Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

CIA knew in August 2016 that Putin sought to boost Trump — But Obama administration “choked”

June 24, 2017
Published June 24, 2017, 2:19 PM

By Agence France-Presse

The CIA had top-level intelligence last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help Donald Trump win the US presidential race, the Washington Post reported Friday.

A combination of file photos showing Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, January 15, 2016 and US President Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, US May 17, 2016. (Reuters)

A combination of file photos showing Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, January 15, 2016 and US President Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, US May 17, 2016. (Reuters)

The intelligence shocked the White House and put US security chiefs on a top-secret crisis footing to figure out how to react.

But amid confidence that Democrat Hillary Clinton still had the election in the bag and worries over president Barack Obama himself being seen as manipulating the election, the administration delivered warnings to Moscow but left countermeasures until after the vote, the Post reported.

After Trump’s shock victory, there were strong regrets among administration officials that they had shied from tough action.

“From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this,’” a former administration official told the newspaper.

The Post said that as soon as the intelligence on Putin came in, the White House viewed it as a deep national security threat. A secret intelligence task force was created to firm up the information and come up with possible responses.

They couldn’t do anything about embarrassing WikiLeaks revelations from hacked Clinton emails. The focus turned to whether Moscow could disrupt the November 8 vote itself by hacking voter registration lists or voting machines, undermining confidence in the vote tally itself.

Worried about making the situation worse, the administration put off retaliating, and instead delivered stiff warnings directly to the Russians not to go farther.

At least four direct warnings — Obama to Putin, spy chief to spy chief, and via top diplomatic channels — appeared to have an impact, officials told the Post. They believe that Moscow pulled back on any possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a senior administration official told the Post.

Options to retaliate were on the table early: more crippling sanctions on the Russian economy, leaking information that would embarrass Putin diplomatically, and launching cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure were high on the list.

But Trump’s shock victory dampened the response.

Obama took modest measures at the end of December, expelling 35 Russians and adding to existing sanctions. He also, according to the Post, authorized a plan to place cyberattack implants in the systems of critical Russian infrastructure.

But it remains unclear, the Post said, whether Trump has followed through with that.

Trump on Friday questioned Obama’s response to the Russian hacking crisis.

“Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?” he posted on Twitter.

In an interview with Fox News program “Fox and Friends” that will air Sunday, Trump groused that Obama’s response did not get more media coverage.

“The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even — before the election. And I hardly see it. It’s an amazing thing,” Trump said in an excerpt released by the program Friday evening.

“If he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”

Related:

Obama official says they didn’t do enough about Russian election hacking: ‘We choked’ — Putin Decided Obama Was Weak and the Time Was Right for Russia To Get Involved in U.S. Election

June 24, 2017

The administration was concerned that stronger actions would have been perceived as an attempt to influence the election

By Clark Mindock New York

The Independent

A former White House official has said that they think the Obama administration mishandled its response to Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend”, the official from Barack Obama’s White House told the Washington Post of his role in determining how the White House should handle their knowledge that the Kremlin was trying to undermine the integrity of the US electoral process. “I feel like we sort of choked”.

The Obama White House was notified about Moscow’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election was on orders from Vladimir Putin in August, but was hesitant to make that knowledge public, according to that investigation by the Washington Post.

This file photo taken on September 5, 2016 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meeting with his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou. (Photo by AFP)

This file photo taken on September 5, 2016 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meeting with his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou. (Photo by AFP)

That’s at least in part because Donald Trump, then a Republican nominee whom many thought had almost no chance of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton, had repeatedly said that the election was being rigged. With those allegations repeatedly airing on cable news covering the Trump campaign, Mr Obama was hesitant to divulge the Russian influence for fear of giving the appearance that the US government was also interfering.

But the slow response was also a result of confidence in Ms Clinton’s campaign winning the election. Throughout the fall, as November crept closer, Democrats saw many signs that their candidate would ultimately win: She had three strong debate performances against Mr Trump, polls showed her with an impressive lead most of the time, and Mr Trump appeared to have an incredible capacity for inflicting harm on his campaign just by making controversial remarks on stage.

The Obama administration considered retaliatory measures against Moscow after they learned about the extent of the meddling, including potentially compiling a personal dossier on Vladimir Putin that could be released to embarrass him. They also considered planting “cyber weapons” in Russian infrastructure that could harm those services. They ultimately landed on modest sanctions, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country in December.

The cyber weapons plan was given a green light, but those efforts hadn’t come to fruition by the time Mr Obama left office, and Mr Trump took over responsibility for those efforts.

Those measures have been criticised as being weak compared to what the Kremlin did.

“The punishment did not fit the crime”, Michael McFaul, Mr Obama’s ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, told the Washington Post. “And US policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions”.

