Tag Archives: Russia

Robert Mueller Is Not a Superhero

Robert Mueller, testifying before Congress in 2013. Credit Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Images

For many people, it’s up to Robert Mueller, the special counsel, to settle the question of “collusion” in the 2016 election. A clean, clear, nonpartisan legal finding would be the most acceptable possible outcome. If he uncovers a crime by the president, Congress would be justified in pursuing an impeachment inquiry.

So it should not matter that the House Intelligence Committee has abruptly ended its “investigation,” declining to compel testimony from key uncooperative witnesses or subpoena relevant records. In the words of one commentator, we need only “wait for Mueller.”

But this view is wrong, a confusion of constitutional roles and responsibilities. Mr. Mueller has one job, and Congress has another. The potential offense that each is investigating might go by the same shorthand — “collusion” — but it is not the same.

What counts as evidence, and how it is weighed and debated, is by necessity different in the two proceedings. Confusion over this point has major practical consequences for how long the nation must await a full and clear resolution of the question of Russian interference in the election, and any role Mr. Trump and his campaign played in it.

The problem seems to start with anxiety about impeachment as too “political” a process — especially in a hyperpartisan environment. That it is political in character is undeniable, but the founders thought of the politics of impeachment as being of the highest order, concerned with the protection of the constitutional system from serious executive misconduct. As James Madison told the Congress, a powerful presidency carried with it a high danger of abuse of office, and the remedy of impeachment was available “at all times.”

Legal and constitutional concerns require clarity about the nature and relevant evidence of misconduct. On the legal side, Mr. Mueller may be headed toward a theory of collusion, potentially implicating the president and others, in the form of a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
There are particular requirements for making such a case, as well as predictable defenses. Lawyers will disagree, for example, over the legal import of what the president, as candidate or president, has publicly said about Russia — his open appeal to the Russian government to locate and publish the emails of Hillary Clinton or his repeated references to the fact of Russian electoral intervention as a “hoax.”
Do these actions constitute affirmative acts in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy, subjecting Mr. Trump to “accomplice liability”? The courts would decide.

But these actions are undoubtedly relevant to any potential impeachment inquiry. What the president publicly stated and tweeted takes on greater significance in light of the revelation that his campaign representatives — as we learned in the memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee — were told that Russians could disseminate emails stolen from Mrs. Clinton. In addressing collusion with Russia, Congress must decide whether this president should retain office if the facts establish that he entered into some form of political alliance with Russia and then came to office in debt to a foreign power while determined to obstruct a public accounting. Congress has the obligation to make this determination regardless of whether Mr. Trump may be guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy.

That requires a constitutional judgment. Answering strictly legal questions in a potential trial does not resolve the issue of the president’s accountability under the Constitution. Congress’s inquiry can and should be informed by an unfettered special counsel investigation, but it cannot depend on it.

Furthermore, narrowing impeachable offenses to include only violations of law may lead to a constitutional dead end. In opinions issued in 1973 and 2000, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel has taken the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. If Mr. Mueller concludes that the president engaged in criminal conduct but follows O.L.C. opinions in declining to indict him, the president’s legal responsibility will not be adjudicated as long as he occupies the White House. On what basis would Congress then proceed to oust him from office under the legalistic conception of the impeachment power?

Many people assume that the special counsel will report to Congress on the evidence against the president. But the special counsel regulations, unlike the now defunct independent counsel statute, do not clearly mandate or authorize any such report from either the counsel or the deputy attorney general. Congress may be more likely to learn about Mr. Mueller’s work from publicly filed indictments and plea agreements.

And Congress cannot rely on the Mueller record alone. Even if Congress made impeachment a legal rather than political process, a president will be quick to argue that he is entitled to a fair adjudication of any criminal charge.

Moreover, the timetables for the two processes are not the same. Congress cannot responsibly defer its task for as long as it may take for lawyers to clash and courts to rule.

