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Has Barack Obama already ceded his Syria policy to Hillary Clinton?

Though US President Barack Obama has managed to restrain the more belligerent voices in the US administration demanding military intervention in Syria, he has never succeeded in fully imposing his authority on them, and he now anyway appears to be ceding control of Syrian policy to the much more hawkish Hillary Clinton.

Joe Lauria

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Throughout five years of war in Syria President Obama has been in a constant internal struggle with hawks in his administration who want the U.S. to directly intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government.

On at least four occasions Obama has stood up to them. At other times has has compromised and gone half way. With less than three months to go in office, Obama appears to be leaving his Syria policy to those aligned with the lead hawk who might soon take Obama’s place.

When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton failed to convince Obama to consistently take a tough line on Syria.  She wanted him to realize her two main policies, which she still clings to:  a safe zone on the ground and a no-fly zone in the air.

Both would protect rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which she calls her top foreign policy priority. It was the model Clinton had convinced a reluctant Obama to adopt in Libya. It led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi but ultimately turned that county into a failed state.

Libya was emblematic of the disarray following regime change that has marked nearly two decades of neoconservative influence in Washington: dividing and weakening defiant states, while American contractors profit from the chaos that bleeds the locals to death.

Obama learned from Libya. He said his biggest regret was having no plan for the aftermath. It left him deeply skeptical about intervention in Syria.  But given his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he should have already understood what happens after the U.S. overthrows regimes these days.

In the early years of the CIA, in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954, as illegal and as unjustified as those coups were, the agency had viable leaders groomed to take over in competition with the Soviet Union. But all that changed after the Cold War ended.  “We can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us,” arch-neocon Paul Wolfowitz boasted before the Iraq invasion.

Today neoconservatives and liberal interventionists (such as Clinton) act like gamblers who can’t leave the table. Disaster for Iraqis and Libyans hasn’t dissuaded them from wagering on Syria.  It seems to have only encouraged them.

That regime change in the guise of “spreading democracy” in the Middle East instead spawns chaos and terrorism only gives the hawks further reason to intervene, create more chaos and make more money, while weakening nations defying Washington.

Clinton began laying a bet on regime change in Damascus by pushing to arm rebels in the summer of 2012. One of her leaked emails explains her motive:  to break up the Tehran to Damascus to southern Lebanon supply line to Hezbollah—a long standing Israeli objective.

Obama refused at this point to arm the rebels. But an August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document showed that U.S. intelligence agencies were up to their own designs in Syria, with or without Obama’s approval.

Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn, who headed the DIA at the time, said it was a “willful decision” in Washington to support a “Salafist principality”—a safe area for jihadist rebels—in eastern Syria to put pressure on Damascus.  He didn’t say who in Washington ultimately decided. The DIA document made public last year warns that these Salafists could join with jihadists from Iraq to form an “Islamic State.” And indeed two years later they did.

While this was gestating in August 2013 Obama again showed some independence on Syria after seeing the consequences of the Clinton-led disaster in Libya: a failed state radiating arms and jihadis to Syria and the Sahel. 

This time Obama compromised with the hawks. He eventually agreed to arm the rebels. But he resisted pressure to launch cruise missiles against Syrian government targets after his “redline” was supposedly crossed by a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

As we now know, the CIA did not think it a “slam dunk” that Syria did it. Evidence has pointed to the rebels. So Obama instead took Russia’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons stocks, which in time it did, infuriating the neocons.

An Even Bolder Putin Offer

Russian President Vladimir Putin followed with another offer to the United States in September 2015, delivered from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly:  He proposed joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes against the now fully formed Islamic State and associated jihadists.

These extremists were seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an undemocratic leader in a police state, but who posed no threat to the West. The jihadists had by now clearly become the greater evil in Syria. In time ISIS would plan or inspire attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Egypt and the United States.

More than three years earlier I reported that Russia’s motive to support Assad to was stop the spread of jihadism that threatened the West and Russia.  Now Putin put it on the record in his U.N. speech. He invoked the World War II alliance between enemies that together faced a greater threat. “Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” Putin said. 

This time Obama sided with the hawks and immediately rejected the offer. We now know why. In a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than fight ISIS, or Daesh, in Syria, was instead ready to use its growing strength to pressure Assad to resign—the original intention outlined in the DIA document.

“We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened….ah, we thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him,” Kerry said.

Moscow began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States. Russia’s motives have been made abundantly clear by Putin and other Russian officials.

For instance, last month Putin told French TV channel TF1: “Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organisations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces? … These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Such clear explanation are rarely reported seriously by Western corporate media. Instead it peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. That seems to indicate the U.S. would have tolerated ISIS coming to the verge of power if it meant ousting Assad.   

Washington may have then intended to turn its firepower on ISIS once Assad was gone. But this presumes Assad would have stepped down, rather than make a last stand in Damascus. Had it gone that far the U.S. was risking an Islamic State government in Syria.

Putin had warned the General Assembly about such a gamble with terrorism: “The Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes.” He said it was irresponsible “to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.”

Pipelines

There may another motive for Russia’s intervention in Syria beyond a sincere goal of crushing jihadism. There’s the argument that the uprising against Assad financed by the Arab Gulf came after he turned down a proposed gas pipeline running from Qatar in 2009.

A year later Syria was in flames. There is precedent for such a motive. The first coup led by the two-year old CIA in 1949 in Syria came when the elected government rejected a Saudi pipeline deal. The government was removed and replaced by a military leader who let the pipeline be built.

A Qatar gas pipeline through Syria to supply Europe would compete with Russia’s sales of natural gas to the continent. Keeping Assad in power prevents that.

Perhaps Assad had to chose between the Gulf or Russia, not understanding that the sore losers  would launch a jihadist war to oust him. It reminds one of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s choice between the EU or Russia. He also didn’t count on that decision leading to his violent downfall.

The Safe Area

Hillary Clinton has been pushing for a no-fly zone and a safe area in Syria since she ran the State Department.  She has called for both as recently as the last presidential debate, despite the inherent dangers of confronting Russia. 

The safe area is supposed to shelter internally displaced Syrians to prevent them from becoming refugees. But it could also be used as a staging ground to train and equip jihadists intent on regime change, as was employed in Libya. A safe area would need ground troops to protect it. Clinton says there will be no US ground troops in Syria.

Turkey has also been clamoring for a safe area on the ground for the past few years. Erdoğan called for it (as well as a no-fly zone in northern Syria) as recently as last September in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Erdoğan has had neo-Ottoman tendencies for some time but in August he acted on them, invading Syria with U.S. air cover on the exact 500th anniversary of the Ottoman’s first foreign invasion, also of Syria. Now Erdogan is openly making claims on Mosul based on a World War One-era Turkish claim. And he’s massing troops on the Iraqi border threatening war with Baghdad. [See the related Duran article “Will Turkey and Iraq Go to War?”]

The hawks appear to have bested Obama this time. He has not stood in the way of Clinton-allies in his administration letting Erdoğan pursue his neo-Ottoman fantasy (even fighting U.S.-backed Kurds) in exchange for Turkish NATO forces establishing a safe area without U.S. ground troops. Turkey and its rebel forces already control about 490 square miles in northern Syria.

With less than three months left in office, Obama, who had opposed a safe area and a  Turkish invasion, appears to have relinquished his Syria policy to who he wants to be the next president. 

Again with Plan B?

Since American officials rarely explain fully what they are up to beyond slogans like “Fighting ISIS” and “the War on Terror”, understanding U.S. policy in the Middle East is reduced to educated guesses based on official and leaked statements and assessments of complex developments on the ground.

For instance, the U.S. is publicly opposing Turkey by backing Syrian Kurds in their just launched offensive to take Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Erdogan has vowed to send Turkish troops, or Turkish-backed rebels there. How will Washington solve this contradiction as events on the ground would indicate that Washington is effectively letting Turkey create Clinton’s safe area on territory taken mostly from ISIS. It could eventually stretch from northeast Syria into western Iraq.

