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Russiagate scandal approaches its implosion point

Publication of GOP memorandum on surveillance abuses by Obama’s Justice Department could blow the lid off the scandal

Alexander Mercouris

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the point of crisis in the Russiagate scandal has now been reached, and that it centres on the four page memorandum prepared by Republican Congressional investigators after their examination of the Justice Department’s documents on the evidence provided during the 2016 election by Obama’s Justice Department to the FBI to undertake surveillance of members of Donald Trump’s campaign.

Publication of this memorandum has just been agreed by the House Intelligence Committee.

The final decision whether or not to publish the memorandum lies with President Trump.

I think it is a foregone conclusion that he will decide to publish it, though I expect heavy lobbying from the Justice Department and the US intelligence community to persuade him not to do so.

All I would say about that is that if President Trump allows himself to be persuaded by whatever threats or promises the Justice Department and the US intelligence community make to him, then he is a fool.

I do not know what is in the memorandum, though FBI Director Christopher Wray, who read it on Sunday, was apparently profoundly shocked by its contents, leading him to demand the immediate resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

What is known about the memorandum is that it concerns the Trump Dossier, and it is almost certainly not a coincidence that it has appeared at roughly the same time that demands have been coming from Senator Lindsey Graham for a second Special Counsel to be appointed to investigate the Justice Department’s and the FBI’s actions during the 2016 election, and when a request has been made by Senators Grassley and Lindsey Graham for the Justice Department to look into the possibility of whether Christopher Steele – the Trump Dossier’s compiler – may have committed criminal offences because of contradictory things which he is supposed to have said to the media.

There are of course plenty of rumours about what the memorandum says.

The most plausible rumours that I have seen say that the memorandum says that a FISA warrant was obtained to institute surveillance of Carter Page without the FISA court been told that the evidence cited in support of the application for the warrant was based wholly on information provided by the Trump Dossier, and that the Trump Dossier was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Allegedly the US attorney who represented the Justice Department when the application for this FISA warrant was presented to the FISA court, and who did not provide the FISA court with the  information that it came from the Trump Dossier which the Democrats had paid for, was none other than Rod Rosenstein, who is now the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and who was the Justice Department official who appointed Robert Mueller Special Counsel to investigate the Russiagate collusion allegations which are based on the Trump Dossier.

If this is true then I must say that Rosenstein’s position looks to me untenable, and I think he will have to resign.

Though I do not know whether legally speaking Rosenstein is caught in a conflict of interest – my guess is that he is – I cannot imagine that the Republicans in Congress will tolerate his remaining in overall charge of the Russiagate inquiry after such a revelation, and I cannot see Rosenstein remaining Deputy Attorney General if he is stripped of his power to supervise Mueller’s inquiry.

Needless to say if Rosenstein is forced to resign, then it seems to me that Mueller’s days will also be numbered.  My guess is he will in that case resign immediately, though he might try to cling on.  If he does so he will only be there for a few days.

At that point Russiagate – or to be more precisely the legal investigation into the collusion allegations – will be finally over.

On the subject of whether or not the Justice Department and the FBI knew that the Trump Dossier was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and by the Hillary Clinton campaign when it applied for the surveillance warrants to the FISA court, I must say that I agree with Representative Devin Nunes: it is all but inconceivable that they did not.

The very first question the FBI investigators would have asked Christopher Steele when he presented them with the first entry of the Trump Dossier back in early July 2016 was who was paying him, and he would have had to answer.

Even if all of Steele’s contacts were with Fusion GPS, and even if Steele only named Fusion GPS, that would have been enough for the FBI to trace the funding of the Trump Dossier back to the Democrats.  After all it was enough to set the Republicans in Congress on the right lead, and it beggars belief that the same would not have been the case for the FBI.

As it happens I suspect that there were many more contacts between the Democrats, the Justice Department and the FBI in the summer and autumn of 2016 than we know about, and I would not be surprised if the memorandum touches on them.

Perhaps the best evidence for the explosive contents of the memorandum is that the Democrats have felt obliged to produce their own memorandum in response to it.

