The role Russia is playing in Donald Trump’s election campaign is quite extraordinary.
The candidate’s son has acknowledged that Trump’s companies have received large Russian investments. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort worked for Ukraine’s disgraced pro-Moscow authoritarian president for almost a decade.
The emails of the Democratic National Committee were hacked and released, effectively ousting its chair just before the Democratic National Convention, allegedly by Russian intelligence. This looks like a Russian special operation in the U.S. presidential election, and the most shocking element is that most Americans do not understand that or seem to care.
The nature of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is a popular theme, because the man is inscrutable, being everything to everybody as either a skillful politician or an influence agent. A common view is that he is an eminent tactician but no strategist, with his primary strength being surprising improvisations. It is often said that he is a judo fighter but no chess player.
Vladimir Putin at a summit of former Soviet republics at Kyrgyzstan's international Manas airport outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on September 17. Anders Aslund writes that a new book argues that Putin has a global strategy which it is to break up the NATO alliance and defeat the West.Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/reuters
The authors of this book, however, argue convincingly that Putin has a global strategy and it is to break up the NATO alliance and potentially defeat the West. Their thesis is that
Putin is a calculating master of geopolitics with a master plan to divide Europe, destroy NATO, reestablish Russian influence in the world and, most of all, marginalize the United States and the West in order to achieve regional hegemony and global power. And his plan is working (p. vi).
They offer a survey of all the potential targets of Russian aggression and conclude that “Putin’s master plan is designed to make the twenty-first century a Russian century” (p. 27).
Five out of nine chapters are devoted to the Kremlin’s techniques of aggression. Schoen and Roth Smith subscribe to the idea of hybrid warfare, offering an overview of what it amounts to. They discuss its many aspects: military action as seen in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria; espionage; propaganda and cyberwarfare; support to rogue regimes and terrorists; energy policy; and financial support to proxies in Europe and now the U.S.
Their ambition is not to offer readers any new revelations, but to provide a clear picture of how many and extensive the Kremlin’s activities are. They express respect for Kremlin successes. “Putin’s sudden strike in Syria was a master class in interventionism and a stark counterpoint to failed Western efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.” (p. x).
The authors devote two chapters to criticism of current Western policy. “In the face of Putin’s naked aggression in Europe, the West has shown a level of incompetence that approaches impotence.” They lament “the shameful inadequacy of the Western response to Putin, as well as the embarrassing state of America, NATO, and EU military preparedness” (p. 123).
Most of all they criticize the EU, which “is growing more wobbly by the day, with the U.K.’s shocking Brexit vote an ominous harbinger of future European disintegration” (p. ix).
But they also scold the Obama administration for being far too complacent, focusing especially on Obama’s prediction that Russia’s intervention in Syria was “just going to get [Russia] stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work” (p. x). The authors claim that “Putin is ready for war and nobody else is. And he’s not going to stop until he is rebuffed. So far no one and nothing is standing in his way” (p. xii).
The book concludes with a clarion call for Western mobilization around NATO to deter Russia and defeat its hybrid warfare efforts, arguing that NATO must get serious and America needs to lead.
The authors believe in Western economic and military strength and are convinced that the West is strong enough to stand up to this real and clear danger, but Europe and the U.S. need to mobilize politically.
Schoen and Roth Smith focus on Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine. They call for a permanent NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe, which is what the NATO summit in Warsaw effectively decided.
Needless to say, this book is not trying to show both perspectives, but sticks to one side of the argument. While it is well documented, its focus is policy rather than academic research. Those who disagree will call it partisan and rightly so, but therein lies its appeal. This book shows no understanding whatsoever for Putin or his motives.
Putin's Master Plan offers a fascinating and multifaceted account of Putin's grand strategy of aggression, while lamenting the weak or even feckless Western response. It is highly readable and well researched. While criticizing Obama's foreign policy, it is in effect far more critical of Trump's foreign policy pronouncements. This is an important and timely book.
Staunton, October 1 – In another indication that Russia may be on the brink of radical reform of its state structures and of how such a development may open a Pandora’s box of problems for the Kremlin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that it is “necessary to replace the entire system of government administration” for another.
Yesterday, Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper reported that Medvedev had said that “he could not but agree” with Aleksey Kudrin that “it is important not only to achieve all [social] but also “it is necessary to replace the entire system of state administration” with something new (kommersant.ru/doc/3105135).
The prime minister did not specify exactly what he personally had in mind; but Kudrin, the former finance minister and current head of the Moscow Center for Strategic Planning, earlier this week remarked that “the governors of Russian regions must be given more freedom in decision making (kommersant.ru/Doc/3104975).
Since the Duma vote, there have been many articles suggesting Vladimir Putin plans to reform state structures in radical ways. For a discussion of some of these ideas, see
Medvedev’s intervention, to the extent that it is more than his typical penchant for saying more than he intends, points to something else: the possibility that others, be they governors or heads of republics, will decide that they should be participants in this process, something that could trigger conflicts that the Kremlin leader would then have to respond to.
At the very least, this opens the possibility that many Russians will begin to reflect on Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation, frequently cited during Gorbachev’s time, that “the worst time for a bad government is when it decides to begin reforming itself” because such a move can open the way for more groups to get involved than the authors of such reforms plan on.
На Суворовской площадке у парадного входа в ЦДРА состоялась церемония, посвященная возвращению ведущему учреждению военной культуры его исконного названия, с установкой обновленной визитной доски на фасаде здания.
Staunton, October 1 – On the first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s decision to introduce Russian forces into the Syrian civil war on the side of Baghdad dictator Bashar al-Assad, commentators in Russia and Ukraine are pointing to ways in which this conflict recalls Moscow’s earlier interventions in Chechnya and before that in Afghanistan.
Their conclusions should be disturbing to all people of good will around the world given the brutality of Soviet and Russian actions in those wars, but they should also serve as a warning to Russia and Russians given that suchmilitary adventures did not end well for their authors or their authors’ country, however many victories Kremlin propagandists may claim.
Whether this constitutes “’a war crime,’” the analyst says, is up to an international tribunal; but of course, if it is found to be such in one case, it could easily be extended to others.
Russian military commanders believe that if they can take Aleppo, “this will be a decisive victory” in the Syrian civil war, one that will give Asad a victory and make Baghdad into what was true in Chechnya after the second Chechen war, a pro-Russian vassal that will help project Moscow’s power in the region.
But, Felgengauer argues, Moscow is wrong. Taking Aleppo by such massive and indiscriminate use of force may be possible, but that will not lead to the end of the civil war in Syria. That conflict will “in any case” continue; and even more people will die there as a result of the actions of Assad and his Russian allies.
At the moment, he says, many experts believe that Russia has “outplayed the West,” but most of them see this as a short-term rather than long-termresult because, in the view of many of them, “Syria is becoming for Moscow a new Afghanistan,” a place it cannot withdraw from without risks at home and abroad but that it cannot gain what it hoped for either.
