior Russian General Staff official, Viktor Poznikhir, saying the following at a briefing in Moscow.

“After five days of the ceasefire, it has to be noted that only the Russian and Syrian sides have been fully implementing their commitments. On its own initiative, Russia prolonged the cessation of hostilities for 48 hours, and yesterday it was extended for another 72 hours.  The US and the so-called moderate groups under their control didn’t fulfil a single commitment undertaken in the framework of the Geneva arrangements.  The main priority of the Russian-American agreements of September was the division of territories controlled by IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, and the areas controlled by the ‘moderate opposition,’ as well the separation of the ‘moderate opposition’ from Jabhat al-Nusra.  [Such a division is essential for the implementation of the ceasefire in Syria because] without it, the hands of the government forces are tied. They can’t fight the terrorists without knowing which of them joined the truce and who didn’t.

[Numerous Russian appeals to the American side remain unanswered, which] raises doubts over the US’s ability to influence opposition groups under their control and their willingness to further ensure the implementation of the Geneva agreements.  Russia is making every possible effort to hold off government troops from the use of force in return [to opposition attacks]. If the US does not implement the necessary measures to fulfill their obligations under the September 9 agreements, the responsibility for the failure of the ceasefire will be solely America’s.

Tensions are rising in Syria, especially in the provinces of Aleppo and Hama, where opposition groups are using the cessation of hostilities to regroup forces, refill their stocks of ammunition and weapons and are preparing an offensive in order to capture new territories.  In the past 24 hours, the number of attacks has increased drastically. The positions of government troops, the people’s militia, and civilians were fired at on 55 occasions”.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov and Kerry spoke on the telephone on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating situation. Putin himself then added to the growing sense of crisis by weighing in.  In answer to journalists’ questions at the CIS Council of Heads of State in Bishkek he is reported by Russia’s Presidential website to have said

“We agreed that Jabhat al-Nusra and others of their ilk have to be separated and it has been shown where they are and where these so-called “healthy” forces are. What do we see now? We see no separation of terrorists from this “healthy” part of the opposition, instead we see these terrorists making attempts to regroup, replace one set of signboards with another, replace one name with another and preserve their military potential. This is what we see.”

(note the use of quotation marks qualifying the word “healthy” is in the original text published by Russia’s Presidential website and was presumably authorised by Putin himself)

However the single thing that may have infuriated the US most is that the Russians have been publicly supporting the mounting demands from around the world – including from some of the US’s allies like France – to have the full text of the Lavrov – Kerry agreement published.

During his press conference in Bishkek Putin not only confirmed that it was the US that had insisted that the text of the agreement be kept secret, but also dropped heavy hints as to why this might be so

“Our US partners have always stood for openness and transparency. There is nothing surprising for me that in this case they proceed from their postulate. I can tell you why: this has to do with the difficulties that the United States is facing on the Syrian track. The difficulty is that they can in no way separate the so-called “healthy” part of the opposition from the semi-criminal and terrorist elements.

In my opinion, this is dictated by the desire to preserve the military potential in the fight against the lawful government of President Assad. However, this is a slippery slope; we have often spoken about this. Our US partners seem to be again falling into the same trap they have fallen into so many times. This is a dangerous scenario.”

It is very easy to see how the US might construe comments like this as a threat by the Russians to publish the Lavrov – Kerry agreement unless the US complies with it. 

What may have made the US particularly angry is that on Friday the Russians attempted to use a joint US – Russian presentation at the UN Security Council as a device to get the text of the agreement published.  The US flatly rejected this, and the presentation and joint discussion that had been scheduled to take place at the UN Security Council had to be called off.

Behind the US refusal to publish the text of the agreement is doubtless US embarrassment that the agreement effectively requires the evacuation of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo. 

It is universally accepted by all objective observers of the Syrian conflict that the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo belong either to Jabhat Al-Nusra or to groups closely affiliated with it.  the Lavrov – Kerry agreement, which requires that Syrian opposition fighters separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, whom the agreement brands terrorists, is therefore tantamount to US agreement that the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters occupying eastern Aleppo withdraw from the city.  It is very likely the Lavrov – Kerry agreement or one of its annexes or protocols spells this out. 

Since that is tantamount to an agreement that eastern Aleppo be surrendered to the Syrian government, it is not surprising the US is reacting fiercely to demands the text of the agreement be made public.

This is probably what is behind the air strike in Deir Eizzor.  It looks like a threat to the Russians by the US – or at any rate by the hardliners in Washington – that any move by Moscow to blame the US for the failure of the agreement or to publish its terms will result in an immediate escalation of US military action on behalf of the Jihadis in eastern Syria.  That this means aligning the US with ISIS – as Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova is rightly pointing out  – is a price that some people in Washington seem prepared to pay.

As of the time of writing the US is desperately rowing back.  It seems the US underestimated the strength of the Russian reaction to the Deir Ezzor attack, and did not anticipate that the Russians would complain about it to the UN Security Council, which is what the Russians have done. 

