Posts Tagged ‘James Clapper’

Trump slams special counsel after retweeting image of Rosenstein behind bars

November 29, 2018

It was no accident that President Trump Wednesday retweeted an image of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein locked up.

When asked during an interview with The Post: “Why do you think he belongs behind bars?” Trump responded: “He should have never picked a Special Counsel.”

Earlier Wednesday, the commander-in-chief retweeted an image of his so-called enemies behind bars that said: “Now that Russian collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?”

Along with Rosenstein, the imprisoned foes include former Presidents Clinton and Obama, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Loretta Lynch, John Podesta, Huma Abedin, Eric Holder, James Clapper and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe.

Trump has repeatedly railed against Mueller’s subsequent “witch hunt.” He also fired Sessions in November.

The president declined to answer a question on whether he intends to fire Rosenstein, but stood by his firing of Comey.

“Thank God I fired Comey,” Trump said. “Because if I didn’t fire Comey, we wouldn’t know about (Andrew) McCabe, we wouldn’t know about (Peter) Strzok and his lover Lisa Page.”

McCabe was the deputy FBI director. Strzok and Page both worked for the FBI. Trump accused all three of opposing him and they’re all now gone.

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https://nypost.com/2018/11/28/trump-slams-special-counsel-after-retweeting-image-of-rosenstein-behind-bars/

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Rod Rosenstein

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Robert Mueller

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Peter Strzok

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Man Arrested in Pipe Bomb Investigation: Male stripper with a ‘steroid problem,’ obsession with politics, kicked out of his parents’ home

October 27, 2018
  • Cesar Altier Sayoc, 56, was taken into custody on Friday morning in Plantation, Florida
  • He is an avid Trump fan with an interest in bodybuilding who says he is a member of the Seminole tribe
  • Seminole Tribe of Florida has disavowed him however, saying he has never been a member
  • Sayoc had reportedly been kicked out of his parents’ home and was living in his van when he was arrested
  • Van – which is densely covered with pro-Trump stickers – believed to be Sayoc’s was impounded in Plantation 
  • In the 1990s, Sayoc traveled the country and worked as a male stripper after failing to become a pro wrestler 
  • Four additional suspicious packages discovered on Thursday and Friday brought the total to 14
  • On Friday afternoon, postal officials in Burlingame, California intercepted a package for billionaire Tom Styer
  • Earlier Friday a package addressed to Senator Kamala Harris was intercepted in  Sacramento, California
  • A postal inspector intercepted another package to James Clapper in Manhattan Friday morning  
  • FBI also discovered suspicious package addressed to Senator Cory Booker in Florida on Thursday night
Sayoc was living in the van at the time of his arrest, and it was festooned with stickers praising Trump

Sayoc was living in the van at the time of his arrest, and it was festooned with stickers praising Trump

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A single fingerprint helped the FBI crack the mail bombing spree targeting critics of President Donald Trump and identify a suspect, officials have revealed.

Cesar Altier Sayoc, 56, was taken into custody on Friday morning in Plantation, Florida in connection with the 14 suspicious packages that have been discovered this week.

A business partner of the ‘MAGAbomber’ who toured with him as a stripper has revealed text messages showing Sayoc had an obsession with politics.

Justin Humberger revealed to DailyMail.com numerous texts from Sayoc filled with political vitriol against the Democrats and conspiracy theories.

The businessman has known Sayoc since 2015 when they toured around the US with a male stripper company.

Sayoc, a former stripper, worked as the road manager, and Humberger as a dancer. This summer the two men started up an agriculture company.

Sayoc was known to have worked as a male stripper himself who was hired to do shows in clubs around the country in the 1990s, the Washington Examiner reported.

‘He really couldn’t find his niche in life, and I guess he found it now,’ Ohio-based event promoter Tony Valentine told the Examiner.

‘Back in the ’90s, he was running around from Minnesota to the Carolinas to Florida.

