Pressure mounts in US Russian investigation

Last week’s indictment of Russian nationals was just one step in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US elections in 2016. Another move is forecast to unfold shortly:

LA Times: Former Trump aide Richard Gates to plead guilty; agrees to testify against Manafort, sources say

A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.

The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,” said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington “within the next few days.”

Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.

The imminent change of Gates’ plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller’s prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.

According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect “a substantial reduction in his sentence” if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said Gates is likely to serve about 18 months in prison.

If Gates has negotiated down to 18 months prison he must have faced serious charges with strong evidence against him.

The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that Manafort and Gates — who were colleagues in political consulting for about a decade — had engaged in a complex series of allegedly illegal transactions rooted in Ukraine. The indictment alleged that both men, who for years were unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.

According to the indictment, Gates and Manafort “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and took steps to evade related U.S. taxes.

If Manafort maintains his not-guilty plea and fights the charges at a trial, the testimony from Gates could provide Mueller’s team with first-person descriptions of much of the allegedly illegal conduct. Gates’ testimony, said a person familiar with the pending guilty plea, would place a “cherry on top” of the government’s already formidable case against Manafort.

And this will place more pressure on Manafort.

Again this says nothing about possible Trump knowledge or involvement. One possibility is that members of his campaign team colluded with Russians without Trump’s knowledge. There were always going to be risks rapidly assembling a campaign team when many experienced Republican campaigners didn’t want to be involved.

Lorde just the latest musician mired in Israel controversy

Playing concerts in Israel are fraught with risks, as Lorde recently found out after first announcing and soon afterwards cancelling a concert. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

But just avoiding including Israel in tour plans means that opponents of Israel win, because that’s what they are trying to impose.

Washington Post – Lorde is only the latest: How touring in Israel thrusts musicians into controversy

On Dec. 18, New Zealand pop music sensation Lorde announced plans to play concerts in Israel and Russia. On Dec. 24, she announced the cancellation of her Israeli concert, which was scheduled for June 5 at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre. “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she said in a statement.

In the six days between Lorde’s concert announcement and her cancellation, an increasingly pitched battle played out, both in public and behind the scenes, to win over the 21 year-old pop star. Activists and fans in favor of the ongoing cultural boycott of Israel because of the country’s policies related to Palestinians urged her to reconsider; pro-Israeli activists and fans lobbied for her to hold fast.

Lorde was caught in a no-win situation, but she is far from being the first.

In recent years, these artistic tug-of-wars over artists including Radiohead, Lauryn Hill and Nick Cave, have become increasingly common, although Lorde’s change of heart has been the highest-profile musical victory yet for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

If there’s one thing on which both sides can agree, it’s that 21 year-old artists from half a world away can’t be expected to understand the full details of a complicated issue tied to one of the defining geopolitical conflicts of our time. Musicians of any age who contemplate playing Israel sometimes lack awareness of the risks and rewards.

Managers and tour arrangers should be aware of the potential problems with booking gigs in Israel. A cynic could suggest it is deliberate publicity seeking (with or without the artist’s understanding).

Tour promoters warn acts in advance of any “delicacies they need to be aware of,” says Oren Arnon, a promoter at leading Israeli company Shuki Weiss, who did not promote the Lorde show. Artist managers warn fellow artist managers.

David Renzer, a music publishing veteran who co-founded the entertainment industry anti-boycott group the Creative Community For Peace, says his organization works within the record industry to outline the merits of playing in Israel, and warn of its complications.

The response to Lorde’s cancellation has been swift, and seismic. A hundred artists, including Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and author Alice Walker, signed an open letter supporting her. Israel’s Culture Minister said she hoped the singer would reconsider, while its ambassador to New Zealand asked for a meeting.

Critics on Twitter pointed out the human-rights abuses in Russia, where Lorde still plans to play two shows.

In a roundly condemned full-page ad in The Washington Post, an American rabbi suggested that “21 is young to become a bigot,” its text juxtaposed with an image of Lorde appearing to stare skeptically at the Israeli flag.

Both sides have accused the other of extremist rhetoric, acting in bad faith and bullying, allegations that have become commonplace in the ongoing war for celebrity hearts and minds.

Arnon claims Cave, the Australian post-punk icon, endured “months and months of humiliation” before his November shows in Tel Aviv went on as planned.

The most prominent voice in supporting touring boycotts of Israel has become Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters. The man responsible for “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” has spent the past decade becoming increasingly outspoken on the issue, and uses his fame within the music industry to confront artists who plan to perform in Israel.

I’m going to a Roger Waters concert in Dunedin later this month. Just for the music of course, it will be an evening break from politics.

Israel attracts a perhaps greater-than-usual share of baby boomers such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Elton John. Classic rock acts are often indifferent to social media pressure campaigns, and their fans tend to have enough disposable income to withstand the country’s frequently higher ticket prices.

Perhaps rockers from the sixties are used to being controversial – some of them stoked and relished it, so a bit of political banter will be just more publicity.

Promoters live with the constant threat that a musician might bolt, whether it’s an apolitical artist who just wants to avoid a public thrashing, or someone privately sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, observing what Barghouti calls a “silent boycott.”

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pharrell Williams, Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill have all canceled dates in Israel, the latter two suggesting issues of conscience were responsible.

A major problem with ‘conscience’ based boycotts is claims of inconsistency and hypocrisy, as Lorde discovered when her plans for Israel and Russia were compared.

Lorde’s cancellation is seen as a needed, high-profile win for pro-boycott activists.

Perhaps it is also a high profile win for Lorde’s tour publicity.

Lorde will almost certainly be one of the last major artists to schedule an Israel concert date without appearing to have fully considered the global implications. From now on, if it weren’t the case already, merely scheduling a concert date in Israel will be considered a political act.

“It’s a very tricky issue,” the concert promoter Arnon says. “And you never come out of it clean.”

So best to avoid including Israel in tour schedules, as the anti-Israel protesters demand? Or try the schedule then cancel trick to increase your tour publicity?

What if a protest movement starts to target artists who plan to perform in the US?

‘Music should unite not divide’

That sounds similar to arguments about maintaining sporting relations under apartheid in South Africa, but it is also an argument with some merit.

RNZ:  ‘Music should unite not divide’

Lorde was set to play in Tel Aviv on 5 June as part of her Melodrama tour but was last week urged not to perform.

Late last week the New Zealand Palestinian Human Rights Campaign said Lorde’s concert would be seen as an endorsement of the Israel government and its treatment of Palestinians.

Spokesperson Janfrie Wakim said the show would be in breach of a cultural boycott supported by 170 Palestinian groups.

In a Facebook post Itzhak Gerberg has invited the singer to a “friendly meeting” to talk it over.

Mr Gerberg says by succumbing to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Lorde is encouraging animosity in the region.

“Music should unite not divide,” the post read.

“Reactions driven by hatred lead to continued #conflict. But solutions come from engagement and lead to compromise, co-operation, and #peace.”

A fair argument.

The US-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which campaigns against antisemitism, said the fact Lorde still plans to tour Russia illustrates the hypocrisy of the international community towards the region’s only democracy.

Also a fair point – it would be possible to find someone who could justify a boycott of performances in many different countries.

Yesterday Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev said she should be a “pure heroine” of culture, void of any foreign political considerations.

Lorde is refunding fans who had bought tickets and said she didn’t make the right call in agreeing to the show.

I don’t know how many views she listened to before coming to that conclusion. Perhaps mostly her business manager.

It has certainly raised Lorde’s profile.

Musical performances have arguably helped change history.For example:

Rocking the Wall — The Berlin Concert that Changed the World

As incredible as it may sound in 2014, there is considerable evidence that Springsteen unwittingly helped bring the Berlin Wall down with the biggest, most riveting earth-shaking concert in the history of East Germany.

It all happened 16 months before the Wall fell in July 1988, and the biggest crowd Springsteen ever played before watched him perform in the East Berlin district of Weissensee on a giant meadow. Springsteen worked his magic there in front of a crowd of 300,000 people — only half of whom had tickets. The other half simply stormed the gates and got away with it.

Not only did Springsteen have ecstatic East Germans screaming their lungs out while singing “Born in the USA,” he also opened his four-hour long concert defiantly with “Badlands,” a song that East Germans might have felt referred to their country, and he later played “Chimes of Freedom” right after delivering a courageous short speech calling for the wall to be torn down. For East Germans locked up behind the Berlin Wall it was an unforgettable address and an incredibly liberating moment — an American rock star telling 300,000 people that he came to play for them in the hope that “one day the barriers will be torn down.”

And 16 months later, the Berlin Wall was gone.

Could Lorde help precipitate historic change in Jerusalem and in the Middle East?

 

 

Lorde and Israel

A singer has removed a gig from their schedule. In the circumstances I have concerns about the use of social media pressure to coerce, but this is just the entertainment industry and the bottom line is financial, and that’s likely to be the reason for the change.

But some seem to think it’s a big deal.

The Standard:

Kiwiblog:

It’s fair to question why Lorde has singled out Israel, but why single out Russia as a comparison? Activists in the world could probably argue against every venue if so inclined.

Tough talk from a dirty gutless flake? WO should know all about financial compromises and imperatives.

But this may not be the end of it, as the other side of social media pressure plays it’s hand.

Evidence in the Russian investigation

There have been many claims and counter claims in the investigation into Russian interference in the US election, the most prominent of course being President Donald trump’s denials.

There is good cause to question how both politics and justice operates in the US, especially when judicial investigations involve politicians and and political parties and campaigns.

What evidence is there of interference? Some, like Trump, claim there is none. Others disagree.

David Ignatius (at RealClear Politics): Trump May Decry the Russia Investigation, But the Trail of Evidence Is Long

Trump shouted out his defense earlier this month: “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion!” he told reporters over the whir of his helicopter on the White House lawn. Since then, Trump’s supporters have been waging a bitter counterattack against special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging bias and demanding: “Investigate the investigators.”

There is a growing, mostly undisputed body of evidence describing contacts between Trump associates and Russia-linked operatives.

From the start of the campaign, Trump spoke of his affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s aides followed his lead. In March, a young adviser named George Papadopoulos met a London professor who introduced him to a Russian woman described as “Putin’s niece.” This began months of efforts by Papadopoulos to broker Trump-Russia contacts, described in the plea agreement that Mueller announced in October.

Russian operatives by March 2016 had already hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Whether the Trump campaign had any involvement or not, Russian hacking must be of concern to the US – surely a President would be concerned about this. If not, why not?

Through cutouts, the Russians over the next eight months allegedly spooled out damaging information about Clinton to the media, sometimes egged on by Trump and his associates.

Dishing dirt on Clinton was the pitch of a June 3 email to Donald Trump Jr. from the publicist for Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov’s pop-singer son. He said Russian authorities “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.”

Whether Trump Jr acted on information offered by the Russians or not, surely the fact that it was attempted should be a concern?

Don Jr. eagerly met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9 at Trump Tower. When she claimed that an anti-Putin U.S. businessman had looted money from Russia, Don Jr. pressed her: “He asked if I had any financial documents from which it would follow that the funds stolen from Russia were then involved in financing the Clinton’s Foundation,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

Trump’s hunt for Clinton emails continued in June, when Jared Kushner hired Cambridge Analytica to do campaign research. The firm learned that WikiLeaks planned to publish a stash of the Clinton material, and Cambridge’s CEO asked Julian Assange “if he might share that information with us,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The involvement of WikiLeaks is also of considerable interest – or it should be.

Trump promised “very, very interesting” revelations about Clinton in June, the same month an alleged Russian cutout dubbed “Guccifer 2.0” began leaking DNC documents.

Trump may not have personally contacted and colluded with Russians, but it seems clear he was the recipient of information from them.

WikiLeaks dumped nearly 20,000 Clinton documents on July 22. Three days later, Trump tweeted: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails … because Putin likes me.” Two days after that, at a July 27 press conference, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That could be just stupid and unwise from Trump, but it didn’t look good at the time and it looks worse now that more details are known.

Roger Stone, a Trump friend and sometime adviser, kept beating the WikiLeaks drum through August 2016, saying he was communicating with Assange and that more damaging Clinton leaks were coming. WikiLeaks contacted Don Jr., too, in five messages that continued until Election Day.

“I love WikiLeaks,” said Trump at a rally Oct. 10.

Who was leaking to Wikileaks?

U.S. intelligence agencies said on Jan. 6, 2017, they had “high confidence” that Russian intelligence had used WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 “to release U.S. victim data obtained in cyber operations.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo has since described WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

Normally it would seem very strange that a US president was trying to divert, deny, and bury an investigation into Russian interference in a US election.

But Trump isn’t a normal president.

And the evidence that is publicly known doesn’t look good for him. He makes it look worse by his attacks on the FBI and the investigation.