Moscow’s main goal in going into Syria was to force the West and above all the US to make a trade, with the West paying for Russian cooperation against terrorism in the Middle East with an agreement to end sanctions against the Russian Federation for what Putin is doing in Ukraine.But if that was Moscow’s goal, it has clearly failed.
Its actions have increasingly infuriated the West, which has stepped up its criticism of what Moscow is doing with its bombing of civilians in Aleppo, threatened to break off all talks on Syrian issues, and even to introduce new economic sanctions against Russia.Most important, the West has refused to make any grand bargain with Putin.
What is worse for Moscow, experts like Igor Semivolos, the director of Kyiv’s Center for Near East Research, say, is that Moscow has little choice but to keep fighting despite the increasing costs it is imposing on itself by that policy.“In authoritarian regimes,” Semivolos note, “defeat in war usually very quickly leads to the fall of the regime.”
Moscow is thus caught in a trap of its own making, incapable of winning either on the ground or in diplomacy but equally unwilling to take the risks involved of pulling out entirely. Russian leaders know what happened after Gorbachev pulled out of Afghanistan, and they don’t want the same outcome.
Pope Francis held an open-air mass in Georgia Saturday as he continued a peace mission to the Caucasus region that is torn between Russia and the West. Speaking in Tbilisi to worshipers from Georgia's small Catholic community, Francis offered "consolation” people need to cope with “the turmoil” that they experience in their lives. It was one of the smallest crowds ever seen at an outdoor papal mass on Francis' foreign trips this year. Organizers had hoped for much bigger participation than the about 3,000 people who attended the mass at a stadium with a capacity of 25,000 in Georgia’s capital. Two days before the pope arrived, the patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia, issued a statement saying Orthodox Christians could not attend Catholic masses because of doctrinal differences dating back to the 1054 schism that divided Christianity into eastern and western branches. The pope met Patriarch Ilia after his arrival on Friday and was due to have another meeting with him on Saturday night. On Friday, Francis called for peaceful "coexistence" in the conflict-ridden ex-Soviet region at the start of the three-day tour, during which he will visit Azerbaijan just months after he visited its arch-foe Armenia. Francis also spoke of the need for refugees to return to their homes and called for respect of national sovereignty, without using the word "occupation,” apparently referring to Russian intervention in two Georgian regions. Since Francis was elected in 2013, the Vatican has made genuine efforts to improve relations with Orthodox Christians, who number around 250 million worldwide, in the hopes of an eventual reunion. Earlier this year, he held a historic meeting with Kirill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the more conservative in the Orthodox world.
Russians ‘don’t care about international law and we do’, Kerry says
Russia: force against Assad could cause ‘terrible tectonic shifts’
A day after a recording leaked of secretary of state John Kerry accusing the Kremlin of disrespecting international law, Russia’s foreign ministry warned the US not to cause “terrible tectonic shifts” with strikes on Syrian government forces.
Strike by Assad regime’s helicopters leaves residents in east of the war-torn city with next to no access to essential healthcare
An unrelenting Russian and Syrian blitz of eastern Aleppo heavily damaged one of the city’s three remaining hospitals on Saturday, as Moscow warned that any American attempts to stop its assault would lead to “frightening tectonic shifts in the Middle East”.
There is a sense in Washington and Moscow alike that a military showdown between the US and Russia is inevitable – direct this time, not through proxies, When President Barack Obama Friday, Sept. 30 attended the funeral in Jerusalem of the Israeli leader Shimon Peres, he must have realized he was only 514km as the crow flies from Aleppo, the raging crux of the escalating big-power conflict.
Russian Su-24 and Su-34 bombers have just arrived in Syria, according to Russian media, as part of a military buildup in the light of rising tensions with the United States over Syria and the intensified anti-rebel offensive in Aleppo. Su-25 ground attack fighters are on standby in Russian bases ready to take off for Syria upon a command.
To my knowledge, the first explicit argument—at least by a prominent member of the national security community—that the man who would become the Republican standard bearer for President in 2016 poses a threat to U.S. national security was advanced on this site by John Bellinger last December. “[N]ot only does he lack the national security and foreign policy qualifications to be President,” Bellinger wrote, “he is actually endangering our national security right now by his hate-filled and divisive rhetoric.”
A few months later, I elaborated on the point, arguing that the man had “an unusual combination of—from a national security perspective, anyway—terrifying liabilities.” I did so, at the time, somewhat defensively, emphasizing that “I ask th[e] question [of whether Trump is a national security threat] not with the snarky intent of landing a political punch, but in deadly earnest.” I was actually concerned at the time that people might take the point as a partisan jab. I needn't have worried.
In that essay, I offered seven distinct reasons for concern:
Trump’s “near-total ignorance of international policy, military affairs, and intelligence and counterterrorism policy,”
that he has “done more than any single person to undo two presidents’ earnest and consistent protestations that the United States is not at war with Islam,”
his open promises to commit war crimes,
his flirtations with adversary nations and dictators, particularly Vladimir Putin,
his flirtations domestically with white supremacists and white supremacy,
his “evident clinical symptoms,” what is sometimes euphemistically called his temperament problem, and
the magical thinking that permeates his entire campaign and his way of talking about policy and policy outcomes.
In the months since, the case for each of these seven points has only grown stronger. What was then largely a bromance of personal praise between Putin and Trump, for example, has blossomed into a scandalous and bizarre set of interconnections, in which Trump has refused to acknowledge Russian hacking of the DNC—and even at times publicly encouraged it—and one of his campaign advisors stands accused of foreign policy freelancing in Moscow. Only today, Shane Harris of the Daily Beastreports that:
Suspicion is mounting about Donald Trump’s ties to Russian officials and business interests, as well as possible links between his campaign and the Russian hacking of U.S. political organizations. But GOP leaders have refused to support efforts by Democrats to investigate any possible Trump-Russia connections, which have been raised in news reports and closed-door intelligence briefings. And without their support, Democrats, as the minority in both chambers of Congress, cannot issue subpoenas to potential witnesses and have less leverage to probe Trump.
Privately, Republican congressional staff told The Daily Beast that Trump and his aides’ connections to Russian officials and businesses interests haven’t gone unnoticed and are concerning.
Nobody concerned about Trump’s temperament, I might add, could be reassured by his having spent the week following the first presidential debate fighting about the former Miss Universe’s weight.
Indeed, in the months that have followed Bellinger’s essay, the idea the GOP nominee for president is a national security threat has broadly caught on to become an almost universally shared view among serious national security and foreign policy types of both parties. There are the GOP national security figures who lined up to sign theWar on the Rocks letter—which came out the same day as my piece—declaring that Trump would “as president . . . use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe.” There’s the other letter signed by many former senior GOP officials saying that “we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” There are the editorial pages, most recently USA Todayand the staunchly Republican Arizona Republic. There are the remarkable personal essays, like this one by Kori Schake. The list goes on and on and on. It turns out that, at least among the foreign policy and national security elites, there is still a bipartisan vision of national security, and the idea that the GOP nominee for president represents a threat to it is a matter of near consensus at this point.