Since the attack the Russians are saying that the ceasefire now hangs by a thread.  Even before the attack there were reports of Syrian troops returning – apparently with Russian agreement – to their previous positions on Aleppo’s Castello road.

The US of course knows that with the Jihadi offensive on south west Aleppo defeated, and with the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo surrounded, the result of the collapse of the ceasefire would be the eventual defeat of the Jihadi force in eastern Aleppo.  It was this knowledge which caused the US to agree to the Lavrov – Kerry agreement in the first place.

The US action in Deir Ezzor however shows how unreconciled to this reality powerful sections of the US bureaucracy – including especially Ashton Carter’s Pentagon – are.  It seems that there are some people in Washington who are prepared to go to almost any lengths to undermine the Lavrov – Kerry agreement in order to avoid surrendering eastern Aleppo and so as to prevent what many in Washington obviously see as the ultimate humiliation of a joint military campaign with the Russians against ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. 

The prospects for the Lavrov – Kerry agreement depend on the realists in Washington facing down the hardliners. Despite the apologies and regrets currently pouring out of Washington, after the attack on Deir Ezzor the prospects for them succeeding don’t look good.

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Trump witch hunt dots connected: CNN to Steele to John McCain (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss documents released which show that Christopher Steele admitted to using posts by ‘random individuals’ on the CNN community website ‘iReport’ in order to back up his fabricated Trump dossier.

President Trump took note of Steele’s use of CNN citizen journalist posts, in a twitter tirade that blasted the British ex-spy for running with unverified community generated content from a now now-defunct ‘iReports’ website as part of his research.

Trump the proceeded to rip into late neocon Arizona Senator John McCain, tweeting that it was “just proven in court papers” that “last in his class” McCain sent the Steele’s dossier to media outlets in the hopes that they would print it prior to the 2016 US election.

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Via The Daily Caller

A federal court unsealed 43 pages Thursday of a deposition that former British spy Christopher Steele gave as part of a lawsuit over his infamous anti-Trump dossier.

To the disappointment of many observers, the full deposition was not unsealed in Thursday’s motion. Instead, portions of Steele’s interview, which he gave in London on July 13, 2018, were unsealed in separate court filings submitted in the lawsuit.

Steele’s full deposition totaled 145 pages. The portions published Thursday focus mainly on questions about the dossier’s claims about Aleksej Gubarev, a tech executive who Steele alleges took part in the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems.

Gubarev has vehemently denied the claim and sued Steele and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who handled the lawsuit, ordered a slew of previously sealed documents to be made public Thursday. Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 19 but did not weigh in on whether the dossier’s claims about Gubarev were accurate.

It is unclear whether Steele’s entire deposition will be released. A source familiar with Steele’s interview tempered expectations of any bombshells in the document, saying that Steele avoided going into detail about his efforts to create the dossier and his sources.

A deposition given by former State Department official David Kramer was perhaps the most enlightening document contained in the dump.

Kramer, a longtime associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, was BuzzFeed’s source for the dossier. Kramer shared the dossier with at least 11 other reporters, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein. (RELATED: John McCain Associate Gave Dossier To A Dozen Reporters)

Kramer obtained the dossier in late November 2016 after visiting Steele in London. Steele acknowledged that Kramer and McCain were picked as conduits to pass the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey. McCain met with Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 and provided all of the dossier’s memos that had been written up to that point.

“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said in the deposition when asked why Steele and his business partners at Fusion GPS wanted McCain to meet with Comey.

Via Washington Examiner

Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the “Trump dossier,” which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation into Trump.

According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN’s iReport website and said he wasn’t aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy.

web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.”

In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.

When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” Steele said when asked what was his understanding of how the iReport website worked.

When asked if he understood that content on the site was not generated by CNN reporters, he said, “I do not.” He was then asked: “Do you understand that they have no connection to any CNN reporters?” Steele replied, “I do not.”

He was pressed on this further: “Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” Steele replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

When asked about his methodology for searching for this information, Steele described it as “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the Internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”

Steele said his dossier contained “raw intelligence” that he admitted could contain untrue or even “deliberately false information.”

Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Fusion GPS was receiving funding at the time from the Clinton campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm.

The series of memos that Steele would eventually compile became known as the “Trump Dossier.” The dossier was used in FISA applications to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

When asked whether he warned Fusion GPS that the information in the dossier might be “Russian disinformation,” Steele admitted that “a general understanding existed between us and Fusion … that all material contained this risk.”

Steele also described his interactions with Sen. John McCain’s aide, David Kramer, whose own deposition showed that he provided BuzzFeed with a copy of the dossier and had spoken with more than a dozen journalists about it.

“I provided copies of the December memo to Fusion GPS for onward passage to David Kramer at the request of Sen. John McCain,” Steele said. “Sen. McCain nominated him as the intermediary. I did not choose him as the intermediary.”

When asked if he told Kramer that he couldn’t “vouch for everything that was produced in the memos,” Steele replied, “Yes, with an emphasis on ‘everything.'”

When asked why he believed it was so important to provide the dossier to Sen. McCain, Steele said: “Because I judged it had national security implications for the United States and the West as a whole.”

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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