A Congress that was serious about meeting its responsibility would neither shirk nor rush a judgment about a president’s impeachable offenses. The House would structure an investigative and deliberative process that it would explain in clear terms to the public. As in 1974 in the Nixon impeachment process, the House Judiciary Committee would review and publish the best constitutional learning on what presidential misconduct rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It would proceed in the same spirit as its predecessor did when the 1974 committee said that “what is said here does not reflect any prejudgment” of the allegations but is “intended to be a review of the precedents and available interpretive materials, seeking general principles to guide the committee.” The Committee would then move to the investigative phase.

As in the Watergate case, the congressional inquiry would run parallel to the legal process, each benefiting from the other even as Congress took steps as necessary to avoid compromising the criminal investigation. It’s not difficult to imagine a new Mueller indictment spurring the Congress to action. While the special counsel may conclude that he cannot indict the president, the nature of charges against close aides and relatives could support the initiation of an impeachment inquiry. Even in this case, Congress’s task is to carry on its own investigation and to arrive at an independent judgment about whether the president should remain in officeIn the end, some may hope that delegating Congress’s responsibility to the legal process will unite the public around the outcome. They will be disappointed. The independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton rallied Democrats against impeachment as much as any other aspect of his defense. Mr. Mueller has already had strong tastes of these attacks.

When the Trump-Russia matters comes to a conclusion, we will learn how well “the system” addressed an extraordinary challenge. A crucial measure of its success or failure will be its adherence to constitutional process on a correct understanding of institutional responsibility. It is up to Congress — evidently not this one, maybe the next — to show that it can rise to the occasion.

By Bob Bauer/NYTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Is MSNBC Now the Most Dangerous Warmonger Network?


Image: Rachel Maddow on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. (Image: Screen shot via MSNBC / YouTube)

The most profound dangers from what Rachel Maddow and company are doing is what they least want to talk about—how the cumulative effects and momentum of their work are increasing the likelihood that tensions between Washington and Moscow will escalate into a horrendous military conflict.

More from Truthdig

Posted by Libergirl

Democrat report ‘yet another tool to sell Russian collusion delusion’

The US Foreign Relations Committee report on alleged Russian meddling doesn’t reflect the will of the American people or Congress, and merely tries to peddle an anti-Russian narrative, political analyst Charles Ortel told RT.

Democrats in the US are calling for radical action against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Senators on Wednesday published a 206-page report for the Foreign Relations Committee, with proposals including the creation of a new inter-agency cell, modeled on the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC).

The senators propose spending more than $250 million on building institutions in Europe and Eurasia to counter alleged Russian meddling. The report also suggests preemptive sanctions against so-called “State Hybrid Threat Actors”. In addition, it recommends that social media companies be required to track down propaganda and make public all income from political ads.

Political analyst Charles Ortel says the report is just another tool attempting to sell the delusion of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

RT:  No Republican senators signed the report, only Democrats. So do you think any of these measures will be implemented?

Charles Ortel: I highly doubt it. The report has got a lot of words in it on over 200 pages. When you look at the composition of the committee, you have a nominal Republican, I would argue, and Senator Bob Corker – President Trump refers to him as “Little Bob” Corker – who has his own problems with allegations of corruption. And that may be one of the reasons that he decided not to stand for reelection. You also have Jeff Flake, Republican on that committee.  So I don’t think that committee reflects the will of the American people, or even indeed the will of Congress. The Democrats tend to vote as a bloc. And this report, which must have been in preparation for many months, is yet another tool used to continue to sell the anti-Russian narrative and to sell the Russian collusion delusion.

RT:  The report calls for an international coalition to counter the Kremlin’s “malign influence operations.” Do you think America would find any allies for such a coalition?

CO: Sadly reports like this get written… I read the early recounting of history in this report. And it is really shameful – it is fake accounting of history, it is not objective, it doesn’t really have a proper context. I think serious objective people, when they look at this, and they try to weigh up the various ways in which we could spend money – this won’t be one where we put a lot it behind it. And while $250 million is a lot of money, in the scheme of our spending $6 trillion a year on government all told, it is really not that much. So I doubt that this will become an urgent priority for the American government.

