Posts Tagged ‘Susan Rice’

Obama’s spying scandal is starting to look a lot like Watergate

May 28, 2018

F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims,” read the headline on a lengthy New York Times story May 18. “The Justice Department used a suspected informant to probe whether Trump campaign aides were making improper contacts with Russia in 2016,” read a story in the May 21 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

So much for those who dismissed charges of Obama administration infiltration of Donald Trump’s campaign as paranoid fantasy. Defenders of the Obama intelligence and law enforcement apparat have had to fall back on the argument that this infiltration was for Trump’s — and the nation’s — own good.

It’s an argument that evidently didn’t occur to Richard Nixon’s defenders when it became clear that Nixon operatives had burglarized and wiretapped the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in June 1972.

Op-Ed By Michael Barone
New York Post

Until 2016, just about everyone agreed that it was a bad thing for government intelligence or law enforcement agencies to spy — er, use informants — on a political campaign, especially one of the opposition party. Liberals were especially suspicious of the FBI and the CIA. Nowadays they say that anyone questioning their good faith is unpatriotic.

The crime at the root of Watergate was an attempt at surveillance of the DNC after George McGovern seemed about to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, just as the government misconduct in Russiagate was an attempt at surveillance of the Republican Party’s national campaign after Trump clinched its nomination.

In both cases, the incumbent administration regarded the opposition’s unorthodox nominee as undermining the nation’s long-standing foreign policy and therefore dangerous to the country. McGovern renounced the Democrats’ traditional Cold War policy. Trump expressed skepticism about George W. Bush and Obama administration policies on NATO, Mexico, Iran and (forgetting Barack Obama’s ridicule of Mitt Romney on the subject) Russia.

Image may contain: 2 people

The incumbents’ qualms had some rational basis. But their attempts at surveillance were misbegotten. Back in 1972, my brief experience in campaigns left me skeptical that you could learn anything useful by wiretapping the opposition. If you were reasonably smart, you should be able to figure out what a reasonably smart opposition would do and respond accordingly. Subsequent experience has confirmed that view. It’s a different story if you face irrational opposition. It’s hard to figure out what stupid people are going to do.

Similarly, it’s hard to figure out what the Obama law enforcement and intelligence folks had to gain by spying. Candidate Trump’s bizarre refusals to criticize Vladimir Putin and Russia were already a political liability, criticized aptly and often by Hillary Clinton and mainstream media.

But neither the Obama informant/spy nor Robert Mueller’s investigation has presented additional evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. None of Mueller’s indictments points in that direction, and Trump’s foreign policy over 16 months has been far less favorable to Russia than Obama’s.

Both the Watergate wiretap and the Obama appointees’ investigator/spy infiltration were initially inspired amid fears that the upstart opposition might win. The Watergate burglary was planned when Nixon’s re-election was far from assured. A May 1972 Harris Poll showed him with only 48 percent against McGovern. It was only after the Haiphong harbor bombing and Moscow summit in early June made clear that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was ending that Nixon’s numbers surged — just before the June 17 burglary.

In March 2016, it was conventional wisdom that Trump couldn’t be elected president. But his surprising and persistent strength in the Republican primaries left some doubtful, including the FBI lovebirds who instant messaged their desire for an “insurance policy” against that dreaded eventuality.

Image result for comey, arm raised for oath, photos

Their unease may have owed something to their knowledge of how the Obama Justice Department and FBI had fixed the Hillary Clinton emails case. Clinton wasn’t indicted but was left with a disastrously low 32 percent of voters confident of her honesty and trustworthiness.

There are two obvious differences between Watergate and the Obama administration’s infiltration. The Watergate burglars were arrested in flagrante delicto, and their wiretaps never functioned. And neither the FBI nor the CIA fully cooperated with the postelection cover-up.

That’s quite a contrast with the Obama law enforcement and intelligence appointees’ promotion of Christopher Steele’s Clinton campaign-financed dodgy dossier and feeding the mainstream media’s insatiable hunger for Russia collusion stories.