Image result for Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia, photos

Michael McFaul

Mr Obama’s former aides say that the threat was taken very seriously by that White House, and note that the President himself brought the issue up during a meeting with Mr Putin. The Russian president denied the allegations, and said that the US didn’t have proof that his government was directly involved.

Mr Trump’s campaign has been under investigation for potential collusion with Russia in the effort, but the President has adamantly denied any wrongdoing on his part.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/obama-russia-election-hacking-comments-regrets-putin-trump-a7805746.html

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Vladimir Putin sees Barack Obama’s coolness as weakness – and it is hurting America

Russia’s bombing of American allies in Syria underlines how much more powerful and provocative Putin is than he was before Obama took office

President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York

President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Russian warplanes began bombing American-backed Syrian opposition strongholds on Wednesday, a move that can be viewed as the latest example of American humiliation abroad.

As was the case when Russians invaded Ukraine, the Russians cloaked their activity in lies.

In the former example, Russian soldiers didn’t wear uniforms, a thinly-veiled move meant to create the impression the fighters were merely Ukrainian “separatists.”

Likewise, Wednesday’s bombings ostensibly targeted Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil); in fact, the strikes were aimed at moderate rebels and civilians – part of a plan to take out any opposition to their client, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

President Bashar al-Assad claimed the British Government is "determined to militarise the problem" in SyriaSyrian President Bashir al-Assad  Photo: REUTERS

This all comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s drawing of a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons, only to back down when the Assad regime – by most accounts – used them.

This past week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest strained credulity when he said Mr Obama doesn’t regret drawing that red line.

Weakness invites provocation, and – never one to miss an opportunity to outmanoeuvre Mr Obama – Mr Putin provided a self-serving opportunity that would also allow the president to save face: Moscow would push Syria to put their chemical weapons under international control.

It’s also important to note that in the wake of the red line being trampled, Russia invaded Crimea. President Obama’s legacy may be mixed, but one thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin is much more powerful and provocative than he was before Mr Obama took office, and Russia has only expanded its sphere of influence.

The Syria bombings also come almost immediately after Mr Putin met with Mr Obama at the UN where they agreed to “deconflict” military operations – a very Obama-esque line that Mr Putin immediately crossed.

Smoke rises after airstrikes in Kafr Nabel of the Idlib province, western Syria. Russian jets carried out a second day of airstrikes in Syria Thursday, but there were conflicting claims about whether they were targeting Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants or trying to shore up the defenses of President Bashar Assad. Russian bombs exploding outside Idlib  Photo: Hadi Al-Abdallah via AP

And prior to bombing our friends in Syria, the Russians also had the audacity to issue a “démarche” for the US to clear air space over northern Syria. As if that weren’t enough, this came just as reports that the Russians attempted to hack Hillary Clinton’s email server.

For those paying attention, Mr Obama’s foreign policy world-view has failed.

The suggestion that America could leave a vacuum that wouldn’t be filled by our adversaries – the idea that the “international community” (whatever that means) would respect us more if we were to retreat from the world – was always a farce.

At some level, high-stakes diplomacy is still a game of chicken – where machismo matters.

Even domestically, there are still traces of this left in our more civilised politics.

We recently witnessed an example of Jeb Bush standing on his toes during a photo-op, attempting to appear taller than Donald Trump. This is childish and petty, and yet serious people play these power games.

But nobody plays them better than Mr Putin, the former KGB officer who likes to ride horses while shirtless.

It’s nice to live in a postmodern country, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into believing the rest of the world is impressed by our sophistication.

In the vast majority of the world, power (or the perception of power) is what matters. In America, President Obama’s brand of metrosexual coolness works well.

Vladimir PutinVladimir Putin  Photo: Getty Images

He mocked Mitt Romney, for example, as a Neanderthal stuck in the 1980s for suggesting in 2012 that Russia was still our main geopolitical foe.

Mr Obama’s mix of cool insouciance and biting sarcasm plays much better with the latte-sipping crowd than it does with former KGB operatives, where his style and rhetoric suggests weakness, softness, and a lack of commitment and moral clarity.

Today, it looks like he’s allowing Russia to push America around, and dictate the terms of our being pushed around.

One can only imagine that this might impact the 2016 presidential race. My theory is that it helps Donald Trump. He’s perceived as a “winner” who could stand up to Mr Putin.

It’s reasonable to conclude that what we need is a Mr Putin of our own. They’ve got a strongman – maybe we need a strongman? Mr Trump might be a sonofabitch, Americans might conclude, but he’s our sonofabitch!

In the world of high-stakes diplomacy with a man like Mr Putin, politics is closer to the law of the jungle than anything civilised.

He’s not terribly concerned about being on “the wrong side of history” — a line Mr Obama bandies about as if its intimidating to anyone outside American cities.

It has been said that when you watch a political debate, you should turn down the sound and predict the winner, via body language.

When you look at Mr Putin and his ministers, and then compare them to Mr Obama and their Russian counterparts, one gets the sense that the Russians would easily win every fist fight.