Contrary to what Representative Adam Schiff is saying, the Republicans apparently agree that it should be published also.

The best discussion of all this – both about the contents of the Democrats’ memorandum and about the Republicans’ plan for eventual publication of the Democrats’ memorandum – has been provided by Byron York

…….there was also a rare moment of bipartisanship for the bitterly divided panel. At the same meeting, Republicans and Democrats voted unanimously to make the Democratic memo — the counter-memo to the Republican document — available to all members of the House.

That is the same process Republicans, under chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., followed with their memo. First, make it available to House members. (That happened on Jan. 18.) Later, after members of both parties have had a chance to read the memo, decide whether to release it to the public.

More than one Republican told me Monday that they plan to support releasing the Democratic memo to the public after a period of time comparable to the Republican example. (Republicans voted down a Democratic motion to make the Democratic memo public immediately, arguing that House members should have a chance to read it first.)

“Obviously we have gone through the process of letting our colleagues read our memo over the last several days, and I think that when the Democratic memo has gone through the same process, then it should have the same day in court, so to speak,” Republican committee member Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., told reporters after the session.

To no one’s surprise, ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was the first to make it to the cameras after the meeting Monday. He noted that the committee had voted to make the Democratic memo available to “members of the House that have been misled by the majority’s memorandum.” But he also spoke in a way that might have led a casual listener to conclude Republicans had voted to keep the memo completely under wraps. At one point he referred to “if and when the majority allows the minority memorandum to see the light of day.”

Now that the Democratic memo is available to everyone in the House, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will flock to read the memo as Republicans — about 200 of them — flocked to read the GOP memo. But what is clear is that some Republicans have already taken a look at the Democratic document, and it is, as expected, all about the GOP memo.

The Democratic memo, which like the Republican memo is classified and can only be viewed in a secure room, is an attempt to discredit the GOP document without making any larger point about the Trump-Russia investigation, said Republicans who have seen it.

“It was written by attorneys as a rebuttal to our memo, but it’s not going to move their argument forward,” noted one Republican member who has read the Democratic paper. “It’s too detailed, too confusing, and far more personal — they go after [Nunes] again and again.

The member noted that that Democratic memo contains far more classified information — names and sources — than the GOP paper. “It is much more revealing [of classified information],” he said. “It’s going to have to be heavily redacted before it can be released. We wrote our memo with the hope that it would be released to the American people. Their memo will have to be heavily redacted.”

Two other GOP members familiar with the memo echoed those points.

From this it is clear that the Republicans do not fear that the Democrats’ memorandum seriously challenges their own.

Rather it appears to have been concocted by the Democrats in order to muddle the issue and so as to give themselves counter arguments when the Republican memorandum is published.

Already that looks defensive, and the Republicans apparently feel that its verbose and legalistic style means that it fails to challenge their memorandum effectively.

One other fact in my opinion points strongly to the likely importance of the Republicans’ memorandum.

This is that though it has been the focus of all-absorbing discussion within the Washington political bubble for weeks, the liberal media in the US has barely spoken about it, and the media in Britain has ignored it entirely.

I have not come across a single reference to the memorandum in any British newspaper or on the BBC, which given the relentless way the British media has covered even the most insignificant and implausible of the Russiangate collusion allegations made against Donald Trump is both significant and remarkable.

What it points to is deep concern and embarrassment within the British elite, which given Britain’s central role in triggering the Russiagate scandal is not surprising.

All I would say about that is that if the memorandum is as explosive a document as appears likely then the British media is once again failing the British people, who may struggle to understand when it is published and when Russiagate finally collapses how that has happened.

Putting that aside, the supporters of the Russiagate conspiracy theory have not been inactive over the last few weeks, and as the prospect of the publication of the memorandum looms they have been working overtime to keep the scandal alive and to prepare their defences.

One approach has been play up ‘non news’ stories such as the fact that Mueller’s investigators have questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions and may one day question Donald Trump.  Needless to say that is neither new nor important nor even interesting.

