I do not think that it would be a big exaggeration to say that the very fate and the directions of the western civilization and culture as we know them depend on Mr. Mueller’s Investigation: its thoroughness, objectivity, depth, completeness, expanse, etc., etc.; and also on its conclusions, impacts, and the follow-up results. – Michael Novakhov
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Donald Trump has condemned North Koreas latest nuclear test as the biggest foreign policy challenge faced by his administration deepened overnight.
North Korea has conducted a major nuclear test, the president tweeted on Sunday morning. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.
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And how he may have set it up for failure, according to the man who used to run the program.
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What role is Russia playing in the difficulties the United States, Europe, and other countries are experiencing?
Does the Kremlin reject the existing world order and aspire to a new division of the world?
Did Moscow’s political kitchen deliberately help to concoct the loathsome dish of domestic and international terrorism, the tsunami of refugees, and political destabilization in many countries?
There can be no simple and straightforward answers, but serious consideration of recent Russian history leads to distressing conclusions.
When the totalitarian USSR collapsed there was cause for hope. The germs of a multi-party, parliamentary system and free enterprise appeared, political and religious freedoms were guaranteed, censorship vanished, and the mass media were liberated. Soviet citizens were free to travel, and punitive psychiatry ended.
And then–recoil. In 1993 President Yeltsin dealt a crushing blow to the parliamentary system, killing several hundred people in the process. Russia practiced genocide against its own people in Chechnya. Political assassinations and the murder of journalists commenced.
Vladimir Putin at the Russian General Staff’s Main Intelligence Department (GRU) in Moscow, 08 November 2006. DMITRI ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty
The economic situation was no better. Even prior to the attempted coup by communist hardliners against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB began transferring huge amounts of “party funds” to “trusted persons.,” thereby founding the fortunes of the first of Russia’s nouveaux riches. The most infamous cases followed in the mid-1990s.
The coup is said to have failed miserably. Not so. By then the USSR was falling apart. Key positions in the executive and legislative branches had already been seized by officials and agents of the special services, often working “under cover.” The same thing happened in the world of business.
Gorbachev in power ended the Cold War. Yet after the dissolution of the USSR, Russia began a gradual return to Cold War policies. Under the pretext of defending Russian compatriots abroad, the Kremlin interfered in the domestic politics of neighboring Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Moldova. It was suspected of involvement in the attempted assassination of Georgia’s president Eduard Shevardnadze.
Meanwhile, Russia pursued an anti-Western policy of supporting the murderous Slobodan Milosevic in former Yugoslavia. Among the later results of these trends, under Putin, were a dismembered Georgia, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and prolonged Russian aggression in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Why were a number of terrorist acts in the West, such as the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, performed by visitors or emigrants from the former Soviet Union?
Did the emigrants, the brothers Tsarnaev, of Chechen nationality, responsible for the Boston attack, act on their own initiative? It seems most unlikely.
Russia must accept a share of responsibility for the Syrian civil war, the flood of refugees into Europe, the rightward drift of several European countries, the rising influence of ultra-right politicians, attempts to weaken the EU, and the U.K.’s Brexit decision.
What is going on between Russia and Donald Trump?
Is the president of the United States linked more closely to the Kremlin than any Western political figure should be?
That these questions command serious and prolonged attention in the United States puts Russia in a very poor light.
Why didn’t democracy take root in Russia? Why under Putin has the overwhelming majority of the population joyously welcomed the rebirth of authoritarianism, in a different flavor, of extreme corruption and misappropriation of state funds and natural resources?
The ultimate answer is that it is extremely dangerous when the secret police, with their nationalistic mentality, seize power in an enormous nuclear state, and when a former hunter of dissidents becomes president. Dangerous not only for Russia, but for the whole world.
When it became clear that Russia interfered in the internal affairs of the United States, in the presidential election, increasing numbers of Americans were persuaded of this truth.
Unfortunately, Russia has entered a path that leads nowhere. Power is unlimited; legislation is repressive; there has long been no real opposition. There is no coherent opposition program. The slogans “Russia without Putin,” and “Russia will be free,” are just words.
Putin cynically and regularly proclaims a struggle against the corruption that he himself sponsors.
What would Russia be without Putin? Putin himself is nothing. He is merely a facade concealing the special services and the oligarchs. They can easily replace him with another representative of the secret services.
Was Russia free under Dmitri Medvedev, president in 2008-2012? Of course not. He was a puppet of these very same forces.
Sometimes I am reproached for attributing to the Kremlin too much influence in the world. My response is that the Putin regime is so convinced of its own impunity that it indulges in actions that even communist leaders during the Cold War refrained from attempting.
Russia is at a dead end. It is vital that it not drag the rest of the world down the path it has taken.