A safe area in eastern Syria stretching to western Iraq could implement the so-called Plan B:  dividing Syria to weaken it, while also creating a corridor for the pipeline from Qatar. Settling for Plan B, or partition, would be an admission that Plan A, regime change, had failed.

There might also be another crucial task for Turkey on behalf of the Washington hawks in both Syria and Iraq. Erdogan may well target the Turkman-majority Iraqi Tal Afar area, a Shia   area that the Iraqi government wants to control. It would open a corridor from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. But Turkey could also cut this passage in northern Syria.

Is the U.S. allowing Turkish troops to create these facts on the ground?  It’s impossible to know for sure because of the lack of transparency coming out of Washington. But in this scenario Erdoğan gets to control Syrian Kurdish areas and possibly parts of Iraq, satisfying his neo-Ottoman fantasies, while Clinton gets her safe area with NATO troops, but without deploying U.S. soldiers on the ground.

Aleppo

Obama stood up to the hawks for the third time this summer by allowing Kerry to negotiate with Russia on Putin’s offer at the U.N.: to form a military alliance against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. Russia’s entry had turned the tide of the war in Syria’s favor but the defensive war against the insurgency has stalled in Aleppo, where a third of the city remains largely under al-Qaeda control.

While Obama publicly slammed the Russians, projecting that they were on an imperial venture that would wind up in a quagmire (exactly what has afflicted U.S. imperial ventures in various theaters), he kept plans for a safe area and no-fly zone on hold.

Then nearly a year after Putin’s offer and months of intermittent talks, Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 9 finally reached a deal to jointly fight terrorists in Syria. Though it was clear the agreement would ground the Syrian air force, resume humanitarian aid and agree on the identity of rebels to be jointly attacked, the U.S. insisted the terms remain secret.

But Defense Secretary Ash Carter made no secret of his objection. On Sept. 8 he said: “In the current circumstance, it is not possible for the United States to associate itself with — let alone to cooperate in — a venture that is only fueling violence and civil war.”

It was an extraordinary act of insubordination for which Carter was not punished. Once again Obama did not completely stand up to the hawks. But then Carter’s objection to the deal went beyond words. Two days before it was to go into effect, his Pentagon’s planes killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez Zor in an air strike the Pentagon later said was an “accident.” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was hardly repentant as she condemned Russia’s attempt to discuss the incident at the Security Council as a “stunt.”

Four days later a U.N. aid convoy was attacked near Aleppo, killing more than 20 aid workers. The U.S. immediately blamed Russian air strikes without presenting any evidence. Russia says rebels were responsible. The U.S.-Russia deal was dead.

Moscow eventually revealed its terms. At its heart was the separation of U.S.-backed rebels from al-Qaeda, which dominates a third of Aleppo. But once again, despite repeated pledges to do so, the U.S. failed to separate them.

Syria and Russia had enough and declared all rebels fighting with al-Qaeda to be fair game. They commenced a furious bombardment of east Aleppo to crush the insurgency there once and for all.  Putting all of Aleppo back into government hands would be a major turning point in the war. It has not proven easy. Instead the fierce aerial assaults have claimed numerous civilian lives, handing Russia’s opponents a public relations coup.

Washington, London and Paris are leading the chorus of war crimes accusations against Russia (though the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq without Security Council authorization in an act of aggression that can reasonably be seen as the supreme war crime.)

Russia’s actions in Aleppo have been compared to Israel’s in Gaza. Though two U.N. reports have said Israel may have been guilty of war crimes in 2012 and 2014 attacks on Gaza, Israel has not been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

The differences between Gaza and Aleppo are stark, however. Gazans are an indigenous people attacked by an Occupying Power. Syria and Russia are attacking the occupiers–largely foreign-backed mercenaries. People in Gaza cannot escape the city because of their attackers, while people in east Aleppo can’t escape because of the attacked.