‘He was like a gypsy.’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6321331/Suspected-mail-bomber-identified-Cesar-Altier-Sayoc.html

Related:

Suspected mail bomber was a stripper with a ‘steroid problem’

and

Mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc was a ‘big muscle head’ stripper, says former boss (Washington Examiner)

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/white-house/pipe-bomb-suspect-big-muscle-head-stripper-former-boss

Suspicious packages sent to Sen. Cory Booker, James Clapper

October 26, 2018

Two more suspicious packages — addressed to Sen. Cory Booker and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — were discovered at mail facilities Friday morning, sources and officials said.

The packages are identical in appearance to the 10 others containing pipe bombs that were sent this week to opponents of President Trump.

One was found at a United States Postal Service facility in Manhattan addressed to CNN in the care of Clapper, a contributor at the network, sources told The Post.

Police received a call about it just before 8:30 a.m.

Evacuated Postal workers wait as police investigate a possible bomb at a facility on 322 W. 52nd Street.
Evacuated Postal workers wait as police investigate a possible bomb at a facility on 322 W. 52nd Street.Robert Miller

The NYPD’s bomb squad responded to the post office at 322 W. 52nd Street. Sources said PS 35 across the street was evacuated as a precaution.

The one addressed to Booker, a Democrat, turned up at a mail facility in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, NBC News reported.

Earlier this week, 10 packages containing what appeared to be explosive devices were sent to several high-profile Democrats, as well as actor Robert De Niro and billionaire donor George Soros.

“We can’t stop our lives — we have to go on,” Clapper said on CNN. He said he has “a lot of confidence” in authorities to get to the bottom of the scares.

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https://nypost.com/2018/10/26/latest-suspicious-package-addressed-to-james-clapper/
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Suspicious Package to Sen. Cory Booker Intercepted in Florida

October 26, 2018

NYC police also evacuated a U.S. post office in Midtown Manhattan after the report of another suspicious package

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Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images
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*Suspicious Package Found in Manhattan Was Addressed to James Clapper, Official Says

*Packages to Sen. Booker, Clapper Appear “Similar” to Other Packages, Official Says

(Article below will be updated)

Investigators intercepted a suspicious package in Florida addressed to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, law-enforcement officials said Friday, in what could be the 11th such package sent to prominent Democrats and outspoken critics of President Trump intercepted this week.

Friday morning, New York City police evacuated a U.S. post office in Midtown Manhattan after receiving a report of another suspicious package, according to a law-enforcement official. The New York Police Department has sent its bomb squad to the scene on 52nd street and 8th Avenue, the official said.

Investigators searching for the suspect—or suspects—behind the packages are focusing on Florida, federal officials have said. Federal investigators have said that all the packages have the same telltale signs: manila envelopes with six U.S. flag stamps and the return address of a Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, with her last name misspelled.

“These devices should be considered dangerous,” William Sweeney, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Thursday. He said the probe is “in its early stages,” and the agency is working quickly to analyze clues from the packages at its facility in Quantico, Va.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the suspected bombs were operational, officials said.

Authorities expressed confidence Thursday about the investigation. “I can say with certainty that we will identify a person or people responsible for these acts,” said New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill at a news conference.

When asked whether the homemade devices were designed to explode, Mr. O’Neill said law-enforcement officials are treating them as “live devices” and not as hoaxes. “This is something that should be taken seriously,” he said.

The first suspicious package was found Monday in the mailbox of the Westchester County, N.Y., home of George Soros, a billionaire who is a prominent liberal donor. Late Tuesday, one addressed to Hillary Clinton was intercepted at her home, also in Westchester County, and on Wednesday, several were found addressed to other prominent Democrats, including Barack Obama and Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

Write to Dan Frosch at dan.frosch@wsj.com and Zolan Kanno-Youngs at Zolan.Kanno-Youngs@wsj.com

 

Obama’s Former CIA Director, John Brennan — The Untold Story

September 9, 2018

“Why does John Brennan need a security clearance other than to commercially exploit it? “

Let’s get something clear from the start.

In 1976, in his 20s, John Brennan was a card-carrying communist who supported the then Soviet Union, at the height some might say of the Cold War, so much so he voted and assisted Gus Hall, the communist candidate for President against a devout Christian, Jimmy Carter who ultimately won the Presidency.

