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By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
May 25, 2019

Now that the Russia collusion allegations have evaporated, the long knives are out and the president’s antagonists are watching their backs. They have moved from accusing President Trump of treason to pushing revisionist narratives that try to shift the blame for the debunked probe onto others.

President Trump with Attorney General William Barr: Newly empowered.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

This effort is expected to accelerate following Trump’s decision Thursday to empower Attorney General William Barr to declassify CIA, Pentagon, and Director of National Intelligence documents as necessary to access “information or intelligence that relates to the attorney general’s review” of the Russia probe.

In other words, he’s gaining the authority needed to investigate the investigators.

CIA sources immediately objected in the New York Times that assets’ lives would be at risk, stunting Langley’s ability to recruit. Perhaps. But the argument is a bit shopworn, raising the question whether intelligence managers are looking to protect their agents and sources, or aiming to protect themselves.

There are a growing number of indicators that the leading players in the 2016 election drama are turning on one another, making a mad dash for the lifeboats to escape being dragged under with the political Titanic that is Christopher Steele and his dossier. These are many of the same people who had been eager to exploit the dossier, that collection of memos paid for by the Clinton campaign and supposedly sourced from Russia. Once treated like the Rosetta stone of collusion, the Steele documents now seem even to Trump antagonists more like the Howard Hughes diaries.

Back when fingers weren’t pointing: FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in 2014.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A “former CIA official” has told Fox News that two of Trump’s most high profile accusers – former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Director of the CIA John Brennan – didn’t want anything to do with Steele’s opus. It was former FBI Director James Comey, the source said, who was pushing to use the dossier in the official Intelligence Community Assessment, issued in the final days of the Obama administration. Having failed at that, thanks to Clapper and Brennan’s diligence (or so the story goes), Comey went rogue and confronted President-elect Trump with the salacious highlights produced by Steele.

Even the peripheral players are doing their best to shift blame. Former FBI General Counsel James Baker – who is under criminal investigation for leaks –  recently went on the Skullduggery podcast to assert that  he and other bureau officials were “quite worried” that  Comey’s meeting with Trump would look like a page out of J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook – invoking  the legendary FBI director who stockpiled damaging information to blackmail politicians. Would Comey be wrong to interpret Baker’s comments as an offer to testify against his former boss in exchange for a deal on the leaks investigation?

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Case of testimony over “matter.”

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Comey has no shortage  of adversaries, partly because old rivals he thought he had dispatched — such as former Attorney General Loretta Lynch —  are back in the mix, and he is possibly sensing his vulnerability. It was in June 2017 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Comey tossed Lynch under the proverbial bus. Now it’s clear she’s showing she can climb out from under the motor coach and dust herself off.

In September of 2015, Lynch and Comey were preparing to testify on Capitol Hill and expected to be asked about the Hillary Clinton email probe — code-named the Midyear Exam — which at that point had not been officially acknowledged. “I wanted to know if she [Lynch] would authorize us to confirm we had an investigation,” Comey told lawmakers. “And she said yes, but don’t call it that; call it a ‘matter.’ And I said why would I do that? And [Lynch] said just call it a ‘matter.’” Comey says he reluctantly went along with Lynch’s demand, even though it gave him “a queasy feeling.” He worried “that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate.”

Lynch pushed back against the notion she had twisted Comey’s arm. In April 2018 she told NBC’s Lester Holt that she didn’t remember the meeting the way Comey described it, and that the FBI director had raised no objections.

Comey and Lynch: Seeing things differently.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

But now that the questions about officials’ behavior regarding the 2016 candidates has become a fraught topic, those officials are taking stronger stands to defend themselves. Comey continues to leave little wiggle room in his portrayal of the conversation with Lynch. In a December 2018 closed-door congressional interview, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) asked him to confirm “the fact that the attorney general had asked you to refer to this investigation as a matter, correct?”

“That is correct.” Comey said.

Not so, says Lynch. On Dec. 19, 2018, she appeared before a closed-door session of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. She was being questioned by Republican staff attorney Zach Somers. He asked “whether you ever instructed Director Comey to call the Midyear Exam investigation a matter?” She said his testimony was the first she had any indication “that he had that impression of our conversation.”

That answer was a little ambiguous, so Somers asked Lynch directly: “So you do not believe you ever instructed him to call it a matter?”

“I did not,” said Lynch. “I have never instructed a witness as to what to say specifically. Never have, never will.” Under penalty of lying to Congress, the former AG declared, “I didn’t direct anyone to use specific phraseology.”