And yet, even as this elite consensus has developed, a huge number of people are getting ready to vote to elect this man president.
At a minimum, Trump will get around 40 percent of the vote of the American electorate. According to the various forecasting models, he has somewhere between a 30 and 40 percent chance of winning the election. Despite the damage he has done himself this week, he runs only a little behind Hillary Clinton in national horserace polls. According to RealClearPolitics, he is running ahead in states accounting for 166 electoral votes.
What’s more, many of Trump’s voters are going to vote for him because of national security, not despite it. They are going to vote for him believing that Trump is the “tough” candidate. They are going to vote for him believing in his conflation of terrorists and the victims of terrorism. They are going vote for him believing that “a wall” to keep out migrants has something meaningful to do with national security. They are going to vote for him having accepted at some level his apocalyptic account of confrontation with the Islamic world and his insistence that all we need is greater willpower and more firepower for victory to be ours.
The radical disparity between elite policy views of Trump in the national security arena and the apparent resilience of his support certainly has parallels in other areas. But the national security side is different both in the degree of alarm and in the degree of unanimity. This is the area, after all, where the president has the most latitude, and it's an area where non-partisan expertise is still valued and attitudes tend to be least partisan.
What has happened here? How have we come to a place where at least partly in the name of national security, a huge swath of the electorate is about to vote for a man when a wide community of practitioners and scholars considers it obvious that his views, actions, words, and very psyche threaten national security?
I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question. It will take some future Richard Hofstadter to unpack it all. And I am not a scholar of ideas. It obviously has something to do with the larger populist wave that is hitting both Left and Right and the broader loss of control by elites of the Republican Party—and, to a lesser degree, the Democratic Party. It also, in my view, clearly has something to do with the escape of racism and a variety of xenophobias from the boxes of social unacceptability into which our political system had stuffed them. It has something to do with rage and revenge. And it has a lot to do with the conflation of security and identity—that is, the belief that society has a right not merely to protect itself from violence and foreign attack but to protect itself from change brought by outsiders.
Beyond that, it clearly also reflects a grave failure on the part of us, the national security elites, to justify adequately over time the vision of national security we have sought to pursue. We often find ourselves defending this consensus vision of national security from those on the Left—the Glenn Greenwalds of the world. The attack from the Left, and from the libertarian Right for that matter, sounds in the notion that American foreign policy is too ambitious, ambitious to the point of imperialism and militarism and renders hypocritical all of our professions of our deepest values. We know how to defend against this critique, which has never approached electoral plausibility in any event.
The Trumpist critique is harder to pin down, because the man is so incoherent. It certainly partakes of some of the same flavor as the Left critique at times, as when Trump lyingly insists that he opposed the Iraq War. But it also has other flavors. And these accuse the bipartisan consensus of something else—not too much vigor but insufficient vigor. So we should be less interventionist, yes, but we should also “win” more; we should crush ISIS; we should “bomb the shit out of them.” And when Trump talks about national security, trade is never far from the front of his mind. Neither is immigration. In other words, Trump is promising to “protect” us from “threats” the traditional national security vision doesn’t treat as threats at all: Mexican migrants, for example, and refugees. Trump treats domestic shootings by people who grew up in the United States as national security matters if the shooters happen to be Muslim.
The key point is that there is a huge gap between the vision of national security that the community devoted to security sees itself as protecting vision of national security Trump is promising and that a large number of people seem to want. These visions are not just different in degree or divergences in tactics or strategy. They are radically different in kind and in aspiration. They are mutually preclusive. One, after all, is the security of a free and open society; the other is security from, among other things, having to be a free and open society.
Antipopulism lies at the core of my political being, and I have no interest in compromising with a vision of security so irreconcilable with my own. At the same time, I think it’s a mistake not to take the ideation associated with the Trumpist vision of security seriously. Bad ideas, after all, have lives too. And we need to be cognizant of the fact that the difference between 40 percent of the electorate and a viable presidential coalition is not all that great.
To the antipopulist democrat, the fundamental role of the “people” is to give consent to the elites to govern and to withdraw that consent when the elites do not perform. Trump’s coalition represents, among other things, the withdrawal of consent to govern to the bipartisan elites who have conditioned foreign policy and national security thinking for a long time. The coalition is not a majority. But it’s uncomfortably close. And the vision Trump is putting forth as an alternative to the consensus security vision is both dangerous and ugly.
It requires energetic confrontation.
And the consensus vision requires an ongoing and energetic defense.
Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
Russia rejected US calls to halt the bombardment of Aleppo yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that the US was “on the verge” of suspending talks with Russia “somewhat awkward.” The rhetoric is a sign of rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, observe Max Seddon and Erika Solomon at theFinancial Times.
Syrian government forces and rebels waged intense battles north of Aleppo today, Reuters reports.
An army of around 6,000 pro-Syrian government fighters has gathered on the outskirts of Aleppo, poised for an imminent advance, Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen report at the Guardian, including hundreds of Syrian troops and an estimated 5,000 foreign fighters.
Some of the larger rebel factions are aligning themselves with al-Qaeda-linked group the Syria Conquest Front, despite warnings from the US to separate from extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes, Maria Abi-Habib reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s not too late” to declare a no-fly zone in Syria, former CIA director David Petraeus said as calls for a military option in Syria increase, Kristina Wong reports at the Hill.
US policy in Syria has been “hesitant and weak,” the chief coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, Riad Hajib, told Al Jazeera.
The UN Security Council was called out for its inaction in response to the Syrian army’s encirclement of eastern Aleppo and resulting “humanitarian catastrophe” by UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien yesterday, Michael Astor reports at the AP.
Russian airstrikes have killed over 9000 people in Syria including civilians and fighters since it began its air campaign backing Assad’s forces on Sep. 30 last year, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AP]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 28. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
France has started air operations over Iraq, a number of Rafale fighter planes taking off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier today, the BBC reports.
Iraqi forces must reclaim the city of Hawijah from Islamic State control before they retake Mosul,Nancy A. Youssef writes at The Daily Beast, citing defense officials.
The acceleration of the assault on Mosul is “setting the stage for a potentially catastrophic Day After problem,” suggests the Washington Post editorial board.
SAUDI ARABIA and JASTA
“Buyer’s remorse:” A day after Congress overrode President Obama’s veto, Republican congressional leaders said they might need to revisit Jasta, a measure that allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for any role it played in the attacks, to ensure US military personnel “do not have legal problems overseas” – as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday. Karoun Demirjian and David Nakumara report at the Washington Post.
Jasta is a matter of “great concern,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday. [BBC] The foreign ministry expressed the hope that the US Congress would correct the legislation to “avoid the serious unintended consequences that may ensue,” Reuters reports.
Jasta is all the proof many Saudis need that the US-Saudi Arabia alliance that has underpinned regional order for decades is “fraying – perhaps irreparably,” Ben Hubbard writes at the New York Times.
The fight over legal responsibility for 9/11 is likely to shift to a courtroom in Lower Manhattan, where cases originally filed across the US were consolidated several years ago, now that lawyers are no longer constrained by a sovereign immunity law protecting foreign governments from US lawsuits, Mark Mazzetti anticipates at the New York Times.
Jasta is “not nearly as tough” as politicians and journalists have made it look, suggests Patty Culhane at Al Jazeera: the measure contains a provision that the Obama administration can certify that the US government is negotiating a resettlement with Saudi Arabia and then a judge has to stay the lawsuits for six months, and stays can be issued over and over.
INDIA and PAKISTAN
Pakistan said it “completely rejected” India’s claim that it sent its troops across the border in Kashmir to kill suspected militants today, Asad Hashim and Fayaz Bukhari report at Reuters.
People living in Indian villages close to the border with Pakistan are fleeing a day after India said it launched attacks targeting militants in Kashmir amid fears the confrontation will escalate, the BBCreports.
The US reminded India and Pakistan that nuclear capable states do not threaten to use atomic weapons in any conflict yesterday while also stating that it considers the Sep. 18 attack on an Indian military facility a terrorist attack, Anwar Iqbal reports at Dawn.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway Taliban faction and US-designated terrorist group has claimed responsibility for many of the militant attacks carried out in recent weeks and months in Pakistan. TheAP takes a look at some of the major attacks the group has claimed. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has eclipsed the Taliban as the main militant group in Pakistan, Pakistan stating that it trains and plots its attacks from save havens in Afghanistan, a charge the group itself denies, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.
The Obama administration agreed to back the lifting of UN sanctions against Iranian state banks which financed Iran’s ballistic missiles program on the same day Tehran released four US citizens in January this year, US officials and congressional staff said. Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.
Terrorists need cash, and the US just handed over billions of dollars in cash to Iran, the “biggest state sponsor of terrorism”according to the State Department, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) points out at the Hill.
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for increased UN monitoring of human rights abuses in war-torn Yemenwhile rejecting calls from the UN human rights chief for an independent investigation, Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.
This was a “tortuous compromise” with Saudi Arabia, Patrick Wintour writes at the Guardian, Human Rights Watch and the EU calling it a limited step forward while others said it was a flagrant failure of accountability.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands at the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres today, Jeffrey Heller reports at Reuters. Haaretz’ Barak Ravid calls the meeting of Netanyahu and Abbas for the first time in six years “one last victory” in death for Peres and a feat “every world leader has been trying, and failing, to achieve.”
President Obama joined other world leaders at the state funeral of Shimon Peres, Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post taking the opportunity to reflect on the state of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process today.
The closure of 12 more news organizations for alleged threats to national security have been ordered by Turkish authorities in the aftermath of the July 15 failed coup, Suzan Fraser reports at theAP.
A total of 1,500 prison personnel and guards have been suspended over links to cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish justice minister said. [Reuters]
The US will “sharpen our military edge” in response to Chinese territorial expansionism and other regional threats as it begins the next phase of its pivot to Asia, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday. [CNN’s Euan McKirdy]
A US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 15 civilians early Wednesday has been condemned by the UN, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
Somalia’s government has asked for an explanation from the US for an air raid it says killed 22 soldiers and civilians in the northern region of Galmudug, Al Jazeera reports.
The US is building a military air base in Niger capable of deploying drones and costing at least $50 million, giving the US greater ability to use drones against extremists in neighboring countries like Libya, Mali and Nigeria, the BBC reports. The project is considered the most important US military construction in Africa, and is just one of a number of recent US military initiatives in Niger, according to formerly secret files obtained by The Intercept’s Nick Turse.
The US’s alliance with the Philippines is “ironclad,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said en route to a meeting with defense ministers from Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, in Hawaii. [AP’s Tran Van Minh]
The manner in which special peace tribunal set up under Colombia’s peace accord operate will be closely watched by the top UN human rights official, he said yesterday. [AP’s Joshua Goodman]
Hundreds of people are trapped amid fighting in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, Amnesty International said. [AP]
Belgian authorities will expand the “Canal Plan” aimed at combatting terrorism beyond Molenbeek, the neighborhood of Brussels that was home to several suicide bombers, reports Valentina Pop at the Wall Street Journal.
Russia’s behavior over the last few weeks echoes some of the worst moments of the Cold War, including sophisticated cyberattacks, escalating airstrikes in Syria and evidence of complicity in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, leaving US intelligence officials wondering whether President Putin has a larger scheme at work, writes David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
The case of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. is “a window into the Chinese lifelines that sustain Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang – and a guide for where US sanctions enforcers can aim yet,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board, referring to the first Chinese firm sanctioned by the Obama administration for ties to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
It’s bad enough that FBI Director James Comey agreed to pass out immunity deals like candy to material witnesses and potential targets of his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s illegal private email server.
But now we learn that some of them were immunized despite lying to Comey’s investigators.
In the latest bombshell from Congress’ probe into what’s looking more and more like an FBI whitewash (or coverup) of criminal behavior by the Democratic nominee and her aides, the Denver-based tech who destroyed subpoenaed emails from Clinton’s server allegedly lied to FBI agents after he got an immunity deal.
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That’s normally a felony. As a federal prosecutor, Comey tossed Martha Stewart in jail for it and helped convict Scooter Libby for it as well. Yet the key Clinton witness still maintained his protection from criminal prosecution.
With Comey’s blessing, Obama prosecutors cut the deal with the email administrator, Paul Combetta, in 2015 in exchange for his full cooperation and honest testimony. But the House Judiciary Committee revealed Wednesday that he falsely told agents in a Feb. 18 interview that he had no knowledge that emails he bleached from the server were under congressional orders to be preserved as evidence.
In a second interview on May 3, Combetta admitted he in fact did know. But he still refused to reveal what he discussed with Clinton’s former aides and lawyer during a 2014 conference call about deleting the emails.
Instead of asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to revoke his immunity deal and squeezing him, Comey let him go because he was a “low-level guy,” he testified at the House hearing. It’s yet another action by Comey that has left former prosecutors shaking their heads.
“When I was at the Department of Justice, your reward for lying to a federal agent was a potential obstruction of justice charge,” House Judiciary Committee member Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) said. “It wasn’t immunity.”
Ratcliffe argued Combetta violated the terms of his immunity agreement and therefore “shouldn’t have immunity anymore.”
Another panel member, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), established that former Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills also lied when she told agents she had no idea Clinton maintained a private email server. She once sent the server administrator a message asking “is server ok” after emails she sent Clinton kept bouncing back. Yet Mills continued to get immunity as well.
Comey said he looked “very hard” but couldn’t make an obstruction case “against any of the subjects we looked at.” He claimed not to have the evidence.
But the case suffered from the fact that he was denied evidence by Clinton and her minions, including:
A personal Apple email server used by Clinton in her first two months in office.
An Apple MacBook and thumb drive that contained her email archives, which was “lost” in the mail.
Two BlackBerry devices that were missing SIM cards and SD data cards.
13 mobile devices either lost or smashed with hammers.
Server backup files that were deleted.
Copies of emails located on the laptops of Mills and another aide who got immunity that were wiped clean with software called BleachBit after the Benghazi committee sought the documents.
Clinton’s server email archive, which was deleted using BleachBit by Combetta after the emails were subpoenaed.
Backups of the server email files, which were manually deleted.
This mass destruction of evidence was known to Comey. It’s in his investigative case summary. Yet he couldn’t make an obstruction case?
“Any one of those in that long list says obstruction of justice,” Ratcliffe said. “Collectively, they scream obstruction of justice.”
Ignoring such evidence leads “not just reasonable prosecutors but reasonable people to believe that maybe the decision on this was made a long time ago not to prosecute Hillary Clinton,” he added.
In other words, the fix was in.
Either that, or Comey led one of the shoddiest probes in FBI history. God help us if that’s the way he’s investigating the 1,000-plus ISIS terrorist cases now open in all 50 states.
Paul Sperry is a former Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily.
Vladimir Putin's bombings Washington Times FBI Director James B. Comey told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that investigators discovered efforts by hackers to crack into state voter registration files in Illinois and Arizona. Russia is suspected of being behind the cyber attacks on ...
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump Thursday blasted FBI Director James Comey’s testimony this week before a congressional panel.
Comey on Wednesday rejected calls to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material during her tenure as secretary of state — an investigation that ended with the director’s recommendation that Clinton face no criminal charges.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thing like that. It’s an embarrassment … Honestly, it’s a sad time for the United States.”
Comey defended the way his agency conducted the probe and told the House Judiciary Committee that the decision was “not a close call.”
Speaking at a rally in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Thursday, Trump pronounced himself disgusted with Comey’s explanation.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thing like that. It’s an embarrassment,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thing like that in my life … Honestly, it’s a sad time for the United States.”
Trump seemed to hold out hope that there might be some further development.
"I think that whole thing has a long way to go," he said.
Trump then blasted the decision of law enforcement officials to grant immunity to five Clinton aides.
"We'll call them, really, the FBI Immunity Five," he said. "Nobody ever saw them. They gave so much immunity, there was nobody left to talk to. There was nobody left. Except Hillary. They probably gave her immunity, too."
Trump pointed to the eye-popping speaking fees Clinton earned from top Wall Street firms and poked fun at the size of her crowd — about 1,200 — during an appearance the day before in the same state.
"And she doesn't speak well. Figure that one," he said. "In fact, they had a very small group of people. Was she here yesterday? Very small crowd. Very, very sad."
Trump made another play for disgruntled supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Trump's success at luring some of those voters could make the difference in a close election.
"We're going to have a lot of Bernie people supporting us, especially because of my views on trade," he said. "We're going to have a lot of Bernie people. But he should have never made that deal [to endorse Clinton]. And I bet he wishes he didn't make that deal."
Beyond that, Trump settled into his standard stump speech, with a few New Hampshire-specific references sprinkled in. He trails Clinton in New Hampshire by 5 points in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average.
Trump discussed the heroin epidemic that has grown so pervasive that it became an unexpected issue in the primary campaign in both parties earlier this year.
"New Hampshire has suffered so greatly from the heroin crisis and the drugs pouring across the border," he said, vowing to stop the flow of narcotics across the southern border. "The rate of heroin has nearly quadrupled in this state. Once again, our politicians have tragically failed this country."
It is not just drugs — economic malaise also is crippling the Granite State, Trump said. He said one in three manufacturing jobs had vanished from New Hampshire since Bill Clinton signed the North America Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s. China's entry into the World Trade Organization a few years later triggered another 25-percent job loss, he said.
And Trump gave no credence to Clinton's stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation trade pact that she called the "gold standard" when she was secretary of state.
"If she gets the chance, and this 100 percent, she would approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would destroy so much more of your manufacturing in this state," he said.
Trump reiterated his vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act, fight the Common Core education program, promote school choice, and restore safety to America's most dangerous neighborhoods. He cited this week's FBI crime report pointing to a 15-percent increase in homicides from 2014 to 2015 in the country's large cities — the steepest one-year spike in 45 years.
Trump also repeated his oft-stated promise to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges, and tunnels. Unleashing $50 trillion in untapped energy reserves would create an economic boom that would put people back to work, he said.
"People have given up looking for jobs," he said. "We're going to create trillions of dollars in new wealth for our communities and rising wages for every worker in America."
The notion that FBI Director James Comey took a fall to protect Hillary Clinton for political reasons is now gaining as much traction as the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States.
But as with the Obama conspiracy theory, a few simple facts undercut the claim that Mr. Comey acted improperly by not moving to indict Mrs. Clinton.
In the case of the Obama conspiracy theory, the Honolulu Advertiser ran an announcement of his birth in Hawaii at the time. Unless you believe that Obama’s parents knew in advance that he would be president of the United States and conspired to place the announcement in the Hawaii paper to legitimize his election, the announcement should have ended any claim that Mr. Obama was not born in the U.S.
Likewise in the case of the FBI’s decision not to indict Mrs. Clinton, if you believe that Mr. Comey succumbed to pressure from President Obama to let her off, you would have to ignore the fact that Mr. Comey damaged her election chances far more than if he had moved to indict her by taking the unprecedented step of releasing the details uncovered by the FBI investigation.
Calling her actions in handling classified material “extremely careless” and refuting her yearlong litany of excuses and dissembling are hardly the actions of someone who is trying to cover up for her. To the contrary, had Hillary been indicted, a trial would not have taken place for at least a year. The electorate meanwhile would have been in the dark about the damaging details of how shockingly she violated the public trust.
Jim Kallstrom, who did groundbreaking work as an FBI agent, has been on TV saying that the FBI should have recorded its interview of Hillary, that she should have been placed under oath so she could have been prosecuted for perjury if she had lied, and that she should have been given a polygraph test. But the FBI never records interviews unless a subject has been arrested and is in custody. Lying to the FBI in itself is a federal crime and thus a more direct way of dealing with perjury. And the FBI has no authority to require a polygraph test.
The fact that Mr. Comey released damaging documents from the investigation just before the Labor Day weekend has more to do with the fact that human beings typically try to finish their work before a weekend if they possibly can. Nor have the documents exactly gone unnoticed by the media.
Mr. Comey had no obligation to release the material in the first place, or, for that matter, to authorize the investigation and assign 12 agents to work on it full-time for a year.