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Yet under four years later, just after the then Soviet Union invaded, just weeks before, Afghanistan and months after the tumultuous Iranian revolution of 1979, which at the time many thought the Soviet Union had a hand in, Brennan was accepted into the CIA as a junior analyst.

At that time, John Brennan should have never got into the CIA, or any Western Intelligence agency given his communist background.

Think on that carefully as you continue to read this.

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John Brennan. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press

Also reflect on the fact that Brennan, later in his CIA career, was surprisingly elevated from junior analyst to the prestigious position of Station Chief in Saudi Arabia where he spent a few years.

Its said he was appointed purely for ‘political’ reasons, alleged to have been at the direct request of Bill Clinton and other Democrats not because of a recommendation or merit from within the Agency.

Its further said that the Saudis liked Brennan because he became very quickly ‘their man’ so to speak. Some reports, unsubstantiated, even allege Brennan became a Muslim while there to ingratiate himself with the Saudis.

Important to read is an NBC news article entitled ‘Former Spooks Criticize CIA Director John Brennan for Spying Comments’ by Ken Dilanian dated March 2nd, 2016.

The article contains many revealing facts and evidence, while giving a flavour, of the feelings of many in the CIA who felt that Brennan was totally unsuitable and unqualified to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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James Clapper

A final controversy is the little known fact of Brennan’s near four year departure from the CIA into the commercial world, having been ‘left out in the cold’ from the CIA, from November 2005 to January 2009 when he was CEO of a private company called ‘The Analysis Corporation’.

So why was he then reinstated into the CIA, to the surprise of CIA’s senior management, by newly elected President Obama, to head the CIA? No answer is available as to why he left the CIA in 2005.

Lastly let’s not forget Brennan’s many failures as CIA head in recent years, one most notable is the Benghazi debacle and the death of a US Ambassador and others there. Something else to ponder.

Back to the present an the issue of security clearances.

In early August, on the well known American TV Rachel Maddow Show, Brennan back tracked on his Trump traitor claim by saying “I didn’t mean he (Trump) committed treason. I meant what he has done is nothing short of treasonous.” Rachel Maddow responded correctly “If we diagram the sentence, ‘nothing short of treason’ means it’s treasonous?”

 

A simple question follows. Since he is no longer in the CIA, why does he need a security clearance other than to commercially exploit it?

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Last month what can be described as 200+ ‘friends of Brennan’, former CIA officials of varying rank, responded against the removal of former CIA Director Brennan’s security clearances, in support of him.

These men and women too most likely will have their clearances revoked.

And why not?

Since the only purpose they retain it is to make money as civilians?

A potentially more serious issue than ‘the Brennan controversies’ is that the US intelligence community has around 5 million people with security clearances as a whole includes approximately 1.4m people holding top secret clearances. It is patently a ridiculously high number and makes a mockery of the word secret.

Former CIA veteran Sam Faddis is one of the few people brave enough and with the integrity required, that has stood up and told some of the real truths about Brennan in an ‘Open Letter’, yet this letter’s contents have hardly at all been reported in the media.

Generally by nature, CIA Officers sense of service and honour to their Country, their professionalism and humility, and disdain for publicity has dissuaded most of them to enter the current very public Brennan controversy; but for how much longer?

As stated earlier, former CIA professional Sam Faddis explains what’s wrong with Brennan in his revealing letter, abbreviated for space below.

Dear Mr. Brennan,

I implore you to cease and desist from continuing to attempt to portray yourself in the public media as some sort of impartial critic concerned only with the fate of the republic. I beg you to stop attempting to portray yourself as some sort of wise, all-knowing intelligence professional with deep knowledge of national security issues and no political inclinations whatsoever.

None of this is true.

You were never a spy. You were never a case officer. You never ran operations or recruited sources or worked the streets abroad. You have no idea whatsoever of the true nature of the business of human intelligence. You have never been in harm’s way. You have never heard a shot fired in anger.

You were for a short while an intelligence analyst. In that capacity, it was your job to produce finished intelligence based on information provided to you by others. The work of intelligence analysts is important, however in truth you never truly mastered this trade either.

In your capacity as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, while still a junior officer, you were designated to brief the President of the United States who was at that time Bill Clinton. As the presidential briefer, it was your job to read to the president each morning finished intelligence written by others based on intelligence collected by yet other individuals. Period.