Before leaping to the conclusion that Lynch is calling Comey a liar, we need to keep reading the transcript of Lynch’s testimony, which ends up being far less definitive than it first appears. As is so often the case with lawyers’ lawlerly responses, the assertion turns on specific words. Lynch said she didn’t “instruct” or “direct” anyone to use any “specific” language. Instead, she testified, she had told Comey that she personally referred to the Hillary affair as a “matter” or “issue” and “that was the suggestion that I made to him.”

Could it be this is the shape of investigations — sorry, matters — to come? The spectacle of former power players parsing verbs at one another? It may seem a sound defensive strategy now, but it will grow harder to craft phraseology subtle enough to slip out of trouble. Legalistic sparring becomes increasingly difficult as the number of those being put under oath proliferates, and as the number of investigations mount. The game theory concept known as the “Prisoner’s dilemma” is confounding enough when there are two players having to figure out whether to trust one another or sell each other out. Make it multi-person, game theorists point out, and the difficulty for the players grows exponentially.

Making the game even more difficult is how much of the play is being done under cover. When so much of the frenzied blame-shifting is right out in the open, who knows how much whet work with the long knives is going on in the shadows? “If Brennan and Comey and Clapper are doing this publicly,” one Senate staffer says, private-sector dossier-peddlers “[Sidney] Blumenthal, [Cody] Shearer and [Glenn] Simpson are doing it privately.”

There’s no overstating institutional animosities and how likely they are to affect efforts to find out the full story of what happened in the 2016 election. The Department of Justice, the FBI, the State Department and various intelligence agencies are supposed to cooperate, working together to amplify their efforts through coordination. Instead, they often end up at odds, competing for the praise and resources that come with successes and laying off on others the blame that attends mistakes and failures.

“The FBI and DoJ are ruthless to each other, petty to one another,” one congressional staffer marvels.

Peter Strzok: “DoJ are putzes, man,” he texted. “God I hate them.” 

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

FBI investigator Peter Strzok provides a vivid example of the attitudes at play. In texts to his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, he makes declarations such as “I hate DoJ.” Half an hour later he sends another text that includes “And I hate DoJ.” Elsewhere in the texts, the people of “main justice” are called “political dicks” In the same spirit Strzok declares “DoJ are putzes, man.” Later he tells Page, “Don’t trust DoJ” and declares, “God I hate them.” Page describes DoJ as the “no brigade.” She writes, “I just feel like throttling DOJ.”

Connoisseurs of the knife fights between Justice and the bureau keep an eye out not only for what gets reported in the press, but where it gets reported. “The Department of Justice has good relations with, and tends to leak to, the Washington Post,” says a longtime Capitol Hill staffer. “The FBI leaks to the New York Times.”

He points to the competing narratives about then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s supposed offer to wear a wire and record conversations with the president. The story broke in the New York Times last September and portrayed then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe as the level-headed professional pushing back against Rosenstein’s fevered fantasies, which included not only the suggestion of secretly recording Trump, but the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment to have him removed from office. “The extreme suggestions show Mr. Rosenstein’s state of mind in the disorienting days that followed Mr. Comey’s dismissal,” the Times wrote. “Mr. Rosenstein appeared conflicted, regretful and emotional, according to people who spoke with him at the time.” In other words, if there were dubious decisions being made by federal law enforcement officials, it wasn’t just Rosenstein’s fault, according to the Times; it was because the deputy AG was losing his marbles.

Conflicting accounts: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, left, and FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, right, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Times story was followed shortly thereafter by a Washington Post take on the same events, a version significantly more friendly to Rosenstein. According to “attendees at the meeting,” it was McCabe who was pushing boundaries, advocating an “investigation into the president,” the Post wrote. In this account, “Rosenstein responded [to McCabe] with what one person described as a sarcastic comment along the line of: ‘What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?’” The Post story attributed to a “Justice Department official who met frequently with both McCabe and Rosenstein” that “in the months that followed, Rosenstein never broached either subject — the 25th Amendment or a possible wiretap involving the president.”  

You don’t have to be a champion contestant on that peculiar Washington game show — “Guess the Source!” — to have a sense of which side of the street was providing what information to which newspaper.

Given the Times’s sources in and around the FBI, there is particular significance when the Times writes a revisionist history of the bureau’s activities involving the 2016 election. At the end of 2017 the paper had done its best to write the dossier out of the creation myth of the Russia investigation. The Times had maintained, in an April 20, 2017 article, that it was Carter Page’s ill-advised commencement speech in Moscow in the summer of 2016 that had sparked the FBI’s concerns the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia. This line came from the dossier, which had alleged that Page had secret meetings with billionaire oligarchs during his Moscow stay. But after the dossier started to be exposed as the partisan document it was, a new reason emerged to justify the launching of a counterintelligence probe into team Trump — that George Papadopoulos had supposedly mentioned, over drinks with an Australian diplomat, that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz: With him on the case, leakers are “getting ahead of the story.”