Unfortunately, it’s the United States of America that is left with a black eye.

Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller website in Washington, DC

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Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:17PM
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Former US President Barack Obama was informed by the CIA last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential race, a report says.

The CIA’s top-level intelligence also showed that Putin ordered the operation to damage the electoral chances of Trump’s main rival Hillary Clinton, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking during a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Hyatt hotel on October 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

 

The envelope, containing the information, was delivered by a courier to the White House and it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be seen by just four people: Obama and three senior aides.

Obama and his team struggled to figure out how to react as they were concerned that they would be seen as attempting to tip the scales in the presidential race, the Post reported.

The White House viewed the information as a deep national security threat once they received it, the report added.

Thus, a secret intelligence task force was created to firm up the information and come up with possible responses.

The administration left countermeasures until after the vote, but delivered stiff warnings to Moscow not to go farther, the report said.

At least four direct warnings were issued by Obama to Putin and the American spy chief to his Russian counterpart via top diplomatic channels.

They apparently had an impact, officials told the Post, adding they believe that Moscow withdrew from any possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a former senior official told the Post.

According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Obama’s failure to respond to Putin amounted to “choking.”

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked,” the official told the newspaper.

After Trump’s shock victory, some of the Obama administration officials strongly regretted shying from tough action.


This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by AFP)

“From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this,” one official told the paper.

The options they had on the table included more sanctions on the Russian economy, leaking intelligence that would embarrass Putin diplomatically, and launching cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure.

Obama, however, took modest measures at the end of December, expelling 35 Russians and adding to existing sanctions.

He also authorized a plan to place cyberattack implants in the systems of critical Russian infrastructure, according to the Post.

It is not clear whether Trump has followed through with that, the Post added.

Since he started running for president, candidate Trump was a staunch supporter of improving relations with the US’ former Cold War foe.

On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey right in the middle of an investigation into Russia’s meddling of the US presidential elections, an allegation Moscow has repeatedly denied.

http://217.218.67.231/Detail/2017/06/23/526303/US-Russia-FBI-Donald-Trump-Barack-Obama-Putin

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As a result of being unable to “help” Hillary Clinton by backing down Mr. Putin, Barack Obama’s help to Hillary is summed up in this photo. There was no real help that mattered….

See also:

Ten Years of Russian Cyber Attacks on Other Nations

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hacking-in-america/timeline-ten-years-russian-cyber-attacks-other-nations-n697111

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John Emerson, Washington's man in Berlin, to meet with Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, over claims Angela Merkel's phone was tapped by US

Chancellor Merkel called President Obama demanding answers after reports emerged that the US may have been monitoring her phone Photo: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS
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James Clapper talking to a group of people
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25. Photo: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News
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China, U.S. Agree Aim of ‘Complete, Irreversible’ Korean Denuclearisation

June 24, 2017

BEIJING — China and the United States agreed that efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula should be “complete, verifiable and irreversible”, Chinese state media said on Saturday, reporting the results of high level talks in Washington this week.

“Both sides reaffirm that they will strive for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” a consensus document released by the official Xinhua news agency said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said on Thursday that the United States pressed China to ramp up economic and political pressure on North Korea, during his meeting with top Chinese diplomats and defence chiefs.

China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui met Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during the talks. Yang later met with U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House, where they also discussed North Korea, Xinhua reported.

Image result for Yang Jiechi, photos, june 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

The consensus document also highlighted the need to fully and strictly hold to U.N. Security Council resolutions and push for dialogue and negotiation, which has long been China’s position on the issue.

Military-to-military exchanges should also be upgraded and mechanisms of notification established in order to cut the risks of “judgement errors” between the Chinese and U.S. militaries, the statement also said.

Chinese state media described the talks, the first of their kind with the Trump administration, as an upgrade in dialogue mechanisms between China and the United States, following on from President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Trump in Florida in April.

Xi and Trump are next expected to meet again in Hamburg during the G20 Summit next month.

A day last week’s talks, President Donald Trump said China’s efforts to use its leverage with North Korea had failed, raising fresh doubts about his administration’s strategy for countering the threat from North Korea.

The death of American university student Otto Warmbier earlier this week, after his release from 17 months of imprisonment in Pyongyang, further complicated Trump’s approach to North Korea.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has been accused of not fully enforcing existing U.N. sanctions on its neighbour, and has resisted some tougher measures.

Washington has considered further “secondary sanctions” against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with North Korea, which China opposes.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Simo cameron-Moore)

Related:

David Stockman Warns “A Great Big Coup Is On The Way” — Intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House could have been a party to unconstitutional interference in the election process

June 23, 2017

Submitted by David Stockman via The Daily Reckoning,

So let’s start with an obvious point about the whole Russia fiasco…

Namely, there is no “there, there.” First off, the president has the power to declassify secret documents at will. But in this instance he could also do that without compromising intelligence community (IC) “sources and methods” in the slightest.