RT America

A new poll reveals 48 percent of American voters believe it’s “very or somewhat likely” President Donald Trump will be cleared in the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. https://on.rt.com/8wml
7:16 PM – Jan 10, 2018

RT:  The senators say the US government should increase spending in Europe and Eurasia to, as you’ve just mentioned, $250 million over the next two years to counter what they think is Russian interference. Do you think US taxpayers would be happy funding that?

CO: I don’t. We’re in a zone now in the US where Trump is succeeding in disrupting the status quo consisting of the ‘Never Trump’ person, anti-Trump Democrats, who are on that Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A lot is going to happen in 2018. I would not bet against this president and his team. He is getting this economy in America moving. That is going to have a positive impact on the global economy. I think he is going to go from strength to strength… The Republicans will do much better in 2018 – it is my prediction. And when a new Senate is seated, perhaps with the stronger Republican Trump-led majority – you’re going to see very different reports coming out of that committee.

RT:  For now, the Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate. If the Democrats gain control after this year’s mid-term elections, could we see an even more hostile stance on Russia?

CO: You might. But I think that is a very large ‘if.’ I think Americans vote with their pocketbook. We’ve been stuck down under less than 8 percent per year GDP growth for eight years. Incomes are now finally coming back; the economy is coming back; taxes are going down. I think you’re going to see a lot of good, strong moves from now through November 2018. And we’re going to vote with our pocketbook, and vote for success rather than schemes and slogans, and hackneyed reports.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Steve Bannon says Trump-Russia ties are ‘about money-laundering’ — but GOP won’t let Dems investigate

Congressional Republicans in charge of leading Capitol Hill’s investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election are continuing to stymie efforts by Democrats to investigate alleged collusion, according to a new report in Politico.

Despite ousted Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon alleging money laundering in the blockbuster new book Fire and Fury, Republicans won’t allow Democrats to follow the money.

Republican congressional leaders have refused to compel public testimony from Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. In addition to blocking public testimony, three Democratic lawmakers told Politico that Republicans “also have rejected closed-door interview sessions with several dozen witnesses.”

Most shocking may be Republican efforts to block the investigation of financial documents, which could potentially show a quid pro quo arrangement.

“Those Democrats, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California, also said Republicans have blocked their requests for financial documents from key players like Trump Jr., Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump himself,” Politico reported.

Committee Democrats are also seeking records from Deutsche Bank.

“At the end of the day, we will have done the country a disservice if we conclude the investigation without doing a thorough job, and if we are willing to make an incomplete report to the American people, or worse, one that’s inaccurate, and later have to explain when information comes to the surface why we didn’t care enough to pursue it,” said Schiff, a former federal prosecutor.

“We need the committee to use the compulsory process, but the majority thus far has been unwilling to do so in most cases,” explained Swalwell, a former state prosecutor. “And that leaves some very important questions unanswered.”

“The fact that we have not had any kind of public visibility on ‘follow-the-money issues’ is a very significant deficiency of the inquiry,” Wyden said. “I think Jared Kushner ought to be back answering questions in public. I think Donald Trump Jr. should be back answering questions in public, and we would obviously coordinate with Mueller on that.”


Posted by The NON-Conformist

CULTURE How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any Basic Civics Class Russian fake news infiltrated our social media feeds, and our own willful ignorance is to blame.

It happens every semester. I’m sitting at home, tempted to jump head first out the window as I grade papers from my college freshmen writing course. One student has cited a Facebook meme as evidence to present the case for the criminalization of abortion. Another has referred to the expertise of an unidentified Reddit user as the conversation closer on issues of war and peace.

The next morning I will give a repeat performance, apparently due to popular demand, of my lecture on legitimate sources. I’ll execute a dramatic and exciting crescendo — comparable to the guitar solo at the end of Lynyrd Skynryd’s “Free Bird” — when I emphasize that social media feeds, message boards and various other forms of internet chatter do not make for credible research outlets. My soft landing occurs with the display of academic journals and journalistic publications with solid reputations as reliable disseminators of information.