Has an outgoing administration ever worked to delegitimize and dislodge its successor like this? We hear many complaints, some justified, about Donald Trump’s departure from standard political norms. But the greater and more dangerous departure from norms may be that of the Obama officials seeking to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

FILED UNDER         

A President Clinton would have made things much worse

May 27, 2018

To put the roller-coaster presidency of Donald Trump in perspective, it helps on occasion to imagine that Hillary Clinton won the election. My experience is that the exercise leads to greater appreciation of the president we have, warts and all.

Start with Clinton herself. She has spent the last 18 months in a perpetual snit. “No, I’m not over it,” she confessed while turning Yale’s commencement into a self-pity party.

Anyone who has dealt with her knows the “I’m a victim” schtick didn’t start with November of 2016, and would not have ended if she won. She’s been a blamer and finger-pointer her entire public life and would have taken her woe-is-me attitude to the Oval Office.

By Michael Goodwin
New York Post
May 26, 2018

Coupled with her breathtaking sense of entitlement, it is hard to see her presidency lifting the nation’s self-confidence, at home or abroad.

In economic terms, how much higher would unemployment be? How about the stock market and median family incomes — how much lower would they be?

Remember, Clinton promised — promised! — to put coal miners out of work. That’s a promise she probably would have kept.

She wanted to raise taxes instead of cutting them and loosen already lax immigration policies instead of tightening them.

She was part of President Obama’s team that tried to force Israel to make concessions its leaders believed were dangerous to the Jewish state’s security. It’s a cinch the US embassy still would be in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem and Palestinians would have kept a veto over our policy.

The Iran deal would be unmolested by a Clinton presidency, leaving the mullahs free to be ever more aggressive in their pursuit of regional power.

It’s true a President Clinton would be more popular in Western Europe than Trump is, but that’s because there would be no America First agenda. Allowing Europe to call the global shots would make appeasement the default position.

Then there are the aggressions of China and North Korea. Breathes there a soul who believes Clinton would have pushed back harder than Trump?

Of course, Stormy Daniels wouldn’t be famous, but perhaps Clinton’s friend and donor Harvey Weinstein would still be on the prowl and the #MeToo movement would not exist.

Among other consequences, consider the extraordinary political and legal aftermath of the election, ranging from the resistance to Robert Mueller’s investigation to the emerging evidence that the FBI and CIA conspired to spy on the Trump campaign.

My first impulse is to assume Clinton would have fired FBI boss James Comey faster than Trump did. Then I wonder because of what Comey had on her.

It’s not just that he let her skip on having classified emails on her homebrew server. There were also the aborted FBI probes into the pay-to-play evidence involving the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s enormous speaking fees while Hillary was Secretary of State. Somewhere, Comey surely has a secret file on Clinton’s legal and political vulnerabilities.

Suppose then, in true J. Edgar Hoover fashion, Comey signaled he would spill the beans if he lost his job. It’s legal blackmail, and it’s possible that’s what Comey tried to do with Trump by telling him about the Russian dossier — using unverified allegations as personal leverage.

A victorious Clinton would have remained furious at Comey for re-opening the email investigation in October. But, having realized her dream of sitting in the Oval Office, her anger could have been reduced to a footnote and she might have decided she was best served by letting Comey keep his job — and his secrets.

Of all the possible scenarios, there is one about which we can be certain: a Clinton victory would have kept the public from learning about the Obama administration’s extensive abuse of its powers to help her.

Her victory would mean Stefan HalperCarter Page and George Papadopoulos would remain anonymous private citizens, and key players involved in the scheme would still have their reputations intact.

Loretta Lynch, for helping to minimize the various probes, might be Clinton’s Attorney General. John Brennan, James Clapper, Susan Rice and Samantha Power might have important government jobs instead of having to fight to keep their dirty tricks buried.

Image may contain: 2 people

Mueller would be in private law practice, the highlight of his bio being that he was the longest-serving FBI director since Hoover. Instead, his legacy is now tied to his drawn-out investigation of the president that is falling out of public favor.