A Wall Street Journal editorial began by claiming that, “Regular FBI practice is to get a subject on the record early then see if his story meshes with what agents find. In this case they accepted Mrs. Clinton’s I-don’t-recall defenses after the fact.”
Not true. Whether the FBI conducts an interview near the beginning or end of an investigation is a judgment call based on the case. In a complex investigation of this kind, where the subject likely would not consent to be interviewed unless she thought the FBI had already gathered extensive damaging evidence, it is more likely that the FBI would conduct an interview when all the facts had been amassed.
The Wall Street Journal editorial went on to nitpick information in the FBI’s 58-page summary of the interview. It said the agents never grilled Mrs. Clinton on her intent in setting up the server. But a memo cannot possibly encompass all the information gathered during a yearlong investigation, nor all the questions that were or were not asked in a three-and-a-half hour interview. On the question of intent, no matter how many times agents may have asked her, Mrs. Clinton was not about to admit that she had knowingly violated criminal law by storing classified information on her server.
Since Section 793(f) of the U.S. criminal code makes it a crime to treat information relating to the national defense with “gross negligence,” you would think that Hillary would have been indicted long ago. But actually convincing a jury that Mrs. Clinton should be found guilty of a crime is another matter.
Besides the absence of provable criminal intent, Mr. Comey had to consider the fact that some jurors could give Mrs. Clinton a pass simply because she is a presidential candidate. Did Mr. Comey want the FBI to be responsible for throwing the presidential election process into chaos if, in the end, the prosecution resulted in a dismissal by the court, a hung jury, or an acquittal?
For 25 years, John L. Martin was the Justice Department official in charge of prosecuting the espionage laws, including the statute in question. He never used that law without evidence of criminal intent, such as lying to the FBI.
“Comey did the right thing,” Mr. Martin tells me. “He put the facts out to let the people decide.”
• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The Secrets of the FBI” (Crown Forum, 2012), and “The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents” (Crown Forum, 2015).
FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House committee Sept. 28, 2016.
While establishment media seized on Donald Trump’s “fat-shaming” of Miss Universe 20 years ago, and Trump himself added fuel to the fire, there were further revelations this week in the ongoing scandal of Hillary Clinton’s use of a non-secure private email server and her handling of classified information bolstering the charge that the former secretary of state should have been prosecuted.
Early Friday morning, Trump escalated the controversy Hillary Clinton launched during the first presidential debate Monday night, sending out middle-of-the-night tweets in response to accusations he made insensitive remarks about the looks and ethnicity of Alicia Machado, a native of Venezuela who was crowned Miss Universe in 1996, when Trump was co-owner of the pageant.
Trump wrote in a tweet sent at 2:14 a.m.: “Using Alicia M in the debate as a paragon of virtue just shows that Crooked Hillary suffers from BAD JUDGEMENT! Hillary was set up by a con.”
Meanwhile, in oversight hearings before the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey was confronted with evidence that he let Clinton off the hook when he chose not to refer charges to the attorney general regarding her illegal use of a non-secure email server for State Department business and her mishandling of classified information.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., argued that the federal statute concerning mishandling of classified information does not require the demonstration of intent, as Comey has insisted. Prosecutors need only to show “gross negligence,” which is how Comey described Clinton’s handling of classified information when he announced in July that he had decided not to refer charges.
But in any case, Gowdy argued that Clinton’s destruction of evidence – the deletion of emails and the wiping of the server – and her lying about having sent classified information through the private system demonstrate criminal intent.
Comey argued Mills was able to extract an immunity deal, avoid answering questions and attend Clinton’s FBI interview because she had positioned herself as Clinton’s personal lawyer, granting her attorney-client privilege.
But, as Strassel pointed out, Mills was not Clinton’s personal lawyer during their service at the State Department, which ended in 2013.
Further, Mills was able to get away with claiming attorney-client privilege only because she told the FBI she didn’t know about Clinton’s server until after they had both left the State Department.
The FBI noted Mills “stated she was not even sure she knew what a server was at the time.”
But on Thursday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pointed out that according to the FBI’s notes, Clinton IT staffer Bryan Pagliano told investigators he informed Mills of State Department concerns that the private server might pose a “federal records retention issue.” Mills, according to Pagliano, said not to worry about it, because other secretaries of state had used similar setups.
But even more damning, Strassel noted, was an email Chaffetz displayed from Mills to IT specialist Justin Cooper in 2010 that read: “hrc [Hillary Rodham Clinton] email coming back – is server okay?”
Cooper responds: “Ur funny. We are on the same server.”
Video: The Key Players in the Clinton Emails
Despite the gravity of Comey’s apparent inability to defend his decision not to refer criminal charges against the Democratic presidential nominee, much of the media focus this week was on Trump’s two-decade-old treatment of Miss Universe and whether or not it was now fair game for Trump to talk about Bill Clinton’s abuse of women and Hillary Clinton’s role in the vicious attacks and threats against her husband’s victims to preserve their political careers.
Trump and his surrogates contend Clinton’s mention of Machado Monday night opened the door, <a href="http://FoxNews.com" rel="nofollow">FoxNews.com</a> reported.
At a New Hampshire rally on Thursday, Trump said the American people “have had it with years and decades of Clinton corruption and scandal.”
“And impeachment for lying,” he said. “… Remember that?”
Clinton said during the debate that Trump had called Machado “Miss Piggy” for putting on considerable weight after winning the crown and referred to her as “Miss Housekeeping.”
Machado responded on Twitter to Clinton’s defense of her, writing in Spanish: “Thank you, Mrs. Clinton. Your respect for women and our differences make you great! I’m with you!”
But as the week went on, it was discovered Machado did gain more than 30 pounds within weeks of winning her title, while Trump claims he urged the pageant not to fire her.
And in 1997, CNN correspondent Jeanne Moos engaged in a little fat-shaming herself, as FoxNews.com reported, writing: “When Alicia Machado of Venezuela was named Miss Universe nine months ago, no one could accuse her of being the size of the universe. But as her universe expanded, so did she, putting on nearly 60 pounds.”
It also was reported that a Venezuelan judge once accused Machado of trying to kill him, she had a daughter with a notorious Mexican drug lord and a video showed her having sex with a male contestant on a Spanish reality TV show.
In an interview with CNN, host Anderson Cooper confronted Machado about the judge’s claim.
“He can say whatever he wants to say,” she said. “I don’t care. You know, I have my past. Of course, everybody has. Everybody has a past. And I’m not a saint girl. But that is not the point now.”
In a nutshell, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department permitted Hillary Clinton’s aide Cheryl Mills — the subject of a criminal investigation, who had been given immunity from prosecution despite strong evidence that she had lied to investigators — to participate as a lawyer for Clinton, the principal subject of the same criminal investigation. This unheard-of accommodation was made in violation not only of rudimentary investigative protocols and attorney-ethics rules, but also of the federal criminal law.