That’s because after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, the whole world was put on notice — and most especially Washington’s adversaries — that it collects every single electronic digit that passes through the worldwide web and related communications grids.

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Special Counsel Overseeing Russia Probe Could Face Ethics Challenge

Washington essentially has universal and omniscient SIGINT (signals intelligence). Acknowledging that fact by publishing the Russia-Trump intercepts would provide new knowledge to exactly no one.

Nor would it jeopardize the lives of any American spy or agent (HUMINT). It would just document the unconstitutional interference in the election process that had been committed by the U.S. intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House.

That pales compared to whatever noise comes out of Langley (CIA) and Ft. Meade (NSA). And I do mean noise.

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Yes, I can hear the boxes on the CNN screen harrumphing that declassifying the “evidence” would amount to obstruction of justice! That is, since Trump’s “crime” is a given (i.e. his occupancy of the Oval Office), anything that gets in the way of his conviction and removal therefrom amounts to “obstruction.”

Given that he is up against a Deep State/Democratic/Neoconservative/mainstream media prosecution, the Donald has no chance of survival short of an aggressive offensive of the type I just described.

But that’s not happening because the man is clueless about what he is doing in the White House. And he’s being advised by a cacophonous coterie of amateurs and nincompoops. So he has no action plan except to impulsively reach for his Twitter account.

That became more than evident — and more than pathetic, too — when he tweeted out an attack on his own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. At least Nixon fired Elliot Richardson (his Attorney General) and Bill Ruckelshaus (Deputy AG):

I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.

Alone with his Twitter account, clueless advisors and pulsating rage, the Donald is instead laying the groundwork for his own demise. Were this not the White House, this would normally be the point at which they send in the men in white coats with a straight jacket.

Indeed, that’s essentially what the Donald’s so-called GOP allies on the Hill are actually doing.

RussiaGate is a witch hunt like few others in American political history. Yet as the mainstream cameras and microphones were thrust at one Congressional Republican after another following the Donald’s outburst quoted above, there was nary an echo of agreement.

Even Senator John Thune, an ostensible Swamp-hating conservative, had nothing but praise for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that he would fairly and thoroughly get to the bottom of the matter.

No he won’t!

Mueller is a card-carrying member of the Deep State who was there at the founding of today’s surveillance monster as FBI Director following 9/11. Since the whole $75 billion apparatus that eventually emerged was based on an exaggerated threat of global Islamic terrorism, Russia had to be demonized into order to keep the game going — a transition that Mueller fully subscribed to.

So he will “find” extensive Russian interference in the 2016 election and bring the hammer down on the Donald for seeking to prevent it from coming to light. The clock is now ticking. And his investigatory team is being packed with prosecutorial killers with proven records of thuggery. They’re determined to find crimes that create fame and fortune for prosecutors — even if the crime itself never happened.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by  J. Scott Applewhite AP

For example, Mueller’s #1 hire was the despicable Andrew Weissmann. This character had led the fraud section of the department’s Criminal Division and served as general counsel to the F.B.I. when Mueller was its director. And more importantly, Weissmann was the driving force behind the Enron task force — the most egregious exercise in prosecutorial abuse and thuggery in 100 years.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership could not be clearer about what is coming down the pike.

They are not defending Trump with even a hint of the vigor and resolve that I recall from the early days of Tricky Dick Nixon’s ordeal. Of course, Nixon didn’t survive anyway.

Instead, it’s as if Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, et al. have offered to hold his coat, while the Donald pummels himself with a 140-character Twitter Knife that is visible to the entire world.

So there should be no doubt. A Great Big Coup is on the way.

But here’s the irony of the matter: Exactly four years ago in June 2013 no one was seriously demonizing Putin or Russia. In fact, the slicksters of CNN were still snickering about Mitt Romney’s silly claim during the 2012 election campaign that Russia was the greatest security threat facing America.

But then came the Syrian jihadist false flag chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the U.S. intelligence community’s flagrant lie that it had proof the villain was Bashar Assad.

To the contrary, it subsequently became evident that the primitive rockets that had carried the deadly sarin gas, which killed upwards of 1500 innocent civilians, could not have been fired from regime held territory. The rockets examined by UN investigators had a range of only a few kilometers, not the 15-20 kilometers from the nearest Syrian base.

In any event, President Obama chose to ignore his own red line and called off the bombers. That in turn paved the way for Vladimir Putin to persuade Assad to give up all of his chemical weapons — a commitment he fully complied with over the course of the next year.

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Needless to say, in the eyes of the neocon War Party, this constructive act of international statesmanship by Putin was the unforgivable sin. It thwarted the next target on their regime change agenda — removal of the Assad government in Syria as a step toward an ultimate attack on its ally, the Shiite regime of Iran.