As for Trump, a Clinton victory would have been devastating, but he probably would have started a new media company and created his own form of a resistance. Given his Midas touch, a loss could have been the most profitable deal of his life.

But fate and voters had other ideas, and the truly remarkable fact is that Trump’s stunning Electoral College victory came despite the alliance of the White House, law enforcement, the intelligence agencies and the media against him.

In coming days, we will learn more about that squalid alliance, giving us more reason to marvel at the resiliency of our republic. And even when it looks as if Trump is running off the rails, consider the alternative and remember this: It could have been worse. Much worse.

Team Obama’s smear machine-in-exile mobilizes to destroy Iran-deal critics — Politics of personal destruction seems Un-American

March 30, 2018
 New York Post

“John Bolton is at the nexus of Russia’s interference in our democracy and the NRA’s reckless agenda”: The sentence is so bonkers, so pristine in its conspiratorial insanity that it should one day grace a Museum of Natural History exhibit on early-21st century US politics.

Yet it wasn’t from an anonymous troll, or some Hollywood figure with tons of followers but little common sense. It was tweeted by National Security Action — an outfit run by former top Obama officials.

Described by The Washington Post as a “political strike force,” this NSA is a coterie of veterans from the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, acting as a shadow government to weaponize foreign-policy disputes. It’s a fever-swamp-in-exile.

And it exemplifies everything that’s wrong with top Democrats’ partisan madness in the Age of Trump.

The co-chairs are Ben Rhodes and Jake Sullivan. Rhodes, you’ll recall, was the reckless novice Barack Obama made a top adviser and who proceeded to create what he called an “echo chamber” of lies, distortions and spin about the Iran nuclear deal for pro-Obama reporters and think-tankers to regurgitate.

Sullivan’s presence atop a conspiracist machine is more troubling. Unlike Rhodes, he’s knowledgeable, experienced and inclined to public service. Had Clinton won the 2016 election, Sullivan would’ve been the frontrunner for national-security adviser — the post to which Bolton has just been named.

What’s up with this Bolton/Russia stuff, anyway? It’s all based on the fact that Bolton was asked in 2013 by the then-NRA president to record a pro-gun rights statement for a Russian organization. For that, Sullivan’s group accuses Bolton of being “at the nexus of Russia’s interference in our democracy”? Is Jake Sullivan really comfortable with this?

Or, for that matter, is former Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who serves on the National Security Action advisory council? What about Tom Donilon, who held Bolton’s job under Obama? Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who, like Bolton, are previous US ambassadors to the United Nations? They, too, serve on the advisory council.

If you want to understand what’s behind this rabid partisanship, two other members of the council make more sense: Joe Cirincione and Wendy Sherman. Cirincione is a key member of the “echo chamber.” He’s president of the Ploughshares Fund, a leftist group that, in the years leading up to the nuke deal, funded media (including National Public Radio) and nuclear “experts” to whom it distributed talking points on the nuke deal intended to sell the Obama administration’s party line.

Sherman was the chief negotiator of the Iran deal.

And Bolton hates the nuke deal and wants President Trump to scrap it. His opposition stems mostly from the fact that it’s a disastrous mess that legitimized Iran’s program, knifed US allies — and unchained Tehran’s terror squads with an infusion of cash and a willingness by Obama to look the other way as they bloodied up the Middle East.

It’s a national embarrassment. Rhodes, Cirincione and Sherman couldn’t be prouder of it.

And that’s really what’s going on. The smear of Bolton by Team Obama is the echo chamber reverberating to save its legacy project.

In The New York Times this week, Sherman excoriated Bolton as a warmonger for wanting to tear up the deal: “The march to military conflict will be hard to stop, especially with Mr. Bolton leading the National Security Council.” With the deal in place, Iran won’t build nukes, because . . . the mullahs pinky-swore: “Iran has committed to never obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

As absurd as this sounds, it’s a key talking point: If you don’t like the deal, you want war, and anyway Iran promised.