The second has been to speak ominously of ‘threats to Mueller’ supposedly coming from within the administration.

The most recent example of this is a strange story that President Trump supposedly planned to sack Mueller in June – very soon after Mueller was in fact appointed – only to be talked out of doing so following a row with White House Counsel Don McGahn.

President Trump has categorically denied this story – which has no independent corroboration – calling it ‘fake news’, but as now invariably happens his liberal opponents refuse to take his denial seriously, and despite his denial act as if the story has been proved true.

Personally speaking, I doubt that President Trump seriously intended to sack Mueller in June.  The political risks involved in doing so so soon after the botched sacking of former FBI Director James Comey, would have been too obvious and far too great for Trump to have seriously intended it.

Possibly Trump – who is an emotional man, and who is known to have deeply resented Mueller’s appointment – spoke wildly of sacking Mueller, only for this to provoke an angry rejoinder from McGahn, a tough and hardbitten character who is apparently known to give as good as he gets.  However I doubt that Trump ever seriously planned to sack Mueller.

Most probably the whole story – like so many others which have appeared over the course of the Russiagate scandal – is as Trump says an invention.

Whether it is or not, of one thing there is no doubt, which is that it is a red herring.

Whatever Trump’s intentions towards Mueller might have been back in June, he has repeatedly denied that he has any plan to sack Mueller now, making what didn’t happen back in June entirely beside the point.

The third approach has been to try to distance the scandal from the Trump Dossier by pretending that it did not have the central role in creating the scandal that it obviously did.

Thus we have seen the attempt to play up the role of George Papadopoulos (discussed at length by me here).

Now we have a new story ultimately sourced from the Dutch media that Dutch intelligence supposedly hacked a Russian hacking group based in a university building in Moscow back in 2014.

Supposedly CCTV inside the building was also hacked, enabling pictures to be taken of the members of the hacking group.

As with so many Russiagate related stories this one turns out to be a great deal less impressive than it looks at first glance.

Firstly, that a hacking group might be operating in 2014 out a university building in Moscow should surprise no one.

The fact that the building in question is said to have been situated close to Red Square points to the building in question being one of the old buildings of Moscow State University.

The staff and students of Moscow State University undoubtedly include many people with both the skill and the inclination to become hackers, and that some of them might actually have become hackers should surprise no one.

That fact alone makes it overwhelmingly likely that what the Dutch came across was a private hacking group made up of staff and students from Moscow State University, and the fact that the group used hacking tools known as Cozy Bear which are widely available to hackers who know how to access the dark web all but confirms this.

That Russian intelligence carried out an ultra sensitive hacking operation from an inherently insecure location like a university building in the centre of Moscow is all but inconceivable, and that whole idea should be put aside.

Moreover it seems from the reports that the Dutch did not in fact catch the hackers in the act of stealing the emails from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta.  I say this because if they did the Dutch media stories would certainly have confirmed it.

The Dutch media reports say that the Dutch were able to monitor the group for roughly a year, from mid 2014 to mid 2015.  The alleged cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee are supposed to have begun in the summer of 2015 and to have continued until 2016.  That strongly suggests that the Dutch ceased monitoring the hacking group just before the cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee are supposed to have taken place.

Perhaps the cyber attacks (if they happened) really were the work of the group the Dutch came across, but it is clear that the Dutch do not know this.

In summary, the Dutch appear to have come across what was almost certainly a private hacking group consisting of staff and students from Moscow State University and operating from one of the buildings of Moscow State University, but Russian intelligence was almost certainly not involved, and the Dutch have no proof that the group in question was involved in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic National Committee or of John Podesta or in the theft of the emails published by Wikileaks which were stolen from those computers.  Nor obviously do they have any proof that the group was involved in providing the emails which were stolen from those computers to Wikileaks.

Possibly intelligence reports from the Dutch of the Dutch discovery in 2014 of this Russian hacking group hardened belief within the US intelligence community in 2016 of Russian involvement in the theft and publication of the Democratic National Committee and Podesta emails.  If so then it was an exercise in deduction based on too few facts.

