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Jared Kushner’s statement DEMOLISHES Russiagate

Jared Kushner’s detailed statement published prior to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee should persuade any reasonable person that there is no truth to the farfetched allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia made in the Russiagate scandal.

Alexander Mercouris

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Jared Kushner, US President Trump’s son-in-law, has published a lengthy and detailed statement setting out his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 Presidential election.

The statement is published immediately prior to Kushner giving evidence to a closed session of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is one of the Congressional committees carrying out the multiple investigations into the Russiagate scandal.

The statement – if its contents are accurate, which I have no doubt they are – exposes possibly more clearly than any other document the sheer absurdity of the whole scandal.  In view of this I have attached the complete text of this statement to this article (see below).

Here are a number of quick points about this statement

(1) I have no doubt that the statement is a truthful and essentially accurate account of what happened. 

Kushner is very careful throughout the statement to corroborate what he says by referring to written evidence set out mainly in email chains, and to refer to witnesses who were also present at the various meetings he describes.  One of them – Dmitri Simes – is known to me by reputation, and I have no doubt whatever of the truth of anything he says.

Though Kushner’s statement has obviously been carefully and thoroughly prepared and is obviously drafted by lawyers, it is possible that in such a lengthy statement one or two factual mistakes may have slipped through.  If so I am sure they are inconsequential and inadvertent.

(2) The statement provides details of all Kushner’s contacts with persons who were either unequivocally Russian officials or who had a connection to Russia, both during the election campaign and the transition period. 

I shall ignore the brief and irrelevant blackmail contact by “Guccifer400” which may have nothing to do with Russia.

(3) It turns out that Kushner only had four such contacts with Russian officials or persons who had a connection to Russia.  Two were with ambassador Kislyak, one was the now famous meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya – which was properly speaking a meeting between her and Donald Trump junior, which Kushner merely attended – and the fourth was with a Russian banker called Gorkov, which was set up at the insistence of Kislyak.

(4) Kushner makes the demonstrably true point that these were a very few meetings and contacts compared to the huge number of meetings and contacts he had during the election and the transition period, which included many contacts and meetings with officials and representatives of foreign states and of foreign governments.  

Of these only one of these meetings – the one in December with Kislyak, which General Flynn also attended – looks to have been at all substantive.  

(5) The meeting with Gorkov is curious since nothing of substance seems to have been discussed during it.  This despite the fact that Gorkov was introduced to Kushner by Kislyak as someone personally close to Putin.  

In my opinion it was a ‘sizing up’ meeting, with Gorkov – who may indeed be a Russian intelligence official – on a mission from Putin to get a sense of what sort of a person Kushner is.  

(6) As Kushner rightly says he had many other meetings and contacts with many other officials of many other countries, both during the election and during the transition period.  One of these meetings was incidentally with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a far more senior official of his government than any of the various Russians Kushner met with.

(7) It is now clear that some of the information that has been fed to the media by our old friends the “anonymous sources”during the Russiagate scandal is either grossly inaccurate or simply false, and Kushner’s statement provides two examples of this.

The “anonymous sources” have either invented two telephone conversations Kushner is supposed to have had with the Russians during the election campaign or else Reuters, which reported this story, has invented both it and them.

It is now also clear that the notorious meeting between Kislyak, Kushner and Flynn which took place in December has been totally misrepresented.

It seems that there was no discussion of setting up a ‘back channel’ between the Trump administration and the Kremlin was discussed during this meeting as our old friends the “anonymous officials” reported.  Rather there was a discussion – which went nowhere – about how the Russian military would convey a message to General Flynn about the situation in Syria.

(7) It is in fact clear that the main topic of the discussion between Kislyak, Kushner and Flynn – and I suspect of the equally notorious telephone conversations between Kislyak and Flynn which eventually caused Flynn’s resignation – was Syria.

This makes total sense.  In October 2016 the US and Russian militaries faced off against each other in Syria, with the Russians deploying advanced anti aircraft missiles to Syria to deter any US attempt to intervene in the ongoing battle in eastern Aleppo.  The leaders of both the US and the Russian militaries have spoken repeatedly of the extreme tension during that time, when the world’s two most powerful militaries came closer to armed conflict with each other than they have done at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War.

