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First big defeat for Donald Trump as Michael Flynn exits

The scandal that has ousted General Michael Flynn from the post of National Security Adviser is absurd and concocted. Though there were probably other reasons for his going – including his apparently poor performance in the post of National Security Adviser – his resignation is nonetheless a heavy blow for President Trump.

Alexander Mercouris

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General Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Adviser is by far the biggest blow President Trump has suffered since his inauguration.

As I have written previously, this is a completely concocted scandal.  The most General Flynn is accused of is telling Russian ambassador Kislyak that Russia should not overreact to the sanctions President Obama imposed on Russia during the height of the Clinton leaks hysteria in December.   Even the ‘anonymous officials’  who claim to have seen the transcript of the tapes of his conversations with Kislyak admit that he did not tell Kislyak that President Trump would cancel the sanctions.  Instead all Flynn did was call for was restraint.

I cannot see how this could possibly have threatened US national security.  Nor do I see how – just three weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration – it could be considered to be ‘undermining’ President Obama’s foreign policy, which Donald Trump was publicly criticising anyway.

It seems that back in January that was also the FBI’s view, and that it was reporting that after checking the transcripts of Flynn’s telephone conversations with Kislyak, that it could find nothing illicit in them.  That is obviously right, and in any sane world that would have been the end of the whole affair.

Yet on the strength of these calls Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General apparently advised the White House that General Flynn might have committed an offence under the Logan Act and initiated an FBI investigation of General Flynn’s actions, saying he might have opened himself up to blackmail by the Russian government.

It should be said clearly that this is totally absurd.  Town Hall has provided a comprehensive refutation of the claim that there has been an offence under the Logan Act and as I cannot improve on it I here reproduce it

[T]he Logan Act dates to 1799, when a state legislator with no ties to any administration tried to assert himself as personal negotiator for final peace with France. The anti-Jefferson Federalists did not like this private initiative, so passed the Logan Act to make private ventures intent on negotiating personal treaties over international feuds a crime. The bill was whipped out in days.

And in the 200 years since, not a single individual has ever been prosecuted under the act, not one. And its constitutionality is widely doubted in any event, even by Democrat legal scholars. Funny how precedent and constitutionality matter when they work for a party, and not at all when they work against it.

The folly of casting anyone – let alone General Flynn, an incoming National Security Advisor – as violator of this important-sounding, but utterly obsolete and toothless Logan Act would be funny enough, if it were not being dressed up in congressional outrage, with somber questions like – yes – “what did he know, and when did he know it?” Watergate already, really?

To compound the absurdity, if General Flynn violated the Logan Act by talking to the Russian ambassador, then Barack Obama as a candidate in 2008 did so on a far greater scale.  As Town Hall also says

In July 2008, independent of any policy conversations by staff, candidate Obama went to the Middle East and Europe and spoke extensively, one-on-one, about policy with leaders from Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, France, Germany and Britain. As a candidate, not as a president-elect.

Without thought of violating the Logan Act, Mr. Obama conducted substantive conversations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s Prime Minister Elud Olmert, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his predecessor Tony Blair and opposition leader David Cameron. In short, in an effort to transparently promote his presidential candidacy, with all manner of topics, candidate Obama flew straight into the Logan Act…..

To cap the irony and Obama counter-example, before assuming office and not president-elect, Mr. Obama spoke of peace and how to end world conflicts on July 24, 2008, in a speech at the Victory Column in Berlin, before an estimated 200,000 people. But no talk of Logan Act. None.

It has been suggested rather portentously that the true reason General Flynn resigned was not because of the conversations he had with Kislyak but because he lied about these conversations to Vice-President Pence, and that a furious Pence has taken umbrage and has insisted that Flynn must go.

This is only marginally less absurd.

Firstly since General Flynn did nothing remotely wrong either by holding the conversations with Kislyak or by what he is reported to have said during them, what he said about them to Vice-President Pence really shouldn’t matter.

Secondly, it is overwhelmingly likely that General Flynn – as he says – simply made a mistake.

As a former intelligence officer General Flynn surely knows that Kislyak’s telephone conversations are monitored by US intelligence.  Indeed it is a virtual certainty that as the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency he has actually seen transcripts of Kislyak’s conversations and of those of other Russian officials.

