Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Trump knocks down ‘Deep State’ claims

February 17, 2017

Fox News


Published February 16, 2017

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President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS by Carlos Barria

Some American liberals have found something other than infrastructure spending and the shared hatred of the Republican leadership on which they think they might agree with President Trump: The malevolent presence of the “Deep State.”

That is not the name of the latest Matt Damon spy thriller, but rather the term for what its adherents believe is the government within the government that operates beyond the reach of the electorate.

Movies, though, can help you understand the theory. When one of Damon’s characters is hunted by murderous CIA agents or an agent played by George Clooney stumbles upon an assassination plot executed at the behest of, who else, a massive oil corporation, it’s all about the deep state.

The current screenplay being offered by some in Washington is something of a remake of a 1980s classic: The military-industrial complex orchestrated the takedown of a conscientious general, Michael Flynn, as national security adviser because Flynn was trying to bring about a new era of peaceful accord with the misunderstood Russian government.

Salon puts it the most pungently: “But this is not about whether you’re for or against Trump. It’s about whether there’s a cloak-and-dagger effort to subvert American foreign policy and ignite a new Cold War under false pretenses and spend tens of billions of dollars — that most certainly could be better spent elsewhere — to thwart a threat that doesn’t truly exist.”

You can get a similar dose over at the pro-Trump site Breitbart: “In other words, the Deep State is still actively investigating – some might say, hounding – the President. And, yes, of course, still leaking about it. So what’s going on here?  How did the Deep State get to be so powerful?”

It all sounds very ominous, right? An unelected cabal within the government plotting against the duly elected leadership of the nation? And doing it whip up a fake war for fun and profit?

But nobody really cares too much about the opinions of people who think WikiLeaks is on that level and that Edward Snowden is a patriot and a hero. Cranks gonna crank.

And despite Trump’s thunder about leaks, he doesn’t actually seem to agree with the crank cases even as they take his side in the fight.

Flynn’s firing needs no Hollywood story lines to explain. The president and his aides had been warned repeatedly about the retired general’s disquieting proximity to the Kremlin. That was no small matter for an administration branded by its critics as a Putin puppet show.

But Trump, whose candidacy Flynn had helped enormously, went ahead and tapped the retired general anyway. When Flynn was found to have misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Putin’s government, Flynn had to go. As Trump said in his press conference today, “He didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts.”

That’s not the Deep State. That’s deep doo-doo on public relations.

Now, it doesn’t take Jason Bourne to figure out that the leaks that forced Trump’s hand came from Flynn’s foes and Trump’s ideological and political rivals – or, as Trump put it more bluntly today, “people probably from the Obama administration.”

But also, as Trump tweeted today, “leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years.” That’s for sure.

Even aside from Snowden, who was once heralded as a hero and for his “public service” on the right, the practice of leaking classified and sensitive material to cause political harm is nothing new.

It was a leaker turned whistleblower at the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms who exposed the botched gunrunning sting at the ATF dubbed “Operation Fast & Furious” in 2011. Republicans so successfully jammed up then-Attorney General Eric Holder over the debacle that his boss at the time, President Obama, had to exert executive privilege to save him from the Hill hounds.

But maybe even more politically damaging to Obama and his party than either of those two was the leak from the FBI – quite likely the same agency from whence the damaging Flynn leaks occurred. Agency sources told Fox News less than a week before the 2016 election that there was a “very high priority” corruption investigation targeting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s family foundation.

That news, especially when coupled with the public statements from the FBI about Clinton’s use of an unsecure personal email server to transmit state secrets, did unknown damage to the Democrat’s already shaky status with voters.

It’s hard to imagine that the leakers didn’t know that, just as the Flynn leakers surely meant to do him harm.

Trump, like Obama will prosecute leakers and seek to snuff them out, probably with about as much success. One man’s leaker is another man’s conscientious objector, and there will always be perceived rewards for those who leak, even if they get caught.

But what Trump made clear in his press conference today is that he sees it for what it is: the political and ideological struggle that always buffets behind-the-scenes Washington, not a part of a vast conspiracy.

The president seemed quite content that with his team in place, the leaks will begin to dry up and he will be able to implement his agenda. The political press will be in a froth today over his attacks on them, but Trump’s stand against conspiracy theorizing may be the biggest news out of today’s event.

“War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perserverance, by time, and by practice.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 25



As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America

WASHINGTON — A wave of leaks from government officials has hobbled the Trump administration, leading some to draw comparisons to countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where shadowy networks within government bureaucracies, often referred to as “deep states,” undermine and coerce elected governments.

So is the United States seeing the rise of its own deep state?

Not quite, experts say, but the echoes are real — and disturbing.

Though leaks can be a normal and healthy check on a president’s power, what’s happening now extends much further. The United States, those experts warn, risks developing an entrenched culture of conflict between the president and his own bureaucracy.

Issandr El Amrani, an analyst who has written on Egypt’s deep state, said he was concerned by the parallels, though the United States has not reached authoritarian extremes.



Michael Flynn’s political assassination by the deep state sets a terrifying precedent for democracy

February 16, 2017

Michael Flynn was politically assassinated by the deep state. If you are concerned about the threat President Donald Trump and his dysfunctional White House pose to democracy, you should think very seriously before cheering that on.


The “deep state” is a term used by some security analysts to refer to the network of permanent officials who execute the orders of their elected, but more temporary, bosses. In theory, they should serve politicians – and, by extension, the people. But if they start to act for themselves, that is very dangerous. And Flynn’s orchestrated downfall by unaccountable, shadowy agents entrusted with the country’s most sensitive secrets is not just bad news for the Trump administration. It raises serious concerns over the democratic nature of the US political system.


This is not how a liberal democracy is meant to function. You may be right in thinking that Michael Flynn


The Deep State Bumps Off General Flynn. Who’s the Next Target?

Virgil-Flynn-WaPo-Screengrab BNN Edit

The Deep State has done its dirty work, getting rid of Michael Flynn, the now-former national security adviser to President Trump.  And so the MSM, having taken direction—even dictation—from the Deep State, is moving in for the kill.  The ultimate target, of course, is Trump himself.  

The Washington Post, which has long hated Republicans, and Trump in particular, is leading the charge.  On February 15, seven of the eight top stories on its online home page were anti-Flynn, anti-Trump—and, of course, pro-MSM.

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Let’s take a closer look: The Post seemed particularly proud of this moment-by-moment account, known in the trade as a “tick-tock”: “Flynn’s swift downfall: From a phone call in the Dominican Republic to a forced resignation at the White House.”  And yet the Post was just getting warmed up.  Here’s another headline: “Flynn episode ‘darkens the cloud’ of Russia that hangs over Trump administration.”  

From there, the Post moved on to stories emphasizing what it saw as chaos in the White House: “Flynn departure erupts into a full-blown crisis for the Trump White House.”  And the paper added this bit of ominousness: “Senators from both parties pledge to deepen probe of Russia and the 2016 election.”  The Post’s guiding idea, of course, is that responsible leaders on both sides of the aisle are horrified by Trump, and so they are contemplating appropriate action.  

What sort of appropriate action?  Well, for starters, it would be a thorough investigation, but, after that, maybe forced resignation or impeachment.  And to that end, the Post helpfully offered its readers a guide to the hoped-for Watergate 2.0; as another headline read, “Flynngate? Kremlingate? Russiagate? The gate’s out of the gate.”

Meanwhile, others in the MSM are piling on as well.  Politico has whipped up such hot headlines as “Flynn’s ouster leads to more chaos in Trump world: The former national security adviser is only one of the White House’s many problems.”  And then, striving to give the storyline legs by taking it beyond Flynn, the news site added: “Who Told Flynn to Call Russia? Let’s stop focusing on the resignation, and start focusing on the real issue here: The mystery of Trump’s Russia ties.”  

