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After Putin’s move Obama’s ‘Russian hacking’ story starts to unravel

After Putin’s skilful countermove Obama’s transparently partisan misuse of the Russian hacking scandal to embarrass Donald Trump begins to backfire.

Alexander Mercouris

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Over the last few weeks I have repeatedly made the point that Barack Obama’s recent moves, especially his criticisms of Israel and his hyping up of the hacking scandal against Russia, are first and foremost intended to box in and undermine his successor Donald Trump.

What is interesting is how what was essentially a lone view when I first expressed it ten days ago is now rapidly becoming the consensus.  Obama’s moves and Putin’s counter-moves of the last three days has brought all this into stark relief by making Obama’s motives altogether too transparent.

A flood of articles appeared in the British and US media yesterday, some written in an obviously gloating tone, lauding the “difficult dilemma” in which Obama had supposedly placed Trump by imposing more sanctions on Russia.

Supposedly Trump now faced a choice: either he rescinded the sanctions, in which case he risked being branded (including by some leaders of his own party) as a stooge of the Kremlin, or he failed to do so, in which case he supposedly risked antagonising Putin and the Russians.

Either way the legitimacy of his election would be called into question, with the claim he owed his election to Russian election manipulation being given extra force.

This was of course exactly the point I made shortly after the new sanctions were introduced

The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump.

By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth.

If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.  If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge.

It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force.

Lots of these articles appeared – a sure sign by the way of a pre-arranged campaign – with this article in Bloomberg serving as just one example.  Note the title – “Trump Must Choose Between Obama Sanctions and Putin Detente” – and its opening paragraph

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are forcing Donald Trump to pick sides: undo sanctions the U.S. just imposed on Russia for hacking e-mails before last month’s election or set aside a campaign vow to improve relations with Moscow.

Along with these articles there was also what was surely a pre-arranged chorus of support for Obama’s move from various members of Congress, including several prominent Republicans.

Much has been made of these comments, especially those of Republican leaders like Paul Ryan.  These people have however never liked Trump, or his moves towards detente with Russia, so the fact they lent themselves to this campaign is not surprising.  Trump’s support does not come from these people, but from the Republican base.

The key point about Putin’s response yesterday is that it has made clear that the “difficult dilemma” Obama thought he was creating for Trump does not exist.

By blaming Obama for the sanctions, by getting his diplomats to call Obama a “lame duck”, and by refusing to respond in kind, Putin and the Russians have enabled Trump to sidestep the trap Obama laid for him, and have given him the political space he needs to forge ahead with his policy of improving relations with Russia.

In other words what Putin is doing is signalling that he does not require Trump to lift the latest sanctions as a condition for improving relations with Russia.  Putin will not allow the future improvement of US-Russian relations to be held hostage to Obama’s spoiling tactics.

This explains Trump’s response to Putin’s move.  Trump’s now famous tweet – “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” – is not only an acknowledgment by Trump of Putin’s cleverness.  It reflects Trump’s relief that Putin is giving him the political space he needs by refusing to be goaded by Obama into action that might box Trump in.

At the same time the overtly transparent tone of the campaign, with the frank admission that Obama’s motive was to box in Trump, has effectively given the whole game away.

That this is so is shown by the extent to which sections of the Western media are now frankly acknowledging the motivations behind Obama’s and Putin’s various moves.

Again an article by Tim Stanley in the Daily Telegraph may serve as a good example.  It begins with the title “Putin has helped Trump escape Obama’s trap” and then discusses with intelligently and factually the motives behind the various moves.  Here is what it has to say about Obama’s

 t would be nice to say that America’s spat with Russia is all about national security, but let’s not be naïve. Donald Trump’s foreign policy approach is defined by rapprochement with Russia – and Barack Obama is clearly trying to limit his room for manoeuvre when he takes over in the New Year. By taking such a tough stance with Russia, Obama hopes to force Trump either to acknowledge Putin’s aggression and follow suit, which would amount to a u-turn, or repudiate Obama’s actions and risk looking weak.

(bold italics added)

It then discusses Putin’s counter-move and the reasons behind it

It is a game of chess, and Obama played a clever move. By expelling Russian diplomats on Thursday he tried to commit the United States to one line of policy: confrontation. Happily for the Democrats, this also split the Republicans. Hawks such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan welcomed Obama’s action as necessary if belated. What would Trump do?