On Tuesday, Ernest Moniz, the Obama energy secretary also involved in nuke-deal talks, wrote in The Boston Globe: “The core of the Iran agreement is an explicit commitment from Iran that it will never seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons.”

Chiming in to Politico was Sullivan, warning, “It is very difficult to overestimate the potential danger that John Bolton could put us in.”

These former Obama advisers think they’re protecting one legacy, but really they’re creating a separate one. In their willingness to cross any line to slime public officials who differ, they are encouraging the public to reinterpret their time in office not as a highminded search for truth and security but as a series of partisan exercises soaked in the politics of personal destruction.

Twitter: @SethAMandel

A second special counsel should be investigating the FBI leaks — Effort to uncover anti-Trump wrongdoing in the government has been slapdash

March 19, 2018

By Michael Goodwin
New York Post

These politicians are driving New Yorkers out of the state — Plus, weird Susan Rice e-mail looks like cover-up for Obama

February 14, 2018

By Michael Goodwin
The New York Post

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Andrew Cuomo

Think of it as whistling past the graveyard, going for a long walk on a short pier or shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Any and all of those images describe how City Hall and Albany are courting disaster by failing to face the facts of the new federal tax law.

Although the vast majority of New Yorkers will get a tax cut, the new limit of $10,000 of state and local tax deductions could yield federal tax hikes for many high earners.

They have been claiming most of the deductions in question because they pay the bulk of city and state income taxes. The changes could hit their wallets hard and give them an extra incentive to leave high-tax states.

And with a combined city and state top rates approaching 13 percent, New York is among the highest of the high. Without changes, the annual migration of wealthy New Yorkers to states with no income taxes could turn into a stampede.

They’ll take their wealth and income with them, creating budget emergencies here that could lead to layoffs and sharply reduced services. It’s not hard to imagine a declining quality of life leading still others to bolt in domino fashion.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Mayor de Blasio

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are aware of those grim scenarios, but you would never know it from their actions.

Nearly two months after President Trump signed the new tax law, both continue to spend as if the good times will last forever.

The mayor’s proposed budget is up by 4.7 percent, and Cuomo’s by 4.1 percent, according to analysts. And that’s before the city council and legislature add their wish lists.

Combined, city and state spending is nearing $200 billion for one year alone, but it’s never enough.

Yet instead of talking about the most logical response to the federal law — cutting local spending and tax rates — the two Democrats are acting as if attacking Trump and Republicans will make the problem go away.

It won’t, and Cuomo and de Blasio are wasting precious time they should use to start making New York more attractive to the biggest taxpayers.

Cuomo is at least playing around with two ideas he claims could mitigate the federal changes. One, a complex voluntary payroll-tax plan, aims to help employees of participating companies reduce their federal taxes to make up for the lost deductions.

His second idea would set up charities for health and education programs and let people pay state income taxes there, with payments then supposedly deductible.

Other states are trying similar gimmicks, and like New York, are vowing to sue Washington.

None of those sound like winning ideas. The complexities of the payroll-tax could sink it or severely limit its appeal, and the IRS could rule that the charities gambit is illegal.

As for the lawsuits, it’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court finding the tax law unconstitutional because it’s inconvenient for blue-state politicians.

Then again, Cuomo isn’t so much looking for an answer as buying time to get past his campaign for a third term.

Indeed, his comments about the tax law — it’s an “assault,” a “dagger” and a “missile — suggest he’s more interested in trying out talking points than changing the state’s killer tax-and-spend habits.

“He’s putting off the inevitable,” one insider says. “He gets the issue, but he wants to wait until after the election.”

Then there’s Mayor Putz. He believes the more spending the better, and is adding employees as if they are on sale.

Most city labor contracts expire this year, and with the average employee now costing taxpayers about $140,000 annually in salary and benefits, that number is certain to increase.

Yet, like a broken record — or an ideologue — the mayor has one answer for all problems: tax the rich. That will be hard if they move to Florida.

“He doesn’t believe in spending restraint,” the insider said. “For him, hiring and spending are a religion.”

Unlike the governor, the mayor is term-limited, so he’s probably planning to stick his successor with soaring costs. Meanwhile, he’ll spend his second term trying to create a national profile for himself as someone who is solving income inequality by making the rich poorer.

That’ll sell to the Bernie Sanders crowd, but the mayor should not make his case while standing next to a door in New York. He might get run over in the stampede for the exits.

FBI clues damn bam

“Don’t let up,” a friend living abroad wrote a few weeks ago about corruption at the FBI. “Trump has them all on the run.”

The note came to mind when I saw the weird e-mail Susan Rice wrote to herself on Inauguration Day last year.

Image result for obama and susan rice

At first glance, the e-mail, which purports to recount remarks President Obama made two weeks earlier to Rice, FBI head James Comey and others about the Russia probe, makes no sense. But ask yourself why Rice repeated that Obama wanted everything done “by the book,” and it smells as if she’s preparing a last-minute defense for Obama, and maybe herself.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, pit bulls on government misbehavior, wrote to Rice about the e-mail while noting that there were lots of doubts about whether the FBI actually did proceed “by the book.”

Hopefully, she’ll have to give her answer under oath, as should Comey and anybody else in the room.

As for Obama, I always assumed the corruption hunt would end up on his doorstep. I didn’t assume it would get there so quickly.

Times’ bad ‘my bad’

Corrections in The New York Times can obfuscate as well as reveal, and yesterday was a case in point. One began this way: “An Op-Ed essay on Saturday about the dangers of being a sanitation worker misstated the number of such workers killed on the job annually. It was 31 in 2016, not one a day.”

Wait, what? Instead of 365, the number of deaths was 31?

That’s a helluva error, and it sent me to find the essay, where it quickly became apparent that the mistake was hardly incidental. The inflated number was the basis of an original headline — “A Waste Worker Dies Everyday” — and author Carl Zimring used it to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. and his support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., the day before he was assassinated.

Having established an aura of death and the moral high ground, Zimring claimed that current working conditions “aren’t at all unlike those in Memphis in 1968.”

It’s a silly argument made possible only by the grossly inflated death totals. Once the actual numbers are known, the central claim of the entire piece makes no sense. But don’t hold your breath waiting for The Times to admit that.


Make Iran Great Again

January 4, 2018

Like Barack Obama, Iran’s leaders don’t know how a real economy works.

U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama at the United Nations in New York City, Sept. 25, 2014.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama at the United Nations in New York City, Sept. 25, 2014. PHOTO: ANTHONY BEHAR-POOL/GETTY IMAGES

Iran erupted last Thursday. By Friday, the protests against the government, which began in Mashhad near the Afghan border, had spread to dozens of cities. So when we traveled on Saturday to a movie theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see “Darkest Hour,” Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, imagine the jarring dislocation when the theater’s previews included a trailer for an admiring documentary of Barack Obama’s foreign-policy making, “The Final Year.”

The preview screen filled with expressions of earnest intent from Mr. Obama, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and the Iran nuclear deal’s handmaiden, John Kerry. About 100 minutes later, we were watching Churchill shout at his war cabinet that you cannot do deals with dictators. That would have been about the time this weekend that protesters in Iran were shouting “Death to Khamenei !” It’s nice to see the Iranian people have a sense of humor.

Producing the past week’s protests against the Iranian regime was not the goal of the six-party Iran nuclear deal. Back then, the Khamenei-Rouhani regime was represented as America’s partner in a good cause. Now the governments of the U.S., U.K., France and Germany (Russia is a Khamenei ally, and China only supports crackdowns) have to decide whether their Iranian partner is the people in the streets or the government that is shooting them.

In the preview of “The Final Year,” the Obama team members convey confidence in the rightness of everything they did. But as we learned in November 2016, there was one big thing the Obama people never understood: how a real economy works. By real economy, I mean the private economy, not the economy of public spending.