While serving as presidential briefer you established a personal relationship with then President Bill Clinton. End of story.

Everything that has transpired in your professional career since has been based on your personal relationship with the former president,his wife Hillary and their key associates. Your connection to President Obama was, in fact, based on you having established yourself by the time he came to office as a reliable, highly political Democratic Party functionary.

All of your commentary in the public sphere is on behalf of your political patrons. It is no more impartial analysis then would be the comments of a paid press spokesman or attorney. You are speaking each and every time directly on behalf of political forces hostile to this president. You are, in fact, currently on the payroll of both NBC and MSNBC, two of the networks most vocally opposed to President Trump and his agenda.

There is no impartiality in your comments. Your assessments are not based on some sober judgment of what is best for this nation. They are based exclusively on what you believe to be in the best interests of the politicians with whom you long since allied yourself.

It should be noted that not only are you most decidedly not apolitical but that you have been associated during your career with some of the greatest foreign policy disasters in recent American history.

Ever since this President was elected, there has been a concerted effort to delegitimize him and destabilize him led by you. This has been an unprecedented; to undermine the stability of the republic and the office of the Presidency, for solely partisan political reasons. You and your patrons have been complicit in this effort and at its very heart.

You abandoned any hope of being a true intelligence professional decades ago and became a political hack. Say so.

Sam Faddis

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-09-08/untold-truth-about-obamas-former-cia-director-john-brennan

Obama, who once surveilled reporters, criticizes Trump over press freedom

September 9, 2018
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Pot, meet kettle.

When former President Barack Obama blasted President Trump in a blistering speech that derided his successor’s frequent clashes with the press, he skirted the fact that his own administration surveilled reporters – and even polygraphed intelligence agency employees – in an effort to nail leakers.

“It’s probably a good time to remind you that Obama used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists more than all previous presidents combined,” GOP consultant Caleb Hull tweeted.

“It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like,” Obama said at the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus on Friday, in his first overt foray back into politics since Trump’s inauguration.

“I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down, or call them ‘enemies of the people,’” Obama said.

But in 2010, Obama’s Department of Justice began secret surveillance of James Rosen, then Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, in the wake of his reports on American monitoring of North Korea’s nuclear program.

They collected Rosen’s phone conversations and emails with sources – and even kept tabs on the reporter’s parents – and accused the reporter of being the “co-conspirator” of a State Department whistleblower. The surveillance did not come to light until 2013.

Obama’s DOJ also seized records for 20 phone lines at the Associated Press – used by more than 100 reporters – in 2013, and subpoenaed emails and calls between New York Times reporters and government officials.

The incidents, part of the administration’s crackdown on Washington leakers, were detailed in a highly critical 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In Friday’s speech, Obama warned against Trump’s threats to “pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.”

The criticism came as Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek out the anonymous administration official who published an anti-Trump op-ed on Wednesday.

But Obama’s own administration used the justice system to prosecute eight people for leaking national security secrets under the Espionage Act.

As part of that effort, James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, announced in June 2012 that employees of 16 intelligence agencies would be subject to stringent polygraph tests and quizzed about their communications with reporters.

The administration dubbed their plan the “Insider Threat Program.”

Many sources took to talking to reporters only through middle men and couriers, in hopes of passing their regular lie-detector tests, according to the CPJ report.

“There’s no question that sources are looking over their shoulders,” Michael Oreskes, a senior managing editor of The Associated Press, said in 2013.

Obama hit the campaign trail in earnest Saturday, with a visit to Orange County, Calif., to boost a group of seven Democrats running for Congress.

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https://nypost.com/2018/09/08/obama-who-once-surveilled-reporters-criticizes-trump-over-press-freedom/

Related:

What Are the FBI and CIA Hiding?

August 1, 2018

The agency might have led the bureau down a rabbit hole in the 2016 Trump counterintelligence probe.

George Papadopoulos in London.
George Papadopoulos in London. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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Did the Central Intelligence Agency lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation down a rabbit hole in the counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign?

Although the FBI’s case officially began July 31, 2016, there had been investigative activity before that date. John Brennan’s CIA might have directed activity in Britain, which could be a problem because of longstanding agreements that the U.S. will not conduct intelligence operations there. It would explain why the FBI continues to stonewall Congress as to the inquiry’s origin.

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John Brennan. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press.

Further, what we know about the case’s origin does not meet the threshold required by the attorney general guidelines for opening a counterintelligence case. That standard requires “predicate information,” or “articulable facts.”

From what has been made public, all that passes for predicate information in this matter originated in Britain. Stefan Halper, an American who ran the Centre of International Studies at Cambridge, had been a CIA source in the past. Recent press reports describe him as an FBI informant. Joseph Mifsud, another U.K.-based academic with ties to Western intelligence, met with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016. Mr. Mifsud reportedly mentioned “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Then, on May 10, Mr. Papadopoulos met with Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer in London, to whom he relayed the claim about “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton.

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Peter Strzok

Peter Strzok, the FBI’s deputy assistant director, went to London Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the case was opened, ostensibly to interview Mr. Downer about his conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos. But what about the earlier investigative activity? The FBI would not usually maintain an informant in England. It is far likelier that in the spring of 2016 Mr. Halper was providing information to British intelligence or directly to the CIA, where Mr. Brennan was already pushing the collusion narrative.

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James Clapper

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that “intelligence agencies” were looking into the collusion allegations in spring 2016. The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that British intelligence had been suspicious about contacts between associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign and possible Russian agents. That prompted Robert Hannigan, then head of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, to pass information to Mr. Brennan. With only these suspicions, Mr. Brennan pressured the FBI into launching its counterintelligence probe.

The FBI lacked any real predicate. But in the post-9/11 world, a referral from the CIA would cause some in the FBI to believe they had to act—particularly as the agency’s information originated with America’s closest ally. Shortly after the case opened that summer, Mr. Brennan gave a briefing to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, telling him that the CIA had referred the matter to the FBI—an obvious effort to pressure the bureau to get moving on the collusion case.

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Harry Reid

As the FBI’s investigation progressed, it would use a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, a former member of Mr. Trump’s campaign, who had been in contact with Mr. Halper. A dossier prepared for the Clinton campaign by Christopher Steele, formerly of Britain’s MI6, was used to obtain the warrant.

The existence of the investigation was withheld from the congressional “gang of eight” because of its “sensitivity,” former FBI Director James Comey later said. The FBI continues to withhold the full details of the origin story from Congress. Their rationale is the “protection of sources,” as the origin lies with our best international partner.

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Although Mr. Brennan has exposed himself as a biased actor, the CIA has escaped criticism for using only thinly sourced information from British intelligence to snooker the FBI. Most damaging is the possibility that the CIA violated agreements with Britain by spying there rather than asking MI5 or MI6 to do so. And that may be what is really being withheld from Congress.

Mr. Baker is a retired FBI special agent and legal attaché.

Appeared in the August 1, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-are-the-fbi-and-cia-hiding-1533078662

Trump Weighs Revoking Security Clearances for Several Ex-Obama Officials

July 24, 2018
Former DNI Clapper says the move would be ‘very, very petty’ — Ex-CIA chief Brennan called Trump’s Putin summit ‘treasonous’
John BrennanPhotographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of former FBI Director James Comey, ex-CIA Director John Brennan and other Obama-era national security officials who have criticized him.

Trump has been seething over criticism of his Helsinki summit last week with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and public doubts Trump expressed about U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Brennan called Trump’s performance “treasonous.”

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James Clapper

Tracking Trump: Follow the Administration’s Every Move

The president is “exploring the mechanism” to remove their access to classified information because of criticism the officials have leveled against his conduct of relations with Russia, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday.

“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances,” Sanders said. “Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.”

Sanders said Trump also was considering stripping security clearances from James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency; and Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader in the Senate, said he understood Trump’s aggravation with the former officials’ criticism but expressed skepticism about the move.

“I don’t know whether they’ve been abusing their security clearance at all,” Cornyn told reporters. “That’s a very serious allegation, and I want to see what the results are.”