So it did not take long for the Deep State to retaliate. While Putin was basking in the glory of the 2014 winter Olympics at Sochi, the entire apparatus of Imperial Washington — the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy, the State Department and a long string of Washington funded NGOs — was on the ground in Kiev assisting the putsch that overthrew Ukraine’s constitutionally elected President and Russian ally.

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From there, the Ukrainian civil war and partition of Crimea inexorably followed, as did the escalating campaign against Russia and its leader.

So as it turned out, the War Party could not have planned a better outcome — especially after Russia moved to protect its legitimate interests in its own backyard resulting from the Washington-instigated civil war in Ukraine. That included protecting its 200-year old naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.

The War Party simply characterized these actions falsely as acts of aggression against Russia’s European neighbors.

There is nothing like a demonized enemy to keep the $700 billion national security budget flowing and the hideous Warfare State opulence of the Imperial City intact. So why not throw in an allegedly “stolen” U.S. election to garnish the case?

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In a word, the Little Putsch in Kiev is now begetting a Great Big Coup in the Imperial City.

This is a history-shattering development, but don’t tell the boys and girls and robo-machines on Wall Street.

Pathetically, they still think it’s game on.

So if there was ever a time to take advantage of the day traders and robo-machines which linger in the casino, now would be the occasion to sell, sell, sell. Once the breakdown starts there will be no respite from the implosion.

 http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-06-22/stockman-warns-great-big-coup-way

Getting an Edge in the Long Afghan Struggle

June 23, 2017

Trump’s early approach holds promise if backed with a sustained, and sustainable, commitment.

An Afghan man reacts at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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June 22, 2017 6:32 p.m. ET

Can the U.S. succeed in Afghanistan? Not without a sustained, and sustainable, commitment. President Trump’s decision to give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to add several thousand more U.S. troops to the 8,400 currently deployed is encouraging—but only if it is a first step in a comprehensive approach.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, should also receive greater leeway in the use of U.S. and NATO air power. And officials should remain open to the possibility of reconciliation with some insurgents, probably just those that break off from the central Taliban.

An intensified military effort could arrest the gradual loss of territory held by the government in recent years—now estimated by U.S. Central Command at only 60% of the country—and to regain battlefield momentum. Congress should enable all this by appropriating the $5 billion or so a year above current levels that such a strategy will require.

America’s leaders should not lose sight of why the U.S. went to, and has stayed in, Afghanistan: It is in our national interest to ensure that country is not once again a sanctuary for transnational extremists, as it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there. We have been accomplishing that mission since the intervention began in October 2001. Although al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is diminished, it could rebound if given the opportunity. Islamic State could expand its newfound Afghan foothold as well.

The augmented troop levels Mr. Trump has authorized would be only 12% to 15% of the peak U.S. force levels, in 2010-11. The country can sustain that level of commitment. While all casualties are tragic, our losses in Afghanistan would likely remain far fewer than the losses from another major terrorist attack in the U.S.

Today the U.S. and its coalition partners lack the capacity to train and assist Afghan forces adequately in the field. As recently as 2015, the allied forces did not even have a full-time advisory presence for the main Afghan army corps in Helmand province. Largely as a result, the Taliban gained control of much of the province. Nor did the coalition have adequate advisers to help the smaller Afghan formations near Kunduz before that city fell to the Taliban in 2015. It was later liberated only at high cost, especially to Afghan forces and civilians. Restrictions on coalition air power reduced America’s ability to help Afghan partners.

Adding some 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. and allied troops could provide the capacity for several dozen deployable mentoring teams. That is far from enough to assist each Afghan brigade or battalion. But it could support the units that are engaged in the toughest fights and are most intensively involved in rebuilding their capabilities. Supporting those teams logistically and with air power, and providing quick-reaction forces in several parts of the country to help them if they get in trouble, would drive additional requirements for coalition troops into the low thousands.

On the civilian side, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah need to continue their efforts against corruption, which have shown gradual, modest results to date. With U.S. help, they need to reform the electoral commissions that will oversee parliamentary and presidential elections over the next two years.

Then there is Pakistan, where the U.S. needs a tougher approach. Washington reduced aid to Islamabad by more than half over the past five years. More can be cut. President Trump and Congress could also designate Pakistani individuals and organizations supporting the Taliban and impose sanctions on them. The U.S. could show less restraint in striking Taliban targets within Pakistan.

There are carrots available too: trade concessions, increased aid, more assistance to the Pakistani army’s fight against internal extremists, dialogue with New Delhi to mitigate Pakistan’s worries about India’s role in Afghanistan. But these must come on the condition that Islamabad put greater pressure on the Taliban (whose headquarters is in the Quetta area) and on the Haqqani insurgent network (in North Waziristan). None of this will work unless Pakistani leaders recognize that allowing these groups’ leaders sanctuary on their soil is foolish and dangerous. Given the way extremist groups collaborate in Central and South Asia, that approach will inevitably continue to backfire. After all, the greatest existential threat Pakistan faces is internal extremism, not India.