The area of bombardment and number of people under fire (and so far casualties) were much higher in Gaza than in east Aleppo. Rebel rockets from east Aleppo actually kill large numbers of civilians in the west of the city, unlike Hamas’ rockets into Israel. The biggest difference is that the West defends Israel and deflects charges of war crimes while it accuses Russia and Syria of the same. 

Isolated from the context of the entire war against a foreign-backed rebellion, the battle for east Aleppo ( usually reported as the whole city) has been framed by Western liberal media in the same way Sarajevo was in the 1990s. Then a highly complex war was boiled down to one battle alone, where Bosnian Serbs fired (indiscriminately) into civilian areas.  Today it is Russia that is accused of acting out of the pure intent to kill civilians with no other motive. 

The tactic of intense bombardment in Aleppo by Russia is troubling.  A Syrian army ground invasion of eastern Aleppo without heavy bombardments would minimize civilian causalities, but increase the government’s. It might be the price that has to be paid.

Nuclear Chicken

The reaction to the bombardment of eastern Aleppo has led to a severe increase in rabid calls for Western military intervention against the Syrian government, and possibly against Russia. 

The British parliament held a Russia-bashing session in October with calls for war against Moscow. Neocon newspaper like the Washington Post are itching for battle. A British general said the U.K. would be ready to fight Russia in two years—enough time for a Clinton administration to prepare.

The U.S. and its allies are planning for a post-Putin Russia in which a Wall Street-friendly leader like Boris Yeltsin can be restored to reopen the country to Western exploitation. But Putin is no Yeltsin. Washington’s modus operandi is to continually provoke and blame an opponent until it stands up for itself, as Putin’s Russia has done, then falsely accuse it of “aggression” and attack in “self-defense.”   

We see this being prepared in Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland, the Balkans and in Syria, where neocon calls are increasing for the U.S. to strike the Syrian government. Apparently Obama for the fourth time kept the hawks at bay after a White House meeting last month in which military action was turned down in the face of Russia’s warning that it would target attacking U.S. aircraft.

The neocons appear to much prefer coups to direct military action, but are not averse to blundering into war.

Obama has been the only brake on keeping Syria—and relations with Russia—from spiraling out of control. But his voice is fading as he prepares to leave office.

Into this fevered environment steps Hillary Clinton who may win the White House on Tuesday. She continues to call for a safe area and ominously for a no-fly zone, despite the warning last month from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs, that that would mean war with Russia.

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria….not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians,” Clinton said at the last debate after Dunford’s warning.­

She also said this after admitting in one of her paid speeches, released by Wikileaks, that a no-fly zone will “kill a lot of Syrians.”

Russia’s reaction has been defiant, setting up an ominous game of chicken that could go nuclear. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia would shoot down any American plane attacking the Syrian government.

Russia has also deployed sophisticated air defenses in the country. This has given U.S. brass deep pause about confronting Russia in Syria.  Congress is not disposed to authorize war against Syria. So far Russia has come out on top there, lessening the risks of confrontation that could escalate to the most dangerous levels.

But will Hillary Clinton back down from her harsh rhetoric if she’s elected? Will she appoint more hawkish military leaders? Obama’s half-way measures in Syria have left the door open to a Clinton administration that appears determined to ratchet up the regime change operation, perhaps calling Putin’s bluff.

What happens if she miscalculates and he doesn’t backdown? Would she count on Putin retreating to save the world from a US-Russia war?  Is she ready to back away or smart enough not to even try?

Would Congressional and FBI investigations in the Clinton Foundation and the emails lead her to cause an international crisis to take the heat off, the way her husband bombed Iraq on the very day his impeachment proceedings were to begin?  Some astute analysts, like Alexander Mercouris, think she is rational enough to not provoke such a crisis. That remains to be seen.

Clinton also seems poised to arm the Ukrainian government and perhaps give Putin another ultimatum: give back Crimea or else. What if Putin calls Clinton’s bluff there?  It’s a roll of the dice the hawks, in their fanaticism to rule the world, might be ready to toss.   

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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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