It is completely understandable in light of this that the Russian military would be anxious to talk to the military leadership of the incoming Trump administration – which in this context would have meant General Flynn, who was soon to become President Trump’s National Security Adviser – and that they were looking to do this as soon as possible.

Here we see a further pernicious consequence of the way news of the confrontation between the US and Russian militaries in Syria in October 2016 – and the US climbdown which followed it – has been suppressed in the West, so that the US and Western publics are entirely unaware of it.

Since the US and Western publics do not know what happened in Syria in October 2016 they do not know the context in which the meetings and contacts between Kislyak, Kushner and Flynn took place.

The result is that it is very easy to misrepresent these meetings and contacts by falsely relating them to the entirely different and wholly unrelated question of the election campaign.

(8) In my previous discussion of the Kislyak – Kushner meeting in December I made known my strong doubts that the claims that US intelligence had picked up the details of this meeting from intercepts of Kislyak’s presumably encoded communications to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow could possibly be true.  I speculated that it was more likely that the meeting itself had been listened into.

That was based on the assumption that the meeting really was about the setting up of a ‘back channel’ between the Trump administration and the Kremlin.  Now that we know that this was not really the case and that there was nothing actually secret about this meeting, I think it far more likely that US intelligence obtained information about the meeting from things Kushner and Flynn said or wrote about it after the meeting, which US intelligence either saw or overheard.

Of course if that is what happened then it would mean that Kushner and Flynn were under some sort of surveillance, possibly by a foreign intelligence agency acting on US intelligence’s behalf, or possibly by US intelligence itself.

If the latter then since there was no warrant authorising such surveillance that would have been on the face of it illegal.  US intelligence might have a defence that it was trying to find out what Kislyak – who is a legitimate surveillance target – was up to.  However that still looks dubious.

Whatever the truth I still think that the highly improbable story of Kislyak’s communications being intercepted is a cover story to conceal what really happened, and what Kushner says in his statement about this meeting reinforces that view.

(9) Since we now know that far from everything our old friends the “anonymous sources” are reported as saying is true, there is no need to waste time looking into their recent claims that Jeff Sessions contrary to his denials “discussed” the Trump campaign during his now notorious meeting with ambassador Kislyak in his office.

Sessions categorically denies that the Trump campaign was discussed during this meeting.  Two US military officers also attended the meeting, providing independent witnesses who can presumably corroborate what he says.

Wherever there is a conflict between what someone says publicly and openly, and what is being said anonymously, the proper thing to do is to assume that what is being said publicly and openly is the truth.  That ought to apply both to Kushner and Sessions.

The fact that the same highly improbable cover story of Kislyak’s messages to Moscow being intercepted is being used to source the latest story about what Sessions is supposed to have told Kislyak is a further reason to doubt it is true.

(10) Kushner provides no further information about the meeting  between Donald Trump junior and Natalya Veselnitskaya beyond what has been provided already, but what he says corroborates Donald Trump junior’s account of this meeting, which I have discussed in detail previously.

In summary, Jared Kushner has provided what any reasonable person would accept as a thorough and comprehensive account of his dealings with the Russians both during the election and after it.

Not only does it show that he personally never colluded with the Russians at any point during the election about anything, but given his central role in the Trump campaign any reasonable person reading his statement would conclude that no one in the Trump campaign did either.   In Kushner’s own words

I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.

Set against this straightforward statement, which is corroborated by a mountain of fact, we have the two documents which between them have generated the entirety of the Russiagate scandal.  These are the report from CrowdStrike claiming it was Russian intelligence which hacked the computers of John Podesta and the DNC, and the Trump Dossier, which was compiled though apparently not authored by Christopher Steele and Orbis.

Neither of these documents originates with any official agency of the US government or indeed of any other government.  Both are the products of private enterprise paid for by persons having or apparently having some connection to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Both have however been treated as authoritative by believers in the Russiagate scandal, which it turns out includes many people within the US intelligence community, even though there are serious doubts about the methodology of the first, whilst the second is not merely uncorroborated but looks in large part invented.

Over and above these two inherently unreliable documents there is a mountain of uncorroborated leaks and innuendo, some of which as Kushner’s statement shows are simply wrong.

It says volumes about the collapse of intellectual integrity in the United States that most of the political class – including the entire Democratic Party and much of the intelligence community – still continues to believe the fantasies of these two documents, and will continue to do so, even after they have been provided with this clear and straightforward statement of fact by Jared Kushner, which shows the illogic and absurdity of what they say.


STATEMENT OF JARED KUSHNER

July 24, 2017

I am voluntarily providing this statement, submitting documents, and sitting for interviews in order to shed light on issues that have been raised about my role in the Trump for President Campaign and during the transition period.

I am not a person who has sought the spotlight. First in my business and now in public service, I have worked on achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception. Because there has been a great deal of conjecture, speculation, and inaccurate information about me, I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight.

My Role in the Trump for President Campaign

Before joining the administration, I worked in the private sector, building and managing companies. My experience was in business, not politics, and it was not my initial intent to play a large role in my father-in-law’s campaign when he decided to run for President. However, as the campaign progressed, I was called on to assist with various tasks and aspects of the campaign, and took on more and more responsibility.

Over the course of the primaries and general election campaign, my role continued to evolve. I ultimately worked with the finance, scheduling, communications, speechwriting, polling, data and digital teams, as well as becoming a point of contact for foreign government officials.

All of these were tasks that I had never performed on a campaign previously. When I was faced with a new challenge, I would reach out to contacts, ask advice, find the right person to manage the specific challenge, and work with that person to develop and execute a plan of action. I was lucky to work with some incredibly talented people along the way, all of whom made significant contributions toward the campaign’s ultimate success. Our nimble culture allowed us to adjust to the ever-changing circumstances and make changes on the fly as the situation warranted. I share this information because these actions should be viewed through the lens of a fast-paced campaign with thousands of meetings and interactions, some of which were impactful and memorable and many of which were not.

It is also important to note that a campaign’s success starts with its message and its messenger. Donald Trump had the right vision for America and delivered his message perfectly. The results speak for themselves. Not only did President Trump defeat sixteen skilled and experienced primary opponents and win the presidency; he did so spending a fraction of what his opponent spent in the general election. He outworked his opponent and ran one of the best campaigns in history using both modern technology and traditional methods to bring his message to the American people.

Campaign Contacts with Foreign Persons

When it became apparent that my father-in-law was going to be the Republican nominee for President, as normally happens, a number of officials from foreign countries attempted to reach out to the campaign. My father-in-law asked me to be a point of contact with these foreign countries. These were not contacts that I initiated, but, over the course of the campaign, I had incoming contacts with people from approximately 15 countries. To put these requests in context, I must have received thousands of calls, letters and emails from people looking to talk or meet on a variety of issues and topics, including hundreds from outside the United States. While I could not be responsive to everyone, I tried to be respectful of any foreign government contacts with whom it would be important to maintain an ongoing, productive working relationship were the candidate to prevail. To that end, I called on a variety of people with deep experience, such as Dr. Henry Kissinger, for advice on policy for the candidate, which countries/representatives with which the campaign should engage, and what messaging would resonate. In addition, it was typical for me to receive 200 or more emails a day during the campaign. I did not have the time to read every one, especially long emails from unknown senders or email chains to which I was added at some later point in the exchange.

With respect to my contacts with Russia or Russian representatives during the campaign, there were hardly any. The first that I can recall was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. in April 2016. This was when then candidate Trump was delivering a major foreign policy speech. Doing the event and speech had been my idea, and I oversaw its execution. I arrived at the hotel early to make sure all logistics were in order. After that, I stopped into the reception to thank the host of the event, Dimitri Simes, the publisher of the bi-monthly foreign policy magazine, The National Interest, who had done a great job putting everything together. Mr. Simes and his group had created the guest list and extended the invitations for the event. He introduced me to several guests, among them four ambassadors, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.

Reuters news service has reported that I had two calls with Ambassador Kislyak at some time between April and November of 2016. While I participated in thousands of calls during this period, I do not recall any such calls with the Russian Ambassador. We have reviewed the phone records available to us and have not been able to identify any calls to any number we know to be associated with Ambassador Kislyak and I am highly skeptical these calls took place. A comprehensive review of my land line and cell phone records from the time does not reveal those calls. I had no ongoing relationship with the Ambassador before the election, and had limited knowledge about him then. In fact, on November 9, the day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian Ambassador. When the campaign received an email purporting to be an official note of congratulations from President Putin, I was asked how we could verify it was real. To do so I thought the best way would be to ask the only contact I recalled meeting from the Russian government, which was the Ambassador I had met months earlier, so I sent an email asking Mr. Simes, “What is the name of the Russian ambassador?” Through my lawyer, I have asked Reuters to provide the dates on which the calls supposedly occurred or the phone number at which I supposedly reached, or was reached by, Ambassador Kislyak. The journalist refused to provide any corroborating evidence that they occurred.