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

That alternate origin story remained largely unchanged until early this month, when the Times rewrote its narrative, clearly with the help of FBI sources. The new narrative included the revelation that the bureau had sent a “government investigator” to London under the false name “Azra Turk.” Her undercover mission was to flirt with Papadopoulos and pump him for information about Trump and the Russians. The Times helpfully (from the FBI’s point of view) portrayed this as evidence of the “level of alarm” investigators had about Trump and Russia. 

The article was a classic example of a fundamental Washington PR technique, that of “getting ahead of the story.” Knowing the Azra Turk business is being looked over by the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, sources in, or formerly of, the bureau went to friendly reporters and fed them information that could put the events in the least unflattering light possible. Note, however, that the bureau players — who normally wring their hands about the national security damage done by the release of unredacted information — aren’t above leaking details of covert ops if that’s what it takes to soften a blow.

As things unravel further, they’re likely to get nastier. In part that’s because the FBI doesn’t just hate the Department of Justice. If the Page-Strzok texts are any indication, the bureau doesn’t much like the State Department either. “DOJ is a wild pain in the ass,” Strzok texts Page. “Not as bad as State, but still.” Faced with sending some documents about the Hillary email investigation to Foggy Bottom, Page texts, “I’m not giving State an advance warning. F them.” Strzok responds, “And yes, totally. F State. No heads up.”

Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page: “We both hate everyone and everything.”

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

They not only sneered at their colleagues across the street (Justice and the FBI are housed on opposite sides of Pennsylvania Avenue), their feelings toward their bureau co-workers ranged from diffidence to detestation.

Consider the infamous text from Strzok to Page: “Just went to a southern Virginia Wal-Mart,” Strzok wrote. “I could SMELL the Trump support.”

Lost in the noisy outrage over the Trumpy odors insult has been Page’s reply: “Yep, out to lunch with Sally” Moyer, Page texted. “We both hate everyone and everything.”

“Do you hate everyone and everything?” Republican staff attorney Arthur Baker asked Moyer — a unit chief in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel. The question came in an October 2018 closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

“Some days,” Moyer deadpanned.

The questioner was nonplussed: “But you don’t hate everyone and everything all the time?”

“Not all the time, no.”

Sally Moyer: A little gallows humor.

Moyer may have been indulging in a little gallows humor, but aggravation with the job and co-workers at the FBI — hate for everyone and everything all the time — seems to be commonplace in the bureau. Page calls various colleagues everything from “an ASTOUNDING douche” to “a petulant baby.”

Given the paramount heights to which both Strzok and Page had risen within the FBI, it’s unlikely they were outliers among the bureau’s management class. Their casual contempt for co-workers and for the departments of Justice and State can’t be attitudes far out of step with those of their seventh-floor colleagues. Sticking it to State and Justice and even (perhaps especially) the fellow down the hall: If that was the culture of the FBI’s leadership when the investigators were riding high and enjoying the power that came from collaborating with State and Justice in the pursuit of a president, just imagine how they are likely to behave toward one another now that they have become the pursued rather than the pursuers.

Even in the best of times, departments and agencies such as Justice, State and the FBI find themselves in back-stabbing bureaucratic battles of all against all. Imagine how those Hobbesian bureaucrats, whether current or former, are likely to behave when the outcomes being fought over have profoundly personal ramifications. One recalls the moment in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when the upstanding George Bailey is sinking in frantic desperation: “Do you realize what this means?!” he shouts at doddering Uncle Billy, who’s lost the bank deposit. “It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison. That’s what it means.” With shocking savagery, Bailey throws the old man down in his chair and declares, “One of us is going to jail, and it’s not going to be me!”  

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On Thursday night Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” featured rare prime time coverage of the bombshell leaked OPCW report which refuted key events surrounding the April 2018 alleged chemical gas attack in Douma, Syria — which resulted in massive US and allied airstrikes on Damascus, nearly leading to a major war at the time. And now new allegations are looming which could once again lead to US airstrikes on Syria. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is the international chemical weapons watchdog group which has worked in tandem with the UN to investigation claimed Sarin and chlorine gas attack sites in Syria. The smoking gun document, Tucker said in opening remarks, vindicates his and others’ past skepticism. He said:

“Now a leaked document shows there was good reason to be skeptical.” 