A central element of the nuclear deal was that it would “help” the Iranian people by lifting sanctions and injecting $100 billion of unfrozen assets into Iran’s economy. This was much the same economic theory behind the Obama administration’s 2009 injection of $832 billion into the U.S. economy. Both flopped because both made the real economy essentially a bystander to state guidance.

The Obama $832 billion went up the government’s fireplace flue. The Iranian $100 billion went into ballistic missile production and for Iran’s proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The moment has arrived for invidious comparisons.

Donald Trump is president because the Obama-Clinton Democrats forgot about hard-pressed voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Khamenei-Rouhani regime is under assault because working-class Iranians began this week’s revolt in cities beyond the capital.

Come to think of it, isn’t that disconnect between the people running governments and the people trying to make a living in the real economy the core reason behind the world-wide burst of populism?

It’s the reason France’s working-class voters and young, underemployed college graduates sent Emmanuel Macron and a heretofore nonexistent party into the French presidency. It’s the reason working-class Brits lunged for Brexit. This new global reality—perform or get shoved aside—is the reason Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman imposed reforms.

The Iranians shouting, “Leave Syria, think of us!” are the West Virginia coal miners shouting, “Make America Great Again.” That’s not yahooism. It is anxiety directed at incumbent elites who tell the public that reduced levels of economic growth are the new normal. The world’s populations will not accept that.

Iran—like North Korea—has taken its best and brightest and stuck them inside a mountain to build atomic bombs, leaving the economy in the hands of Brussels-grade technocrats.

Besides calling for higher taxes in its recent budget, even as prices have spiked for basic foodstuff, Hassan Rouhani’s government has pursued import-substitution policies by imposing high tariffs on many imported goods. Needless to say, Iranians can’t get the clothing, appliances and electronics they want.

To combat a massive cellphone-smuggling operation, Iran recently slapped a 5% duty on them atop the 9% value-added tax and required registration with Iran’s telecom user database. Now, millions of smuggled phones will make it harder for the ayatollahs to kill texting among protesters. The bazaar may prove stronger than the theocracy.

A theme now emerging in Western media is that if Europe’s leaders support President Trump’s “aggressive” posture toward Tehran, that will undermine both the sanctified Obama nuclear deal and support for “liberals” in the Rouhani government. This is where we came in, watching Winston Churchill convince a timid British establishment that an outward-moving dictatorship won’t stop at anyone’s border.

The moment has arrived to admit that Iran’s missiles, nuclear technology and armies won’t stay inside its borders until the people getting shot in the streets are recognized and supported by a too-timid world.


Appeared in the January 4, 2018, print edition.

Bob Mueller’s Sideshow

October 31, 2017

Nunes’s Intelligence Committee plods on with the real Russia investigation.

President Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17.
President Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The best way to think of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Monday-morning indictments is as a compliment—backhanded as it may be—to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Like the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes and his committee have been investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Unlike the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes has unearthed hard evidence about both Russian influence on the election and domestic spying on Trump campaign officials. And if the committee gets the documents it has been demanding for months about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the salacious Christopher Steele dossier, this week may end even more explosively than it’s begun.

Right now that’s hard to imagine, given how Washington has been overwhelmed by Monday’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates, as well as news that another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Though a court will determine whether Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, surely it is worth noting that those charges, serious as they may be, have little to do with what Mr. Mueller was supposed to be investigating when he was named special prosecutor, to wit: “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile Mr. Nunes and the Republicans on his intel committee plod on. They do so in the face of mockery and contempt from the Beltway press corps, and sabotage and obstruction by Democrats, especially those on the committee. The obstruction includes a manufactured ethics charge against Mr. Nunes that has deliberately been kept unresolved in the House Ethics Committee as part of an effort to keep a cloud hanging over Mr. Nunes so long as he continues to ask real questions about not only the Russians but our own government.

So what has Mr. Nunes’s committee found? Turns out that in the Obama years, especially in 2016, officials made many requests to unmask the identities of Americans, including Trump campaign officials, who were caught up in foreign surveillance.