Yet, the FBI and the Justice Department, the nation’s chief enforcers of the federal criminal law, tell us they were powerless to object.
In his testimony this week before the House Judiciary Committee, FBI director James Comey inveighed against critics who have slimed the Bureau as “weasels” over its handling of the Clinton e-mails investigation. I am not one of those people. After a quarter-century in the trenches with the Bureau as a prosecutor, I am one of those hopeless romantics who love the FBI and harbor real affection for the director himself.
I genuinely hate this case. I don’t mind disagreeing with the Bureau, a not infrequent occurrence in my former career. But I am hardwired to presume the FBI’s integrity. Thus, no matter how much irregularities in the Clinton investigation have rankled me, I’ve chalked them up to the Bureau’s being hamstrung. There was no chance on God’s green earth that President Obama and his Justice Department were ever going to permit an indictment of Hillary Clinton. Jim Comey says he didn’t make his final decision to recommend against prosecution until after Mrs. Clinton was interviewed at the end of the investigation, and that he did not coordinate that decision with his Obama-administration superiors. If he says so, that’s good enough for me. But it doesn’t mean the director made his decision detached from the dismal reality of the situation. And whatever one’s armchair-quarterback view on how he should have handled it, that reality was not of his making.
But just as Director Comey rightly objects to being regarded as a weasel, I don’t much like being regarded as an idiot . . . which is what I’d have to be to swallow some of this stuff.
The FBI absolutely has control over who may be present at an interview with a subject of an investigation. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most basic one is that an interview never has to happen unless the FBI consents to it.
In his testimony, Comey kept stressing that Mrs. Clinton’s interview was “voluntary” — contending that since she was not required to submit to it, she could impose any conditions on her agreement to do so. That is nonsense. The interview was voluntary on both sides. The FBI is never required to indulge conditions that make a mockery of its serious business.
In this regard, Comey is like a guy who ties his own hands behind his back and then says he was powerless to defend himself. If Clinton declined to submit to an FBI interview unless Mills (or the similarly situated lawyer Heather Samuelson) was permitted to be present, the investigators could simply have handed her a grand-jury subpoena. They could then have politely directed her to a chamber where she would be compelled to answer questions — under oath and all by her lonesome, without any of her lawyer legion in attendance.
But, you see, in this investigation — unlike every other major criminal investigation in which the government tries to make the case rather than not make the case — the Justice Department declined to convene a grand jury.
Comey is like a guy who ties his own hands behind his back and then says he was powerless to defend himself.
Regarding this highly irregular dereliction, there appears to have been no FBI pushback. In fact, Director Comey told the committee that it is often easier in a complex case to acquire evidence by striking informal agreements with defense lawyers.
That is certainly true . . . but there is nothing inconsistent about impaneling a grand jury while concurrently negotiating such deals. Indeed, this is how it is generally done, precisely because it makes defense lawyers a whole lot more agreeable. It is the same principle that applies to U.S. diplomatic negotiations: They go much smoother when the other country grasps that we have the U.S. armed forces in our back pocket. When they know the alternative is a grilling of their client in the grand-jury hot seat, defense lawyers are less apt to insist on outrageous interview conditions, and the government tends not to have to extend inexplicable immunity grants to obtain evidence that is accessible by simply serving a subpoena.
As I’ve previously explained, the FBI has no authority to convene a grand jury. That is up to the Justice Department. In this case, there was no way the Obama Justice Department was going to indict Mrs. Clinton, so it clearly resisted convening a grand jury. Doing so would have underscored the gravity of offenses that the Justice Department was working energetically, and in conjunction with Team Clinton’s lawyers, to downplay.
That is how Ms. Mills ended up in the room for Mrs. Clinton’s interview as a lawyer, after having been in the interview room herself as a subject of the same investigation.
Another funny thing about that. I mentioned that Clinton had a battalion of lawyers. They included her primary lawyers from Williams & Connolly, among the finest criminal-defense attorneys in the country. Since she had plenty of top-notch representation, she certainly did not need Cheryl Mills as a lawyer. Besides, Ms. Mills does not appear to have been practicing much law at the time. She had not functioned as a lawyer in her years as Clinton’s top staffer at the State Department. It appears that, on leaving State with Clinton, she spent her time, apart from sitting on the board of the Clinton Foundation (the Hillary campaign in waiting), running the BlackIvy Group, a development company that builds business enterprises in Africa.
I don’t mean to imply that Ms. Mills is anything but an able lawyer. I’m just suggesting that she doesn’t seem to have been someone you’d have called in 2014 if, like Hillary Clinton, you’d gotten jammed up in a criminal investigation. That’s what you call Williams & Connolly for.
But you might call Cheryl Mills, who was right by your side at the State Department while you were doing those things that got you jammed up, if your goal was to envelop those things in an obstructive fog of purported attorney-client privilege.
The FBI was not required to treat a conspiracy to obstruct justice as if it were good-faith assistance of counsel. Nevertheless, co-conspirator Mills was laundered into lawyer Mills.
When Mills lied to agents about not knowing of the Clinton homebrew server while at State — a story that doesn’t pass the laugh test — this false account was shrugged off as one of those innocent, unresolvable failures of recollection.
The classified information on Mills’s private laptop was excused, according to Comey’s testimony, because it merely duplicated (for purposes of sorting through e-mails) what was on Clinton’s server — a rationalization that, even if true, is not a defense to recklessly storing classified information on a non-secure computer.
When Cheryl Mills tried to walk into Hillary Clinton’s interview, the FBI should have enforced the law.
Then, when case agents sensibly wanted to scrutinize the laptop, the Justice Department gave Mills immunity in exchange for this item whose production could have been compelled by a subpoena. On this, Director Comey’s account, again, is puzzling. He rationalizes the immunity grant as an appropriate way to deal with the complications of searching a lawyer’s computer, which is bound to contain privileged communications with many clients. But quite apart from the fact that Mills these days seems to have only a single “client,” the director is mixing apples and oranges. Immunity is conferred to shield a suspect from criminal liability, not to shield a lawyer’s clients from government intrusion into their privileged legal communications. There are other protective procedures for the latter situation.
Moreover, Comey kept telling lawmakers that Mills had gotten only limited “act of production” immunity. This is simply wrong. As I explained last week, act of production immunity covers only the testimonial aspects of the act of surrendering an object one is being compelled (usually by grand-jury subpoena) to produce. It means the government may not use your production of the object as proof that you (a) possessed something that is potentially incriminating and (b), by handing it over, implicitly admitted it was the object described in the subpoena. Pace Comey, act-of-production immunity does not prevent the government from using the contents of the object against the person who surrenders it. But under the immunity grant to Mills, prosecutors forfeited exactly this right. That is not “limited immunity”; that is the gratuitous enlargement of gratuitously granted immunity.