Little did I know, as I passed every few months through each stage of this predictable pedagogical routine, that the health of American democracy is at stake. It turns out that tens of millions of Americans belong in my freshmen writing course, and, if their failures of citizenship are any indication, would struggle to pass if enrolled.

As everyone scrambles to correctly assign blame for the degradation of American democracy in 2016 through fake news Russian disinformation campaigns, commentators act as if they are attempting to determine who is responsible for letting a toddler jump into the pool. Was it the social media CEOs for having no standards regulating content? Was it Vladimir Putin, whose interference some have called an “act of war?” Or was it the DNC for their failure to adequately guard against hacking?

The conversation would remain important, but it would not rise to the level of urgency if the American people were not susceptible to the spread of information transparently false to anyone who has read a substantive book, or even a newspaper, in the past year.

Gore Vidal once remarked, “Half of the U.S. population reads a newspaper. Half of the U.S. population votes. Let’s hope it is the same half.”

Now, fewer than half of Americans read the newspaper, and an increasingly alarming amount report that they rely on social media for news, but many of them are still participating in the Democratic process. I often see bumper stickers that announce, “I’m Catholic and I vote” or “I’m NRA and I vote.” It seems that a lucrative merchandising opportunity exists for someone who invents the sticker, “I don’t read and I vote.”

The documentation of Americans’ ignorance on fundamental issues of history and governance is by now so thorough that it hardly bears repeating. For example, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. These are people commonly referred to as “elitists.”

The problem is not just that Americans don’t know. It is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t know how to figure it out. Like my students who attempt to meet their research requirement on Twitter, American voters are misinforming themselves with lies and inaccuracies from unreliable sources.

If the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot even identify the three branches of their own government, it should strike no one as a surprise that they are unaware of refugee policies in Europe. One of the fake news stories I saw circulate on Facebook in the months leading up to the presidential election described “millions” of refugees arriving in Germany, or sometimes Italy, and essentially “taking over” the country. The post often produced as photographic evidence, doctored images from the early 20th century. Apocalyptic updates on the refugee invasion of European nations served as warning against what would happen in America if Hillary Clinton became president.

The most consequential offenders in the dissemination, and success, of fake news are not the Russians or social media company executives, but the American education system, and the parents who are content with raising children who know little about their country, much less about the rest of the world.

Only nine states require civics as part of the high school curriculum, and many colleges have reduced or eliminated requirements in history and political science. As unimaginable as it seems, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni published a report last year that only seven of the nation’s top 25 liberal arts colleges require their history majors — this is not a joke — to take a course in U.S. history.

The notion that the only knowledge that matters is that which can enable students to acquire high-paying employment has also contributed to the intellectual failures of Americans.

What the scandal of 2016’s hacks, Russian meddling and disinformation proves, is that a significant portion of Americans are ungovernable and unfit for the task of citizenship in a free country. It certainly does not have to stay that way, but reversal would demand an entirely new approach to education, popular political discussion and the preparation of children for the adult world.

As long as the focus remains solely on easily identifiable villains — foreign dictators, greedy tech magnates — American democracy will remain an easy target for illusionists and conmen.

By David Masciotra/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist

JFK files: Trump teases release as deadline arrives

Trump plans to release classified JFK documents

Washington (CNN)More than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy was killed, Americans on Thursday may finally get the US government’s full accounting of his assassination.