He doesn’t act like someone innocent of something serious.

Trump doubted intelligence, ignored advisers

A report from Washington Post that describes how Donald Trump was urged by close advisers to publicly acknowledge that there had been real Russian interference in the 2016 US election after being presented by the findings of country’ spy chiefs.

Trump did once publicly state “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. We also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

But Trump was so intent on being given the credit for his win he “scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma”.

In other words, his ego overruled high level advice from his own team and from the intelligence community.

Washington Post: Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

…as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Trump’s stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. “Having Russia in a friendly posture,” he said last month, “is an asset to the world and an asset to our country.”

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet — all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Later in a lengthy article:

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump “is not my bride,” Putin said, “and I am not his groom.”

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow — a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists — has languished in internal debates for months.

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump’s Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis “believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

“Every conversation I’ve had with people on this subject has been logical,” the senior U.S. official said. “But there’s no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House.”

It concludes:

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States’ interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers’ money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. “Why is it worth it?” Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

“I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship,” Volker said. “I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place.”

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump’s frustration on so many Russia-related fronts — the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, “I want peace.”

A great aim, but it won’t just happen for Trump.

Those who can influence him (if anyone can) and foreign policy need to find a way to make progress towards peace, with Trump able to claim the praise.

Claims of defeat of ISIS in Iraq, Syria

Iraq claims to have driven ISIS out of the country, and Russian claims to have defeated ISIS in Syria.

Reuters: Islamic State completely ‘evicted’ from Iraq, Iraqi PM says

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that Iraqi forces had driven the last remnants of Islamic State from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory.

The Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under IS control along the border with Syria, state television quoted Abadi as telling an Arab media conference in Baghdad.

Several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad carrying Iraqi flags at noon, in an apparent rehearsal for a victory parade that Iraq is planning to hold in the coming days.

“Commander-in-Chief @HaiderAlAbadi announces that Iraq’s armed forces have secured the western desert & the entire Iraq Syria border, says this marks the end of the war against Daesh terrorists who have been completely defeated and evicted from Iraq,” the federal government’s official account tweeted.

In a separate tweet later, Abadi said: “Our heroic armed forces have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border. We defeated Daesh through our unity and sacrifice for the nation. Long live Iraq and its people.”

New Zealand has helped with the training of Iraqi military in their fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh: Announcement of New Zealand Defence Force personnel being deployed in a non-combat training mission to Iraq

On 24 February 2015, the government announced that the New Zealand Defence Force will deploy to Iraq in a non-combat training mission to build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Up to 143 New Zealand Defence Force personnel were approved by Cabinet to deploy on a training mission, with the main body of the deployment expected to deploy in May 2015. The training of Iraqi security forces at Taji will cover a broad range of individual and organisational military skills so that Iraqi security forces can eventually assume responsibility for delivering their own training programmes.

Extension of the Iraq Deployment

On 20 June 2016, the Government decided to extend New Zealand’s contribution to the Building Partner Capacity mission to 30 November 2018.

The Minister of Defence’s press release regarding the extension.

Rudaw: Russia declares Syria ‘completely liberated’ from ISIS

Russia’s defence minister has informed President Vladimir Putin of the defeat of ISIS in Syria and the “complete” liberation of that country.

“All ISIS formations in Syria have been defeated. Syria has been liberated from terrorists,” General of the Army Valery Gerasimov stated Wednesday evening, adding that Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin of this “about an hour ago.”

Announcing the liberation of four villages in Deir ez-Zor province, “there are no territories controlled by ISIS in Syria today,” Gerasimov said.

The military operations were overseen by Russian military advisers “operating in every grouping of the government troops,” according to a statement from Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

“Units of Kurdish militia and tribes from the East Euphrates operating under the leadership of the joint staff and Russian military advisers have made a large contribution to the liberation of territories located to the east from the Euphrates,” Gerasimov added.

On Sunday, in a joint press conference with Russian military officials, the Kurdish armed force YPG announced the defeat of ISIS in the rural areas of Deir ez-Zor province, east of the Euphrates River.

These are major victories and will have significantly reduced the power and influence of ISIS, but I doubt it will be the end of ISIS related terrorism, which may now be be one of it’s only ways of trying to continue their aims.

US Russian saga continues

The drip feed of information about possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign continues, but more is emerging about unsatisfactory FBI handling of issues over Hillary Clinton as well.