Regardless, what the hackers in Moscow were up to in 2014 and 2015 can have no bearing on the collusion allegations between the Trump campaign and Russia which are the heart of the Russiagate scandal.

A careful analysis of the story therefore reveals it to be – like the ‘revelations’ about Papadopoulos – simply another red herring.

Frankly publication of this story at this time looks like another attempt to bolster the Russiagate conspiracy narrative just at the moment when with the imminent publication of the Republicans’ memorandum it looks to be collapsing.

Publication of the Republicans’ memorandum, even if it is as devastating as all the indications suggest it is, and even if it does trigger the resignations of Rosenstein and Mueller, will not spell the immediate end of the Russiagate conspiracy theory.

The Democrats and the media are heavily invested in it, and they will try to spin any resignations by Rosenstein and Mueller – or any pressure from the Republicans arising from the contents of the memorandum to get Rosenstein and Mueller to resign – as a Republican plot to suppress the truth.

That presumably is why the story of Trump planning to sack Mueller back in June is now being brought up.

The Democrats’ memorandum points to their chief line of attack: a legalistic defence of the actions of the Justice Department and the FBI and of the US intelligence community during the 2016 election in order to deny any wrongdoing and so as to keep the story focused on the collusion allegations.

With the media in the US and in Britain lending this line of attack its full support, and doubtless churning out more ‘non stories’ and red herrings of the sort I have discussed in the article, it is likely that for a time many people will continue to be confused and will be unsure where the truth lies.

Ultimately nothing can however disguise the fact that the surveillance of members of the Trump campaign during the election on the basis of unverified ‘evidence’ paid for by the Democrats, and the systematic and illegal leaking of classified information in order to undermine Donald Trump both before and after he was inaugurated President, actually took place.

By contrast the allegations of Russian leaking of the emails stolen from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta have never been conclusively proved, whilst the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians which Mueller is supposed to be investigating definitely never took place.

It may take a little time, but once all the facts are out in the open it is only a matter of time before most people finally see the truth.

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Judicial Watch Calls for Re-Opening of Hillary Email Investigation After More Classified Info Found

Judicial Watching is calling for a re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after finding more classified information on the former Secretary of State’s non-“state.gov” email system.

The Duran

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Authored by Joseph Jankowski via PlanetFreeWill.com,


On Thursday, the watchdog revealed that it had received two batches, 184 pages and 45 pagesof newly uncovered emails belonging to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Department of State sent and received over her unsecured server.

The emails were uncovered by a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2015, after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015 FOIA request seeking all emails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Clinton regarding her non-“state.gov” email address.

Judicial Watch broke down what they found:

  • On June 7, 2011, Clinton received classified information on her non-secure email account from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which Blair also forwarded to Jake Sullivan, about Blair’s Middle East negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians and the French
  • On January 26, 2010, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan sent classified information via his unsecure Blackberry to Huma Abedin’s State Department email account that he’d earlier sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s non-secure @clintonemail.com email accounts about U.K. negotiations with Northern Ireland.
  • On October 28, 2010, Clinton exchanges information with her friend Marty Torrey – a congressional aide – who asks Clinton in an email if she would advise that Torrey meet with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton responds through her non-secure email account approving the meeting and notes that she is emailing him from Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • An email chain dated April 8, 2010, which contains a memo from Sid Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton related to the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, contains information classified “confidential” and is redacted as “foreign government information” and “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Blumenthal urges Clinton to “develop relations” with the new government in Kyrgyzstan.

These emails caused Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton to call for the Department of Justice to re-open the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office.

“These emails were undercovered from the emails that Hillary Clinton tried to delete or otherwise hide from the American people,” Fitton said in a video posted Thursday. “These new emails once again show why the Clinton email investigation needs to be re-opened by the Justice Department.”