“This is just a very, very petty thing to do,” Clapper said on CNN. “The security clearance has nothing to do with how I or any of us feel about the president. I don’t get briefings, I don’t have access to any classified information, it’s frankly more of a courtesy.”

Hayden said the sanction won’t silence his criticism of Trump.

“I don’t go back for classified briefings,” Hayden said in a tweet. “Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.”

Read More: Rand Paul Seeks Bar on Trump-Critic Brennan’s Classified Access

The guidelines covering security clearances don’t permit revocation for political differences, and the former officials could challenge the step through an administrative process, said Mark Zaid, a Washington-based national security lawyer with expertise in security clearances.

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Michael Hayden

“It is completely inappropriate for anyone to lose their security clearance based on political differences,” Zaid said. “To my knowledge this has never been an issue before because no president in their right mind would ever ethically consider taking such an action.”

Still, Trump could simply order agencies to stop providing classified information to the former officials, Zaid said.

Brennan was CIA director under Obama and helped produce the intelligence reports that first found Russia meddled in the election. After Trump’s meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brennan called Trump’s performance “treasonous” and said he “is wholly in the pocket of Putin and that his performance exceeded the threshold for impeachment for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’”

Brennan was one of several intelligence officials who showed Trump classified information just before he took office indicating Putin had personally authorized hacking to try and sway the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor, according to the New York Times.

The idea of moving to revoke Brennan’s security clearance gained traction recently in conservative media circles. Fox News host Tucker Carlson on July 19 called Brennan an extremist with “a documented history of dishonesty” and said he shouldn’t have a clearance.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he urged Trump to revoke Brennan’s security clearance at a meeting with the president Monday. Trump is trying to court Paul to vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite reservations the senator has expressed about Kavanaugh’s commitment to privacy rights.

— With assistance by Laura Litvan, and Chris Strohm

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-23/trump-weighs-revoking-security-clearances-for-comey-brennan

Is President Trump Illegitimate?

July 21, 2018

Russia hurt him, Comey helped him, but the Constitution put him in office.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, July 16.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, July 16. PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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Donald Trump never expected to be president. And, we might reasonably surmise, perhaps didn’t really want to be. Think about that as President Trump seeks to remake America’s relationship with the world as dramatically as any president in 70 years.

The Greek witch-goddess Circe gave her son a magic weapon to protect him on his search for his father, Odysseus. When father and son finally met, Odysseus was accidentally killed by the magic weapon. Oops.

Then-FBI Director James Comey received a magic weapon that, in his own mind, justified his usurping of the Justice Department’s decision whether to prosecute Hillary Clinton or her aides in the email case. Without Mr. Comey’s initial intervention, there never would have been his second intervention, reopening the Hillary case shortly before Election Day. Oops.

If veteran political analyst Ronald Brownstein is right, blue-collar white women in the upper Midwest elected Mr. Trump. What better antidote for the “Access Hollywood” scandal, then tanking the Trump campaign, than the revelation that the Hillary case was not only back but entangled with the underage sexting adventures of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.

If any Russian involvement helped Mr. Trump, this was it. As we know from credible reporting and from Mr. Comey’s own elliptical memoir, he was in possession of a captured Kremlin intelligence document that cited an alleged agreement between the Obama Justice Department and the Clinton campaign to bury the email case. This was Mr. Comey’s magic weapon.

Amanda Renteria, the Clinton campaign aide named in the Russian intelligence, has stated plainly that the information was “made up by the Russians.” The Justice Department’s inspector general said the info was viewed inside the FBI as “not credible” and “objectively false.” According to CNN and the Washington Post, some considered it a deliberate Kremlin plant.

Yet Mr. Comey, in a recent interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, described the information as “legitimate” and expressed agnosticism over whether it was “accurate.”

He told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “I’m just not, by my silence, agreeing with your predicate that it was false documents.”

What the heck is going on here?

This episode represents the only possible way Russia affected the election outcome. Other claims about its decisive effect are implausible.

Former Obama intelligence chief James Clapper flatly opines, based on his decades of experience, that Russia elected Mr. Trump, which might be more persuasive if his decades of experience were in U.S. electoral politics, not spywork and disinformation.