Given that that is so Flynn would surely have known when he reported to Pence that US intelligence had been listening in to his conversations with Kislyak and that any lie he said to Pence would be quickly discovered.  Since he didn’t in fact say anything remotely improper to Kislyak he wouldn’t have had any reason to lie anyway.

Most likely Flynn thought he was being asked whether he had told Kislyak that the Trump administration would lift the sanctions, which he denied doing because he didn’t do so.  In the confusion this was mistaken for a denial that the subject of the sanctions was even discussed, when it was in fact touched on, though only in the most innocuous way.

In the rush of events this sort of thing occasionally happens, and in his resignation statement Flynn all but says that this is what happened.  It is by far the most plausible explanation for the whole affair, and no-one who is not completely paranoid or who is not pursuing an agenda would think otherwise.

Why then has Flynn been forced to resign?

There is a possibility that, disproportionate though that would be, Vice-President Pence might indeed have been genuinely angry about the mix-up, and might – despite receiving an apology from Flynn – have been so angry with Flynn that he insisted that Flynn should go.  It is becoming increasingly clear that Pence is a key figure within the Trump administration, and if he is indeed as angry with Flynn as some reports suggest, then Trump may have felt that he had no option but to let Flynn go.

I have to say however that my own view is that the explanation that Flynn was forced to go because he lied to Pence looks to me like a cover story to hide the true reasons why Flynn had to go.

I suspect these are (1) that Flynn is still the subject of the FBI probe launched by Sally Yates; and (2) that there were increasing doubts about Flynn’s fitness for the role of National Security Adviser.

Turning first to the FBI probe, Sally Yates’s warnings to the White House that Flynn might be blackmailed by the Russian government because of what he said to Kislyak on the telephone, and the claim that he might have violated the Logan Act, are for the reasons I have discussed previously absurd.  As I have said media reports that circulated in January were saying that the FBI after checking the transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak could find nothing illicit in them.  Nonetheless it seems the probe Sally Yates ordered is still continuing.

In passing I should say that I find it impossible to believe that Sally Yates herself genuinely believes that the warnings she is supposed to have given the White House about Flynn are anything other than absurd.  What they in fact show is not that there is a serious case against Flynn but – as was also shown by Yates’s refusal to defend the ‘travel ban’ Executive Order in the courts – that as Acting Attorney General Yates was actively working against the President and the administration she was supposed to be serving, in this case by making farfetched claims against one of the President’s advisers.

The problem is that absurd though the FBI probe Sally Yates launched is, once launched it cannot be stopped by Presidential order, since doing so would be an abuse of Presidential power.

The result is that Flynn and the whole administration risked being distracted for weeks or months by constant sniping by the Democrats and the administration’s enemies within the US bureaucracy whilst the probe was underway.  It is therefore understandable that Trump’s two closest political advisers – Preibus and Bannon – apparently both concluded that the administration simply could not afford this, and decided that Flynn would have to go.

I would add that the recent media attacks on Flynn are grounded on the fact that an FBI investigation is underway.  Had there not been such an investigation it is difficult to see how the media attacks on Flynn could have gained traction.  Indeed it is doubtful they would have happened at all.  Given that were it not for these media attacks Flynn would still be President Trump’s National Security Adviser, Flynn’s ouster is Sally Yates’s parting gift to an administration she clearly deeply opposes and was working against.

Having said all this, Donald Trump and his team would probably have stuck with Flynn had there not also been serious concerns about his performance as National Security Adviser.

By most accounts Flynn is an abrasive personality, who makes enemies easily, and there have been numerous reports of his poor management skills in a job where such skills are essential.  The fact that he obviously failed to take proper notes of his conversations with Kislyak – relying instead on his memory – is just one example of his sloppy approach to paperwork, something which incidentally must have dismayed Pence the lawyer.

Flynn also clearly has an obsessive streak, as shown by his pathological hostility to Iran, which is obviously inappropriate for someone who is the President’s most important adviser on national security questions.

There is also another possible problem with Flynn, which may have worked against him.  This is his habit of self-promotion as shown by his extraordinary appearance in the White House briefing room to read out his statement about Iran.

In the 1970s, in the age of Kissinger and Brzezinski, the President’s National Security Adviser ran US foreign policy, ousting the Secretary of State and the State Department from that role.  Unsurprisingly Kissinger and Brzezinsky were media stars, far outshining the Secretaries of State of the period (William Rogers, Cyrus Vance and Edward Muskie).

In the 1980s under Ronald Reagan a successful effort was made to re-establish the Secretary of State’s and the State Department’s primacy in managing the nation’s foreign policy, with the National Security Adviser once again relegated to an advisory role.  Since then no National Security Adviser has achieved anything like the power or prominence that Kissinger and Brzezinski once had.

It is not impossible that the very public role Flynn was carving out for himself alarmed some people within the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy, with fears that Flynn was seeking to make himself Donald Trump’s Kissinger or Brzezinski.  If so it would not be surprising if the bureaucracy united against him to see off the challenge, with even senior officials like Tillerson and Mattis in that case probably wanting Flynn to go.

Whatever the reasons for his going, Flynn’s departure is however a serious blow for Donald Trump.

It is a much more serious blow than the court decisions on the ‘travel ban’ Executive Order, which I expect the administration to reverse or overcome.

Losing Flynn by contrast shows weakness, and has given Donald Trump’s many enemies – including those in the bureaucracy – their first blood.  They will now be hungering for more.

Trump and his advisers presumably calculated that the damage that would have been done by holding on to Flynn would have been greater than the damage that was done by letting him go.  Time will show whether they are right.  Much will depend on who Trump choses to replace him.

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Some Russian monarchists want Tsar Vladimir Putin

Latest news from Russian monarchists highlight the debate over bringing the Russian Empire back to life in modern times.

Seraphim Hanisch

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A December 13 report in The Wall Street Journal shone light on a notion that has been afoot in the Russian Federation since the fall of Communism in 1991 – the restoration of the Monarchy as the form of government, complete with a new Tsar of all the Russias.

Of course, some of these monarchists have a top contender in mind for that post, none other than President Vladimir Putin himself.

This idea has long been used in a pejorative light in the West, as various shadowy and not-so-shadowy elements in the American media speculated over the years that Mr. Putin was actually aspiring to become Tsar. This was thrown around until probably the time that the Russian president spoke, lamenting the fall of Communism, and since then the prime accusation has been that President Putin wants to bring back the Soviet Union.

This is not true. It also does not appear to be the case that the Russian president wants to be Tsar. But the monarchists are not fazed in the slightest. Here is excerpted material from the WSJ piece, with emphases added:

The last time term limits forced Russian leader Vladimir Putin to step down from the presidency, he became prime minister for a few years.

This time around, a group of pro-Kremlin activists have a different idea: Proclaim him Czar Vladimir.

“We will do everything possible to make sure Putin stays in power as long as possible,” Konstantin Malofeyev, a politically active businessman, said recently to thunderous applause from hundreds of Russian Orthodox priests and members of the country’s top political parties gathered at a conference outside Moscow. They were united by one cause—to return the monarchy to Russia…

Even among those who want a monarchy, however, there are splits over what kind it should be. Is an absolute monarchy better than a constitutional monarchy? Should a blood line be established or should the czar be elected? For those who favor male succession, would it be a problem that Mr. Putin reportedly only has two daughters? Some have even suggested others besides Mr. Putin should accede to the throne.

There is a very keen interest indeed among some in Russia that propose various options as to who might best become Tsar in the event that the Monarchy is restored.

Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia, together with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Department of External Relations

One candidate that has received significant attention is a man by the name of George Mikhailovich Romanov. He is an actual member of the Royal family, the heir apparent to Maria Vladimirovna Romanova, Grand Duchess of Russia. There are other heir apparents as well, and the issue as to who it should be has not been settled among the surviving members of the Romanov family.

The restoration of the Russian monarchy is unique because to carries strong religious significance. As far back as the 8th and 9th centuries, A.D., a host of saints and prophets appear to have foreseen the advent of the Soviet times and the restoration of the Tsar after their conclusion.

Some such prophecies are attributed to anonymous sources, but some are named. Here are two with rather extensive editing, so please go to the site linked for the fullest description of the prophecies.

