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Following Donald Trump’s wiretap accusations Clapper and Comey make only qualified denials

Former DNI Clapper and {reportedly) current FBI Director Comey make strictly qualified denials of President Trump’s wiretap claims.

Alexander Mercouris

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Following Saturday’s charges come Sunday’s denials.

On Saturday in a series of tweets Donald Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping his office in Trump Tower.  A few hours later Obama responded with a statement published by his spokesman which neither admitted nor denied the wiretap but which said that Obama himself had never ordered surveillance within the US on anyone.

Then came an interview for NBC by Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.  In it in carefully chosen words Clapper said that he had “no knowledge” of any FISA court authorising wiretaps of Trump Tower, and that no section of the US intelligence community which he supervised had carried out such a wiretap.

Some sections of the media – especially in Britain the BBC and the Guardian – have reported these denials in a way that gives the impression to a casual viewer or reader that Clapper has denied the existence of the wiretap outright.  This is certainly not so.  Clapper carefully words were

[For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw] there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign…..I can’t speak for other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity

(bold italics added)

In words which have received far less publicity, Clapper also denied that he had seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and said that the report on Russian interference in the election submitted to Obama and Trump, a redacted version of which was provided to Congress, and a further redacted (and content free) version of which was made public, made no such claim

Clapper was also asked on “Meet the Press” if he had any evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while the Kremlin was working to influence the election.

“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper said, based on the information he had before his time in the position ended.

“We did not include anything in our report … that had any reflect of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report,” he said. “We had no evidence of such collusion.”

A few hours after Clapper’s comments, there appeared an article in The New York Times drawing on the usual anonymous sources.  This claimed that shortly after the President published his tweets on Saturday FBI Director Comey contacted the Justice Department to say that the President’s claim that Obama had ordered Trump’s phone in Trump Tower wiretapped was false, and asked the Justice Department to publish a retraction (as of the time of writing the Justice Department has published no such retraction).

In a comment which I see as intended to goad Comey into publishing his own statement denying the President’s claims, The New York Times questions why he has not done so

It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue a statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own records and is in a position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.

As I recall, The New York Times initially also made the very strange claim that because Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russia, Comey was finding it difficult to find anyone in the Justice Department competent to handle his request.

That cannot be true since Sessions’s statement on Friday made it clear that it would be the acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente who would henceforth be supervising the investigation and who Comey would therefore be dealing with.  I notice that the current version of the story in The New York Times no longer makes this claim.

It is always difficult (and perhaps unwise) to comment on something someone is reported to have said based on accounts of what that person is reported to have said which are provided anonymously and at second hand.  Assuming however that The New York Times story is true (as I believe) and assuming that Comey’s concerns are also being reported accurately (which with some qualifications I also believe) then Comey is not actually denying that a wiretap took place, merely that Obama ordered it.  Here is the first paragraph of The New York Times report

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

This is of course what Obama said in his statement on Saturday, and which (as I have already pointed out) is almost certainly true

The statement does not deny that Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower was wiretapped. Nor does it deny that Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ (a flexible word the precise meaning of which has never been made clear) or members of his campaign team were placed under surveillance.

Instead it indirectly denies that Obama himself or people working directly under him in the White House ordered these actions.  It does so by denying they have ever ordered surveillance of any US citizen, something which by the way is almost certainly true.

The statement hints than any order to wiretap Donald Trump’s office or for carrying out surveillance on Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ was the work of officials in the Justice Department, and it seeks to shift responsibility – or blame – onto them.

This too is almost certainly true.

(bold italics added)

On the face of it therefore Comey’s comments – if they are being reported accurately – do not add anything to what following Obama’s statement of Saturday we already know.

Certain other comments attributed to Comey in The New York Times article are attracting less attention, though they are actually very interesting.

Firstly, it seems that what drove Comey to contact the Justice Department is concern that Donald Trump’s tweets on Saturday implied that the FBI by wiretapping his office had broken the law.

Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump levelled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.

Comey’s concern here is entirely legitimate.  As I have said previously, if there was a wiretap and if it was authorised by a court after an application made in the proper way by the Justice Department, then the wiretap was legal.  Comey is absolutely right to want to set the record straight about this.  Presumably in the absence of a public statement that will be done over the course of the Congressional inquiries which the President has now requested.

The second point is even more interesting, which is that The New York Times story again essentially confirms that the FBI investigation into the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is drawing a blank.

In addition to being concerned about potential attacks on the bureau’s credibility, senior F.B.I. officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public’s expectations that the federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

(bold italics added)

This is very twisted language which shows that The New York Times is not reporting this part of the story straightforwardly.  However the meaning is clear enough.  The FBI is worried that the more discussion of its investigation there is – extending all the way to discussions by no less a person than the President himself of court approved wiretaps – the more people will fall for the false ‘no smoke without fire’ argument, and will feel let down by the FBI when it eventually announces that its investigation has drawn a blank.

This is an entirely valid concern, and is one of several reasons why such investigations are supposed to be confidential.

This is the second confirmation within a few hours from people who have held posts within the national security bureaucracy that the endlessly repeated claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are not supported by evidence.  The first was made by Clapper (see above) and the second was made anonymously to The New York Times by officials of the FBI.

These admissions follow a continuous pattern of admissions from officials within the national security bureaucracy now stretching back months that inquiries into claims of collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia are drawing a blank.

Not only in the present paranoid atmosphere are these admissions being ignored, but the security agencies are being constantly bullied to divert more and more resources into more and more inquiries to find the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which officials of the security agencies repeatedly say is not there.

Students of political witch-hunts eg. the Popish Plot in Seventeenth Century England, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, or the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s, will recognise the phenomenon.

The position therefore as of the time of writing is that Obama has denied – though in a very convoluted way – that he ordered a wiretap (though he has hinted that if there was a wiretap it was the Justice Department which requested it), Comey is reported as having also denied that Obama ordered a wiretap, and Clapper has denied that the part of the bureaucracy that he supervised sought or carried out a wiretap.

These are not denials that a wiretap took place.  Neither are they admissions that it did take place.  I have repeatedly warned against the logical error of inferring a positive from a negative, and of treating a denial of one thing as an admission of something else.   What it is fair to say is that the fingers are being pointed towards Obama’s Justice Department, and that so far its senior officers – Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates – are staying silent.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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