The only other Russian contact during the campaign is one I did not recall at all until I was reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information. In June 2016, my brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. asked if I was free to stop by a meeting on June 9 at 3:00 p.m. The campaign was headquartered in the same building as his office in Trump Tower, and it was common for each of us to swing by the other’s meetings when requested. He eventually sent me his own email changing the time of the meeting to 4:00 p.m. That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time. As I did with most emails when I was working remotely, I quickly reviewed on my iPhone the relevant message that the meeting would occur at 4:00 PM at his office. Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as “Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner.” No one else was mentioned.

I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting. Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.” I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted. Finally, after seeing the email, I disclosed this meeting prior to it being reported in the press on a supplement to my security clearance form, even if that was not required as meeting the definitions of the form.

There was one more possible contact that I will note. On October 30, 2016, I received a random email from the screen name “Guccifer400.” This email, which I interpreted as a hoax, was an extortion attempt and threatened to reveal candidate Trump’s tax returns and demanded that we send him 52 bitcoins in exchange for not publishing that information. I brought the email to the attention of a U.S. Secret Service agent on the plane we were all travelling on and asked what he thought. He advised me to ignore it and not to reply — which is what I did. The sender never contacted me again.

To the best of my recollection, these were the full extent of contacts I had during the campaign with persons who were or appeared to potentially be representatives of the Russian government.

Transition Contacts with Foreign Persons

The transition period after the election was even more active than the campaign. Starting on election night, we began to receive an incredible volume of messages and invitations from well-wishers in the United States and abroad. Dozens of messages came from foreign officials seeking to set up foreign leader calls and create lines of communication and relationships with what would be the new administration. During this period, I recall having over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries. Two of those meetings were with Russians, neither of which I solicited.

On November 16, 2016, my assistant received a request for a meeting from the Russian Ambassador. As I mentioned before, previous to receiving this request, I could not even recall the Russian Ambassador’s name, and had to ask for the name of the individual I had seen at the Mayflower Hotel almost seven months earlier. In addition, far from being urgent, that meeting was not set up for two weeks — on December 1. The meeting occurred in Trump Tower, where we had our transition office, and lasted twenty- thirty minutes. Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.), who became the President’s National Security Advisor, also attended. During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a “secret back channel.” I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period. We did not discuss sanctions.

Approximately a week later, on December 6, the Embassy asked if I could meet with the Ambassador on December 7. I declined. They then asked if I could meet on December 6; I declined again. They then asked when the earliest was that I could meet. I declined these requests because I was working on many other responsibilities for the transition. He asked if he could meet my assistant instead and, to avoid offending the Ambassador, I agreed. He did so on December 12. My assistant reported that the Ambassador had requested that I meet with a person named Sergey Gorkov who he said was a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together. I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the President, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days. I made room on my schedule for the meeting that occurred the next day, on December 13.

The meeting with Mr. Gorkov lasted twenty to twenty-five minutes. He introduced himself and gave me two gifts — one was a piece of art from Nvgorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus, and the other was a bag of dirt from that same village. (Any notion that I tried to conceal this meeting or that I took it thinking it was in my capacity as a businessman is false. In fact, I gave my assistant these gifts to formally register them with the transition office). After that, he told me a little about his bank and made some statements about the Russian economy. He said that he was friendly with President Putin, expressed disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations under President Obama and hopes for a better relationship in the future. As I did at the meeting with Ambassador Kislyak, I expressed the same sentiments I had with other foreign officials I met. There were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind. At the end of the short meeting, we thanked each other and I went on to other meetings. I did not know or have any contact with Mr. Gorkov before that meeting, and I have had no reason to connect with him since.

To the best of my recollection, these were the only two contacts I had during the transition with persons who were or appeared to potentially be representatives of the Russian government.

Disclosure of Contacts on My Security Clearance Form

There has been a good deal of misinformation reported about my SF-86 form. As my attorneys and I have previously explained, my SF-86 application was prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication and initially did not list any contacts (not just with Russians) with foreign government officials. Here are some facts about that form and the efforts I have made to supplement it.

In the week before the Inauguration, amid the scramble of finalizing the unwinding of my involvement from my company, moving my family to Washington, completing the paper work to divest assets and resign from my outside positions and complete my security and financial disclosure forms, people at my New York office were helping me find the information, organize it, review it and put it into the electronic form. They sent an email to my assistant in Washington, communicating that the changes to one particular section were complete; my assistant interpreted that message as meaning that the entire form was completed. At that point, the form was a rough draft and still had many omissions including not listing any foreign government contacts and even omitted the address of my father-in-law (which was obviously well known). Because of this miscommunication, my assistant submitted the draft on January 18, 2017.

That evening, when we realized the form had been submitted prematurely, we informed the transition team that we needed to make changes and additions to the form. The very next day, January 19, 2017, we submitted supplemental information to the transition, which confirmed receipt and said they would immediately transmit it to the FBI. The supplement disclosed that I had “numerous contacts with foreign officials” and that we were going through my records to provide an accurate and complete list. I provided a list of those contacts in the normal course, before my background investigation interview and prior to any inquiries or media reports about my form.

It has been reported that my submission omitted only contacts with Russians. That is not the case. In the accidental early submission of the form, all foreign contacts were omitted. The supplemental information later disclosed over one hundred contacts from more than twenty countries that might be responsive to the questions on the form. These included meetings with individuals such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso and many more. All of these had been left off before.

Over the last six months, I have made every effort to provide the FBI with whatever information is needed to investigate my background. In addition, my attorneys have explained that the security clearance process is one in which supplements are expected and invited. The form itself instructs that, during the interview, the information in the document can be “update[d], clarif[ied], and explain[ed]” as part of the security clearance process. A good example is the June 9 meeting. For reasons that should be clear from the explanation of that meeting I have provided, I did not remember the meeting and certainly did not remember it as one with anyone who had to be included on an SF-86. When documents reviewed for production in connection with committee requests reminded me that meeting had occurred, and because of the language in the email chain that I then read for the first time, I included that meeting on a supplement. I did so even though my attorneys were unable to conclude that the Russian lawyer was a representative of any foreign country and thus fell outside the scope of the form. This supplemental information was also provided voluntarily, well prior to any media inquiries, reporting or request for this information, and it was done soon after I was reminded of the meeting.

As I have said from the very first media inquiry, I am happy to share information with the

investigating bodies. I have shown today that I am willing to do so and will continue to cooperate as I have nothing to hide. As I indicated, I know there has been a great deal of speculation and conjecture about my contacts with any officials or people from Russia. I have disclosed these contacts and described them as fully as I can recall. The record and documents I am providing will show that I had perhaps four contacts with Russian representatives out of thousands during the campaign and transition, none of which were impactful in any way to the election or particularly memorable. I am very grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight. I also have tried to provide context for my role in the campaign, and I am proud of the candidate that we supported, of the campaign that we ran, and the victory that we achieved.

It has been my practice not to appear in the media or leak information in my own defense. I have tried to focus on the important work at hand and serve this President and this country to the best of my abilities. I hope that through my answers to questions, written statements and documents I have now been able to demonstrate the entirety of my limited contacts with Russian representatives during the campaign and transition. I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.

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Schaeuble, Greece and the lessons learned from a failed GREXIT (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 117.

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine a recent interview with the Financial Times given by Wolfgang Schäuble, where the former German Finance Minister, who was charged with finding a workable and sustainable solution to the Greek debt crisis, reveals that his plan for Greece to take a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone (in order to devalue its currency and save its economy) was met with fierce resistance from Brussels hard liners, and Angela Merkel herself.

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“Look where we’re sitting!” says Wolfgang Schäuble, gesturing at the Berlin panorama stretching out beneath us. It is his crisp retort to those who say that Europe is a failure, condemned to a slow demise by its own internal contradictions. “Walk through the Reichstag, the graffiti left by the Red Army soldiers, the images of a destroyed Berlin. Until 1990 the Berlin Wall ran just below where we are now!”

We are in Käfer, a restaurant on the rooftop of the Reichstag. The views are indeed stupendous: Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz loom through the mist. Both were once in communist East Berlin, cut off from where we are now by the wall. Now they’re landmarks of a single, undivided city. “Without European integration, without this incredible story, we wouldn’t have come close to this point,” he says. “That’s the crazy thing.”

As Angela Merkel’s finance minister from 2009 to 2017, Schäuble was at the heart of efforts to steer the eurozone through a period of unprecedented turbulence. But at home he is most associated with Germany’s postwar political journey, having not only negotiated the 1990 treaty unifying East and West Germany but also campaigned successfully for the capital to move from Bonn.

For a man who has done so much to put Berlin — and the Reichstag — back on the world-historical map, it is hard to imagine a more fitting lunch venue. With its open-plan kitchen and grey formica tables edged in chrome, Käfer has a cool, functional aesthetic that is typical of the city. On the wall hangs a sketch by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who famously wrapped the Reichstag in silver fabric in 1995.

The restaurant has one other big advantage: it is easy to reach from Schäuble’s office. Now 76, he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1990, and mobility is an issue. Aides say he tends to avoid restaurants if he can, especially at lunchtime.

As we take our places, we talk about Schäuble’s old dream — that German reunification would be a harbinger of European unity, a step on the road to a United States of Europe. That seems hopelessly out of reach in these days of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Lega and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Some blame Schäuble himself for that. He was, after all, the architect of austerity, a fiscal hawk whose policy prescriptions during the euro crisis caused untold hardship for millions of ordinary people, or so his critics say. He became a hate figure, especially in Greece. Posters in Athens in 2015 depicted him with a Hitler moustache below the words: “Wanted — for mass poverty and devastation”.

Schäuble rejects the criticism that austerity caused the rise of populism. “Higher spending doesn’t lead to greater contentment,” he says. The root cause lies in mass immigration, and the insecurities it has unleashed. “What European country doesn’t have this problem?” he asks. “Even Sweden. The poster child of openness and the willingness to help.”

But what of the accusation that he didn’t care enough about the suffering of the southern Europeans? Austerity divided the EU and spawned a real animus against Schäuble. I ask him how that makes him feel now. “Well I’m sad, because I played a part in all of that,” he says, wistfully. “And I think about how we could have done it differently.”

I glance at the menu — simple German classics with a contemporary twist. I’m drawn to the starters, such as Oldenburg duck pâté and the Müritz smoked trout. But true to his somewhat abstemious reputation, Schäuble has no interest in these and zeroes in on the entrées. He chooses Käfer’s signature veal meatballs, a Berlin classic. I go for the Arctic char and pumpkin.

Schäuble switches seamlessly back to the eurozone crisis. The original mistake was in trying to create a common currency without a “common economic, employment and social policy” for all eurozone member states. The fathers of the euro had decided that if they waited for political union to happen first they’d wait forever, he says.

Yet the prospects for greater political union are now worse than they have been in years. “The construction of the EU has proven to be questionable,” he says. “We should have taken the bigger steps towards integration earlier on, and now, because we can’t convince the member states to take them, they are unachievable.”

Greece was a particularly thorny problem. It should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place, Schäuble says. But when its debt crisis first blew up, it should have taken a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone — an idea he first floated with Giorgos Papakonstantinou, his Greek counterpart between 2009 and 2011. “I told him you need to be able to devalue your currency, you’re not competitive,” he says. The reforms required to repair the Greek economy were going to be “hard to achieve in a democracy”. “That’s why you need to leave the euro for a certain period. But everyone said there was no chance of that.”

The idea didn’t go away, though. Schäuble pushed for a temporary “Grexit” in 2015, during another round of the debt crisis. But Merkel and the other EU heads of government nixed the idea. He now reveals he thought about resigning over the issue. “On the morning the decision was made, [Merkel] said to me: ‘You’ll carry on?’ . . . But that was one of the instances where we were very close [to my stepping down].”

It is an extraordinary revelation, one that highlights just how rocky his relationship with Merkel has been over the years. Schäuble has been at her side from the start, an éminence grise who has helped to resolve many of the periodic crises of her 13 years as chancellor. But it was never plain sailing.

“There were a few really bad conflicts where she knew too that we were on the edge and I would have gone,” he says. “I always had to weigh up whether to go along with things, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, as was the case with Greece, or whether I should go.” But his sense of duty prevailed. “We didn’t always agree — but I was always loyal.”