Monk Abel the Prophet (+1831).

In a conversation with Tsar Paul I (+1801), after prophesying the destinies of all the Tsars from Paul I to Nicholas II:

“What is impossible for man is possible for God. God delays with His help, but it is said that He will give it soon and will raise the horn of Russian salvation. And there will arise a great prince from your race in exile, who stands for the sons of his people. He will be a chosen one of God, and on his head will be blessing. He will be the only one comprehensible to all, the very heart of Russia will sense him. His appearance will be sovereign and radiant, and nobody will say: ‘The Tsar is here or there’, but all will say: ‘That is him’. The will of the people will submit to the mercy of God, and he himself will confirm his calling. His name has occurred three times in Russian history. Two of the same name have already been on the throne, but not on the Tsar’s throne. But he will sit on the Tsar’s throne as the third. In him will be the salvation and happiness of the Russian realm.”

“Russian hopes will be realized upon [the cathedral of Hagia] Sophia in Tsargrad [Constantinople]; the Orthodox Cross will gleam again; Holy Rus will be filled with the smoke of incense and prayer, and will blossom like a heavenly lily.”

And from one of the most famous saints in Russian history:

St. John of Kronstadt (+1908):

“I foresee the restoration of a powerful Russia, still stronger and mightier than before. On the bones of these martyrs, remember, as on a strong foundation, will the new Russia we built – according to the old model; strong in her faith in Christ God and in the Holy Trinity! And there will be, in accordance with the covenant of the holy Prince Vladimir, a single Church! Russian people have ceased to understand what Rus is: it is the footstool of the Lord’s Throne! The Russian person must understand this and thank God that he is Russian.”

“The Church will remain unshaken to the end of the age, and a Monarch of Russia, if he remains faithful to the Orthodox Church, will be established on the Throne of Russia until the end of the age.”

What may surprise those in the West is that there are a great many people in Russia and in Orthodox Christian countries in general who take these prophecies quite seriously.

Interestingly enough, when the idea of restoring the monarchy was brought to President Putin’s attention, he regarded the idea as “beautiful” according to Lt. General Leonid Reshetnikov, but also expressed concern that it would lead to stagnation within the country.

A second statement, this one by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, noted that President Putin does not like the idea of bringing back the monarchy, but offered no comment on the conversation with Mr. Reshetnikov.

The idea of restoring the monarchy is not completely absurd. Britain overthrew its own monarchy in 1649 during that country’s Civil War, but it was restored shortly afterwards under King Charles II. Spain cast aside its monarchy in 1931, with its king, Alfonso XIII going into exile, but after sixteen years this monarchy, too, was restored.

Both of these monarchies have become largely ceremonial, with most governing functions carried out through some kind of Parliament and Prime Minister. It is therefore not clear what a ruling monarchy in Russia would look like.

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US confirms pullout from INF treaty, Moscow will respond if missiles placed in Europe – deputy FM

Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

RT

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Via RT…


Washington has confirmed its decision to withdraw from the INF treaty is final, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said, adding that Moscow will ‘take measures’ if American missiles that threaten its security are placed in Europe.

“Washington publicly announced its plans to withdraw from the treaty (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) already in October. Through the high-level bilateral channels it was confirmed to us that this decision was final and wasn’t an attempt to initiate dialogue,” Sergey Ryabkov told the Kommersant newspaper.

The Deputy FM said that Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

“We’ll be forced to come up with effective compensating measures. I’d like to warn against pushing the situation towards the eruption of new ‘missile crises.’ I am convinced that no sane country could be interested in something like this,” he said.

Russia isn’t threatening anybody, but have the necessary strength and means to counter any aggressor.
Back in October, President Donald Trump warned that Washington was planning unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty because “Russia has not adhered to the agreement.” The US leader also promised that the country would keep boosting its nuclear arsenal until Russia and China “come to their senses.”

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington will suspend its obligations under the treaty within 60 days if Russia does not “return to compliance.”

Signed in late 1988, the INF agreement was considered a milestone in ending the arms race between the US and the USSR.