President Trump’s early approach holds promise. In Afghanistan today, the military needs to revisit the phase of the mission it largely skipped in the years after the surge of 2010-12 or so, when it downsized too quickly and too far. This approach will not achieve “victory” in Afghanistan, after which all troops can be withdrawn. That is an impossible goal in the near-term. But it will be sustainable and it can improve the prospects of shoring up our eastern flank in the broader battle against Islamist extremism—a fight that likely is to be a generational struggle.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired Army general, commanded coalition forces in Iraq (2007-08) and in Afghanistan (2010-11) and later served as director of the CIA (2011-12). Mr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-an-edge-in-the-long-afghan-struggle-1498170753

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a helicopter over Kabul, April 24.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a helicopter over Kabul, April 24. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
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Petraeus: Afghan war a ‘generational struggle’ that will not end soon

 

BY LARISA EPATKO  June 16, 2017 at 6:17 PM EDT

The 16-year war in Afghanistan is not going to end any time soon, former CIA Director David Petraeus said Friday in an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.

“This is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years. We’re not going to take a hill, plant a flag and go home to a victory parade,” said Petraeus, who also oversaw U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq during his military career. He is now a partner at KKR global investment firm.

“You know, we’ve been in Korea for 65-plus years, because there’s an important national interest for that. We were in Europe for a very long period of time,” he said. “We’re still there, of course, and actually with a renewed interest now given Russia’s aggressive actions.”

When Woodruff asked if he thought if the U.S. would need to stay in Afghanistan for 60 more years, he said he doesn’t think the U.S. involvement will last that long. But “I think we should not approach this as a year-on-year mission,” he said, noting that kind of instability gives Afghan leaders “the jitters.”

The current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has recommended sending 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to the 8,400 already there. Petraeus called the possible increase in forces “heartening” and “sustainable.”

Watch Woodruff’s full interview with David Petraeus on Friday’s broadcast of PBS NewsHour.

Includes video:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/petraeus-afghan-war-generational-struggle-will-not-end-soon/

Johnny Depp Talks About Assassinating Donald Trump

June 23, 2017

BY ARIANE MANDELL
The Jerusalem Post
JUNE 23, 2017 05:18

How far is too far when it comes to jest?

Johnny Depp

Actor Johnny Depp poses on a Cadillac before presenting his film The Libertine, at Cinemageddon at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival in Britain, June 22, 2017.. (photo credit:DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS)

Fifty-four-old-actor Johnny Depp is no stranger to controversy, but he found himself in hotter water than usual on Thursday for a remark against US President Donald Trump, The Telegraph reported.

“I think Trump needs help,” he said while promoting his film The Libertine at Glastonbury Festival. “There are a lot of dark places he could go.”

He continued, “I’m not insinuating anything – by the way, this will be in the press and it will be horrible – but when was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”

Johnny Depp: “When was the last time an actor assassinated a President?”

Crowd reaction? Cheers & laughter

GOP reps targeted/shot days ago

In response to cheers, Depp added, “Don’t worry, I’m not an actor, I lie for a living.”

American actress Kathy Griffin recently lost a contract with CNN due to a failed attempt at comedy in which she was photographed holding a model of Trump’s bloody and decapitated head.

Image result for Kathy Griffin, photos, blurred

http://www.jpost.com/International/Johnny-Depp-jokes-about-assassinating-Donald-Trump-497724

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Senate GOP Health Bill Would End ACA Penalties, Cut Taxes on High Incomes

June 23, 2017

Legislation would cap states’ Medicaid funding, phase out program’s expansion

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), center, arrives to speak with reporters following a closed-door strategy session at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), center, arrives to speak with reporters following a closed-door strategy session at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Senate Republicans’ version of a bill to replace Obamacare drew mixed reactions on the Hill. But what do Americans want? A new WSJ poll shows many want Congress to find some way to fix the Affordable Care Act.

Updated June 22, 2017 5:53 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Senate Republican leaders released a proposal Thursday that would undo major parts of the Affordable Care Act and transform a large part of the American health-care system by changing and cutting the funding for the Medicaid program.

he bill would reverse the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, a move that could affect millions of people, and would for the first time limit states’ overall Medicaid funding from Washington. It also would eliminate the requirement in the 2010 law that most Americans sign up for health insurance, and provide instead less-robust tax credits than the ACA to help people afford insurance. It would repeal hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on businesses and high-income households and retroactively cut taxes on capital gains.

The Senate plan in many ways echoes a health bill passed by the House last month, but it contains several differences. It isn’t clear if those changes, such as the shape of the tax credits and a more gradual phasing-out of the Medicaid expansion, would be enough to attract more centrist Republicans without alienating the most conservative lawmakers in both chambers.