CNN  Exclusive: Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents

Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton.>

“WIKILEAKS: Hillary Clinton Sent THOUSANDS of Classified Cables Marked “(C)” for Confidential,” he tweeted, sharing a story from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative, pro-Trump website.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Meanwhile from Washington Examiner: Dossier author was in contact with Obama Justice Department:

It’s been 10 months since Washington learned that former British spy Christopher Steele, author of the so-called “Trump dossier,” took the Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research document to the FBI, which considered sponsoring the anti-Trump work at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, congressional investigators have made what is perhaps an even more consequential discovery: Knowledge of the dossier project, during the campaign, extended into the highest levels of the Obama Justice Department.

The department’s Bruce Ohr, a career official, served as associate deputy attorney general at the time of the campaign. That placed him just below the deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, who ran the day-to-day operations of the department. In 2016, Ohr’s office was just steps away from Yates, who was later fired for defying President Trump’s initial travel ban executive order and still later became a prominent anti-Trump voice upon leaving the Justice Department.

Unbeknownst to investigators until recently, Ohr knew Steele and had repeated contacts with Steele when Steele was working on the dossier. Ohr also met after the election with Glenn Simpson, head of Fusion GPS, the opposition research company that was paid by the Clinton campaign to compile the dossier.

Word that Ohr met with Steele and Simpson, first reported by Fox News’ James Rosen and Jake Gibson, was news to some current officials in the Justice Department. Shortly after learning it, they demoted Ohr, taking away his associate deputy attorney general title and moving him full time to another position running the department’s organized crime drug enforcement task forces.

The news also stunned some of those who had been investigating the matter. Yes, they knew that knowledge of the dossier extended to some officials in the FBI. That was bad enough; how could the FBI endorse and consider underwriting one campaign’s dirt-digging operation in the middle of a hotly contested election? But now investigators know that nearly the highest levels of the Obama Justice Department were also aware of the dossier.

Investors Business Daily: Did A Corrupt FBI Give Hillary Clinton A Free Pass? Sure Looks Like It

Until August 31, 2016, with the presidential election in full swing, former FBI director James Comey gave the impression that he hadn’t arrived at his decision to let Clinton off the hook until after he had all the facts.

But in late August we learned that, in fact, Comey and his team began drafting his get-out-of-jail-free statement for Clinton in April — right around the time President Obama publicly declared Clinton innocent of any crimes, and well before the FBI had interviewed dozens of key witnesses, including Clinton herself.

Then, in early November, we learned that an early draft of that memo had accused Clinton of being “grossly negligent” in handling classified material because she used an unsecured private email server while Secretary of State.

At some point during the editing process of that memo, “grossly negligent” became “extremely careless,” which is how Comey put it in the final version.

The change was monumental. The criminal statute regarding mishandling classified material specifically cites “gross negligence” as a violation of the law, even if there is no intent involved. Had that language remained, Comey’s claim that “no reasonable prosecutor” would take the Clinton email case would have been laughable.

So changing the language was obviously meant to clear the path for letting Clinton off the hook, whatever the facts might be.

This week, the other shoe in the memo story dropped, when it was reported that Peter Strzok had made that particular edit.

Strzok, for those who don’t know, had been kicked off the Trump/Russia investigation this summer — a fact we also only learned about in the past few days — after it turned out that he’d been sending anti-Trump, pro-Hillary texts to an FBI colleague.

So the key person who made a material change in a memo exonerating Clinton was a big Clinton supporter and a Trump hater.

The US looks badly broken, with no sign of a fix.

Trump claims ‘no collusion’

Donald Trump has claimed there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians.

That is incorrect. No collusion has been shown or claimed in the FBI investigation – yet. But the investigation also hasn’t shown that no collusion occurred.

In his notice to the Court on the Michael Flynn charges deal Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated:

“These facts do not constitute all of the facts known to the parties concerning the charged offenses. They are being submitted to demonstrate that sufficient facts exist that the defendant committed the offense to which he is pleading guilty.”

So what the Special Investigation knows is not known to the public – nor to Trump. Mueller may or may not have evidence proving collusion or pointing to possible collusion.

An ABC News report that a Flynn confidant said he would testify that Trump directed him to contact the Russians during the campaign has been corrected, citing a clarification from the source.

The ABC report Flynn prepared to testify that Trump directed him to contact Russians about ISIS, confidant says now states:

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and, according to a confidant, is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.