So we can see where this is going: The story didn’t start with Flynn, and so Flynn’s exit doesn’t end it.  Axios’ Mike Allen, a longtime Beltway observer, summed up the DC mood:  

The news eruptions are gaining a Watergate aura — constant, complicated revelations from intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement; White House denials; frenzied competition among the great news organizations.

And Allen quoted CNN’s Brian Stelter:

Welcome to Day 1 of what is arguably the biggest presidential scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra.  . . .  Hunker down, because this is a Class 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.

The MSM narrative is two-fold: First, the crazy kook Flynn was finally removed; second, the Trump White House is headed for a shipwreck, and Captain Trump himself can’t manage the wheel. 

And yet there’s a third narrative, lurking, flitting in and out of focus. 

This third narrative is the demonstrable power of the Deep State.  That is, the permanent government, the people who were here in DC when Trump arrived, and who look forward to seeing him leave—as soon as possible. 

We’ll take a closer look at the Deep State in a moment, but first, we might note that a few reporters are willing to give credit where credit is due—that is, to their big brothers and big sisters in the Deep State. One such is Evan Osnos, a writer for The New Yorker, who tweeted:

The Flynn story is a reminder of a big truth: Journalism lives.  And principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes.

Okay, of course, a journalist would say that journalism lives.  Yet we might pause over Osnos’ further words: “principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes.”  As in, Thanks, guys, we couldn’t have done it without you. 

CNN’s Stelter went even further.  Under the headline, “How leaks and investigative journalists led to Flynn’s resignation,” Stelter laid out the symbiotic relationship of journos and Deep Staters: 

Investigative journalism created the conditions for Michael Flynn’s resignation from his national security adviser post. Journalists at The Washington Post, The New York Times and other outlets spoke with government officials who provided vital information about Flynn’s contacts with Russia.  The sources insisted on anonymity, making it difficult to ascertain their agendas.  But the sources caused journalists to dig for more and more details about Flynn’s calls.  One story became 10 stories, and 10 became a hundred.

Ah yes, one story becomes ten stories, and ten stories become 100.  Now that’s some strong symbiosis! 

So who, exactly, are these Deep State people?  What are their names?  Their precise identities seemed to be perpetually veiled, cloaked in journalistic omerta.  

And yes, that hiddenness opens up the possibility that reporters are exaggerating, or compositing, their sources—or even making them up altogether.   And yet if the stories about Flynn had been completely made up, the retired three-star would still be on the job.  So the Deep State has proven that it can provide the fire, as well as the smoke.  

Still, some clues as to Deep State identities have emerged.  On Tuesday night, the 14th, Fox News’ Bret Baier put it plainly: The anti-Flynn material “came from someone in the Obama administration.”  

Then Baier interviewed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who said that there was obviously an orchestrated plan against the Trump administration.  “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nunes continued, dwelling on the partisan double standard: 

If you look at the fact that an American was having a conversation, and it leaked to the press. . . if the shoe was on the other foot here, and this was the Democrats, as you can imagine, the Democrats in the House and the Senate would be going crazy.

Indeed, the anti-Trump leaks have been happening for a while.  Unflattering details of the President’s conversations with the leaders of Australia, Mexico, and Russia have been spilling out for weeks.  

And just on February 10 came this headline in Politico:CIA freezes out top Flynn aide: The agency denied a security clearance for a key aide to the National Security Adviser — ratcheting up tensions between Flynn and the intel community.” 

Now we might ask ourselves: How did Politico come to know that the CIA had refused a security clearance to one Robin Townley, whom Flynn had chosen to run the Africa desk at the NSC?  By what legal due process was Townley not only rejected, but then smeared in the media? 

The Trump administration, for its part, has tried to steer the narrative toward just that—the question of how these leaks happened.  As White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at his briefing on Tuesday:

There is an issue of classified information . . .  people entrusted with classified information are leaking it out… That . . . is a big story.

And Flynn himself has hit that point even harder.  In an interview with The Daily Caller, just hours before his February 13 resignation, he said:

In some of these cases, you’re talking about stuff that’s taken off of a classified system and given to a reporter.  That’s a crime.  You call them leaks. It’s a criminal act. This is a crime.

Flynn has a strong point about illegality, although, of course, the MSM doesn’t care.  On February 14, ABC News’ Pierre Thomas raised the possibility that Flynn had lied to the FBI.  If so, Thomas volunteered, that would be a felony.  Yes, Thomas was happy to use the “f-word,” felony, in regard to Flynn, even as he didn’t bother to mention that the leaks against Flynn are, indisputably, felonies.  

Meanwhile, President Trump himself has raised the criminality point on Twitter:

The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?  Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N. Korea etc?

And the next day, the 15th, he tweeted:

Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia. 

Without a doubt, these are serious legal issues, and yet the MSM reaction has been a collective yawn.  In the dismissive comment of Fox News’ Shepard Smith, who has stopped trying to hide his liberalism, “When you start blaming the leaks and not the substance, there’s a problem.”

For their part, the Democrats are even more dismissive.  As Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Fox:

If the Republicans’ takeaway from this is that we have a leaking problem, and not that we have a problem with the Russian government and its relationship with the Trump administration, they’re taking away the wrong lesson.

In the meantime, other Democrats, who have long been demanding a full-blown Congressional investigation, are eagerly escalating the issue; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) suggested on CNN that Trump might be guilty of “treason.”

And perhaps it was just as predictable that Trump-hating Republicans would be heading in the same direction.  As Sen. John McCain said with an inward chortle, “Obviously the administration is in significant disarray.”  Meanwhile, McCain’s close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, seemed to support the idea of a Congressional investigation, going beyond just Flynn:

What I’d like to know is, did General Flynn make this phone call by himself?  If he was directed, by who?  Did they try to engage the Russians before they were in office?  Was this part of a continuing pattern between the Trump people and Russia?

So now we’ll have to wait and see if other Republican elected officials pick up that anti-administration meme.  Two who seem at least somewhat interested are Sens. Bob Corker and Roy Blunt.

In the meantime, though, we can see that some un-elected Beltway Republicans—the right wing of the Deep State, one might say—are cheerleading the anti-Trump effort.  One such is the neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol, who in a February 14 tweet, basically endorsed the idea of a soft coup:

Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics.  But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.

For its part, the MSM-Deep State combo keeps firing volleys.  Late Tuesday night, The New York Times headlined its breaking story, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”  The article named only Paul Manafort, who has been named before, and yet it seems a certainty that more Trump-connected names will come drip-drip-dripping out. 

As an aside, we might note that the liberal left no longer seems to object to Uncle Sam’s surveillance of phone calls.  Opposition to electronic intercepts by the National Security Agency was a major MSM cause just a few years ago, and yet now the MSM very much enjoys having such intercepts as a reportorial resource.  

And the Times story also included this little item, recalling the “dirty dossier” flap of a month ago:

As part of the inquiry, the FBI is also trying to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former British intelligence operative. The dossier contained a raft of salacious allegations about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.

In other words, the Deep State is still actively investigating—some might say, hounding—the President.  And, yes, of course, still leaking about it. 

So what’s going on here?  How did the Deep State get to be so powerful?   

II. A Closer Look at the Deep State 

The rest of us might say that it’s a whacked-out world when un-elected government officials can commit crimes—leaking classified material is always a crime—and then, with the megaphone of the MSM, shift the blame onto a high government official chosen by a newly elected president, and then get that official removed.  Welcome to Washington.  

Virgil, grizzled Beltway veteran that he is, saw this coming.  Back on December 12, under the headline, “The Deep State vs. Donald Trump,” he defined the Deep State this way: 

The term “Deep State” refers to the complex of bureaucrats, technocrats, and plutocrats that likes things just the way they are and wants to keep them like that—elections be damned.