That’s if President Donald Trump doesn’t do anything.
The White House has yet to signal whether Trump would allow the full release of the government’s classified documents on the assassination or instead elect to keep some files secret.
 As the deadline nears, the White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment asking whether Trump planned to invoke his waiver privilege to keep some of the documents secret, as some members of the US intelligence community have privately requested. A decision to withhold even a sliver of the documents could give conspiracy theorists more fodder to propel their claims.
J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow. So interesting!
3:56 PM – Oct 25, 2017
Trump could block the release of certain documents if he finds “an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or conduct of foreign relations” and if “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” according to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.
The deadline comes 25 years after the enactment of that law, which mandated the release of all government documents related to the Kennedy assassination in an attempt to quell conspiracy theories that have long swirled around the assassination.
Historians who have closely studied the Kennedy assassination have said they do not expect the documents to reveal any bombshells or to contradict the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for killing Kennedy. Still, the files will give Americans a fuller picture of how the 35th US president was killed and the ensuing investigation into his assassination.
“There’s going to be no smoking gun in there,” Gerald Posner, the author of “Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK,” told CNN’s Michael Smerconish on Saturday. “Anybody who thinks this is going to turn the case on its head and suddenly show that there were three or four shooters at Dealey Plaza — it’s not the case.”
“Oswald did it alone,” Posner continued. “But what the files are doing and why they’re important to come out is they fill in the history of the case and show us how the FBI and CIA repeatedly hid the evidence.”
The CIA and FBI documents could also shed new light on Oswald’s mysterious trip to Mexico City weeks before the assassination. The files could also reveal new details about US involvement in attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, notably the CIA’s alleged ties to the mob as part of that effort.
Trump has been encouraged allow the full release of the files by several Republican figures in the lead-up to the document dump deadline.
Grassley ✔ @ChuckGrassley
25 yrs ago Cong said all gov records abt JFK assassination shld b released this month unless Pres blocks No reason 2 keep hidden anymore 1/3
6:46 PM – Oct 4, 2017
“No reason 2 keep hidden anymore,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted earlier this month. “Time 2 let American ppl + historians draw own conclusions.”
The President’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone, an avid JFK assassination conspiracy theorist, also privately urged Trump to allow the full release of the documents.
By Jeremy Diamond/CNN
Posted by The NON-Conformist

‘Year late & bad info’: California says DHS falsely accused Russia of hacking its voting systems

It appears that in its eagerness to accuse Russian hackers of meddling in the US presidential election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wrongly claimed California’s election systems had been breached.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released a statement in which he confirmed that DHS officials had told him that the state’s election system had been “scanned” by Russian hackers.

“Last Friday, my office was notified by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites. Following our request for further information, it became clear that DHS’ conclusions were wrong,” he wrote in a statement published on Wednesday.

He went on to stress that last Friday’s notification from the DHS wasn’t just “a year late,” but was also “bad information.”

Now the DHS instead maintains – without any stated evidence – that “Russian scanning activity…occurred on the California Department of Technology statewide network,” rather than Secretary of State websites.

California’s Secretary of State does not use the Department of Technology to provide IT services for its website, internet-facing applications, or the statewide voter registration database, according to Padilla’s office.

Padilla’s statement added that based on this additional information, “the California Secretary of State elections infrastructure and websites were not hacked or breached by Russian cyber actors.”

As for the Department of Technology allegedly being breached, the office said its security systems were able to block “suspect activity.” However, claims that Russians were behind any such attempt remain unsubstantiated.

Padilla’s statement comes after California – along with 20 other states – was told last week that its systems were targeted last year “by Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to US election infrastructure.”

The DHS’ mistake in California is the second time in a week that the department’s credibility has come into question, as it was forced to backtrack earlier this week on its claim that Russian hackers attempted to hack Wisconsin’s election infrastructure.

Just as in the case of California, the DHS quickly pointed to another government department which the elusive Russians allegedly tried to hack – the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

It is an interesting – and once again unproven – claim, considering the office merely oversees job training and unemployment benefits.

Despite ongoing claims and an investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election, no evidence has been provided to support the hysteria.

A congressional investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election has been dragging on 10 months, with any hard evidence explicitly pointing to the role of Russian authorities yet to be produced.
Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the election campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebuffed the meddling claims, on one occasion noting that the US is not “a banana republic,” for others to interfere with its people’s choice.

In an interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone in June, Putin instead accused the US of meddling in Russia’s most recent presidential elections in 2012, by campaigning on the side of the Russian opposition.

Moreover, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in August that there is “no doubt” the US will again try to meddle in the 2018 presidential election.

That same month, US President Donald Trump told a rally in West Virginia that the Russia story is a “total fabrication” and an excuse used by Democrats for the “greatest loss in the history of American politics.”

He said that prosecutors should instead be focused on Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails rather than alleged Russian meddling.

From RussiaToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist