Friday, January 13, 2017

News Reviews and Opinions: Donald: You are lucky and blessed to have some ver...

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The Store-Manager-In-Chief and The Guardians: News Review

Jared Kushner on Capitol Hill on Monday. CreditCliff Owen/Associated Press

The Store-Manager-In-Chief and The Guardians: News Review

Jared Kushner - News

Story image for Jared Kushner from TIME

Jared Kushner: 5 Things to Know About Trump's Adviser

TIME-Jan 9, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is poised to become a powerful figure in the White House, with reports Monday ...
Jared Kushner's Trumpian Divestment Strategy
Opinion-The New Yorker-Jan 10, 2017
Jared Kushner Tapped as Trump Senior Adviser
Blog-Slate Magazine (blog)-Jan 9, 2017

Donald Trump Keeps It in the Family

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President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser very likely violates a federal anti-nepotism law, and shows again how little he seems to care about the legal and ethical obligations of the office he is about to assume.
The language of the law is clear: No federal official, including the president, may hire or appoint a relative, including a son-in-law, to “a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control.”
There’s a good reason for anti-nepotism laws, versions of which are also on the books in most states. Government officials seek informal advice and counsel from relatives all the time, but when they appoint or hire those people, they undermine the public’s faith that important posts are being filled with the best possible candidates. And when relatives get security clearance to view classified information and sit in on high-level meetings, it upends delicate dynamics, as senior staff members keep their mouths shut rather than contradict a trusted relative of their boss. Even if Mr. Kushner is technically subordinate to others on the White House staff, he is always first and foremost Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.
The scope of Mr. Kushner’s responsibilities is not clear, but it could be extremely broad. He was by Mr. Trump’s side throughout much of the campaign, an influential voice with impressive contacts. At one point he arranged a meeting between Mr. Trump and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lawyers for Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner have argued that the appointment is legal because the law applies only to executive branch agencies, and the White House is not an agency. The law, under this reasoning, would bar Mr. Trump from appointing Mr. Kushner to a job in, say, the State Department, not to a senior advisory position in the White House.
But Congress, which passed the measure in 1967 partly in response to President John F. Kennedy’s appointment of his brother Robert to be attorney general, was aiming to curb the negative effects of nepotism throughout government. Concerns about nepotism are, if anything, stronger in a White House appointment, where multiple close advisers and fragile hierarchies can easily become snarled by family allegiances.
In addition to being related to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate investor who is married to Mr. Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, lugs behind him other significant liabilities. Among these are a complete lack of experience in politics or government, and a boatload of conflicts arising from his family’s vast real-estate holdings.
As recently as November, Mr. Kushner met with major Chinese investors over the redevelopment of his family’s flagship property, a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper he purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion. Mr. Kushner has said he will sell off his interest in that building and other top investments and resign as the chief executive of the family business, Kushner Companies — but like Mr. Trump, he is keeping those assets within his family, creating what one lawyer called a “shell game.”
Mr. Trump has already mocked concerns over his own conflicts of interest, saying that if the president does it, it can’t be a conflict. After riding into office on promises to “drain the swamp,” he now appears equally untroubled by the real dangers posed by nepotism, and uninterested in following a sensible law.
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James Mattis: Toughness and Restraint at the Pentagon

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James Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 as a four-star general with a folk-hero reputation, moved west and never imagined serving in government again, he said. But his testimony on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee suggests the most consequential chapter of his career lies ahead.
As President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Defense Department, General Mattis has the potential to act as a restraint in an administration led by an impulsive and uninformed leader. General Mattis’s performance at the hearing, in which he answered questions directly and thoughtfully, felt like a brief reprieve from a chaotic presidential transition.
It was encouraging that he had no qualms in stating views at odds with positions Mr. Trump campaigned on, including America’s relationship with Russia and the future of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s to Mr. Trump’s credit that he would appoint a strong-minded defense secretary who is likely to challenge assumptions held in the White House.
Mr. Trump’s unrestrained praise of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and his disregard for America’s longstanding military alliances have been disconcerting. Pointing to history, General Mattis said that American efforts to engage constructively with Russia have tended to fail. “I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with with Mr. Putin, and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance,” General Mattis said.
Mr. Trump rattled American allies last year when he suggested that those that weren’t contributing enough to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would hear the following message from his administration: “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.” General Mattis called NATO “the most successful military alliance, probably in modern world history, maybe ever.” He added: “My view is that nations with allies thrive, and nations without allies don’t.”
Mr. Trump has vowed to “tear up” the nuclear agreement the Obama administration and other world powers brokered with Iran, calling it a “bad deal.” General Mattis, who is hawkish on Iran, said it was as “an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty.” But honoring it is imperative, he said, because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”
General Mattis was vague when asked about policies adopted during the Obama administration that opened up all combat roles to women and allowed gay and transgender troops to serve openly. Regarding women, he implied he had no interest in revisiting that decision, saying only: “If someone brings me a problem, then I’ll look at it.” When confronted with his past statements expressing concerns that the presence of gay and transgender troops could erode military readiness, General Mattis seemed to repudiate earlier comments, saying, “Frankly, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.” But he reiterated unspecified concerns about “the readiness of the force.”
The Senate voted Thursday to give General Mattis a waiver from the law that bars former military officers from leading the Pentagon for seven years after retirement. The House is expected to vote as early as Friday. In written testimony, General Mattis had addressed the issue sensibly, calling civilian control of the military a “fundamental tenet of the American military tradition” under which civilian leaders are tasked with weighing when the use of military force is warranted. While the seven-year rule exists for a good reason, it makes sense to make an exception for General Mattis.
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Russia’s D.N.C. Hack Was Only the Start

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This perception has to change. I’m not referring to the D.N.C. incident in particular, but about cybercrimes in general. Unless we realize how vulnerable we are, we are playing into the hands of foreign aggressors like Mr. Putin.
The chilling effect of these attacks can be very public, and very personal. But they can also be more subtle, impeding dialogue within an organization. For all the fanfare we give the internet for freeing speech, when it is weaponized against you, it can also be used to stifle speech. At the D.N.C., certain conversations could take place only on an encrypted phone app, which made communicating more complicated logistically.
Skeptics, including President-elect Donald J. Trump, have compared the hacks to leaks to the news media. They’re not the same. A leak occurs when someone who is authorized to have information gives it to a reporter without authorization. The “Access Hollywood” video of Mr. Trump talking about assaulting women was a leak. When someone on my staff shared a memo about our campaign launch without permission, that was a leak. Leaks are frustrating, and they happen all the time.
What Mr. Putin did by dumping Democrats’ emails wasn’t a leak; it was an attack with stolen information.
Until we start to see these situations in this light, “Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” as the national intelligence office report called it, will remain potent, and the democratic process will remain vulnerable. The news media needs to spend at least as much time reporting on the source of these foreign-led cybercrimes as they do on the contents.
This isn’t a partisan issue, as Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have already made clear. Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un of North Korea aren’t registered Democrats or Republicans — they’re anti-American, and they want to hurt democracy itself. To justify what Mr. Putin did, or to blame the victim, as Mr. Trump and his staff have chosen to do, simply leaves them, and all of us, under threat, because the next attack may be aimed not at a political party, but at the White House or the Pentagon.
Of course, Americans need to do a better job protecting ourselves. Law enforcement needs to create better bridges between the intelligence services that monitor attacks and the individuals and organizations they affect. There are very few protocols for the F.B.I. and C.I.A. to alert and assist potential victims. Our democratic structures — elections equipment and officials, elected officials and candidates, activists and reporters — must be elevated as a priority.
At the time of the D.N.C. attack, water treatment plants, nuclear power plants and even casinos were on the Department of Homeland Security’s “critical infrastructure” list. Voting equipment was added last Friday, but we must do much more to protect the people who animate our democratic process. Imagine how stolen information could be (or already has been) used to influence or corrupt officeholders, or voters themselves.
Watergate inspired greater vigilance in the press and prompted major reforms to safeguard our democratic institutions. We need to do that again.
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Does Israel Really Have a Corruption Problem?

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These investigations hardly change public opinion in Israel. Mr. Sharon was widely supported even while his investigation made daily headlines. Mr. Barak and Mr. Olmert’s popularity suffered for entirely different reasons (Mr. Barak’s failure to hold his governing coalition together; Mr. Olmert’s execution of the 2006 war in Lebanon). Mr. Netanyahu, too, remains reasonably popular: Surveys indicate that if elections were held today, he would get another term.
Does this mean we Israelis don’t care about corruption and graft? Not exactly.
Surely, no one here wants a corrupt government. On the other hand, no one believes that the police and investigators should constantly harass members of the government over misdemeanors. And everybody knows that politicians often tend to be, well, not the most honorable people. Still, we need them, and we need to let them do their jobs.
We also live in Israel, a country of corner-cutting and informal practicality. Strict rules are not for us. This makes our bureaucracy much better than bureaucracies in other well-organized Western countries (yes, the Interior Ministry officer will see you even if you forgot the proper documentation; no, the clerk will not refuse your request just because the problem you describe doesn’t match the one he was expecting to deal with). It also often seems petty, expecting our leaders to behave better than we do ourselves.
Interrogating the prime minister over some cigars or bottles of Champagne he was given? Few Israelis would say no to such gifts. Employing dozens of police officers and lawyers to figure out whether a disreputable agreement between a newspaper publisher and a prime minister is illegal? Few Israelis have illusions about either their press or their prime minister. We know that there are deals. Greediness is not a great quality, but a pinch of it does not justify the political mayhem that the recent investigations have been causing.
Investigations and, even more so, the reports by the news media about these investigations often fail to convince the public that they are not politically motivated. Many Israeli dignitaries accept gifts, and supporters of Mr. Netanyahu’s party feel as if those received by the prime minister are getting undue attention. Similarly, Mr. Netanyahu did not invent unhealthy relations between politicians and the news media, and these voters protest that his wheeling-and-dealing is unfairly being singled out.
This is usually the case during such investigations: The public’s response is often highly partisan, as if opposition to corruption is a party platform. Opposition voters celebrate a victory when Mr. Netanyahu is under investigation — even though previous such investigations ended with nothing. Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters enjoy short-lived revenge when the leader of the opposition is named in a separate corruption investigation — but in doing so they undermine their theories about the conspiracies against Mr. Netanyahu.
So what is Israel’s problem? Is it the corrupt ways of its leaders, or the uncompromising stiffness of its law enforcement agencies? Is it the dismissiveness with which politicians treat the rule of law, or a tendency of investigators to lose perspective as they hunt for prey?
In an era demanding binary answers, the answers might seem disappointing. The solution to Israel’s alleged corruption problem cannot be “leave the politicians alone” (Mr. Olmert did end up in jail for bribery), but it cannot be “put all those crooks in jail,” either (Mr. Netanyahu has never even been charged).
It must be something more nuanced: “Get a sense of proportion.” That’s a difficult principle to follow as Israel investigates its leaders — and a seemingly even more difficult principle to follow as Israel discusses and debates these never-ending investigations. But that’s the real way to fix this country.
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Mike Pompeo, Trump’s C.I.A. Pick, Faces the Balancing Act of His Career