He added this warning: 

Let’s not kid ourselves: These anti-Trump constituencies might have lost the 2016 presidential election at the ballot box, but they don’t intend to lose their power.  And to that end, they have real clout, and they are using it.

In fact, Virgil has written extensively about the Deep State, here, here, and here, to name just a few pieces.   

Yet the specific case of Deep State vs. Flynn got going on January 12, when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, always known to be close to the “intelligence community,” revealed Flynn’s December 29 phone conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

At that time, in mid-January, Virgil took note of this leak; he asked, “How did Ignatius know that?”  For his part, Ignatius attributed the information only to a “senior US government official.”  Whereupon Virgil observed, “Such disclosures aren’t legal, but once again, nobody in Washington, DC, seems to care.”  

We might note that the Deep State goes by other names, including “permanent government,” “shadow government,” or even, simply, “The Establishment.”

Veteran journalist Kenneth Timmerman calls them “shadow warriors.” A few years ago, he published a book with that title, focusing on the Deep State’s mostly successful efforts to undermine the Bush 43 administration. 

But back in the here and now, on February 14, a detailed account of the Flynn wiretap appeared in The Washington Post; the story reported, for example, that Flynn was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when he spoke to the Russian ambassador, Kislyak.  The Post also observed:

As a veteran intelligence officer, Flynn must have known that a call with a Russian official in Washington would be intercepted by the US government, pored over by FBI analysts and possibly even shared with the White House.

We might add this point: Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was obviously familiar with Uncle Sam’s wiretapping capabilities. And so the fact that he would talk on the phone with the Russian ambassador suggests that his conversation was, in fact, innocent.  That is, in his phone call, Flynn might simply have told the Russian that the incoming Trump administration would soon be reviewing its policies toward Russia—and nothing more.  In other words, Flynn had no qualms about talking to the Russian, because he was not saying anything wrong.  (Of course, Flynn might not have adequately considered the possibility of a leak to the media.) 

And if it’s true, that Flynn did nothing wrong, then we might see why it is that the Deep State leaked the fact of the phone call, but not any more detail about the call, such as the actual transcript.  

We can further see how only partial information would play out in the media: If it’s reported that Flynn had a “secret” phone call with a Russian diplomat, that might, indeed, sound sinister.  And so from a foe’s point of view, it’s best to leave it at that; there’s no point in releasing the actual transcript if that would make Flynn look good.  In fact, it’s been reported that even when the FBI was investigating Flynn over these past few weeks, he was not allowed to see the transcript of his call.

So we might ask: What’s the motivation of the Deep State?  Is it just hostility to Trump?  Or to Republicans?  Or is there something more?  

Adam Kredo, writing in The Washington Free Beacon, argues that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was the prime locus of Deep State animus toward Flynn.  Under the headline, “Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn,” Kredo asserted that the ringleader of the anti-Flynn effort was former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.  Rhodes, of course, had been the prime mover in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a pro-Iranian deal which Flynn had strongly denounced.  By this reckoning, Rhodes & Co. were simply defending their handiwork.  And of course, Trump, too, has been a strong opponent of the nuclear deal.

III. What Comes Next 

Without a doubt, the MSM is now having a lot of fun.  Mediaite even offered its readers an online poll: “After Flynn, Who’s Next To Get the Boot From Team Trump?

Yet once the “fun” is over, the rest of us must ask: What is to become of our government—no matter who’s in charge—if everything leaks?  After all, it was less than a year ago that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was being battered by an earlier wave of leaks.  Indeed, the US government seems helpless to defend itself against hacks, to say nothing of US citizens as well.  

In the meantime, the Trump administration will surely do what it can to stop the leaks.  And the press, of course, stands ready to make sure that the leaks will continue to keep gushing.   For example, as soon as Trump announces any sort of anti-leak plan, the MSM will dredge up the memory of Richard Nixon’s “plumbers,” that being the operation that led to Watergate.  

Virgil believes that any effective anti-leak operation will have to be far broader than the efforts of just a few sleuths.  Rep. Nunes, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has the right idea when he says that we need a full-scale FBI investigation.   

Indeed, we will probably have to do much more than that: If the traditional culture of trustworthy professionalism inside the government has completely broken down, then we will have to change structures and agencies within the federal national-security complex, and that can’t be done by mere executive order.  

So what’s needed, instead, is the buy-in of majorities in Congress, dedicated to the permanent reworking and rewriting of operating budgets and statutory laws. Nothing less than such a comprehensive effort will prove effective.  In other words, that’s a new mission for the Trump administration—a lot of work, to be sure, but truly worth it.  Virgil believes, moreover, that it would be popular with the public; a new commitment to improved and leak-free government would be a political winner. 

Finally, we might close on a note of warning: If the Trump administration can’t manage these reforms, then, well, the situation will only get worse; the new future inside the federal government will be the bureaucratic version of kill-by-leak or be- killed-by-leak.   

Interestingly, even a few in the MSM see this point.  One such is Damon Linker, writing for the liberal-leaning The Week; he headlined his February 14 piece, “America’s spies anonymously took down Michael Flynn. That is deeply worrying.”  As he put it, what we’re seeing is a sneaky effort “to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin.”

Linker added that a grim end-justifies-the-means ethos has settled in: 

Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result. . . .  No matter what Flynn did, it is simply not the role of the deep state to target a man working in one of the political branches of the government by dishing to reporters about information it has gathered clandestinely.

And another MSM-er, Eli Lake of Bloomberg News, went even further, bluntly entitling his piece, “The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn.” Lake observed that what we’re seeing now is what we see in police states, where the government security apparatus is a sword against its own people, not a shield against foreign enemies.   

As for how all this might end if the Deep State domination continues, Lake approvingly quoted Rep. Nunes: “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus.” To which Lake added, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”

Interestingly, Trump himself read Lake’s piece and tweeted praise:

Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View – “The NSA & FBI . . . should not interfere in our politics . . . and is” Very serious situation for USA

Yes, it’s a very serious situation for America.  The Deep State can now claim a Trump administration scalp.  And it’s hungry for more—a lot more.


The Right U.S. Leader at The Wrong Time for Netanyahu — “The futility of half-measures”

February 15, 2017

 Jerusalem Post Israel News Benjamin Netanyahu
FEBRUARY 15, 2017 00:35
For Netanyahu to score political points with his voter base, the best he can hope to gain from Trump is to agree to disagree on the conflict.

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Benjamin Netanyahu

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to be a hero for the Israeli right, he’s about eight years too late – had Donald Trump only strolled into the White House instead of former US President Barack Obama back then, things would have turned out very differently for the prime minister.
The two men would have then sat down to discuss how to redefine the parameters of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

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They would have walked back former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s statements about a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines.

And they would have reaffirmed a commitment made under former US President George Bush to allow Israel to retain the settlement blocs.

These are Jewish communities in the West Bank with high-density populations.

Netanyahu would have spoken about his support for two-states for two peoples, but would have secured from Trump an understanding that Israel could continue to build in those blocs.

He would have explained to the right-wing that he had saved them from the perils of an Olmert-style peace deal, in favor of one that would allow them to continue to develop Judea and Samaria, albeit within a more confined map than what they might have hoped for.

But in reality, Netanyahu entered the Prime Minister’s Office at the same time as former US president Barack Obama, who from the start touted a no-tolerance policy with regard to settlements.

He rejected the idea of the settlements blocs, which was first set forward under US president Bill Clinton. Upon entering office, former US president George Bush initially appeared to walk away from that understanding. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon then scored a significant diplomatic victory with an exchange of letters in which Bush reconfirmed his support of the blocs.

But Netanyahu cannot score a Sharon-like win here. The ease with which Obama was able to dismiss the Bush assurances makes it difficult for the Israeli Right to trust such a pledge again.