The Economist magazine, in honor of last week’s U.S. indictment of Russia’s GRU hackers, says the Kremlin only had to shift 0.03% of the total vote and therefore Mr. Trump may be illegitimate.

What these analysts ignore is net effect. Bernie voters and Catholics had reason to be offended by leaked Democratic emails, but these were one-day stories early in the race. The overall impact of Russia hacking and social media trolling not only was small on its own terms; it was swamped by the blowback on conventional media, which daily amplified accusations of Hillary supporters and Never Trump Republicans that Mr. Trump was in Vladimir Putin’s pocket.

Replay the election in your head, in fact, and it’s hard come to any conclusion other than Mr. Trump would have been much better off if Russia wasn’t a subject. Voters don’t vote on foreign policy. They do vote on character. There can’t be 75 people in America who cared that Mr. Trump promised better relations with Russia. There must have been hundreds of thousands or millions who followed half the GOP pundit and foreign-policy establishment in opposing Mr. Trump on character grounds, including his alleged footsie with the Kremlin.

I’ll say it again: It is overwhelmingly likely that Russian efforts, aside from their presumably unforeseen and accidental impact on Mr. Comey, cost Mr. Trump more votes than they got him.

As early as February 2016, this column described Mr. Trump as a “democratic accident” waiting to happen: “What began as a scheme to become more famous is in danger of running away with the country.”

It was entirely possible for Mr. Trump to be the last man standing in a crowded GOP primary field full of candidates who might have bested him one on one. He clearly lucked out with Hillary as his Democratic opponent. Of course, the totality of effects decides even a close election. But if you’re looking for a single, conscious, deliberate action by any human being that influenced the outcome, you’re left with Mr. Comey and his Russia-supplied magic weapon.

By the way, this doesn’t make Mr. Trump an illegitimate president. He’s a natural-born U.S. citizen of the requisite age and won a majority of the Electoral College.

Appeared in the July 21, 2018, print edition.

Trump’s Russia policy lets Putin ‘punch above his weight’

July 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump faced a deluge of criticism for siding with Vladimir Putin against his own intelligence agencies on Monday before backtracking. After a week of US diplomatic missteps and reversals, only the Russian leader emerged unscathed.

Trump confounded both his backers and his critics on Monday by standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin and announcing that Putin’s “powerful” denials of election meddling had convinced him, despite the US intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that Russian efforts sought to influence the 2016 vote.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people,” Trump told a joint press conference in Helsinki. “But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The US president offered a clear juxtaposition between what his administration has told him and what Putin said privately in their one-on-one meeting in the Finnish capital.

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“[Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.

His announcement ignited a firestorm of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, including accusations of “treason”.

Republican Senator John McCain said the statement was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a statement, adding: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

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Former director of national intelligence James Clapper called Trump’s statement “an incredible capitulation” while former CIA director John Brennan said on Twitter that it was “nothing short of treasonous”.

John O. Brennan

@JohnBrennan

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

But Trump wasn’t done yet. Putin told the Helsinki press conference that he would allow US investigators probing allegations of Russian election meddling under Special Counsel Robert Mueller to question 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the case last week. But in exchange, Putin wanted Russian officials to interrogate those Americans whom he accuses of involvement in unspecified “illegal actions” on Russian territory, notably prominent Putin critic Bill Browder, former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others.

“I think that’s an incredible offer,” Trump said, sparking a new round of widespread and bipartisan outrage that Trump would even consider turning Americans – including former diplomats – over to a foreign power for questioning.

By Tuesday the White House was in full defence mode, with Trump telling the press he misspoke in Helsinki regarding Russia’s election interference. When he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, he had actually meant “wouldn’t”.

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’,” Trump said. “Sort of a double negative.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also later backtracked on Putin’s proposal to swap citizens for questioning, saying Thursday that Trump “disagreed” with the plan.

Hours later, Trump risked courting controversy anew by asking staff to invite Putin to Washington in the autumn.

Making Russia great again

Trump’s week of diplomatic U-turns left many observers scratching their heads, wondering if he had an overall strategy for dealing with the Kremlin. Some attributed his compliance to a personal history of relying on Russian money for many of his business ventures. Others have suggested, more darkly, that Trump’s obeisance is linked to Russian attempts to swing the 2016 election in his favour.