It is our responsibility to make sure that does not happen.
Andrei A.Kovalev served as a diplomat and official in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) and then in similar capacities under presidents Yeltsin and Putin (1991-2007). He is author ofRussia’s Dead End: An Insider’s Testimony from Gorbachev to Putin (Potomac Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2017).
Robert Mueller. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
- President Trump’s drafted letter laying out his reasons for firing FBI director James Comey could give the special counsel a direct window into the president’s intent when he later dismissed Comey.
- The letter could also implicate top Trump aide, Stephen Miller, in Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation.
- The advice that White House counsel Don McGahn gave Trump to dissuade him from sending the letter could also prove to be a critical piece of the puzzle.
News on Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained a letter drafted by President Donald Trump that details his reasons for firing then-FBI director James Comey has likely bolstered the progress of the Russia investigation, and may have landed another close Trump confidant in its crosshairs.
Mueller was put in charge of the investigation — which is examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during last year’s presidential election — after Trump dismissed Comey in May. As part of his investigation, Mueller is also examining whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired the FBI director four months ago.
The letter Mueller is reviewing was drafted by Trump along with policy adviser Stephen Miller, and legal experts say it is possibly the most critical piece of evidence in Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice case since Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, because it can give prosecutors a direct window into Trump’s thinking shortly before he fired Comey.
The biggest challenge a prosecutor faces in an obstruction-of-justice case is proving corrupt intent, which is almost always difficult to establish. But Trump’s letter could change the ballgame.
“The best way to prove someone’s intent is through their own words and actions,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told Business Insider in an interview Saturday. “Here, you have a letter that was written by Miller, at the direction of the president, that contains what the president’s thoughts were at that time.”
Though the letter’s full contents remain unclear, The Washington Post reported that it focused on what was perhaps Trump’s greatest frustration with Comey: that the FBI director did not publicly announce, when he was leading the bureau’s investigation, that Trump was not personally under investigation.
Former FBI Director James Comey Drew Angerer/Getty Images
“It’s problematic for Trump if he fired Comey because he did not take actions in the investigation that would benefit Trump personally,” Mariotti said. “That makes Mueller’s case stronger.”
Cornell Law School associate dean and criminal law expert Jens David Ohlin echoed that assessment.
“The draft letter is extremely relevant to Mueller’s investigation because it may yield evidence about the true reason that Trump fired Comey,” Ohlin said. “If Trump fired Comey to impede an investigation that might implicate his own campaign or administration, that is obstruction of justice.”
Trump put the letter together shortly after Comey’s May 3 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he defended his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. The president was reportedly incensed after Comey acknowledged that his October announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton, days before the election, could have impacted its results.
Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, told Business Insider in an email Saturday that the letter has long been in Mueller’s possession and its existence was known both to the special counsel’s team, as well as to the Department of Justice, “which has had a copy since the day it was first discussed within the White House.” He added there was “little, IF ANY, objection within the White House” to the letter, and that it focused primarily on Comey’s “usurpation of powers and other erratic and inexplicable conduct.”
The long weekend during which Trump drafted the letter at his Bedminster golf club began on Thursday, May 4, The New York Times reported on Friday. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was given a copy of Trump’s draft letter on Monday, May 8, and then proceeded to write a separate memo as to why Comey should be fired.
Stephen Miller tapes Sunday show interviews from the White House. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
The letter also implicates Miller, who The Post said acted as a “stenographer” for Trump in writing the letter.
Miller, an ally of the recently ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon, has emerged in recent months as a Trump loyalist within the administration.
Given his role in the matter, Miller will likely be, at the very least, a witness in Mueller’s investigation. Other possible witnesses include Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who were both with Trump at his Bedminster golf club when he drafted the letter during a weekend in early May.
If Miller acted primarily as a transcriber, he could have a smaller part in the investigation. However, “if he was actively working with the president to plan how they could derail or kill the Russia investigation,” Mariotti said, “that could present legal problems for Miller.”
Ohlin added that Miller and anyone else involved in Comey’s firing — or drafting the letter — may be accessories or co-conspirators to that crime as well.
The question then becomes, Mariotti added, “whether there was an agreement between Miller and the president to obstruct justice.” If that were the case, it could amount to conspiracy, he said.
Another way the adviser could be implicated in the investigation is if, for example, the president was acting in a way to obstruct justice, and Miller knew about that and tried to do what he could to help Trump succeed. If that were the case, Miller could have been aiding and abetting a crime.
Mariotti said those two possibilities are likely the biggest potential sources of criminal liability for Miller.
The letter, as a whole, is a crucial part of the Russia controversy because it “goes directly to the biggest issue at question — what Trump’s intent was as to the Russia investigation,” Mariotti said.
Trump’s best defense would likely be that the draft letter did not reflect his true thinking on the subject, and that’s why never sent it, Ohlin said.
He added, however, that he didn’t believe the argument would hold much water because “it seems more likely that the draft letter reflected his true thinking, but then was edited down for other reasons.”
Though the White House initially said that Trump fired Comey based entirely on Rosenstein’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recommendations, Trump later said he had already decided to fire Comey, and that Rosenstein’s recommendation sealed the deal.
His explanation changed again later on, when he admitted to NBC News’ Lester Holt that he had fired Comey because of “this Russia thing,” and that he was going to dismiss the FBI director regardless of Rosenstein’s input.
President Donald Trump looks at Finnish President Sauli Niinisto during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon
And as far as that goes, White House counsel Don McGahn’s conversation with Trump when he advised him against sending the letter could be another key piece of the puzzle.
“We don’t know exactly what McGahn said, but the mere fact that he put a stop to that letter is another piece of evidence that Mueller could use to say, ‘Donald Trump was warned by the White House counsel that this was a problematic step and decided to do it anyway,'” Mariotti told Business Insider on Saturday morning, and later spoke about on Twitter.
The substance of what McGahn told Trump is important — and there’s no guarantee that it could be withheld as privileged information.
The reason is that a federal court of appeals ruled in 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey had to submit to the special prosecutor’s questions about President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky. In that case, the court held that there is no attorney-client privilege between a government lawyer and a government employee in response to a grand jury inquiry.
If that ruling holds as it relates to the obstruction-of-justice investigation, it’s possible the public will eventually hear what McGahn told the president. “If he said anything along the lines of, ‘There’s potential criminal liability if you shut down this investigation,’ that would be extraordinarily powerful evidence against Trump,” Mariotti said.
In that case, McGahn’s advice to Trump could possibly become as important as Trump’s state of mind when he crafted the letter.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, want to interview two high-ranking FBI officials about some key aspects of the bureau’s role in the Trump-Russia investigation — the Trump dossier, the firing of James Comey, and more. But the FBI doesn’t want those officials to talk — even though the Judiciary Committee has oversight responsibility for the FBI, and even though the request is bipartisan, and even though there appears to be no conflict with the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation conducted by special prosecutor James Mueller.
A standoff could be developing.
It began on July 11, when Grassley and Feinstein wrote letters to James Rybicki, who was Director Comey’s chief of staff, and Carl Ghattas, head of the bureau’s national security branch. “The committee is investigating the removal of FBI Director James Comey, Russian interference in the 2016 election, and allegations of improper interference in law enforcement investigations,” the chairman and ranking member wrote. “Please make yourself available for a transcribed interview during the week of July 24, 2017.”
It didn’t happen. On July 27, Samuel Ramer, the acting assistant attorney general, wrote to say that Rybicki and Ghattas would not be talking. Noting the Mueller investigation, Ramer said, “Under these circumstances and consistent with the department’s long-standing policy regarding the confidentiality and sensitivity of information relating to pending matters, the department cannot make Mr. Ghattas or Mr. Rybicki available for transcribed interviews at this time.”
Grassley and Feinstein did not agree. They knew that committee staff, Republican and Democrat, had had so-called “de-confliction” discussions with Mueller’s office on how the Senate investigation might proceed without interfering with Mueller’s criminal probe. And they didn’t see a conflict. So on August 25, Grassley and Feinstein wrote another letter, this time to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“The department declined to make Mr. Ghattas and Mr. Rybicki available for interviews because of pending matters and their current work on those matters with Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote. “However, in our de-confliction discussions with the Special Counsel’s office, we have clarified that the committee intends to limit the scope of the interviews to avoid that concern. There is no intent to seek information about these witnesses’ current work with the Special Counsel’s office. Rather, we seek their independent recollections, as fact witnesses, of events that occurred before and including Director Comey’s removal.”
The two lawmakers asked the Justice Department to get in touch by September 1 to schedule the interviews. “We appreciate and expect the department’s voluntary cooperation with this important request,” they wrote.
Including the words “expect” and “voluntary” was notable, because it essentially meant, “Don’t make us force you.” If they are united, the chair and the ranking minority of a Senate committee can make a lot of trouble for an agency under their oversight. Grassley and Feinstein, veterans of many years in the Senate, know that very well.
The Justice Department does, too. But September 1 came and went with no department effort to set up the interviews.
Now, it is not clear what is next. Grassley and Feinstein appear to be determined to talk to Rybicki and Ghattas. It is obvious that both men know a lot about what went on in the FBI in the last couple of years. As far as the Trump dossier specifically is concerned, they could be able to shed light on the FBI’s reported decision in October 2016 to support work on the dossier, which at the time was an anti-Trump opposition research project funded by Clinton donors. Grassley has said that decision “raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics.” There’s no doubt he wants to learn more about it.
Finally, sharp-eyed readers may have noticed the name of James Rybicki in the news in the last few days. He was one of the FBI officials cited in a letter from Grassley and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham suggesting that Comey may have decided to exonerate Hillary Clinton in the email investigation before Clinton and more than a dozen other witnesses were even interviewed. The senators based the charge on Rybicki’s interview with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel. (They took care to note that, despite the name, the Office of Special Counsel is completely separate from and not related to the Robert Mueller investigation.) Rybicki, as Comey’s chief of staff, obviously knew a lot about the email investigation.
Now Grassley and Feinstein want to know what Rybicki, as well as Ghattas, knows about the dossier, the Comey firing, and other events that make up the broadest definition of the Trump-Russia affair. But first, they’ll have to get past the Justice Department’s determination to keep things secret.
“…It is the reputation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation itself that is even more dangerously tarnished. The conventional wisdom is that there are plenty of good, patriotic civil servants in the FBI — and that is undoubtedly true — but not since the days of J. Edgar Hoover has the organization’s leadership been so suspect, their opaque decision-making process so fraught with defensive self-preservation and political bias. Sometimes, it seems the “G-men” spend far more time dodging FOIA requests — redacting almost everything in sight, lest it be “misunderstood” by we in the great unwashed — than in stopping crime. That may not be so, but the reasons for the perception are undeniable.
Something must be done and quickly. The latest revelations about Comey make the recusal of Mueller more urgent, but the overall situation is yet more severe. The FBI itself needs some form of investigation and reorganization. A true reform. Otherwise a huge percentage of the country will continue to distrust it and that distrust, pending the results of the closely tied Mueller-Russia inquiry, will only continue to grow. That is untenable in a democratic republic.
Failing that, we might as well rename the FBI as the GDS — the Guardians of the Deep State.
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. He procrastinates on Twitter @rogerlsimon.“
What happens to a country whose most important police force — and its key investigators — is no longer telling the truth to the citizens of that nation? Nothing good, I’m sure most would agree. There’s almost no point in going through all the analogies to despotic regimes. Writers from George Orwell to Arthur Koestler have already done it for us.
But those analogies come immediately to mind following two revelations regarding our Federal Bureau of Investigation that surfaced this week. In one instance, the FBI refused to turn over documents regarding the Hillary Clinton emails because of — wait for it — “lack of public interest.”
The head of the FBI Records Management Division wrote Ty Clevenger, a New York Attorney who filed the FOIA request in March 2016, to inform him that his request was being denied in late August.“You have not sufficiently demonstrated that the public’s interest in disclosure outweighs personal privacy interests of the subject,” the letter, obtained by Fox News, reads. “Therefore, records regarding your subject are withheld pursuant to FOIA exemptions.”
It’s hard to imagine what was going on in the mind of Records Management Division head David M. Hardy when he wrote — or was forced to write by some unknown superior — such a risible lie, but things have only gotten worse from there. Now we learn that then FBI director James Comey may never have planned to find Clinton guilty in the first place.
While the transcripts of those interviews are heavily redacted, they indicate that Comey started working on an announcement clearing Clinton in April or May of last year, before the FBI interviewed 17 witnesses in the case, including Clinton and some of her top aides.Clinton was interviewed for several hours on July 2, just three days before Comey’s announcement.
Defenders of Comey insist this early draft exonerating Clinton is standard FBI practice, but, not surprisingly, none of them mention that a similar draft deeming Clinton culpable has not surfaced. One doubts it exists.
To millions of Americans, Hillary Clinton was as guilty as O.J. Simpson. You would have to be an imbecile not to think she didn’t know she was doing something illegal secreting her professional emails as secretary of State on a private server hidden in a bathroom. And yet James Comey’s ultimate decision on Clinton depended on her putative ignorance after literally decades of government service.
No wonder he vacillated so many times in his statements and actions. Only someone completely without conscience wouldn’t have. And Comey should have a guilty conscience because it is now becoming increasingly clear he was looking for way to exonerate Clinton virtually no matter what. The famous Bill-Loretta tarmac meeting was an unnecessary embarrassment, as was Lynch instructing Comey to call the investigation a “matter.” This was ultimately, as the Italian film goes, “The Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion.” That is why she was never interviewed under oath and so many of her subalterns were let off free or allowed to destroy records and negotiate the most outlandish requests that neutered the inquiry. That is why we have never seen the tens of thousands of erased and supposedly missing emails.