Even more significantly, the eight years of the Obama presidency brought about a number of significant changes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians upgraded their status at the United Nations to that of a non-member state, a move that allowed them turn to the International Criminal Court over Israeli settlement activity. The international community, particularly Europe, took a number of diplomatic steps to underscore the message that no settlement activity is acceptable.

This included allowing for the labeling of settlement goods on all Israeli products made over the pre-1967 lines.

The US issued relentless condemnations of any settlement activity big or small and allowed for the passage of a Security Council resolution that said the placement of the Western Wall within Israel’s sovereign boundaries is illegal.

There is a Hebrew saying that when everything is forbidden, then everything is permissible.

One thing the Israeli Right and the settlement movement has learned in the past eight years is the futility of half-measures.

They would rather move forward with measures that stand true to their principles. For them, Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump is a chance to redefine the parameters of the conflict with two very simple principles they hold to be true: It is the idea of a Palestinian state that is a stumbling block to peace and the time has come to annex Area C of the West Bank.

In the weeks leading put to Wednesday’s meeting between Trump and Netanyahu, these groups have held conferences, press events and issued hundreds of statements making these two demands very clear.

A Netanyahu return to Israel with anything less would be seen by them as a defeat.

Shoring up this stance are pre-election promises they believe were made to them by the Trump administration and the Republican Party, including the removal of the idea of a Palestinian state from the Republican platform.

Since taking office, however, Trump has made cautious statements with regard to the conflict. Although he has stated that he does not believe the settlements are a stumbling block to peace, he has also come to see how they are not helpful to a renewed peace process.

And it is very likely that he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, by pushing to be the US president who finally ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is already a warm chemistry between Netanyahu and Trump, who have known each other since the 1980s.

Netanyahu has confidently said that they see eye to eye, and after years of a crisis- filled relationship with Washington, the prime minister’s return to Israel after a warm White House meeting would certainly be deemed a success.

For Netanyahu to score political points with his voter base, the best he can hope to gain from Trump is to agree to disagree on the conflict. But it’s a stance that could create a fissure with the Trump administration that would surely grow over time.

What Netanyahu hopes is that Trump would accept a settlement bloc plan as an option that would still allow him to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Netanyahu could then tout his leadership skills, particularly in handling Israel’s most important ally, particularly if it came with US assurances to be tough on Iran. But back in Israel, where his voter base is dreaming of annexation, anything less than rejection of Palestinian statehood would be seen as a loss.


Alan Dershowitz: Trump Will Find An Israeli Leader he Can Admire and Trust in Netanyahu

February 14, 2017

Prime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be welcomed to the White House by newly elected President Donald Trump. What can we expect from this initial meeting between two strong willed national leaders?

By Alan Dershowitz

I know them both– Netanyahu better than Trump– and I believe they will get along well. They are both no nonsense pragmatists who understand the relationship between economic development and political progress. We all know of Trumps business background and focus on jobs and trade. Less well known is Netanyahu’s business background. Like trump, Netanyahu went to business school and began his career as a business man, working for Boston Consulting Group. When he entered politics, he helped transform Israel from an agrarian based economy into “start-up nation,” which has become a technological superpower with a strong economy. He is the Alexander Hamilton of Israel, to David Ben Gurion’s Jefferson. Trump has to admire that.

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Trump will also admire Netanyahu’s strong nationalism and love of country. He has made Israel great, militarily, technologically and economically. He may soon become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, surpassing the legendary Ben Gurion.

Each leader would like to be the one who succeeds in bringing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So many others – people of good will and considerable effort – have been unable to achieve this goal. There is no certainty that Trump and Netanyahu can succeed when so many others have come close but have never been able to close the deal. Both are respected for their deal-making capabilities – Trump in business, Netanyahu in domestic politics.

But there are considerable barriers to achieving a peaceful resolution. Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each have domestic constituencies that would oppose the compromise necessary to achieve a two state solution. Some of Netanyahu’s right wing coalition partners oppose a two state solution in which Israel would turn over most of the West Bank to establish a Palestinian state. And many West Bank Palestinians – not to mention Hamas in Gaza – oppose recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. They also demand the “return” of four million Palestinian refugees to Israel, despite the reality that there are probably only a hundred thousand or so actual refugees who themselves left Israel in 1948, many voluntarily.

It must be remembered that Israel has twice in recent times offered the Palestinians a State on 95 percent of the West Bank. In 2000-2001 then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then President Bill Clinton made a generous offer. Yasser Arafat, who was being advised by Jimmy Carter, rejected it and started a violent Intifada in which more than 4000 people were killed. Then in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer, to which Mahmoud Abbas did not respond. And in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended the military occupation and settlements in the Gaza strip only to be greeted with thousands of rocket attacks and terror tunnels from Hamas.

Much has changed since these Israeli offers and actions. The current Israel government is not likely to offer more than what was rejected by the Palestinians. So the pressure must now be placed on the Palestinian leadership to make good faith counter offers. That pressure can only come from the United States. This is so because the rest of the International community – the United Nations, the European Union, the Courts in the Hague, the BDS Movement – all disincentivise the Palestinians from making compromises by falsely telling them they can get a state without negotiating with Israel.

President Trump must make it crystal clear that unless the Palestinians negotiate a reasonable solution with Israel, they will never have a state. President Obama did not send that message with clarity, especially when he ordered his United Nations Representative to allow a one-sided anti-Israel Resolution to be passed by the Security Council.

President Trump must reassure Prime Minister Netanyahu that he will apply pressure – perhaps through our Sunni allies – on the Palestinian authority, and not only on Israel, as the Obama Administration did. History shows that American administrations that really have Israel’s back – not to stab, but to support – are more likely to persuade Israel to offer compromises.

So I hope that Benjamin Netanyahu will emerge from the White House meeting with the confidence in American support to stand up to those in his cabinet who oppose the two state solution and who want to expand settlement activity. And I hope the Palestinian leadership will understand that they have no option other than to accept the Netanyahu offer to negotiate anywhere, anytime, and with no preconditions. Perhaps then we will finally see a reasonable resolution to the age-old conflict.


How Vladimir Putin and Russia are using cyber attacks and fake news to try and rig three major European elections this year

February 13, 2017


Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Governments and security services across Europe have sounded public warnings about Russian interference in upcoming elections, amid mounting concern about a spate of cyber attacks on political parties and government institutions.

Officials and security officers in France, Germany, and the Netherlands have agreed to share information as they brace for “influence operations,” including the leaking of hacked emails and using internet bots to spread fake or misleading news on social media, in the run up to presidential and general elections this year.

“[It is] a way not to convince people, but to confuse them, not to provide an alternative viewpoint, but to divide public opinion and to ultimately undermine our ability to understand what is going on.”

That is NATO  spokesperson Oana Lungescu’s view of Russia’s state-owned foreign language news services, Sputnik and RT. .

Read the rest:



Russia accused of waging secret warfare against Britain using cyber attacks, espionage and fake news

Vladimir Putin has been accused by the US and its allies of waging cyber attacks

Vladimir Putin has been accused by the US and its allies of waging cyber attacks CREDIT:MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP

Whitehall officials have for the first time acknowledged that Russia is waging a “campaign” of propaganda and unconventional warfare against Britain.

According to senior figures in Government, Moscow is to blame for concerted attempts to undermine the UK through fake espionage, misinformation, cyber attacks and fake news.

It is understood that intelligence officers and senior civil servants across government voiced their concern about the growing scale of the Russian threat during a high-level meeting at the Cabinet Office two months ago.

Watch | President Obama identifies Russia as key concern


A source with knowledge of the meeting told The Times: “There was an agreement on the need to do more across Whitehall to understand and assess and formulate options on how to respond to Russian activities.”

The Prime Minister is set to chair a National Security Council session within weeks to examine Russian actions towards Britain and its allies and discuss possible responses.

It is thought the operations mounted by Moscow agents against Britain are part of a broader drive by the Putin regime to destabilise the West.

Only this week, US intelligence officials disclosed that President Putin was personally involved in a Russian-led hacking campaign to influence the outcome of the American election and assist Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

President Obama yesterday promised to take retaliatory action against Moscow, saying: “We need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing. Don’t do this stuff to us, because we can do this to you.”

Concerns have now been raised that British companies and institutions have been penetrated by Russian agents, including UK citizens.

It emerged last night that several academics at Cambridge University have stepped down from an intelligence forum over fears of Kremlin influence.

Watch | “Russia is not going to attack anyone” says Putin


In a sign of how seriously the situation is regarded by Government figures, the head of the armed forces took the unusual step this week of calling for increased efforts to catch moles.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said: “We … need to pay more attention to counterespionage and counterintelligence to protect our hard-won research, protect our industry and protect our competitive advantage.”

Sir Peach did not specify the nationality of the agents, but the number of Russian spies and “agents of influence” – such as British MPs wooed by the Russians – is thought to be higher than even during the Cold War.

It is understood that military intelligence officials are working more closely with MI5 on Russian issues, including the need to expose spies.

Examples of the new Russian offensive are thought to include state-run news outlets, such as RT and Sputnik; spreading propaganda to influence British audiences, in particular over key issues such as Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum.

Adams cartoon: Putin stoking the fires of war
Adams cartoon: Putin stoking the fires of war

They also include suspected cyberattacks against British companies and infrastructure, and the deployment of Putin’s only aircraft carrier and a fleet of escort ships directly through the English Channel en route to join the bombing campaign in Syria last month.

An expert in Russian affairs and former adviser to the government told The Times: “They [Whitehall] have just woken up to Russia. They are embarrassed to admit it. They don’t really know what to do because the logic is we should increase our defence spending and we should create a cross-governmental strategy for defending ourselves against this.”

Watch | The five worst ever cyber hacks


The threat from Russia will be discussed by Mrs May and senior intelligence, military and other officials at one of the first meetings of the National Security Council next year.

The Prime Minister is facing calls from security experts to set up a “war cabinet” to respond to Russia’s activities.

Last year, Putin set up a national defence centre, run by military officers, to bring together hybrid weapons of media, economics, politics, cyber and dirty tricks to ensure all activity is carried out in pursuit of an agreed goal, such as the collapse of the European Union and Nato.

Top US general says Afghanistan war at ‘stalemate,’ more troops needed

February 11, 2017

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Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. testified Feb. 9, 2017

In a stark admission, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Capitol Hill lawmakers Thursday that after 15 years of war, the conflict remains a “stalemate” – and said thousands more troops are needed to train Afghan forces.

Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Jr. offered lawmakers a grim assessment about the prospects for truly ending a war that so far has cost more than 2,000 American lives — and billions of dollars — since 2001. The challenge, he testified, is made even tougher by Russia and Iran’s aid to the Taliban, amid signs the militant group is making territorial gains.

“I believe we’re in a stalemate,” Nicholson told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., when asked directly if the U.S. and its allies are winning or losing.

He said he has “adequate” resources for counterterrorism, but is facing a shortfall of a few-thousand troops to train Afghan forces.

He made clear those additional troops could come from allies as well as the U.S., and said the subject would be on the table when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis attends a NATO defense meeting next week in Brussels.

At the Senate hearing Thursday, Nicholson also told lawmakers a U.S. special forces soldier had been “severely wounded” that morning in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. Twelve Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since October.

In further evidence that the war is far from over despite then-President Barack Obama declaring an end to the combat mission in 2014, the United Nations reported Monday a record number of Afghan civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year. The report said nearly 3,500 were killed and nearly 8,000 wounded. A government watchdog group also says the Afghan government only controls 60 percent of the country right now.

Five Americans continue to be held hostage in Afghanistan, according to Nicholson.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said President Trump would “heed the advice” of his generals and defense secretary, but said no decision was imminent.

Restrictions on troop levels in the past administration forced the U.S. military to rely on expensive contractors.

“We have roughly a two-to-one ratio of contractors to soldiers,” said Nicholson. Currently, there are 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan, which would put the number of civilian contractors at nearly 17,000. Nicholson said soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division based at Ft. Riley, Kansas, were forced to stay home when their aviation brigade deployed to Afghanistan to adhere to troops limits set under the Obama administration.

“This contract for maintenance runs into the tens of millions of dollars, and then the soldiers who are trained to be mechanics are sitting back at Fort Riley not having the opportunity to do their job. So this has a direct impact on army readiness and it also costs us more money,” Nicholson said.

Some say Afghanistan has become the “forgotten war,” despite more American troops on the ground there than in Iraq engaged in the ISIS fight. The subject rarely surfaced on the campaign trail. President Trump mentioned Afghanistan just once to express gratitude for Americans serving there, in prepared remarks while visiting U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., earlier this week.

While Trump has given his generals 30 days to come up with a draft plan to ramp up the ISIS fight, the same request was not made for Afghanistan, where Nicholson says the Russians and the Iranians are now actively supporting the Taliban.

“When we look at Russia and Iranian actions in Afghanistan, I believe that, in part, they’re [trying] to undermine the United States and NATO,” he said.

Russia’s support for the Taliban began last year, according to Nicholson.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said, “I think we better let President Trump know that.”

“Yes sir,” Nicholson replied.

Nicholson said Iran is actively recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, a situation that could blow back on Kabul when those fighters return home.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., questioned the resources spent on the war so far, a number that has reached $117 billion.

“Adjusted for inflation the U.S. has spent more on Afghanistan’s reconstruction than it did on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Reconstructing Afghanistan has now become the largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our nation’s history,” he said.

There are fewer American troops on the ground in Afghanistan than any time since 2002. Following the reduction of 1,400 troops at the end of the year, the number stands at a mere 10 percent of the 100,000 at the height of the Obama administration’s surge in 2011.

Today, there are nearly 6,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

While some questioned the high cost of America’s longest war, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Nicholson, “If the United States just said ‘we’ve had enough, you know, 15 years is long enough, let’s just roll up our operation there and come home,’ do think that we would face the risk of an attack planned and directed from Afghanistan?”

“Yes, senator, definitely,” Nicholson replied.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenGriffinFNC.


WASHINGTON — The commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, warning that the United States and its NATO allies are facing a “stalemate,” told Congress on Thursday that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers.

“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” Gen. John W. Nicholson said in a sober assessment of America’s longest war to the Senate Armed Services Committee .

The international force that is helping the Afghans currently has 13,300 troops, 8,400 of whom are American.

Afghan forces have taken heavy casualties over the last year as they have sought to hold off the Taliban and prevent them from capturing provincial capitals.



Obama’s party-building legacy (failure) splits Democrats — Plus: Schumer’s Plan to Take on President Trump

February 9, 2017


Party officials are having a painful discussion about the state and local losses that occurred on his watch.

02/09/17 05:13 AM EST


Former President Barack Obama and the political operation that succeeded his campaign have expressed interest in playing a role in the task of rebuilding the Democratic Party. | Getty

A painful Democratic rift over Barack Obama’s political legacy is finally bursting into the open.

For years, the former president’s popularity among Democrats stifled any public critiques of his stewardship of the party — a period in which the party suffered tremendous losses at the state and local levels.

But now that Obama and the political operation that succeeded his campaign, Organizing For Action, have expressed interest in playing a role in the task of rebuilding, it’s sparking pitched debates over how much blame he deserves for the gradual hollowing out of a party that now has less control of state elected positions than at any other time in nearly a century.