The challenge quickly became evident when four GOP senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky — said they couldn’t vote for the bill as it stood, though they were open to negotiation.

A more centrist GOP senator, Dean Heller of Nevada, who faces re-election next year, said he had “serious concerns” about the bill, particularly its effect on Medicaid recipients.

With 52 Republican senators, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can lose no more than two GOP votes for the bill to pass under a special process tied to the budget.

Thursday’s release of the 142-page bill, after its elements had been closely held by GOP leaders, launched a fast-moving process that top Republicans hope will culminate in a new health law’s passage possibly before Congress’s August recess. Senate GOP leaders say they plan to vote next week; if the bill passes, then the House could take it up, or the two chambers could try to reach a compromise on the two bills.

The Senate bill, mirroring its House counterpart, keeps some of the ACA’s provisions in place, like the tax credits to subsidize health coverage. But it would shift the income eligibility and some of the structure for those credits, which in some cases could reduce their size for older Americans, in particular.

In other areas the bill takes fuller aim at the ACA, former President Barack Obama’s signature law. The enhanced federal funding the 2010 law provided for states to expand Medicaid would be phased out starting in 2021 and eliminated by 2024. States could still keep the expansion, but they wouldn’t get the additional federal funds.

Beyond that expansion, federal funding for Medicaid would be capped for the first time. States would be given a choice on whether they would prefer block grants or a per-capita payment for beneficiaries.

In 2025, the bill would lower the growth rate for Medicaid spending, a move that alarmed some centrist Republicans. “That translates into literally billions of dollars, and it would result in states either cutting back on eligibility or rural hospitals going under because of uncompensated care,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “Those are serious problems.”

Among Republicans’ loudest complaints about the ACA, sometimes called Obamacare, was that it imposed several new taxes, and the GOP push would undo most of them.

Like the House bill, the Senate bill would repeal a 3.8% tax on investment income retroactively to January 2017 and delay the repeal of a 0.9% payroll tax until 2023. Both of those taxes only apply to individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000. A tax on generous employer health plans, which has yet to go into effect, would remain but be further delayed, until 2026.

Democrats criticized the bill for curbing Medicaid funding while repealing taxes on the wealthy, and referred to President Donald Trump’s recent characterization of the House version of the bill as “mean.”

“The House and Senate bills should be known as ‘mean’ and ‘meaner,’ ” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.). “Republicans will keep telling Americans they’re fixing their health care right up until the minute it’s taken away.”

GOP leaders were quick to note that the text was subject to change.

“Right now we’ve got members who are going to be interested in seeing it, digesting it, and then looking to see if there are things we can do to refine it, make it more acceptable to more members in our conference to get to 50” votes, said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.).

In particular, Republicans may seek to “dial” the levels up or down on the tax credits and phase-out of the enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion, Mr. Thune said.

Other Republicans, like Mr. Paul, said the law didn’t go far enough in repealing the ACA, and the Kentucky senator said he didn’t favor the government subsidizing the cost of health insurance.

“The bill needs to look more like repeal of Obamacare, and less like we’re keeping Obamacare,” Mr. Paul said.

If the Senate splits 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie.

Mr. McConnell has set a rapid-fire timeline for passage. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, laying out the bill’s effect on cost and coverage, could come as early as Monday. Senate Republicans plan to vote on the bill days later, and then it would be taken up by the House.

The CBO report on the House bill showed it would leave 23 million more people uninsured while reducing the cumulative federal deficit by $119 billion in the next decade compared with current law.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) declined to discuss the Senate bill’s prospects in the House Thursday. At the White House, Mr. Trump said he hoped the Senate would pass a health bill “with heart” and that he was pleased with the legislation unveiled earlier in the day.

Mr. Trump was heavily engaged in pushing the health bill through the House, sometimes dialing lawmakers late into the night. He has taken a more hands-off approach with the Senate, but a senior White House official said that could change.

Mr. Obama, in a post on Facebook Thursday, urged Republicans and Democrats to work together on a health bill but said the Senate’s proposal would harm many Americans.

“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm,” he said in the post.

Under the bill, states would get billions more in funding largely to help stabilize markets for insurance bought on exchanges that were set up under the ACA. The measure also includes a formal, temporary appropriation for billions of dollars for health insurers to offset subsidies that reduce costs for low-income consumers, though it faces procedural challenges.

Insurance-market woes in some states have prompted health plans to withdraw entirely, citing a combination of problems succeeding under the Affordable Care Act and additional turbulence under Republicans.

–Byron Tau and Natalie Andrews contributed to this article.