Whatever the reason behind it, Trump’s amenable stance on Russia is at odds with the rest of the US establishment, rendering it difficult for the United States to pursue a consistent, coherent policy towards Moscow.

“Most of the US government is hawkish and suspicious of Russia,” observed Dr Jacob Parakilas, deputy head of the US and the Americas Programme at Chatham House. “Congress, which can barely agree on anything across party lines these days, has repeatedly passed sanctions against Russia and other related measures by overwhelming, veto-proof margins. There is little to no support for what Trump might call a ‘good relationship’ with Putin in the US military, the intelligence community, or the diplomatic corps.”

And yet Trump, as the head of state, “sees things quite differently and is willing to disregard the advice of virtually everyone in the government he leads”, Parakilas said. “But his power is far from absolute, and he can’t compel them to take his view. That inevitably stands in the way of [policy] coherence.”

Parakilas said that while Trump might not have an overarching plan for his Kremlin policy, “instinctually he wants to lower tensions with Russia and focus on creating a more adversarial economic relationship with the EU and China”.

Such goals may be impossible to realise, however.

“Given what’s arrayed against him internally and externally, I think there’s very little chance of that happening, and I don’t think he has a backup plan,” Parakilas said.

“So he’ll keep trying to find opportunities to ingratiate himself with Putin where he can, but those [efforts] will contribute to growing political blowback at home.”

‘THIS IS A GREAT TRIUMPH FOR PUTIN’

Playing a weak hand

Putin, for his part, has proved his expertise in parlaying relative weakness into strength.

According to James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, the announcement that Putin has been invited to the White House in the autumn is “another win for Kremlin”.

“[I]t once again sets Russia up as a major league power – above and beyond all others really,” Nixey said in an email. “This is in direct contrast to Russia’s direction of travel. It is NOT a modernising, economically improving power. So Russia, once again, punches above its weight.”

As other foreign policy observers have noted, Trump’s seeming acquiescence to the Kremlin is baffling given Russia’s geostrategic importance. The United States has by far the world’s strongest military and the largest GDP, while Russia does not even crack the world’s top 10 economies, according to the World Bank. And yet Trump appears keen to grant Moscow international footing equal to that of Washington.

Russia is geographically sprawling and has a lot of Soviet legacy relationships…” noted political science professor Robert E. Kelly in a Twitter post“[B]ut it’s actually rather sluggish and being surpassed by cleaner, more globalized states you wouldn’t think of as out-running Moscow.”

Russia’s GDP is smaller than that of either Brazil, Italy or Canada, he noted. So for all its nuclear “bluster” and “fatiguing trouble-making” along its perimeter, Russia is “basically a stagnant, over-sized middle power”.

“It’s amazing how well Putin plays a weaker hand than most people recognize,” Kelly wrote.

Robert E Kelly

@Robert_E_Kelly

As Trump rushes to build a Russo-US “special responsibility for maintaining international security,” recall that Russia’s GDP is now smaller than that of Brazil, Italy, Canada, and S Korea, states we normally think of as middle powers. I’m not sure most people realize this; /1

But Russia seems to be taking a long-term view, willing to bide its time to reap any benefits. Moscow is hoping to amass what Nixey called “mini victories” from the US president, always “with the possibility of more substantial victories down the line”.

“The Russians are patient with Trump,” he said, “as they spot opportunity in his weakness and vanity.”

In an analysis for Chatham House, Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme, said that for all the surprises on offer in Helsinki, Trump’s Putin meeting could have turned out much worse for America’s European allies.

Trump had “demonstrated his willingness to make sudden unilateral concessions that compromise the security of his allies” at his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by announcing the suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea, long a point of contention with Pyongyang.

Against this backdrop, there was a real danger that, “left to his own devices, he might have been persuaded by President Putin to do the same in the Baltic states and Poland”, Giles said. And such a move “would have provoked an immediate crisis between the United States and its NATO allies”.

Despite the consternation that followed the Helsinki summit, he wrote, “both the United States and its European allies may have got off lightly”.

AFP