That degree of mistrust — rooted in the idea that OFA was always primarily interested in advancing the president’s political interests, often at the expense of the party — is already showing signs of hampering Obama’s former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as he pursues the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. And the wariness — expressed by nearly three dozen Democrats in interviews — also threatens to create a divide between Obama’s loyalists and the rest of the party.

“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties. So I hope the OFA role is none. I hope OFA closes their doors and allows the country and state parties to get to the hard work of rebuilding the party at the local and grassroots level,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb, echoing a sentiment that has dominated private chatter among state party chairs for months. “OFA had no faith or confidence in the state parties so they created a whole separate organization, they took money away and centralized it in DC. They gave us a great president for eight years, but we lost everywhere else.”

While Obama has taken some responsibility for the party’s down-ballot failures — Democrats now have unified control over just six states, and 10 fewer governorships than when he took office, while Republicans have taken over the U.S. House and the Senate — his political allies have made clear that he hopes to help the Democratic comeback through his involvement with a redistricting effort. And the groups around him, like OFA, intend to play a role when it comes to organizing, recruiting candidates, and training activists.

That’s a reversal from Obama’s longtime lack of interest in the party’s infrastructure, dating back to when his advisers felt that he had to run against the state party establishments in his challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2008.

The former president’s newfound interest in party-building is partly about preserving his White House legacy when it’s under attack from Republicans — which is in the interest of his fellow Democrats — but there has thus far been no coordination between Obama’s political world and the rest of the party’s leadership structure.

“I have not been briefed on the future of OFA and the president’s involvement,” said Donna Brazile, the DNC chair.

And that silence is what alarms Democrats who resentfully remember a president who for years couldn’t be bothered to replace then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, even after she became a source of intra-party controversy. They recall a commander-in-chief whose campaign was seen by state party officials as circumventing them, rather than working with them. And they think back to a party leader who didn’t want to get too closely involved in governor’s races ahead of 2010’s redistricting, which many of them say is a reason for Democrats’ state-level bloodbath in the ensuing years.

Still, there is no consensus over the amount of blame Obama should get for Democrats’ woes. To Boyd Brown, a former South Carolina state legislator and until recently a DNC member, the finger-pointing is “a territorial ego game.”

“A lot of what happened with regard to the party at every level was the congressional leadership,” said former Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire — who lost his seat in 2012 after the state’s electoral map was redrawn — deflecting the responsibility from Obama alone. “Democrats as a whole overreached greatly leading up to 2010 and unfortunately for Democrats that was right before redistricting.”

“If you look at the organizational work that OFA did, they absolutely knew what they were doing, they were effective, they won two presidential elections, they helped get people like me in 2008 — a 22-year-old — elected to the state legislature because of their organizational efforts. So I think the more the better, I don’t have a problem with having 100 different organizations out there,” added Brown. “We’re still in the stage of a grief period where folks are blaming others, and that appears to be what these folks are doing.”

That tension has reached the point where state chairs pitching donors now feel the need to explain what their local committees can legally do that an external effort like OFA cannot. Those state leaders also went out of their way to ensure that the data and supporter lists from Clinton’s campaign would revert to the party after the election. OFA’s data treasure trove, after all, didn’t settle at the DNC until 2015 — three years after Obama’s re-election.

“It created a shadow organization that was recruiting the same volunteers [as the DNC], using resources from a very limited number of donors, and therefore, as a result it weakened the DNC and the impact that the DNC and state parties could have on politics during his tenure,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, a candidate for DNC chair. “You’ve got five organizations knocking on the same door with five different messages. That’s not conducive. In the age of Trump we need to be a lean, mean, strategic machine.”

Harrison and Adam Parkhomenko, a former Clinton campaign and DNC organizing official who is now running for the party vice-chairmanship, have both raised that problem in the party’s public candidate forums in recent weeks. And that public airing has spurred a round of talk between state-level Democrats over the extent to which they wish to see a return of the Obama machine — which, after all, is the only Democratic one to win nationwide since 1996.

“Resources that are financial, and other resources like data and ideas that people are trying to bring to fruition in terms of organizing kits and materials: that’s what the DNC needs to spend its time doing, so the only outside apparatus we should have in terms of the party is the [state] parties,” said Parkhomenko, pointing to years of low investment and attention paid to local Democratic committees. “The lack of party and DNC [capacity] was a big contributing factor to what happened in the last election, [and] hopefully it will be a lesson to our party to never let this happen again.”

A major question now confronting DNC members is the extent to which this lingering frustration with Obama’s political operation has a material effect on the race for party chairman: while Perez is widely seen as the Obama-wing candidate due to his praise from the former president and backing from former Obama White House officials like former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Obama has not formally endorsed him, and Perez was never involved with OFA itself.

The concerns over OFA’s role as a parallel organization to the DNC are just as ripe when it comes to Our Revolution, the heir to Bernie Sanders’ campaign: a group that has not handed over Sanders’ golden email lists to the DNC, and which has endorsed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, widely seen as the Sanders-wing candidate.

But those questions are operational, and not about the broader issues facing the reeling party. For those questions, Democrats insist, they can’t afford to sideline Obama, their most popular and successful figure.

“OFA should fold into the DNC. Having two organizations is redundant, and dilutes and confuses the mission. Given the urgency of the moment, we need laser-like focus, with clear lanes and cohesion, not duplication,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “President Obama, I hope, will be fully engaged in helping the party rebuild. We need his inspiration, his ability to fundraise, his brilliant strategic mind and his ability to convene and mobilize. He can also help to engage Millennials and communities of color, in addition to the work he will be doing on redistricting. He is also the best messenger of our generation: we need him.”

“People might have differences with some things he did about party issues,” added Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. “They all might have wanted him to do something one way or something another way, but clearly he’s a gigantic draw in the Democratic Party. He should be heard. He has a voice, and if he’s inclined to use that voice, I’m inclined to listen.”

As such, even the biggest skeptics of Obama’s political organization agree that the former president is likely to be the party’s most potent surrogate and potential fundraising tool in combating Trump. They just don’t trust his political operation to carry out the groundwork.

“We all welcome President Obama and Vice President Biden, they’re heroes and giants in the Democratic world. This has nothing to do with them, this has everything to do with the political operatives in the DC bubble and not out in Nebraska,” said Kleeb. “I’m sorry, you had eight years to build us a party, but you failed. So no, sorry, we do not want you. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere contributed to this report.


Inside Chuck Schumer’s Plan to Take on President Trump

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Photograph by Platon for TIME 

Put Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump in a room together and you can’t miss the connection. They are the leaders of rival parties, sharp opponents on Twitter and in the press, but they live by the same words, as big and bold as the city that made them. “Beautiful!” they will say, though at different times and about different things. “Wonderful!” “Horrible!” “So, so great!” It is the vernacular of outer-borough kids who, in different ways, scraped their way to the big time. They are two local grandees who boast, yarn, insult and rib each other like they are still on the streets of New York City.

It will take a while–like maybe never–for Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or other GOP pooh-bahs to build up a store of Trump war stories to match Schumer’s. In fact the first time congressional leaders visited the new President at the White House, most of his attention focused on their Democratic foil. At one point that evening, Trump recalled a 2008 fundraiser he held for New York’s senior Senator at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. The two dozen or so top Democratic donors had cocktails and dinner, serenaded by Peter Cetera, formerly of the rock band Chicago. “I raised $2 million,” Trump boasted.

If you ask Chuck Schumer what it means to be from Brooklyn, he will answer with two words: “No bullsh-t.” Plus he’s a numbers guy. “It was $263,000, to be precise,” he shot back at the President.

For all the chaos and plot twists of the coming weeks, the one sure thing to watch is how these two men go at it, now that Trump presides from the Oval Office and Schumer, 66, is the closest thing the Democrats have to an official opposition leader. Though they know each other and share both experience and instincts, they cannot anticipate each other’s every move. On Trump’s side, unpredictability is a point of pride. And on Schumer’s, even his long résumé and ferocious work ethic could not have prepared him for the choices he faces now. In many respects, both the success of the Trump agenda and the power of the Democratic Party–most immediately, its tenuous hold on 48 Senate seats–depend on how well Schumer plays his cards.

Schumer’s hand at the moment is not strong. Certainly many of the featured items on the President’s agenda–to remake Obamacare, reform the tax code, fund new infrastructure projects and pass new trade deals–will require the help of at least some of the Senators in Schumer’s caucus. But as liberal activists fill the streets with signs calling for resistance, Schumer is under enormous pressure from his left flank to man the barricades and stop Trump, just as the Republicans tried to block anything that came out of Barack Obama’s White House.

There are risks in playing the obstruction game. Stop popular parts of Trump’s agenda for too long and too persistently, and the party’s support can plummet. Play ball with Trump, and Schumer risks a rebellion on his left. Making matters worse is a procedural hair ball as arcane as the Senate itself: getting almost anything significant through the Senate takes 60 votes. Republicans have only 52. If Schumer tries to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Mitch McConnell could trigger the “nuclear option” and change the rules to allow the nominee to pass with only 51 votes. As could any future court nominees, however far outside the mainstream.

In other words, resistance may be inevitable. But it might also be futile. And it may even prove counterproductive to Democrats’ hopes of winning back a majority anytime soon.

Which brings us back to Schumer himself. If he made his reputation as a partisan fighter, his habit and history suggest he would like to negotiate with Trump when and where a deal can be made, which he believes is possible on trade, taxes and infrastructure spending. So with all the pressures on Schumer–from liberals, from centrists and his own instincts–the real question is whether the Senator from Brooklyn is going to fight or compromise and in what order.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y, as he is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family while he formally signs his cabinet nominations into law, Jan. 20, 2017.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y, as he is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family while he formally signs his cabinet nominations into law, Jan. 20, 2017. J. Scott Applewhite—AP/Pool 

On the November night that Trump won, Schumer flew down from New York City into Washington, where he had expected to arrive as the Senate’s majority leader and a key partner for President Hillary Clinton. But then the people spoke, and Schumer’s instinct was to be humble and conciliatory. “Tonight the American people voted for change,” he said as the returns came in, shocking many of the grieving Democrats at the party’s senatorial campaign headquarters.

In the days that followed, Schumer said, he suffered through a sort of depression. He comforted his distraught adult daughters by teaching them the lyrics to the old Shirelles song: “Mama said there’ll be days like this.” Only then did he find relief in a realization. “If Hillary won and I was majority leader, I’d have more fun, and I’d get more good things done, which is why I’m here,” Schumer explains in a Feb. 2 interview in his Senate office, beside a photo of himself with former President Obama in a Brooklyn park. “But with Trump as President and me as minority leader, that job is far more important.”

And harder. The Democratic Party that emerged from the 2016 election is no monolith: liberal firebrands like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont were preparing for a more militant approach to Trump and some of the Democrats’ donors on Wall Street. Meanwhile, moderates like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, a former coal executive, and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp traveled to Trump Tower in New York City for meetings that signaled they might bolt the party.

Read more:

Iran Says “We are thankful to Mr. Newcomer, Donald Trump” — “He has shown the real face of the U.S.” — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does some gloating

February 7, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader said Tuesday that “newcomer” President Donald Trump had shown the “real face” of the United States, after the American leader accused Iran of being ungrateful for sanctions relief approved by the Obama administration and vowed a tougher stance.

Last week, after Iran tested a ballistic missile, Trump tweeted that the country was “playing with fire,” saying they “don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President (Barack) Obama was to them. Not me!”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who makes the final decisions on all major policies in Iran, appeared to respond to the tweet in a remarks carried by State TV. “Why should we be thankful to the previous U.S. administration?” he said. “Because it imposed anti-Iranian sanctions? Because of the extremist Islamic State group? Setting the region on fire in Iraq and Syria?”

He went on to mock Trump, saying: “We are thankful to Mr. Newcomer, of course, since he has shown the real face of the U.S. and proved what Iran has said for 38 years about the political, economic, social and moral corruption of the U.S. government.”

He added that the Iranian people “are not afraid of any threat.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers, in which Tehran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but he has not said what he plans to do about it.

His administration said Iran was “on notice” over the missile test, and imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian companies and individuals.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has worked to improve relations with the West, said earlier Tuesday that the nuclear agreement could serve as a blueprint for resolving other Middle East disputes.

As an example, he pointed to Russian-led negotiations in Kazakhstan aimed at firming up a shaky Syrian cease-fire and paving the way for the revival of peace talks to end that country’s nearly six-year civil war. Iran and Russia are close allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the U.S. and other Western countries support the rebels fighting to topple him.



Iran’s Supreme Leader Sarcastically Thanks Trump for Showing America’s ‘Real Face’

TEHRAN — As Iran tries to calibrate how to deal with President Trump, its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in caustic comments to air force commanders, thanked the new American leader for revealing “the real face” of the United States.

“We are grateful to this gentleman who has come!” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to a report posted on his official website.

Iranian officials have shown caution since Mr. Trump took office last month; despite expressing anger at his policies and comments, even hard-liners have taken care not to provoke the new American president.

Mr. Trump included Iran on a list of seven predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens have been barred from entering the United States, and his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, warned Tehran last week that it had been put “on notice” after a missile test. Washington also imposed new economic sanctions on 25 people and entities after the missile launch.

“The things we have been saying over the past 30-some years — political, economic, moral and social corruption in the American administration — this man came and exposed them during his election campaign and afterwards,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to the text of the speech.


Most Americans Support Donald Trump’s Immigration Order — POLL: 49% of Americans Agree with Trump’s Travel Ban, 41% Against

February 1, 2017

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New polling suggests that Donald Trump’s executive order to impose a temporary block on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries has the support of nearly one in two Americans.

When asked “do you agree or disagree with the executive order that President Trump signed blocking refugees and banning people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S.?”, 49 per cent of respondents said they agreed with the policy.

This compares to 41 per cent who said that they disagreed with the policy, while the remaining 10 per cent did not know whether they agreed or disagreed.

The executive order in question has imposed a 90-day ban on people entering the country from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also prevents all refugees from entering the US for 120 days.

Watch | What is an executive order?


Trump’s decision to halt immigration has been widely criticised in the past few days with protests across the world, legal challenges and condemnation from Barack Obama.

On Monday, Trump sacked his interim Attorney General for failing to enforce his immigration ban, with the White House announcement of her resignation saying that she had “betrayed” the Justice Department.

The practicalities of the executive order caused confusion across the globe with it being unclear whether dual nationals were also being barred from entry to the US.

Watch | Protests against Trump’s travel ban from around the world


However, this new poll, which was carried out by Reuters/Ipsos and surveyed 1,201 people across all 50 US states, seems to indicate that Trump has more support for his actions than the media coverage would suggest.

In addition to more people agreeing with the ban than disagreeing with it, 31 per cent of respondents said the travel ban made them feel safer, compared to 26 per cent who said it made them feel less safe.

Do you agree or disagree with the Executive Order thatPresident Trump signed blocking refugees and banningpeople from seven Muslim majority countries from enteringthe U.S.?

However, more people said that they felt America was setting a bad example in how to combat terrorism (41 per cent) compared to those who felt they were setting a good example (38 per cent).

The results to all three questions were heavily split along party lines with 82 per cent of Republicans agreeing with the ban, compared to just 23 per cent of Democrats.

As many as 70 per cent of Democrat respondents said they disagreed with the ban compared to just 13 per cent of Republicans.

Donald Trump, Democrats Dig In for Fight

February 1, 2017

Senate Democrats threaten to delay and block legislation they find objectionable

Sen.Orrin Hatch, surrounded by empty seats, confers with an aide during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee to vote on cabinet nominees on Tuesday. Senate Democrats boycotted committee votes on cabinet nominees and delayed at least for a day a committee vote on Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general.

Sen.Orrin Hatch, surrounded by empty seats, confers with an aide during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee to vote on cabinet nominees on Tuesday. Senate Democrats boycotted committee votes on cabinet nominees and delayed at least for a day a committee vote on Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Feb. 1, 2017 2:47 a.m. ET


WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s aggressive White House debut is stoking a war with Democrats and creating unease with fellow Republicans, dimming chances for cross-party compromise and potentially limiting the scope of what he can get done while in office.

Democrats, pushed by their base, are under pressure to not cooperate with the new president—on anything. On Tuesday Senate Democrats boycotted committee votes on cabinet nominees and delayed at least for a day a committee vote on Mr. Trump’s choice for attorney general.

The battle is now poised to move to the most hard-fought political arena in Washington: the appointment of a U.S. Supreme Court justice who will get a lifetime job judging policy on immigration, taxes, abortion and a host of issues that evoke partisan passions.

Some Democrats are pledging to block the nomination, quickly injecting politics into the debate after Republicans spent much of last year blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland.

Many Republicans, rattled by some of Mr. Trump’s early moves, remain in the shadow of his high popularity with the GOP base. They have for the most part rallied behind the president and his agenda—even on trade policies many shunned before his election.

The result is that Mr. Trump faces more immediate obstacles to realizing goals that can’t be achieved through the stroke of an executive pen.

While the president is expected to win confirmation of most of his cabinet nominees and Republicans have said they are confident the Senate will confirm his Supreme Court choice, the Democrats have the power to delay and potentially block legislation they find objectionable.

Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, and most bills need 60 votes to pass. Alienating Democrats would doom most legislative efforts, including a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act after Republicans repeal it with a party-line maneuver tied to the budget.

Senate Republicans will need to persuade a handful of Democrats to allow legislation to move forward or take extraordinary measures to change the chamber’s rules to permit measures to advance with a majority vote.

Leadership from both parties have resisted changing the vote rules because the Senate, unlike the House, is more prone to flipping between Republican and Democratic control. The Senate also has a longstanding tradition of seeking bipartisan solutions.

“We Democrats need to be very forceful,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in an interview.He was among the first wave of protesters, joining about 175,000 people in Seattle for the post-inauguration Women’s March, which drew far larger crowds than organizers expected. “The goal of those who value liberty is to fight back whenever, wherever and however,” he said.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer rebuffed suggestions that Mr. Trump’s first weeks in office have been divisive, noting that he has met with Democrats as well as Republicans, union members as well as businesses.

“The president has done a tremendous amount through both what he has said and done, more importantly, to start to bring this country together,” Mr. Spicer said Tuesday. “And his policies, frankly, are focused on keeping every American safe.”

Far from Washington, Mr. Trump’s breakneck style of governing has thrown many Republicans for a loop, even though he is doing what he promised during his campaign.

“It’s reassuring to have a candidate who is now president actually doing what he said he would do—that’s a breath of fresh air,” said Robert Graham, Arizona’s GOP chairman. “But he’s moving so quickly, it does put you back on your heels a little bit.’’

Political observers believe Mr. Trump bears some responsibility for the absence of a honeymoon.

He has led off with contentious issues—most notably immigration—that delight his followers and alienate Democrats, and he has used his Twitter feed to call his adversaries names, including “clowns.” Even some Republicans have said Mr. Trump has made little effort in his opening days to appeal to Democrats to work with him.

“I don’t think that’s his goal right now,” Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said. “It’s definitely a very strident tone that’s being set.”

That has complicated Democrats’ hopes to work with Mr. Trump on issues like an infrastructure bill. He also inflamed liberal activists and the Democratic base, who have poured into the nation’s streets, airports and public squares across the country to protest his policies.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat, helped fan the flames this week. He said in a statement that he was “heartened” by the protests, marking his first public comment since leaving the White House.

Democratic activists are marshaling their supporters to counter Mr. Trump at every turn.

“Until and unless Donald Trump decides to operate within the Constitution, Democrats should be shutting the process down,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of, a liberal activist group.

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s political arm, Our Revolution, asked the five million people on the Vermont independent’s email list to demand Democratic senators resist Mr. Trump’s agenda by delaying votes on cabinet appointees as long as possible.

A link in the email routed 10,000 calls to Senate Democrats between 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday morning before the Senate committee walkout, said Larry Cohen, chairman of Our Revolution. MoveOn also says it routed another 10,000 calls to Democratic senators.

Those calls are getting through to lawmakers like Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

“There certainly are many—and we’re hearing from them—who want me to vote against anything and everything” proposed by Mr. Trump, Mr. King said.

Activists still face reluctance from senators who shy from unalloyed obstructionism.

“If he’s right, I’m with him. If he’s wrong I’m going to oppose him,” Mr. King said.

President Donald Trump arrives for a reception with congressional leaders at the White House last week.

President Donald Trump arrives for a reception with congressional leaders at the White House last week. PHOTO: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

The pressure is especially intense on Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who before the inauguration spoke often of cooperating with Mr. Trump when the new president’s priorities aligned with what Democrats have sought.

At a rally with more than 100 Democratic members of Congress in front of the Supreme Court on Monday, protesters shouted “do your job” at Mr. Schumer to encourage him to try to block Mr. Trump’s cabinet appointees.

“I’d like to think Democrats’ hearts are in a good place,” said protester Jacob Weisman, a cook from Greenbelt, Md.

“But apart from a few—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren—I wonder how willing they are to take action,” she said, referring to Ms. Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

The message is getting through: Mr. Schumer said Monday he would oppose five of Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees. On Tuesday he also voted against a sixth, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

Ms. Chao was considered a relatively uncontroversial nominee whom the Senate approved Tuesday by a 93-6 vote. Mr. Schumer also orchestrated a delay in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to approve the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, to be attorney general.

“We have said all along we will be guided by our values,” Mr. Schumer told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday. Yet Mr. Schumer reiterated that Democrats would work with Mr. Trump to advance their own priorities.

House Republicans said the slow-walking of Senate confirmation votes could also delay some of their legislative goals.

For instance, Republicans had hoped to vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in February, but now are expecting to get there in April, in part, because of his pending cabinet nominees, including Health and Human Services designee Tom Price. The delay also stems from the fact that Republicans are divided over how to repeal and replace the 2010 health law.

Republicans are operating under a very different set of political pressures: Mr. Trump remains very popular among GOP voters, and many lawmakers feel they criticize him at their peril.

The confusing implementation of an executive order suspending entry of refugees and others travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations because of terrorism concerns became an early test of their maneuvering room.

Some Republicans stepped out to criticize the rollout, but only gingerly because the underlying policy is popular with many of their voters who view the president’s order as delivering on a campaign promise.

“The response I get is: ‘Oh my gosh, not only did he say it, he meant it!’” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) “If he continues at this pace, he will be president for the next eight years.”

Republicans are generally thrilled to have a GOP president: For about 70% of House Republicans and 42% of GOP senators, it is the first time since they came to Congress that Mr. Obama isn’t sitting in the Oval Office.

But Mr. Trump is leading their party in an unorthodox direction, forcing them to rally behind trade and budget policies many have long opposed, by stirring talk of tariffs and big spending on roads and bridges.

That could lead to conflict down the road, said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a Republican. For now, though, “Trump has positioned himself on the popular side of those issues,” he said.

Write to Janet Hook at, Kristina Peterson at and Reid J. Epstein at