But here we are again — one year later — with yet another chemical attack claim near Idlib on Sunday, which the US State Department says it is investigating, vowing to “respond quickly and appropriately” if Assad is found guilty of using the banned weapons, according to an official statement.

But crucially, as Tucker Carlson pointed out on his show Thursday evening in reference last year’s Douma events, “At the time that happened this program was pretty much the only show on mainstream television to show any skepticism about the official narrative of the attack.”

Introducing a segment with Democratic presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard, a known longtime skeptic on Syrian regime change, Carlson reviewed the prior two American attacks on the Syrian government, noting “Justification for both attacks was an alleged aerial chemical weapons attack on anti-Assad rebels in Douma, Syria.”

Congresswomen Gabbard told the Fox host during the interview that the leaked document presents major reasons to doubt the official narrative concerning both Douma and the most recent claims out of Idlib being advanced by the al-Qaeda groups Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP). She said she is reaching out to both the UN and OPCW for answers.

Referencing current and past Syria chemical attack claims, Tucker agreed that, “I’m beginning to suspect that we’re being played here.”

The document, whose authenticity the OPCW has confirmed, contends that the official story which was used to justify an air strike by the US, UK and France about poison gas being dropped on civilians from Syrian government helicopters is scientifically implausible, saying “In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.” — Establishment Narrative-Managers Struggling With New Syria Plot Holes

Since the leaked OPCW report surfaced over a week ago there’s predictably been mainstream silence, perhaps with the exception of two major UK outlets, The Independent and The Daily Mail.

Rocket scientist and MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol has also weighed in to say the new evidence reveals the “attacks were staged”.

Writing for The Independent, world-renowned Middle East war correspondent Robert Fisk summarized the significance of the leaked report. This comes just as once again US war rhetoric against Damascus is looming.

Fisk wrote in his report:

The OPCW officially maintains that these canisters were probably dropped by an aircraft – probably a helicopter, presumably Syrian – over Douma on 7 April 2018. But the dissenting assessment, which the OPCW made no reference to in its published conclusions, finds there is a “higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft”.

It is difficult to underestimate the seriousness of this manipulative act by the OPCW. In a response to the conservative author Peter Hitchens, who also writes for the Mail on Sunday – he is of course the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens – the OPCW admits that its so-called technical secretariat “is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised [sic] release of the document”.

Importantly, the OPCW has confirmed the authenticity of the report, authored by an expert that had spent most of his career as an on the ground technical investigator since the OPCW’s inception.

The leaked OPCW document can be accessed here.

Though there’s largely been a mainstream media blackout on the leaked document, it’s possible it could slowly trickle into media discourse following Fox’s prime time coverage on Tucker’s show.

Fisk further articulated that the document is a game-changer at the conclusion of his article, saying, “Put bluntly, the paper is suggesting that the location of the cylinders was a set-up, that someone inside Douma immediately after the bombings of 7 April 2018 – and no one, not even the Syrians or Russians, deny there was conventional bombing and shelling that night – placed the cylinders in the locations in which they were subsequently examined by the OPCW.”

With the potential for a new round of attacks by US forces against Assad based on fresh chemical attack claims out of Idlib, we wonder, did President Trump catch Tucker’s show on Thursday night?

Source: InfoWars

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When Politico Playbook reported Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s recent dinner with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the California lawmaker’s office declared the meeting was “arranged in consultation with the State Department.

But a State Department official told the newsletter that’s not true.

Feinstein’s office had said it “was in touch with State in advance of the meeting to let them know it was happening and to get an update on U.S.-Iran activity.”

Politico Playbook noted the United States and Iran “are in the middle of a high-wire diplomatic and military staring contest.”

The United States, which has moved additional military resources into the region, says it has intelligence that the Iranians were preparing to attack American interests in the region.

Politico observed it’s “a bit unusual that Feinstein, the former chair and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee and a member of the Senate minority, is dining with the foreign minister of an adversary.”
Read more at https://www.wnd.com/2019/05/state-department-we-didnt-ok-feinsteins-meeting-with-iranian-minister/#Y8byu4LEVEtIgEKi.99

Read more: https://www.wnd.com/2019/05/state-department-we-didnt-ok-feinsteins-meeting-with-iranian-minister/#Y8byu4LEVEtIgEKi.99

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So President Trump rolled out a new reform plan for immigration, his signature issue, and no one will talk about it — including him. No, Republicans weren’t promoting it on the Sunday shows; they’re actually dodging questions about it. And no, Democrats aren’t criticizing it because prospects for passage are so laughable they can’t waste any energy laughing about it.