The batch of emails also disclosed a January 26, 2010, email to Hillary Clinton’s private server from her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, that is classified “confidential” and contains a “call sheet” that Clinton received prior to a call with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Interesting, but not surprising, is also an email that shows a meeting scheduled between Hillary Clinton and leftwing billionaire George Soros.

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Doug Casey on Social Media: “Facebook enshrines stupidity”

“Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook.”

The Duran

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Authored by Joel Bowman via InternationalMan.com:


Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. Thanks for speaking with us today.

Doug Casey: No problem, Joel. It’s a pleasure to hear your Australian accent come across the ether from Mexico.

Joel: Let’s dive right in. A week or two ago, Facebook registered the largest single day loss for any one company in stock market history – roughly $122 billion. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost around $15 billion himself, as much as the annual GDP of several resource-rich, West African nations.

Looking back to 2000, during the go-go days of the dot.com boom, Intel and Microsoft both registered staggering single-day losses, too… $90 billion and $80 billion, respectively. And we know what happened next in that case…

So, investors want to know… is past prologue? What’s next for Silicon Valley’s tech darlings?

Doug: Talking about losing multiple billions in a single day, it’s really a sign of the times. I remember when the only billionaires in the world were Howard Hughes, John Paul Getty and John Beresford Tipton– the mythical billionaire on a 1950’s-era show called “The Millionaire.”

These days, however, it seems everyone’s a billionaire. In fact, there are several thousand billionaires roaming the planet today, with new ones being minted almost every day.

Of course, much of this so-called wealth is just paper. It’s not real. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that we’re in a stock market bubble. Which is being driven by the bond market hyper-bubble. And that, in turn, is fueling a real estate bubble, which I believe is just now beginning to deflate in major cities around the world.

None of this augurs well for the stock market. You’ve got bubbles all over the place. Except in the resource market. That’s the one place that hasn’t inflated. In fact, it’s been going down since it’s last peak in 2011.

Getting back to Facebook, I hope it goes bankrupt. I hate it as an institution. I hate what it does. I don’t like its policies. I don’t like its management. I don’t like the fact that it’s causing people to destroy whatever privacy they have left. While turning their brains to mush sending out selfies all day.

Joel: You’ve put a lot on the table there, Doug. Let’s unpack a bit of that, starting with the general tendency toward cerebral rot…

Many younger readers may not remember this, but there actually existed a time before everybody knew everything, when people had to read books and discuss them, engage in healthy debate and rigorous dialectic in order to learn and develop intellectually.

Now that everyone apparently has plenty of time to Instagram their kale salads and “like” one and other’s cat pictures, are we to assume mankind has finally reached the End of Learning…some new Age of Enlightenment?

Or might Facebook and its (anti)social media cousins represent – in addition to the potential fallout for investors – another, hidden cost to society?

Doug: Perhaps humanity is bifurcating into the Morlocks and the Eloi at this point. It’s true that people used to go to libraries. But even the Library of Congress has only a tiny fraction the world’s data available; libraries are quaint and delightful, but they’re dinosaurs.

All the knowledge in the world is now at our fingertips on the Internet. The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in history, on a par with moveable type and the Gutenburg printing press. A few people are using it to educate and better themselves—but relatively few.

Most people just use it for trivial amusement, as you mentioned. Facebook adds very little value to the equation. In fact, I can’t see that it does much that’s productive. It’s basically a vehicle for gossip and watching cat videos.

Joel: And it’s less than that. Aside from the general degradation of public discourse, social media also represents a kind of unalterable historical record of bad jokes and regrettable moments, accessible to anyone who may wish to besmirch one’s character or skittle one’s reputation.

We’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t. To err is to be human, after all. What do you make of a world in which everyone’s worst moments are readily available to everyone else – including potential enemies – at the click of a mouse?

Doug: Facebook enshrines stupidity. A heavy Facebook user is, in effect, saying: “Look at me! I’m a thoughtless person who doesn’t have anything better to do with his time”. That’s on top of the fact that users are exposing their thoughts, actions, and whereabouts to the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and any of a hundred other nefarious agencies. In fact, there are credible allegations that Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, are willing tools of these intelligence agencies. No good can come of being a Facebookista.