The confidant provided ABC News with new details on Friday about Trump’s instructions to Flynn. During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

The confidant told ABC News that Flynn felt abandoned by Trump in recent weeks, and told friends about the decision to make the plea deal within the last 24 hours as he grew increasingly concerned about crippling legal costs he would face if he continued to contest the charges.

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.”

Of course the ‘confidant’ cant be sure what Flynn will testify.

Meanwhile Stuff reports: Kiwi spies knew of Donald Trump’s ‘collusion’ with Russia as it unfolded – book

New Zealand spies knew about Donald Trump colluding with Russia in the lead-up to the extraordinary 2016 US election, an investigative journalist says.

Luke Harding is a Guardian journalist and author of Collusion, a new book exploring the US president’s longstanding ties with Russia.

It was the evidence of European spy agencies and, according to one source, the Australians, that helped nudge an initially reticent FBI into investigating the Trump-Russia ties that continue to unfold.

Five Eyes intelligence partners, including the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau, were monitoring the meetings between Trump associates and “known and suspected” Russian agents in the year preceding the US election, Harding says.

“This information would have been shared with New Zealand’s spooks, and they will have a clearer picture, privately, of what degree Trump colluded,” Harding says.

The book goes deep into the publication of the Steele dossier, Russian hacking of the Democrats email servers, failed bids to build a Trump Hotel in Moscow, and the dealings between Trump’s associates and Russians now subject to FBI scrutiny.

It’s more damning than Watergate, Harding says, but he doesn’t expect it to topple the White House.

His prediction: Trump will last the four-year term. “Impeachment is a political question. So, I think he’ll tough it out.”

That’s just guessing.

The investigation appears to be far from over and more is almost certain to come out. We will need to wait and see whether collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia can be proven or not.

 

 

USA: Russian collusion probe

Investigations continue into possible Russian collusion by both Democrats and republicans in last year’s US election.

Washington Examiner: Fusion GPS paid journalists, court papers confirm

Newly filed court documents confirm that Fusion GPS, the company mostly responsible for the controversial “Trump dossier” on presidential candidate Donald Trump, made payments to three journalists between June 2016 until February 2017.

The revelation could be a breakthrough for House Republicans, who are exploring whether Fusion GPS used the dossier, which was later criticized for having inaccurate information on Trump, to feed anti-Trump stories to the press during and after the presidential campaign.

The three journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS are known to have reported on “Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.

“Fusion GPS is a research firm set up by former investigative journalists,” Fusion GPS’s lawyer, Josh Levy, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

“As such, it sometimes works with contractors that have specialized skills seeking public information. Contractors are not permitted to publish any articles based on that work, and Fusion GPS does not pay journalists to write stories.”

Levy also dismissed the Republican idea that these payments were somehow aimed at or otherwise used to help get anti-Trump stories written by the press.

“This is simply another desperate attempt by the president’s political allies to discredit Fusion GPS’s work and divert attention from the question these committees are supposed to be investigating: the Trump campaign’s knowledge of Russian interference in the election,” Levy said.

But House Republicans still have their doubts. One of the documents filed by lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee said each of the three reporters who received payments had written about the Russia probe, which could indicate that reporters were using Fusion GPS’s work to write their stories.

The dossier has become one of the central components of the investigations being carried out by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Investigators are trying to determine how the dossier may have influence the intelligence agencies during the 2016 election.

The Washington Examinerreported that “FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier.”

And more on that from The Hill: Mueller investigating Kushner’s communication with foreign leaders

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators are looking into White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his contact with foreign leaders, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller’s team is probing Kushner’s involvement in the controversy surrounding a United Nations resolution passed in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

Trump, who was president-elect at the time, called for the U.S. to veto the resolution, saying it was “extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution days later as the U.S. abstained from vetoing it.

The newspaper reports that Israeli officials reached out to several top officials involved in Trump’s transition, including Kushner and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and that Mueller’s probe is asking questions about those overtures.

Mueller’s investigators are also looking into Kushner’s role in setting up meetings and communication with foreign leaders during Trump’s transition, according to the newspaper.

Investigations into possible collusion seem likely to take some time.

The end result may be that Russia tried to influence the election, but both Republicans and Democrats were trying to use Russian resources to gain an advantage.

US politics looks like a dirty business all round.