“A merit system and a heart system” was how the president described the new initiative last week after promoting it for months in advance as the pet project of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The plan for more high skilled immigration would enable “millions of devoted immigrants to achieve the American dream,” he said, citing the nation’s “rich history of immigration,” which has made us “proud.” It was an un-Trump speech likely written by someone on his son-in-law’s staff.

Republicans openly say the plan wasn’t written to be debated, let alone become law. “We all know you’re not going to pass this without dealing with the other aspects of immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has tried unsuccessfully to get Trump to pass bipartisan immigration reform.

The president’s not trying to fool his own voters, even though he keeps telling them they’re not paying for tariffs when indeed we all are. Republicans are blowing it off outright and the plan didn’t seem to be aimed at the usual foils — Democrats, Mexicans or the media. It could have been aimed at the business community, so distraught over the trade war that perhaps Trump thought he could throw them a bone so they keep writing checks to his 2020 campaign. But they too wouldn’t take a word of this seriously. Maybe it was all just an exercise to make Jared feel good. It sure looks that way.

Kushner touted the bill last week, unworkable and unrealistic as it is, as something Republicans “could be for,” in contrast to everything they are against on immigration. But it’s more of a marketing pitch since he didn’t have any interest, let alone support, from even one Democrat. After working across the aisle to pass criminal justice reform, which Democrats prioritized and enough Republicans came around to, Kushner was under the mistaken impression he could offer a new compromise on immigration with Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin, whom he had partnered with on prison-sentencing reform.

Durbin, of course, worked closely with Graham last year to assemble a compromise that would have given the president $25 billion for a border wall in exchange for protections for DACA recipients. Trump walked away from the deal at the urging of the DACA-is-amnesty crowd, including immigration adviser Stephen Miller and Freedom Caucus naysayers such as Rep. Mark Meadows.

There are several reasons Democrats would oppose the new plan. Not only does it fail to address DACA, but it would likely wipe out the status of nearly 4 million immigrants who have been “waiting in line,” as we so often hear Trump say, given that the current employment-based or family-based green cards would not meet his new criteria.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Kushner’s deal-making skills, as no sooner than his immigration plan was buried did the Palestinians reject his latest attempt at economic incentive in a long awaited, and delayed, Middle East peace deal. After the administration announced an “economic workshop” in Bahrain, its invitation was rejected because the administration has consistently made policy favoring the Israelis. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Palestinians “do not trade our national rights for money.”

Then a story surfaced of Rex Tillerson ratting our Jared to House Foreign Affairs Committee members in a seven-hour meeting this week. According to reports, Tillerson told the members “Kushner should have consulted with State Department colleagues and that his lack of knowledge of history exposed him to being outmaneuvered.” The former secretary of state also said Kushner’s refusal to follow diplomatic protocols “made it difficult to understand what he was doing with world leaders,” according to The Washington Post.

Of course poor Jared had already been snubbed by Republicans before the big Rose Garden moment. At a meeting with senators days before, he was unable to answer several questions and had to be rescued by Miller, who stepped in to answer for him. Republicans immediately leaked the entire scene to The Post.

Multiple GOP lawmakers attended Trump’s speech to appear supportive, though not one of them had seen any details. Several Republicans also leaked that the White House sought positive statements from them, though summaries of the plan didn’t reach their staffs until after 8 the night before, according to Politico.

During the speech, Trump propped up Jared: “This plan was not developed, I’m sorry to say, by politicians. We have a lot of politicians. But you respect the people and you know the people that have developed this plan,” he said.

The initiative prioritizes “highly skilled” immigration — increasing totals for such entrants from 12% to 57% — because companies aren’t able to hire enough “totally brilliant people.” Trump said that “we discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore, once we get this passed. And we hope to get it passed as soon as possible.”

That hope, of course, isn’t authentic. Twice Trump indicated the plan wasn’t serious – he urged Graham to step up his efforts to pass his own plan after 2020. So now immigration is joining that “beautiful health care” plan Trump promised for right after the next election.

“And I know a number of our Republican friends and others — Lindsey, I see you sitting right there, and Steve, you’re working on a plan, an immediate plan.  A smaller plan, but a very immediate plan to stop it as of this afternoon. So, as fast as you can get something done. This is the big, beautiful, bold plan, but we need something very quickly.  And if you can get it done, that would be fantastic,” Trump said. Then he added afterward: “If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency. One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-America immigration policy.”