That might have been the case when he was a serving minister, but since becoming speaker of parliament in late 2017 he has increasingly distanced himself from Merkel. Last year, when she announced she would not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party that has governed Germany for 50 of the past 70 years, Schäuble openly backed a candidate described by the Berlin press as the “anti-Merkel”. Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who is the chairman of BlackRock Germany, had once led the CDU’s parliamentary group but lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002, quitting politics a few years later. He has long been seen as one of the chancellor’s fiercest conservative critics — and is a good friend of Schäuble’s.

Ultimately, in a nail-biting election last December, Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly beat Merz. The woman universally known as “AKK” is in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021.

I ask Schäuble if it’s true that he had once again waged a battle against Merkel and once again lost. “I never went to war against Ms Merkel,” he says. “Everybody says that if I’m for Merz then I’m against Merkel. Why is that so? That’s nonsense.”

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The conclusion of Russiagate, Part I – cold, hard reality

The full text of Attorney General William P Barr’s summary is here offered, with emphases on points for further analysis.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The conclusion of the Russiagate investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was a pivotal media watershed moment. Even at the time of this writing there is a great deal of what might be called “journalistic froth” as opinion makers and analysts jostle to make their takes on this known to the world. Passions are running very high in both the Democrat / anti-Trump camps, where the reactions range from despondency to determined rage to not swallow the gigantic red pill that the “no collusion with Russia” determination offers. In the pro-Trump camp, the mood is deserved relief, but many who support the President are also realists, and they know this conflict is not over.

Where the pivot will go and what all this means is something that will unfold, probably relatively quickly, over the next week or two. But we want to offer a starting point here from which to base further analysis. At this time, of course, there are few hard facts other than the fact that Robert Mueller III submitted his report to the US Attorney General, William Barr, who then wrote and released his own report to the public Sunday evening. We reproduce that report here in full, with some emphases added to points that we think will be relevant to forthcoming pieces on this topic.

The end of the Mueller investigation brings concerns, hopes and fears to many people, on topics such as:

  • Will President Trump now begin to normalize relations with President Putin at full speed?
  • In what direction will the Democrats pivot to continue their attacks against the President?
  • What does this finding to to the 2020 race?
  • What does this finding do to the credibility of the United States’ leadership establishment, both at home and abroad?
  • What can we learn about our nation and culture from this investigation?
  • How does a false narrative get maintained so easily for so long, and
  • What do we do, or what CAN we do to prevent this being repeated?

These questions and more will be addressed in forthcoming pieces. But for now, here is the full text of the letter written by Attorney General William Barr concerning the Russia collusion investigation.

Dear Chairman Graham, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Ranking Member Collins:
As a supplement to the notification provided on Friday, March 22, 2019, I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.
The Special Counsel’s Report
On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.
The report explains that the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations. In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.
The Special Counsel obtained a number of indictments and convictions of individuals and entities in connection with his investigation, all of which have been publicly disclosed. During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. Below, I summarize the principal conclusions set out in the Special Counsel’s report.
Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
The Special Counsel’s report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts. The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel’s investigation was whether any Americans including individuals associated with the Trump campaign joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.
The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.
Obstruction of Justice.
The report’s second part addresses a number of actions by the President most of which have been the subject of public reporting that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a “thorough factual investigation” into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime. Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel’s office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel’s obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.
In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Status of the Department’s Review
The relevant regulations contemplate that the Special Counsel’s report will be a “confidential report” to the Attorney General. See Office of Special Counsel, 64 Fed. Reg. 37,038, 37,040-41 (July 9, 1999). As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
Based on my discussions with the Special Counsel and my initial review, it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to “matter[s] occurring before grand jury.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2)(B) Rule 6(e) generally limits disclosure of certain grand jury information in a criminal investigation and prosecution. Id. Disclosure of 6(e) material beyond the strict limits set forth in the rule is a crime in certain circumstances. See, e.g. 18 U.S.C. 401(3). This restriction protects the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensures that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.
Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the 6(e) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel in identifying all 6(e) information contained in the report as quickly as possible. Separately, I also must identify any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices. As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
* * *
As I observed in my initial notification, the Special Counsel regulations provide that “the Attorney General may determine that public release of” notifications to your respective Committees “would be in the public interest.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.9(c). I have so determined, and I will disclose this letter to the public after delivering it to you.
Sincerely,
William P. Barr
Attorney General

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