The FBI relies on this airbrushing of Mills to suggest that she wasn’t really much of a suspect; therefore, we’re to believe, the fact that she sat in on Clinton’s interview, though perhaps a bit irregular, is no big deal.
But it is a very big deal for at least three reasons.
First, Comey says he didn’t decide not to seek an indictment of Clinton until after Clinton’s interview. If that is so, then the FBI had to know that allowing Mills to be present at the interview could have jeopardized any eventual prosecution of Clinton. In such a prosecution, Mills would have been a key witness. But Clinton’s lawyers would have claimed that the FBI let Mills sit in on Clinton’s interview to help Mills get her story straight. They would have accused prosecutors of exploiting Mills, a former member of the Clinton legal team, to pry into Clinton’s privileged strategic communications with her other lawyers.
Second, though Comey says the FBI is in no position to enforce attorney ethical rules that barred Mills from representing Clinton at the interview, this was not just an FBI interview. According to the director, several Justice Department lawyers also participated. Those lawyers, too, are bound by the ethical rules. They had an obligation to object to this unseemly arrangement and to do what was in their considerable power to prevent it.
Finally, as Shannen Coffin has pointed out, Mills was not just violating an ethical rule. Her representation of Clinton runs afoul of federal law. Section 207 of the penal code makes it a crime for a former government official to attempt to influence the government on behalf of another person in a matter in which the former official was heavily involved while working for the government. It was against the law for Mills, as an attorney, to attempt to influence the Justice Department’s consideration of the case against Clinton.
I couldn’t agree more with Director Comey that the FBI is the world’s greatest law-enforcement agency. I just think that when Cheryl Mills tried to walk into Hillary Clinton’s interview, the FBI should have enforced the law.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor ofNational Review.
Two revealing, if largely unnoticed, moments came in the middle of FBI Director Jim Comey’s Wednesday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. When combined, these moments prove that Mr. Comey gave Hillary Clinton a pass.
Congress hauled Mr. Comey in to account for the explosive revelation that the government granted immunity to Clinton staffers Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson as part of its investigation into whether Mrs. Clinton had mishandled classified information. Rep. Tom Marino (R., Pa.), who was once a Justice Department prosecutor and knows how these investigations roll, provided the first moment. He asked Mr. Comey why Ms. Mills was so courteously offered immunity in return for her laptop—a laptop that Mr. Comey admitted investigators were very keen to obtain. Why not simply impanel a grand jury, get a subpoena, and seize the evidence?
Mr. Comey’s answer was enlightening: “It’s a reasonable question. . . . Any time you are talking about the prospect of subpoenaing a computer from a lawyer—that involves the lawyer’s practice of law—you know you are getting into a big megillah.” Pressed further, he added: “In general, you can often do things faster with informal agreements, especially when you are interacting with lawyers.”
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The key words: “The lawyer’s practice of law.” What Mr. Comey was referencing here is attorney-client privilege. Ms. Mills was able to extract an immunity deal, avoid answering questions, and sit in on Mrs. Clinton’s FBI interview because she has positioned herself as Hillary’s personal lawyer. Ms. Mills could therefore claim that any conversations or interactions she had with Mrs. Clinton about the private server were protected by attorney-client privilege.
Only here’s the rub: When Ms. Mills worked at the State Department she was not acting as Mrs. Clinton’s personal lawyer. She was the secretary's chief of staff. Any interaction with Mrs. Clinton about her server, or any evidence from that time, should have been fair game for the FBI and the Justice Department.
Ms. Mills was allowed to get away with this “attorney-client privilege” nonsense only because she claimed that she did not know about Mrs. Clinton’s server until after they had both left the State Department. Ergo, no questions about the server.
The FBI has deliberately chosen to accept this lie. The notes of its interview with Ms. Mills credulously states: “Mills did not learn Clinton was using a private email server until after Clinton’stenure” at State. It added: “Mills stated she was not even sure she knew what a server was at the time.”
Which brings us to the hearing’s second revealing moment. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) pointed out that the FBI’s notes from its interview with Clinton IT staffer Bryan Pagliano expose this lie. In late 2009 or early 2010, Mr. Pagliano told investigators, he approached Ms. Mills to relay State Department concerns that the private server might pose a “federal records retention issue.” According to Mr. Pagliano, Ms. Mills told him not to worry about it, because other secretaries of state had used similar setups.
More damning, Mr. Chaffetz held up an email that Ms. Mills sent in 2010 to Justin Cooper, whom the Clintons personally employed to help maintain the server. The email reads: “hrc email coming back—is server okay?” Mr. Cooper responds: “Ur funny. We are on the same server.”
To be clear: When Mrs. Clinton had an email problem, Ms. Mills didn’t call the State Department’s help desk. She didn’t call YahooYHOO1.25%customer service. She called a privately employed Clinton aide and asked specifically about Mrs. Clinton’s “server.” She did this as chief of staff at the State Department. Mr. Chaffetz asked Mr. Comey why the FBI wrote that Ms. Mills was ignorant about the server until later.
Mr. Comey suddenly sounded like a man with something to hide. “I don’t remember exactly, sitting here,” he said, in what can only be called the FBI version of “I don’t recall.” He then mumbled that “Having done many investigations myself, there’s always conflicting recollections of facts, some of which are central, some of which are peripheral. I don’t remember, sitting here, about that one.”
Really? Only a few minutes before he had explained that the Justice Department was forced to issue immunity to Ms. Mills because she had asserted attorney-client privilege. Yet he couldn’t remember all the glaring evidence proving she had no such privilege? Usually, the FBI takes a dim view of witnesses who lie. Had the FBI pursued perjury charges against Ms. Mills—as it would have done against anyone else—it would have had extraordinary leverage to force her to speak about all of her communications regarding the server. It might have even threatened to build a case that Ms. Mills was part of a criminal scheme. Then it could have offered immunity in return for the real goods on Hillary.
But going that route would have required grand juries, subpoenas, warrants and indictments—all things that Mr. Comey clearly wanted to avoid in this politically sensitive investigation. Much easier to turn a blind eye to Ms. Mills’s fiction. And to therefore give Mrs. Clinton a pass.
Write to <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
More than 70 world leaders and dignitaries attend the funeral at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president, prime minister and Nobel laureate. Mourners include Barack Obama; former US president Bill Clinton; the Prince of Wales; the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson; and the French president, François Hollande
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on Saturday that she had not reversed course on her policy on migrants, two weeks after she said she wished she could turn back the clock to better prepare Germany for last year's influx.
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's economy ministry believes a Donald Trump presidency would severely damage the U.S. economy, according to an internal memorandum reported by Der Spiegel magazine on Saturday.
TBILISI (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Saturday said Mass for unusually small crowd of just a few thousand Catholics in Georgia, a celebration that was further dampened when a delegation from the Orthodox Church stayed away.
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis' trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan will be filled with religiously symbolic encounters with Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews. Current events in Syria and other geopolitical concerns might overshadow the message....