Top Republicans didn’t seem worried about Kushner’s feelings when they refused to offer any support later that day. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, an unfailing Trump ally, said the proposal was “a base” from which to start a reform debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, great at saying nothing in several sentences, said he would review the plan, adding, “We are a nation of immigrants and we must preserve that rich part of who we are. But we are a nation of laws.”

By Monday night, when Trump held a rally in Pennsylvania, the plan was just a memory — or not even that. There was no mention of all the “devoted immigrants” Trump spoke of days before. “Our country is full. We want Mexico to stop, we want all of them to stop. Our country is packed to the gills. We don’t want them coming up,” he told the crowd.

Kushner deserves credit for working with the governments of Mexico and Canada to negotiate an update to NAFTA, though the prospects for passage of the USMCA are in doubt. Yet it’s not clear which one of his dreams — of Middle East peace, legislative mastery or rebranding his father-in-law as an immigration centrist to help him win next year — will come true.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A Iranian Revolutionary Guard boat is seen near the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush in the Strait of Hormuz as U.S. Navy helicopters hover nearby
FILE PHOTO: A Iranian Revolutionary Guard boat is seen near the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush in the Strait of Hormuz as U.S. Navy helicopters hover nearby on March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo/File Photo

May 24, 2019

By Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Three years ago, when Iran’s military captured 10 U.S. sailors after they mistakenly strayed into Iranian waters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif jumped on the phone in minutes and worked out the sailors’ release in hours.

Could a similar crisis be so quickly resolved today?

“No,” Zarif said in a recent interview with Reuters. “How could it be averted?”

Zarif and the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have never spoken directly, according to Iran’s mission at the United Nations. They instead tend to communicate through name-calling on Twitter or through the media.

“Pompeo makes sure that every time he talks about Iran, he insults me,” Zarif said. “Why should I even answer his phone call?”

The open rancor between the nations’ two top diplomats underscores growing concern that the lack of any established channel for direct negotiation makes a military confrontation more likely in the event of a misunderstanding or a mishap, according to current and former U.S. officials, foreign diplomats, U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy experts.

The Trump administration this month ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.

“The danger of an accidental conflict seems to be increasing over each day,” U.S. Senator Angus King, a political independent from Maine, told Reuters as he called for direct dialogue between the United States and Iran.

A senior European diplomat said it was vital for top U.S. and Iranian officials to be on “speaking terms” to prevent an incident from mushrooming into a crisis.

“I hope that there are some channels still existing so we don’t sleepwalk into a situation that nobody wants,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The rhetoric that we have is alarming.”

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus declined to address how the administration would communicate with Iran in a crisis similar to the 2016 incident, but said: “When the time to talk comes, we are confident we will have every means to do so.”

The administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, she said, aims to force its leaders to the negotiating table.

“If the Iranians are willing to engage on changing their ways to behave like a normal nation,” Ortagus said, “we are willing to talk to them.”

TWITTER DIPLOMACY

In 2016, Kerry and Zarif knew one another well from the complex negotiations to reach a 2015 pact to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Three years later, top-level diplomatic relations have all but disintegrated in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear pact, its tightening of sanctions on Iranian oil, and its recent move to designate part of Iran’s military as a terrorist group.

U.S. military officials cite growing concern about Iran’s development of precise missiles and its support for proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.

In the absence of direct talks, Twitter has become a common forum for U.S. and Iranian officials to trade biting barbs. On Wednesday, an advisor to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani fired off a tweet at Pompeo castigating him for provoking Iran with military deployments.

“You @SecPompeo do not bring warships to our region and call it deterrence. That’s called provocation,” the advisor, Hesameddin Ashena, tweeted in English. “It compels Iran to illustrate its own deterrence, which you call provocation. You see the cycle?”

That followed a Trump tweet on Sunday threatening to “end” Iran if it sought a fight, and a long history of bitter insults traded by Pompeo and Zarif.

Pompeo in February called Zarif and Iran’s president “front men for a corrupt religious mafia” in a tweet. That same month, another official at Pompeo’s State Department tweeted: “How do you know @JZarif is lying? His lips are moving.”

Zarif, in turn, has used the social media platform to condemn Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s “pure obsession with Iran,” calling it “the behavior of persistently failing psychotic stalkers.”

‘AMERICANS HAVE OPTIONS’

U.S. officials, diplomats and lawmakers said they doubted Zarif would refuse to take a call from Pompeo in a crisis, given the risks for Iran in any conflict with the U.S. military.