But that’s about whether you should use Facebook. Whether you should own Facebook stock is a different question. Even after the recent selloff, Facebook still has a market cap of about $500 billion, which impresses me as a lot for a chat site cum advertising vehicle. Especially one where most of its growth is behind it. A lot of users are getting hip to the fact they’re not customers, they’re the product.

Facebook was a clever innovation ten years ago. But you know, there’s an old saying in the stock market: High Tech, Big Wreck!

Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook. My understanding is that kids now see Facebook as something used by old people– people over 21 years of age. So if it’s going nowhere with the younger generation, where’s it’s future? Maybe it picks up a billion new users in the Third World. Ultimately, what’s that worth?

Facebook may not be a terminal short sale, but I certainly won’t be putting any of my own money into the stock.

Joel: Assuming you’re correct and Facebook 2.0 does displace the current market leader, are you hopeful that such a platform may serve to promote a heightened level of discourse? Perhaps people might find their way into “phyles,” that is, subgroups based on commonly shared values that actually have real world meaning?

Doug: I hope that, in a year or two, International Man itself grows into a community of likeminded people with above average I.Q.s, libertarian values, and real world experience. IM might, itself, even branch off to become its own kind of Facebook. A private version.

I know there’s a lot of talk about regulating FB, or breaking it up. That’s a bad idea; the government should have zero to do with business in general—and areas related to free speech in particular. I’m disgusted by the fact FB has kicked Alex Jones and others off their platform. But they have a right to do so, as a private company. Although, on the other hand, they’re almost a creature of the State.

But that’s not an excuse for the government to “step in”. What will happen is that a newer, better Facebook lookalike—or a dozen of them—will replace them. FB will self-destruct. It’s a non-problem.

To be frank, you and I don’t really have that much in common with most of the 7.3 billion people on this planet. In fact, while I like many individual humans, I despise humanity in general. The more people you put together in a group, the more they act like chimpanzees. Big groups force down the lowest common denominator.

There’s some cause for optimism, but only on a person-to-person basis. I prefer the company of people who value free minds and free markets—and I suspect most people who are reading this now feel the same way.

Joel: That’s probably a very good note to end this conversation on, Doug. Thanks, as always, for taking the time.

Doug: Meanwhile, we’ll look for something with the potential of Facebook in 2008… and stay away from Facebook today.

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Why did Erdogan free two Greek soldiers after six months in a Turkish prison?

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 83.

Alex Christoforou

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Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet after their unexpected release by a Turkish provincial court.

Greece’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece.

Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940…

“This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940.”

“I hope that their release…will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the reasons behind Erdogan’s unexpected overture to Greece, with the sudden release of two Greek soldiers held in a Turkish prison for nearly 6 months.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Ekathimerini

The soldiers – 2nd Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis – were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters.

The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed their release as “an act of justice,” and provided the jet he uses on official foreign journeys to bring them back.

Their release “will contribute to strengthening friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region,” Tsipras said in a statement. “I want to congratulate and thank (the two men) and their families for their fortitude, patience and trust in our efforts, which were finally justified.”

In Athens, the Foreign Ministry said: “We welcome the release of the two members of the Greek armed forces … following more than five months of unjustified custody in Edirne prison. This decision by the Turkish authorities is positive and will contribute to the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations and the friendship between our people.

“The constant efforts exerted by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic and consular missions of Greece in Turkey have borne fruit. Once again diplomacy is the biggest winner.”

The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey.

Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.

The two Greeks were released Tuesday pending the outcome of their trial by a Turkish court. Turkey’s state Anadolu Agency said that in a court hearing to review a request for their release the two said in their defense that they had crossed the border by mistake.

Mitretodis’ father told the AP that his son had shown great strength in prison.

“My wife phoned and told me the news, and at once I called the Greek consul (in Edirne) and confirmed that the lads have been set free,” Nikos Mitretodis said. “They didn’t do anything wrong, and they spent a long time in prison. But they were strong during all that time, and remain strong, they have to be.”

“I want to thank everyone for their solidarity – the media, our political leadership, the Church and anonymous people who stood by us,” he added.

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the release of the two soldiers “on the one hand constitutes a basic act of justice on the part of the Turkish authorities. On the other hand, it shows how Turkey can and should continue to fully reestablish the climate of friendship and good neighborliness with Greece”.

Main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “The release of the two Greek officers is happy news amid the gloomy summer that our country is experiencing. All Greeks await their return with joy and emotion.”

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was delighted by news of the Greek soldiers’ imminent release. “As I said (before) … Turkey has nothing to fear from its European neighbors. We want to see a democratic, stable and prosperous Turkey,” he posted on Twitter.

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog:

On August 15, Greeks celebrate the “Dormition (or the Assumption) of the Virgin Mary (in Greek: Koimisis tis Theotokou). The holiday commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of the Theotokos (Mary, translated as “God-bearer”). August 15, one of the most important holidays in the Orthodox calendar, is celebrated across the country, and is a date when many Greeks leave the towns and cities where they live and work to return to their home villages.”

Stole that bit from the local Kathimerini paper. And I would add: while most Athenians leave for the islands, along with about 2 billion tourists. Thought I’d bring up the national holiday because in Turkey, they celebrate the same. The orthodox church is still going strong in both countries. Even if Turkey is leaning increasingly towards Islam. And even then: the House of the Virgin Mary shrine in Turkey, which the Apostle John is supposed to have built for her, on a mountain overlooking the Aegean, the place where Mary is said to have spent her last years, sees both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

All this can’t be seen apart from some recent developments between the two countries. Turkey had been holding two Greek servicemen in jail after they crossed a border in bad weather early March.

Athens got a phone call from Ankara, probably to Kammenos, not Tsipras, that said: you come get them. Whether that call was before or after the court decision we’ll probably never know. A bit of a shame, because it could tell us a lot of where the decisions are made in Turkey. Then again, we do have an idea. A mere provincial court that could make decisions that go completely against what Erdogan desires? What are the odds? But stick around.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year, were released by a provincial court, and got back home on a joint Turkish/Greek national holiday. What’s not to like?

But then this: a few hours after they arrive home on PM Tsipras’ own government jet at 3pm, another Turkish court decides that an appeal for American pastor Brunson to be released, is denied. Brunson is the guy Trump wants freed. John Bolton has said there’ll be no more talks until that is done. But if one court takes a decision that at least on the face of it goes against supreme ruler Erdogan’s demands, and another decides differently, Erdogan can claim the pastor’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides.

That victory over Trump, concerning not freeing the pastor, is apparently worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have gotten asylum in Greece. Something Erdogan is allegedly very angry about, because he accuses them of being party to the 2016 ‘coup’. He’s trying to play chess with Trump.

*****

And then Reuters has this just now:

Erdogan Spokesman Says Problems With US Will Be Resolved

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday he expected problems with the United States, which helped drive the lira to record lows, to be resolved but Washington must stop trying to influence Turkey’s judiciary. Ibrahim Kalin also told a news conference that Turkey would exercise its rights if the U.S. does not deliver F-35 jets to Ankara. The lira, which has rallied after hitting a record low of 7.24 to the dollar, would continue to recover, he said.

Via The Automatic Earth blog:

A masterstroke? Did Erdogan just succeed in making everyone, including Trump, believe the Turkish judiciary system is impartial, and he’s not the one keeping Brunson from leaving the country? Sure looks like he tried. “Sorry, Mr. Trump, it’s out of my hands.. A judge let the Greek soldiers go, and I didn’t want that either..”

Problem is, everyone knows Erdogan fired half the judiciary system and 90% or so of the press, accusing them of being part of the same coup plot as Gülen and the pastor Brunson. It’s almost amusing. Almost, because innocent people’s lives are being played out on some primitive chess board and sacrificed against dreams of ever more power. Only a pawn in their game.

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