Write to Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour@wsj.com, Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/senate-gop-health-bill-would-end-aca-penalties-cuts-taxes-on-high-incomes-1498143743

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Arab states send Qatar 13 demands to end crisis, official say

June 23, 2017

Reuters

Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain as the price for ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Qatar must also announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, he said, and surrender all designated terrorists on its territory,

The countries give Doha 10 days to comply, failing which the list becomes ‘void’, the official said without elaborating. The demands were handed to Qatar by Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The four Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability and cozying up to revolutionary theocracy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on Qatar, accusing it of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, but he has also offered help to the parties in the dispute to resolve their differences.

Turkey has backed Qatar during the three-week-old crisis. It sent its first ship carrying food aid to Qatar and dispatched a small contingent of soldiers and armored vehicles there on Thursday, while President Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Saudi Arabia’s leaders on calming tension in the region.

(Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Rania El Gamal and Paul Tait)

EU leaders will take on the issue of globalisation at a Brussels summit — And how to deal with others seeking more protections like france and the U.S.

June 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Alex PIGMAN | EU leaders will take on the issue of globalisation at a Brussels summit

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU leaders tackle the thorny topic of globalisation at a summit on Friday with deep divisions between proponents of free markets and others seeking more protections, most notably France.

The election of “America First” President Donald Trump has sown confusion in Europe, with free trade advocates asking that the EU take leadership and sign new trade deals with Japan, Mexico and South America.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has warned leaders to prioritise protections for Europeans worried about globalisation or risk a spike in populist sentiment that helped Trump win the presidency and brought on Brexit.

“It’s not a secret that there is not one single view on how globalisation can be better controlled,” a senior EU diplomat said ahead of the summit, on condition of anonymity.

“There are quite a few nuances between those who are more free on trade and those who want to have more controls,” he added.

The most divisive issue is a proposal spearheaded by pro-EU Macron to hand Brussels more powers to control Chinese investments in Europe’s key industries.

“I’m in favour of fair protection… I’m in favour of free trade, not of being naive,” Macron said after a first session of talks on Thursday.

Macron, who beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in last month’s run-off, is asking that the summit launch measures towards screening investments by China in Europe that have startled some Europeans.

– Anti-dumping defenses –

But according to a draft of the summit conclusions seen by AFP, opponents of Macron’s efforts have so far succeeded in blocking the effort, in effect delaying discussion to an unspecified later date.

Instead, leaders will only ask the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to “examine the need” to screen investments from countries outside the EU, with China the main target, the draft said.

Macron’s idea has faced significant opposition from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, all highly suspicious of French-style meddling in the open market.

“We don’t want to hurt investment,” Malmstroem told a conference organised by Politico on Monday.

Historically, export-driven Germany has steered clear of protectionism, but recently got spooked by the acquisition of leading robot-maker Kuka by Chinese firm Midea, a transaction that caused a stir domestically.

Germany for now has quietly backed Macron in his quest to screen sensitive Chinese investments and will heavily influence the final outcome of the debate.

The summit is less divided on finding ways to set up stronger anti-dumping defenses against China and other countries.

Beijing has faced international condemnation for flooding the world with super cheap steel, solar panels and other products, leaving international rivals on their knees.

EU leaders are expected to urge EU institutions to swiftly implement anti-dumping measures currently under negotiation in Brussels.

by Alex PIGMAN

Trump Denies Obstructing FBI Probe, Says Has No Tapes of Talks With Comey

June 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had not obstructed the FBI’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and had not recorded his conversations with former FBI chief James Comey.

Comey was leading the investigation into allegations Russia tried to sway the election towards Trump and the possibility Trump associates colluded with Moscow when the president fired him on May 9, sparking a political firestorm.

“Look there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview set to air on Friday. Fox released a partial transcript of the interview on Thursday.

The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified before a Senate committee that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Russia.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not make and does not possess any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after suggesting last month he might have recordings that could undercut Comey’s description of events.

Image may contain: 1 person

Then FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

“I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election had asked the White House for any such recordings.

Shortly after dismissing Comey, Trump mentioned the possibility of tapes in a Twitter post.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted on May 12.

Allegations of ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the U.S. healthcare and tax systems.

Trump has privately told aides that the threat of the existence of tapes forced Comey to tell the truth in his recent testimony, a source familiar with the situation said.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump still had questions to answer about possible tapes.

Image result for Adam Schiff, photos

Adam Schiff

“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?” Schiff said in a statement.

CNN reported on Thursday that two top U.S. intelligence officials told investigators Trump suggested they publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, but that they did not feel he had ordered them to do so.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers met separately last week with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

The two officials said they were surprised at Trump’s suggestion and found their interactions with him odd and uncomfortable, but they did not act on the president’s requests, CNN reported, citing sources familiar with their accounts.

Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.

In his interview with Fox, Trump expressed concern about what he described as the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, who was appointed to take over the investigation after Comey was fired.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Then FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by
J. Scott Applewhite AP

“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said, according to the Fox transcript.

The Kremlin has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)