In a Tuesday briefing with reporters, Pompeo appeared to dismiss concerns about Washington’s ability to communicate and negotiate with Iran.

“There are plenty of ways that we can have a communication

channel,” Pompeo said.

Diplomats say Oman, Switzerland and Iraq are nations with ties to both countries that could pass messages.

“It’s a little bit like the Israelis – when they need to get messages to people, they can get messages to people,” said a second senior European diplomat.

Representative Michael Waltz – the first U.S. Army Green Beret elected to Congress, said he favored the diplomatic freeze as a way to force Iran into serious negotiations.

    “If you don’t have diplomatic isolation, you’re having one-off talks, that lessens the pressure,” said Waltz, who is also a former Pentagon official.

But indirect message-passing can be too cumbersome in a fast-moving crisis, said Kevin Donegan, a retired vice admiral who oversaw U.S. naval forces in the Middle East as commander of the Fifth Fleet when the U.S. sailors were captured by Iran.

Such dealings through intermediaries “require time and will not allow an opportunity to de-escalate a rapidly unfolding tactical situation,” said Donegan, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who added that he was not commenting on current U.S. policy.

Donegan and Waltz both said it would be helpful to have some kind of hotline between the U.S. and Iranian militaries, but Donegan and other experts were skeptical Iran would agree to such an arrangement.

BACK CHANNELS THROUGH OMAN, IRAQ … RUSSIA?

On May 3 – after Washington became alarmed by intelligence indicating that Iran might be preparing for an attack on the United States or its interests – it sent messages to Iran via “a third party,” one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told Congress on May 8 that messages had been sent to “to make sure that it was clear to Iran that we recognized the threat and we were postured to respond.”

Waltz said Dunford told lawmakers at a closed-door hearing that he had sent a message to Qassem Soleimani – the influential commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force – warning him that Iran would be held directly accountable if one of its proxy forces attacks Americans.

“The message now was: ‘We’re not going to hold your proxies accountable’” if they attack U.S. citizens or forces in the region, he said. “‘We’re going to hold you, the regime, accountable.’”

Another official said the United States had authorized Iraq “to let the Iranians know that there is no plausible deniability about attacks on Americans in Iraq” after U.S. intelligence flagged preparations for a possible attack by Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Joseph Votel, the now retired four-star general who oversaw U.S. troops in the Middle East until March, noted earlier this year that the U.S. military might be able to indirectly get a message to Iranian forces through an existing hotline with Russia meant to avoid accidental conflicts in Syria.

“The Iranians can talk to the Russians,” he said. “We have a well-established professional communication channel with the Russians.”

But the prospect of relying on the Russian government to get United States out of a crisis with Iran is hardly reassuring to many current and former officials in the United States.

“That would be a risky choice,” said Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state in the Obama administration.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

Source: OANN

President Donald Trump issued an order Thursday allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any information Barr sees fit during his review of the events that prompted the FBI to open an investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The order also directed leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and other departments and agencies to cooperate with Barr during his review.

The memorandum to the heads of agencies to cooperate with Barr’s inquiry included the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Department, State Department, and Energy Department.

“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, per the Washington Examiner.

“The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information,” she added. “Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.”

Trump has promised the action for nearly a year. In a Sept. 17, 2018, statement, the White House said Trump had ordered the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to prove certain portions of the June 2017 application to the FISA court concerning Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation, and FBI reports of interviews prepared related to the Page FISA applications.

He also ordered the public release of “all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.” 

But within days he backed down, the Examiner noted.

“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump tweeted. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release.

“Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end, I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me — and everyone!”

Barr has asked U.S. Attorney John Durham to review the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation and has said he is working with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is expected to soon wrap up a FISA abuse investigation.

Newsmax’s Cathy Burke contributed to this report.

Source: NewsMax America

President Donald Trump issued an order Thursday allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any information Barr sees fit during his review of the events that prompted the FBI to open an investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The order also directed leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and other departments and agencies to cooperate with Barr during his review.

The memorandum to the heads of agencies to cooperate with Barr’s inquiry included the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Department, State Department, and Energy Department.

“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, per the Washington Examiner.

“The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information,” she added. “Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.”

Trump has promised the action for nearly a year. In a Sept. 17, 2018, statement, the White House said Trump had ordered the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to prove certain portions of the June 2017 application to the FISA court concerning Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation, and FBI reports of interviews prepared related to the Page FISA applications.

He also ordered the public release of “all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.” 

But within days he backed down, the Examiner noted.

“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump tweeted. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release.

“Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end, I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me — and everyone!”

Barr has asked U.S. Attorney John Durham to review the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation and has said he is working with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is expected to soon wrap up a FISA abuse investigation.

Newsmax’s Cathy Burke contributed to this report.

Source: NewsMax America

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Russia
FILE PHOTO – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their talks in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, May 14, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

May 24, 2019

By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department failed to meet a deadline on Thursday to provide information to three congressional committee chairmen looking into whether an annual arms control report slanted and politicized assessments about Iran, a congressional aide said.

In a May 16 letter, the Democratic chairmen of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide a State Department briefing and documents no later than Thursday.

The chairmen’s letter cited a Reuters article on April 17 about how the administration’s annual report to Congress on global compliance with international arms control accords provoked a dispute with U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials.

The dissenting officials, sources said, were concerned that the document politicized and skewed assessments against Iran in a bid to lay the groundwork to justify military action.

A U.S. official familiar with the issue and speaking on condition of anonymity said the chairmen were to be invited to a briefing by State Department and other government experts about the report on “adherence to and compliance with arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreements and commitments.”

The congressional aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said no such communication had been received.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S.-Iranian tensions rose following U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and his reimposition of tough economic sanctions. They sharpened earlier this month after Trump tightened sanctions to try to eliminate Iran’s oil exports.

Strains further deepened with Saudi Arabia accusing Iran of ordering armed drone attacks on two oil pumping stations and the May 12 sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. government sources said Washington strongly suspects militias with ties to Tehran were behind those attacks as well as a rocket strike in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Iran denied involvement in the incidents.

In their May 16 letter to Pompeo, the three chairmen said they were “deeply concerned” the arms control report may have been produced by political appointees “disregarding intelligence or distorting its meaning.”

The State Department, they noted, was legally bound to submit to Congress a “detailed report” on compliance by the United States and other countries with international arms control accords.

Instead, they wrote, this year’s report was only 12 pages long, “contains no meaningful discussion” of U.S. and Russian compliance with such agreements and “consists largely of hypotheticals or opinion.”

Several sources told Reuters that the report made them wonder if the administration was painting Iran in the darkest light possible, much as the George W. Bush administration used bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: OANN

A rally in support of the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro attends a rally in support of the government in Caracas, Venezuela May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

May 23, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday accused the United States of seeking to destroy a food aid program that the government of the crisis-stricken OPEC nation says feeds some 6 million families.

Washington is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using the food program to launder money for the Maduro government, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The measures against the program, known in Venezuela by its Spanish acronym CLAP, are expected to be enacted within the next 90 days, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.

“(The U.S.) is preparing sanctions to destroy the CLAP system,” Maduro said in televised broadcast, accompanied by the military high command.

“Do what you want to do, Venezuela will continue with the Local Supply and Production Committees,” he said, referencing the full name of the CLAP program.

The State Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The program sells boxes of food at subsidized prices that include products such as rice, pasta, oil and powdered milk. Some of the products are imported from countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Maduro launched the plan in 2016 in response to chronic food shortages and spiraling prices, as Venezuela struggled under hyperinflation and a severe economic contraction. Critics call the program a form of social control that is used to pressure its recipients to support the ruling Socialist Party.

Venezuela’s political crisis has deepened since opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that socialist Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

The United States as well as most European and Latin American countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass, as well the support of allies such as Russia, Cuba and China. He says the country’s economic problems are the result of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

A rally in support of the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro attends a rally in support of the government in Caracas, Venezuela May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

May 23, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday accused the United States of seeking to destroy a food aid program that the government of the crisis-stricken OPEC nation says feeds some 6 million families.

Washington is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using the food program to launder money for the Maduro government, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The measures against the program, known in Venezuela by its Spanish acronym CLAP, are expected to be enacted within the next 90 days, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.

“(The U.S.) is preparing sanctions to destroy the CLAP system,” Maduro said in televised broadcast, accompanied by the military high command.

“Do what you want to do, Venezuela will continue with the Local Supply and Production Committees,” he said, referencing the full name of the CLAP program.

The State Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The program sells boxes of food at subsidized prices that include products such as rice, pasta, oil and powdered milk. Some of the products are imported from countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Maduro launched the plan in 2016 in response to chronic food shortages and spiraling prices, as Venezuela struggled under hyperinflation and a severe economic contraction. Critics call the program a form of social control that is used to pressure its recipients to support the ruling Socialist Party.

Venezuela’s political crisis has deepened since opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that socialist Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

The United States as well as most European and Latin American countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass, as well the support of allies such as Russia, Cuba and China. He says the country’s economic problems are the result of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN


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