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“Every television set in Langley is going to be on for that hearing,” Mr. Hayden said, referring to the town in Northern Virginia where the C.I.A. is based.
Mr. Trump’s mocking response to accusations that Russia meddled in the election has opened an extraordinary breach between an incoming president and the C.I.A., and the revelation that intelligence chiefs briefed Mr. Trump last week on the dossier of unsubstantiated reports is likely to deepen the divide. The dispute has hit morale hard at the C.I.A., current and former agency officials said.
At his news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that intelligence agencies were “vital” and that they would have 90 days after his inauguration to produce “a major report on hacking.”
But he also continued to criticize the agencies, suggesting that they had leaked the dossier. It was “disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” he said.
The C.I.A. considers its mission to provide cleareyed information and analysis that is free of political interference, and it considers the president its main customer. It is sensitive to slights, and many at the C.I.A. were especially galled by what they considered Mr. Trump’s cheap shots at the mistaken intelligence in the prelude to the Iraq war.
“It prides itself on being the president’s agency, so how does that feel when your patron suddenly is dumping all over your work,” said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former C.I.A. analyst.
Memories run long at the C.I.A., and hanging over the dispute with Mr. Trump is the unhappy tenure of Porter J. Goss, the last sitting member of Congress named to lead the agency. Mr. Goss took over in 2004, when the agency was widely viewed as being at odds with the Bush administration over the Iraq war, and his marching orders were to end what the White House viewed as a campaign of leaks by insiders who opposed administration policies.
Mr. Goss failed to stop the leaks. But his attempted crackdown, which included rare “single-issue” polygraph tests of senior officials, prompted a wave of departures by veterans. Mr. Goss lasted only 13 months, done in by the spreading discontent with his leadership.
A list of possibilities and appointees for top posts in the new administration.
OPEN Graphic
Mr. Pompeo has not made any public comments since his nomination in November, and how he will approach his new job remains to be seen.
He is best known for his relentless questioning of Hillary Clinton during the congressional investigation into the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. His quips about the attack being worse than Watergate and his continued insistence that there was a “cover-up,” even after the House Select Committee on Benghazi found no new evidence of wrongdoing, have raised some concerns about such an overt partisan leading an agency that is supposed to be above politics.
But among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Mr. Pompeo, a former Army tank officer who graduated first in his class from West Point, is widely seen as smart and thorough — and a professional who is capable of rising above the political fray.
“He really enjoys this type of work, so I think he’s going to flourish,” said Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California. “He’s a military guy, an academy graduate, and this is what he’s been working for his whole career.”
At the C.I.A., there was a sense that Mr. Pompeo’s nomination signaled an end to Mr. Trump’s campaign-trail dismissals of accusations about Russian meddling, and a readiness to start taking intelligence seriously. A new administration often brings an infusion of energy and ideas, and most at the agency are eager to get to work under Mr. Pompeo, according to a current C.I.A. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they could not be quoted by name.
But there are already suggestions from some corners of the Trump camp about a need to reorganize the intelligence community, which has stoked concerns at the C.I.A. of a “hostile takeover” by leaders who want political cheerleading, not cleareyed analysis, Mr. Lowenthal said.
How Mr. Pompeo gets along with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, is likely to prove crucial. Mr. Flynn, a retired intelligence officer and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is a harsh judge of the C.I.A., which he says was overly politicized by the Obama administration.
That view is not widely shared by Republicans or Democrats in Washington. But it appears to have been internalized by Mr. Trump.
Still, Mr. Pompeo’s hawkish views on a range of other issues are likely to be welcomed at the agency. He has argued for Congress to permit domestic surveillance on a huge scale, says waterboarding is legal and does not constitute torture, and views Russia as the biggest threat facing the United States.
“I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Pompeo is very skeptical of Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Nunes said. “I don’t think you can get any more concerned about Putin’s advancement” than Mr. Pompeo.
Democrats expect to hit the Russia issue hard in an attempt to draw out differences between Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump. But they are also looking for Mr. Pompeo to take clear stances on controversial issues where he has made statements that put him in line with the president-elect, like waterboarding and domestic surveillance.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said he expected Mr. Pompeo to try to avoid being pinned down, especially on matters on which he may disagree with Mr. Trump, by saying that the director of the C.I.A. does not set policy but only executes it. Mr. Pompeo took that tack in his written responses to questions from some senators on the intelligence committee, Senator Wyden said.
“I’m going to be respectfully saying that’s a lot of baloney,” he added.
As director of the C.I.A., Mr. Pompeo would “have an enormous effect on surveillance and torture and Russia,” Senator Wyden said. “The American people want policies that are going to better produce security and liberty.”
The Trump team is “advancing ideas that give us less of both.”
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C.I.A. Nominee Says He Won’t Balk at Seeking Russian Intelligence

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Of all the arms of the government, the C.I.A. is particularly sensitive to slights from the president. It considers itself the eyes and ears of the president around the world, and it prides itself on being above politics (although that is an ideal that is at times more aspirational than many at the agency readily acknowledge). Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it has also expanded far beyond its core mission of espionage with a campaign of drone strikes and paramilitary operations against militants in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Leon E. Panetta, a former C.I.A. director, called Mr. Trump’s public berating of America’s spies “very dangerous.”
“It sends a message to our adversaries, to our enemies, that somehow they might be able to take advantage of us because we are so in conflict in terms of the president and the intelligence community,” Mr. Panetta said during a radio interview that aired on Thursday. He said the rift could tarnish the credibility of intelligence analysis and hurt morale at C.I.A. headquarters.
Mr. Pompeo may have somewhat assuaged those concerns on Thursday when he was asked at his Senate confirmation hearing if the C.I.A., under his leadership, would continue to pursue intelligence on Russian hacking — allegations that have come amid a swirl of unsubstantiated rumors about links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
“I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence with vigor no matter where the facts lead,” Mr. Pompeo said. He added that he would do this “with regard to this issue and each and every issue.”
The C.I.A. under his leadership, he said, would provide “accurate, timely, robust and cleareyed analysis of Russian activities.”
To date, American spy agencies have publicly provided little evidence for their conclusions about Russia’s role in the hacking efforts, but their assessment has provided ample ammunition for Mr. Trump to attack the intelligence community he will soon command.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Trump went so far as to suggest that the intelligence agencies had leaked the allegations about his ties to Russia, which were contained in a classified report they gave him last week. Mr. Trump said the tactics recalled those of Nazi Germany.
The comments led to a phone call between Mr. Trump and James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, who released a statement late Wednesday night saying that intelligence agencies had “not made any judgment that the information in the document is reliable.” Mr. Clapper said the information had been provided to Mr. Trump and others to give policy makers “the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
Mr. Trump followed up with a post on Twitter Thursday morning that appeared to distort the facts of the phone call between the two men, saying that Mr. Clapper had called to “denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated.”
The latest tit-for-tat between Mr. Trump and the intelligence agencies dampened hopes in Washington that tensions would ease as Inauguration Day approached and the president-elect realized he would soon have the agencies, and all their capabilities, at his disposal.
Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer and now a Republican representative from Texas, said that Grizzly Steppe, the American code name given to Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, had worked. “Russian intelligence will consider ‘Grizzly Steppe’ to be their most successful covert action operation because it created a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the U.S. president, intelligence community and the American public,” he said.
Others were less certain that Mr. Trump’s recent comments on Twitter would have a significant impact.
“The C.I.A. is not going to stop providing intelligence to the president of the United States because he said some negative things,” said Michael Hurley, a former C.I.A. operations officer.
But, he said, “people function better when they know their work is valued.”
The challenge for Mr. Pompeo may be getting Mr. Trump simply to pay attention to whatever the C.I.A. finds out. The president-elect has yet to sit down regularly for the daily briefings that the intelligence agencies prepare, and he has repeatedly brushed off the need to do so once in office.
Mr. Pompeo, though, is close to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who does sit for a daily intelligence briefing. The hope at the agency is that working through Mr. Pence will give Mr. Pompeo the kind of direct line to the Oval Office that the C.I.A. has come to expect — and will keep intelligence from being filtered through Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, a retired intelligence officer who has been a harsh critic of the C.I.A. as overly political.
On Thursday, Mr. Pompeo said he did not believe that politics regularly seeped into the work done at the C.I.A., though he did say that politicians had at times sought to twist intelligence for their own purposes.
Though Mr. Pompeo is known for his unrelenting partisanship in Congress — he has maintained that Hillary Clinton was involved in a cover-up after the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya — both Democrats and Republicans have said they believe he is capable of rising above the political fray to lead the C.I.A.
On Thursday, he sought to avoid politics as much as possible, even when pressed on issues on which he has previously expressed strong positions.
Asked about the Iran nuclear deal, which he has sharply criticized, Mr. Pompeo said that “if confirmed, my role will change,” and that he would be evaluating Tehran’s compliance, not determining what should happen to the agreement.
But, he added, “the Iranians are professionals at cheating.”
His responses were similarly by-the-book when it came to coercive interrogation methods, which he once deemed not only legal but patriotic.
At the hearing, though, Mr. Pompeo said he would “always comply with the law.” The law does not allow coercive methods, such as waterboarding.
And what if he was ordered to employ such methods by Mr. Trump, who said during the campaign that he would bring back waterboarding?
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Pompeo said.
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Justice Department inspector general to investigate pre-election actions by department and FBI

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James Mattis - Google Search

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Story image for james mattis from New York Times

James Mattis Strikes Far Harsher Tone Than Trump on Russia

New York Times-2 hours ago
Donald Trump's nominee for defense secretary, retired General James N. Mattis, answered questions on national security on Thursday during ...

The U.S. and Global Security Review: Mr. Pompeo: Healthy, balanced, of a good character, very smart, affable, likable, diplomatic, a uniter, can be determined and aggressive when it is needed - a good man and a good choice

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Mr. Pompeo: Healthy, balanced, of a good character, very smart, affable, likable, diplomatic, a uniter, can be determined and aggressive when it is needed - a good man and a good choice. 

Central Intelligence Agency Director Confirmation Hearing - 1.12.17 

Image result for Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo 

He can say, like 


Rest, rest, perturbèd spirit!—So, gentlemen,
With all my love I do commend me to you,
And what so poor a man as Hamlet is
May do, to express his love and friending to you,
God willing, shall not lack. Let us go in together,
And still your fingers on your lips, I pray. 

O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Nay, come, let’s go together.
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The Russia Story Reaches a Crisis Point

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Have we ever been less sure about the truth of an urgent news story?
Three days into the "Russian dossier" scandal, which history will remember by a far more colorful name, we still have no clue what we're dealing with. We're either learning the outlines of the most extraordinary compromise to date of an incoming American president by a foreign power, or we're watching an unparalleled libel and media overreach.
The tale was first made public by David Corn at Mother Jones a week before the presidential election. Corn's October 31st article was entitled, "A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump."
Corn, with whom I spoke Wednesday, had documents back in October containing explosive accusations of Trump sex romps and other serious blackmailable behavior. But he chose not to publish them, because he couldn't confirm those details.
Corn says now he was also concerned that running the documents might lead to damage to/outing of some sources. (Hang on to that thought.)
Corn ultimately focused on the elements he could confirm: that a dossier asserting that Russians had a file of compromising information on Trump had been prepared by a veteran intelligence source, one with enough standing in Washington that the FBI chose to investigate the claims.
There are some who would quibble even with printing that much. But in the context of this election season, which saw awesome publishing excesses on all sides, Corn showed restraint.
"Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness. Not that he would grant the same to anyone else," Corn explains, noting the president-elect's enthusiasm in pushing unverified stories like the birther lunacy.
This Tuesday, Corn's story was blown up to massive dimensions. First, CNN did a version of the story that really just updated Corn's reporting, explaining that intelligence officials had briefed both Trump and Obama on the dossier's existence. They left out the smarmy details, however.
The CNN story seemed to spur clickbait king BuzzFeed into action. The site's editor, Ben Smith, issued a perhaps unprecedented product disclaimer along with an explosive piece, which finally published the documents Corn and CNN had held back.
In a letter to colleagues he later shared on Twitter, Smith all but showed readers the 10-foot pole he was deploying to try to keep the allegations at a distance, even as he nudged them into public.
"As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations," he wrote, referring to a series of errors in the dossier that raised questions overall about its factual basis.
But Smith repeated what BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs said in the story: "Americans can make up their own minds about [the] allegations." BuzzFeed put them all out there, Smith said, because that "reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017."
Smith's move was questioned almost immediately by traditional media critics like Erik Wemple of the Washington Post (a paper that has dabbled in questionable material of its own during this political season) and the Poynter Institute. Both wondered at the precedent of publishing material you not only don't know to be true, but actively know to be wrong in places.
But by the time those criticisms ran, it didn't matter. The story had by then ping-ponged back into legacy media, gaining more momentum.
The New York Times was now running "Trump Received Unsubstantiated Report That Russia Had Damaging Information About Him." This tale included a summary of the dossier's contents, including allegations of the existence of a "sex tape."
By Tuesday evening, Trump himself appeared to answer the story on Twitter. "FAKE NEWS," he wrote. "TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"
BuzzFeed quickly highlighted Trump's apparent denial, which completed the snowball effect – a big story rolled into a bigger one by the addition of denials and more miles traveled through the news cycle.
These tricks and machinations give this story the appearance of fake news even if it turns out not to be. The slipshod way that all of this has been whipped up into media frenzy may end up undermining a more sober effort to get to the truth of the situation.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal ran a story Wednesday identifying by name the ex-spy who was the source of the story, seeming to confirm Corn's concerns on that score. The paper used a highly unusual attribution, citing "sources familiar with the matter," which could mean just about anything.
The BuzzFeed dump came on the heels of last week's release of a head-scratching "declassified report" from the U.S. intelligence community on Russian hacking. This confusing document also made bold assessments based on little to no obvious evidence.
In addition to asserting that Russia had been behind the hack of the DNC emails – a highly specific claim that at least seems to be backed by some evidence, and buttressed by private analyses – the CIA, NSA and FBI also concluded that the hacking campaign was ordered by Vladimir Putin with the specific aim of aiding Donald Trump.
But the report said almost nothing about how the agencies came to these conclusions. See the deconstruction by Masha Gessen, certainly no friend of either Putin or Trump, if you care to see how much of a bulochka ne s chem (nothingburger) the intelligence agencies' efforts in this direction were.
I had to stop reading at one point when I realized that broadcasts by the state media outlet Russia Today about "anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health" were seriously being offered up as evidence of anti-American conspiracy.
An incredible seven of the report's 25 pages concern RT's reporting choices. As Gessen notes, two more pages are blank, while "four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report," making overall for a very thin gruel.
The report also unironically listed quotes in support of Trump by extremist loon Vladimir Zhirinovsky as evidence of the attitudes of the Russian state.
I've met Zhirinovsky. He's the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog of Russian nationalism. He once told me Russia would invade Boston (I had told him I was from Boston) and re-seize Alaska.
Nobody who knows anything about Russia would include Zhirinovsky's ravings as evidence of anything. Assuming the intelligence agencies also know this, we have to wonder what the hell is going on.
The secret services either know far more than they're letting on, or they're using all this fluff and nonsense to try to sell the public on a conspiracy story they themselves can't quite prove. Either possibility is crazy to contemplate.
Nothing in the behavior of officials like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or FBI chief James Comey has offered any clarity to the situation. Both appear determined keep taking the fork in the road all the way to inauguration.
Comey, who infamously alerted the public to the existence of an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails 11 days before the election, spent the day of the BuzzFeed disclosures insisting before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he couldn't "confirm or deny a pending investigation."
And Clapper Wednesday night sent a groveling apologia to Trump essentially washing his hands of the BuzzFeed documents, explaining that they were "not an intelligence community product."
Nonetheless Clapper didn't exactly defuse the situation when he told Trump the intelligence community "has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable." The DNI seemed at once to be trying to reassure Trump (who immediately, and characteristically, misreported that Clapper had denounced the kompromat tales as a "false and fictitious report") while also leaving open the possibility that the president-elect was still guilty.
These wishy-washy statements come even as news leaks steadily accumulate asserting the intelligence community's supposed confidence that a Trump-Putin plot did indeed take place.
Comey's demurrals notwithstanding, it's now known that the Justice Department before the election repeatedly sought secret FISA warrants to investigate two Russian banks and a series of Trump associates.
We now know they got the warrant to investigate the Russian banks in October. As a result, there's suddenly quite justifiable outrage that Comey decided to reveal details of his Clinton email investigation and not news of this other inquiry right before the election.
But the more immediate problem is, why is Comey still holding back now? What is he waiting for?
Meanwhile, Ynet in Israel is reporting that Israeli intelligence officials are deciding not to share intelligence with the incoming Trump administration. The report indicates they came to this conclusion after a recent meeting with American intelligence officials, who told them the Russians have "leverages of pressure" to use against Trump.
This is an extraordinary story. If our intelligence community really believes this, then playtime is over.
No more Clapper-style hedging or waffling. If Israel gets to hear why they think Trump is compromised, how is the American public not also so entitled?
But if all they have are unverifiable rumors, they can't do this, not even to Donald Trump.
The only solution is an immediate unveiling of all the facts and an urgent public investigation. A half-assed whispering campaign a week and a half from a Trump presidency, with BuzzFeed at the center of the action, isn't going to cut it. We need to know what the likes of Clapper and Comey know, and we need it all now, before it's too late.
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Washington Watch: A troubling troika- Trump, Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu - Opinion