In recent years, Moscow and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of violating the INF deal. While the US has alleged that Russia has developed missiles prohibited by the treaty, Russia insists that the American anti-missile systems deployed in Eastern Europe can actually be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.

The deputy FM said that Washington “never made a secret” of the fact that its INF treaty pullout “wasn’t so much about problems between the US and Russia, but about the desire of the Americans to get rid of all restrictions that were inconvenient for them.”

The US side expressed belief that the INF deal “significantly limits the US military’s capabilities to counter states with arsenals of medium-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles,” which threaten American interests, he said. “China, Iran and North Korea” were specifically mentioned by Washington, Ryabkov added.

“I don’t think that we’re talking about a new missile crisis, but the US plans are so far absolutely unclear,” Mikhail Khodarenok, retired colonel and military expert, told RT, reminding that the Americans have avoided any type of “meaningful discussion” with Moscow in regards to its INF deal pullout.

While “there’ll be no deployment of [US missiles] in Europe any time soon,” Moscow should expect that Washington would try to void other agreements with Russia as well, Khodarenok warned.

The INF deal “just stopped being beneficial for the US. Next up are all the other arms control treaties. There’ll be no resistance from the NATO allies [to US actions],” he said.

“The neocons who run Trump’s foreign policy never have liked arms reduction treaties,” former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT. “The new START treaty which comes up for renewal also could be in jeopardy.”

“The risk of a new nuclear buildup is really quite obvious” if the US withdrawals from the INF treaty, Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told RT.

“I think the relations between the great powers – the US and Russia as well as the US and China – are more difficult than they’ve been for a long time,” he added.

However, with Washington having indicated that it wants China to be part of the new deal, “there are still possibilities for negotiations and agreement,” according to Smith. Nonetheless, he warned that following this path will demand strong political will and tactical thinking from the leadership of all three countries.

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US Pressures Germany To Ditch Huawei Over ‘Security Concerns’

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

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Via Zerohedge


First it was Australia, New Zealand and Japan, now the US is pressing the German government to refuse to use equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom giant Huawei as Europe’s largest economy seeks to build out its 5G infrastructure.

According to Bloomberg, a US delegation met on Friday with German Foreign Ministry officials in Berlin to talk about the security risks presented by Huawei’s equipment, which the US says is vulnerable to spying. The meeting in Germany follows a report from late last month claiming the US had launched an “extraordinary outreach campaign” to warn its allies against using Huawei equipment (while its vulnerability to Chinese spying has been cited as the reason to avoid Huawei, it’s also worth noting that the US and China are locked in a battle for who will dominate the global 5G space…a battle that Huawei is currently winning).

Germany is set to hold an auction early next year to find a supplier to help expand its 5G network. The Berlin meeting took place one day after Deutsche Telekom said it would reexamine its decision to use Huawei equipment.

US officials are optimistic that their warnings are getting a hearing, though any detailed talks are in early stages and no concrete commitments have been made, according to one of the people.

The US pressure on Germany underscores increased scrutiny of Huawei as governments grapple with fears that the telecom-equipment maker’s gear is an enabler for Chinese espionage. The Berlin meeting took place a day after German carrier Deutsche Telekom AG said it will re-evaluate its purchasing strategy on Huawei, an indication that it may drop the Chinese company from its list of network suppliers.

France is also reportedly considering further restrictions after adding Huawei products to its “high alert” list. The US has already passed a ban preventing government agencies from using anything made by Huawei. But the telecoms equipment provider isn’t taking these threats to its business lying down.

U.S. warnings over espionage are a delicate matter in Germany. Revelations over the scale of the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence, including reports of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone, are still fresh in Berlin five years after they came to light.

Huawei is pushing back against the accusations. The company’s rotating chairman warned this week that blacklisting the Chinese company without proof will hurt the industry and disrupt the emergence of new wireless technology globally. Ken Hu, speaking at a Huawei manufacturing base in Dongguan, cited “groundless speculation,” in some of the first public comments since the shock arrest of the company’s chief financial officer.

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. In an editorial published Sunday, the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Communist Party, warned that China should retaliate against any country that – like Australia – takes a hard line against Huawei. So, if you’re a German citizen in Beijing, you might want to consider getting the hell out of Dodge.

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