When asked about it by PBS’s Judy Woodruff back in March, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice claimed she was “surprised” and told Ms. Woodruff “I know nothing about this.” Under oath before Mr. Nunes’s committee, Ms. Rice’s memory returned, and she admitted of unmasking senior figures in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile the committee learned that Ms. Rice’s colleague at the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, had made hundreds of unmasking requests. During Ms. Power’s appearance before the committee, she oddly claimed others were doing much of the asking—even though her name was on these requests. Did anyone outside the House committee think to ask why a Democratic White House was so free with such sensitive info in an election year?

Then there’s the Russian question. The Steele dossier is at the heart of the narrative that Mr. Trump had colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Now the same people who pushed this narrative have lost all interest in the document that helped fuel it. When two of Fusion’s three partners invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than reveal who paid for the dossier, it looked as though we might never find out.

But the committee didn’t give up. It subpoenaed Fusion’s bank records, ultimately forcing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to acknowledge they had paid for the dossier, notwithstanding earlier Clinton campaign denials. On Saturday the committee announced a deal over Fusion’s bank records it said would “secure the Committee’s access” to what it needed for its investigation.

Big questions remain for the FBI. The main one requires a simple yes-or-no answer: Did the FBI use the information in the Steele dossier to spy on Trump campaign associates? If so, did it first verify the information in the dossier?

And why would the FBI want to pay for more information from a man doing opposition research for Mrs. Clinton?

Here’s another way to put it: As all eyes remain on Special Counsel Mueller and the men he’s indicted, it may be well to pay more attention to a much-maligned committee on Capitol Hill. Because after months of stonewalling and the public intervention of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the FBI has agreed to provide the documents Congress asked for. Mr. Nunes’s office confirms that the FBI documents it has long sought are supposed to arrive this week.

Messrs. Manafort and Gates may well be guilty of everything they’ve been charged with. But this week, thanks to a congressional committee’s persistence, we may find out the answer to what surely is a much more combustible question: whether a presidential campaign was able to leverage opposition research based on Russian disinformation to bring about an FBI investigation into its rival’s campaign.

Write to

Appeared in the October 31, 2017, print edition.

Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

Write to Byron Tau at

Iran, Syria And Russia Issue Warning To US; Ex-Syrian General Confirms Assad Lied About Turning Over Chemical Weapons

April 16, 2017

“I could not stand and watch the genocide.”

A day after Iran, Russia and Syria called for an international investigation into the sarin attack on the north Syrian town of Shaykhun and threatened the United States that new strikes on Syrian army positions would not be tolerated, a former Syrian general revealed Assad lied when he said he had turned over all of his chemical weapons in 2013.

Former Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, who defected from the Syrian army in 2013 and is now living in an undisclosed European country, said during an interview with the British newspaper Telegraph that Assad has deceived United Nations inspectors who came to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Under the Russian-brokered deal — used by the Obama Administration as an excuse to backtrack on an earlier decision to take military action against the Assad regime — the Syrian dictator was supposed to hand over his entire chemical agents inventory but managed to hide at least 700 tons of chemical agents.

Sakat, who used to be the director of the chemical warfare department of the Fifth Division of the Syrian army, says that after the strike on Shaykhun on April 4, Assad still has hundreds of tons chemical weapons at his disposal.

“They admitted only to 1,300 tons, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that. They had at least 2,000 tons. At least,” the defected general told The Telegraph.

Sakat claimed Assad ordered him to carry out attacks with chemical weapons on three occasions but sabotaged the order by switching deadly chemical agents for harmless chemicals in the bombs he had to prepare.

“I couldn’t believe at the beginning that Assad would use these weapons on his people,” he told the British paper.

“I could not stand and watch the genocide. I couldn’t hurt my own people,” he added.

Sakat’s allegations about the chemical weapons stockpile in Addad’s possession are deemed quite “plausible” by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commander of the UK’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regimen.

Bretton-Gordon thinks Assad used old sarin gas in the attack on Shaykhun because of the relative low number of casualties.

Read the rest: