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Russiagate crisis: Mueller counterattacks; subpoenas Bannon

Decision to subpoena Bannon makes little sense except in terms of partisan politics

Alexander Mercouris

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That Special Counsel Robert Mueller is becoming rattled because of the growing criticism of his investigation by Republicans in Congress and because of the legal action Paul Manafort has recently brought against him, is strongly suggested by his frankly very strange decision not just to subpoena Steve Bannon but to subpoena Steve Bannon to give evidence before a Grand Jury.

It is difficult to understand the logic of this step if Mueller is carrying out a serious investigation.

No one up to now has suggested that Bannon was involved in the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Bannon’s name does not appear in the Trump Dossier.  He does not seem to have been placed under surveillance as a result of any FISA warrants.  He does not seem to have been involved in the failed diplomatic outreach to the Russians carried out by Michael Flynn during the transition period.

Given that this is so, it is not obvious why Bannon is being asked questions at all, much less why he is being asked to answer those questions before a Grand Jury.

There is some speculation that the subpoena has been served in that way as a tactic to try to force Bannon to answer questions voluntarily in Mueller’s office.  However that would imply that there was some reason to doubt that he would agree to be interviewed by Mueller, of which there is no evidence and which seems on the face of it extremely unlikely.

Even the New York Times, which was the first to report the story, seems baffled and struggles to come up with an explanation

The subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mr. Mueller is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices about ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia and about the president’s conduct in office, according to the person, who would not be named discussing the case. But it was not clear why Mr. Mueller treated Mr. Bannon differently than the dozen administration officials who were interviewed in the final months of last year and were never served with a subpoena.

The subpoena is a sign that Mr. Bannon is not personally the focus of the investigation. Justice Department rules allow prosecutors to subpoena the targets of investigations only in rare circumstances…..

Some legal experts said the subpoena could be a sign that the investigation was intensifying, while others said it may simply have been a negotiating tactic to persuade Mr. Bannon to cooperate with the investigation. The experts also said it could be a signal to Mr. Bannon, who has tried to publicly patch up his falling-out with the president, that despite Mr. Trump’s legal threats, Mr. Bannon must be completely forthcoming with investigators…..

Mr. Bannon has limited firsthand knowledge about two key issues within Mr. Mueller’s purview — the president’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, a decision made without Mr. Bannon present, and the drafting of a misleading statement about the subject of the June 2016 meeting with Russians, in which they promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

All this sounds incredibly nebulous, and does not really explain why Bannon is being asked to answer questions before a Grand Jury, or indeed why he is being asked questions at all.

There have been suggestions that Bannon is being called to answer questions because the fiancee of George Papadopoulos has said that Papadopoulos informed him of his contacts with the Russians.

However there was nothing to suggest collusion in Papadopoulos’s contacts with the Russians – if there had been his indictment would undoubtedly have said so – and Papadopoulos is known to have discussed his contacts with the Russians with several other people in the Trump campaign, none of whom have been subpoenaed to appear and answer questions before a Grand Jury as Bannon has just been.

It is overwhelmingly likely that the reason why Bannon is being subpoenaed to appear and answer questions before a Grand Jury is so that he can explain his much reported (indeed over-reported) comments that the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was “treasonous”.  That at least seems to be the explanation the New York Times favours.

In “Fire and Fury,” Mr. Bannon was quoted by the author, Michael Wolff, as suggesting that Donald Trump Jr.; the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner; and Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman at the time, were “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for attending the meeting with Russians at Trump Tower. Mr. Bannon said that he believed there was “zero” chance that the younger Mr. Trump did not take them to meet his father, who has said he knew nothing about the meeting.

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers,” Mr. Bannon said in the book.

If so then that is desperate.  Bannon is not a lawyer and is no expert in what is “treasonous” and what is not.

Besides to believe that Bannon really thinks the meeting with Veselnitskaya was “treasonous” is to invest far too much meeting into his words.  Here is what I have previously said about the true meaning behind Bannon’s words about this meeting, which I discussed in my recent review of Michael Wolff’s book

…….Bannon does not really believe that Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were engaging in treason when they met Veselnitskaya.  Rather what Bannon is saying is that by meeting Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower without lawyers present and without first tipping off the FBI they were exposing themselves to that claim.

In other words Bannon is saying that Donald Trump Junior, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are stupid and incompetent (“that’s the brain trust they had”) and cannot be trusted to do anything right by themselves unless Bannon himself is involved (“any information could then be dumped down to Breitbart”).

Instead of being evidence that the meeting with Veselnitskaya was “treasonous”, Bannon’s words are therefore just another example of Bannon’s self-aggrandising and his all-too obvious hostility towards members of Donald Trump’s family.

Bannon’s real view of the Russiagate affair is provided in another passage in the book, which  – of course – has attracted no attention

As for Bannon, who had himself promoted many conspiracies, he dismissed the Russia story in textbook fashion: “It’s just a conspiracy theory”.  And, he added, the Trump team wasn’t capable of conspiring about anything.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that with questions about the Trump Dossier which underpins the whole Russiagate inquiry increasingly being asked, and with the Wall Street Journal once again calling into question the whole propriety of the Russiagate investigation, Mueller felt that he had to take dramatic action to show that his inquiry is still on track by serving a subpoena on Bannon to answer questions before a Grand Jury.

That after all is what Mueller increasingly looks to have done with his indictment against Paul Manafort, which increasingly looks as if it was rushed out in response to an earlier editorial in the Wall Street Journal which said that Mueller should go.

The fact that Bannon is now apparently saying that his “treasonous” comment was intended to refer not to Donald Trump Junior but to Paul Manafort, who has quite obviously become Mueller’s bête noire, makes that even more likely.

If so then the subpoena Mueller has just served on Bannon shows two things: first, that Mueller must be becoming increasingly desperate as his investigation runs on empty, so that he is now seizing on some stray words of Bannon’s quoted in a gossipy book to justify calling him before a Grand Jury; and second, that Mueller is working hand-in-glove with the Democrats, since it is surely not a coincidence that Mueller subpoenaed Bannon the day after Bannon answered questions put to him by the Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee.

The second of course shows what a partisan affair Russiagate has now become.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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