On the other side of the world, Putin prepared to move his pieces – and did nothing. Better, he decided, to treat Obama as a lame duck and ignore him. Play the long game and wait for Trump to take over.

Happily for Trump, this means that he doesn’t inherit a frozen diplomatic Cold War on January 20. The reset of Russian relations is more likely to go ahead.
(bold italics added)
Alongside these articles, which discuss these moves and counter-moves intelligently and objectively, there is also (as I discussed yesterday) considerable admiration for Putin’s move.  However there is also considerable anger.  This furious editorial in the strongly neocon London Times serves as a good example

Whether or not the hacking succeeded in depressing Democratic turnout, to interfere in US internal affairs is a hostile act that demands a firm bipartisan response. That unified front has not appeared. On the contrary, the insouciant reaction of President-elect Trump to the hacking has handed the diplomatic initiative to Mr Putin. Yesterday the Russian leader conspicuously declined to follow the urging of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to impose tit-for-tat expulsions of US diplomats. With calculated fulsomeness, Mr Putin invited the children of US diplomats to new year parties in the Kremlin.;Russia, he said, would not “stoop” to the level of “irresponsible diplomacy” but would work to restore ties with the US under President-elect Trump. The lofty riposte allowed Mr Putin to win this diplomatic bout and he now undoubtedly hopes that Mr Trump will be a more malleable diplomatic partner on entering the White House next month. That should serve as a warning to the US and its allies. Russia’s diplomatic aims have been triumphantly served in 2016 by a lack of resolution on the part of western democracies. Extraordinarily, the Russian embassy in London posted online an insulting response to Mr Obama’s actions, comparing him to a lame duck.

This cannot be allowed to go on. Britain has a part to play in making life difficult for hostile Russian interventions. It should start by demanding swift regulatory action against the Russian propaganda outlets Russia Today and Sputnik, both with bases in Britain. Meddling with western democratic procedures is an outrage; it must bear a heavy cost.

To which one need only respond by wondering what RT (not Russia Today) and Sputnik have to do with any of this; and by referring to a comment by one of The London Times’s own readers

“Putin’s Provocation” This is just getting beyond ridiculous. If Putin were to eject American diplomats he would have been presented as pariah, Putin decides not to eject American diplomats and that is presented as provocation.

The fundamental problem with Obama’s scheme was that it depended on Putin and the Russians reacting as he expected them to react: imposing counter-sanctions and reciprocal expulsions of diplomats.   When they failed to react as Obama expected, his scheme unravelled; in The London Times’s words “allowing Mr. Putin to win this diplomatic bout”.

It is the sort of mistake clever people who (like Obama) are not quite as clever as they believe they are, routinely make.

In the process the obviously partisan way in which Obama is using the hacking scandal is creating more and more doubts about it.

A good example is this article in Rolling Stone – “Something about this Russia Story Stinks” – written by someone who clearly has no time for either Putin or Trump, but who is becoming increasingly concerned by the all too obviously manipulated nature of this story.  Reading through the article one comes across comments like this

The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.

If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now…..

…….Also, like the WMD story, there’s an element of salesmanship the government is using to push the hacking narrative that should make reporters nervous. Take this line in Obama’s statement about mistreatment of American diplomats in Moscow:

“Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year.”

This appears to refer to an incident this summer in which an American diplomat was beaten outside the diplomatic compound in Moscow. That followed a 2013 case in which a U.S. diplomat named Ryan Fogle was arrested in similar fashion…..

If the Russians messed with an election, that’s enough on its own to warrant a massive response – miles worse than heavy-handed responses to ordinary spying episodes. Obama mentioning these humdrum tradecraft skirmishes feels like he’s throwing something in to bolster an otherwise thin case.”

(bold italics added)

Obama is now promising a further report, which will supposedly provide more evidence to back his story of Russian interference in the election.  However this report too will apparently fail to disclose evidence that is said to be ‘classified’.  This does make the story look increasingly like the Iraq WMD scandal, with one ‘dodgy dossier’ succeeding another.

As for Obama, very late in his Presidency he has now been given a lesson on how unwise it is to try to beat the Russians at diplomatic chess.

 

 

 

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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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