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Trumpocalypse: A Nightmare From Which There’s No Normal Exit

The attempted purging of Jeff Sessions indicates that Trump meant nothing he said about American sovereignty and well-being

Ever since inauguration day just over six months ago. the Trump White House has been beleaguered by allegations of nefarious – and possibly illegal – ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign. For half a year now, those allegations have gradually grown more specific and more serious, while Team Trump’s inept handling of these weighty accusations has only rendered them politically more cancerous.

Months of denials from the president and his retinue that they had any ties with Moscow were unwise, since we now know of numerous hush-hush meetings in 2016 between core members of Team Trump and Kremlin representatives. Hence present White House efforts to brush off these mysterious rendezvous with protests that it’s all no big deal and “everybody does it” ring hollow – since for months the president and his spokespeople repeatedly denied there had been any such meetings.

The recent appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director indicates where this scandal is headed. A hedge-funder billionaire and media gadfly, Scaramucci has traits which the president admires, above all his well-honed willingness to lie baldly and loudly – if not always convincingly – on camera.

Trump was dissatisfied with Sean Spicer, his initial spokesman, from day one. While Spicer was willing to lie for the president, his efforts sometimes seemed half-hearted, TV comedy depictions to the contrary. A veteran Republican National Committee staffer, Spicer is a rather normal Washington type and he clearly was never fully at home in the Trump lie factory. Hence his gradual replacement at press briefings by the more ethically malleable Sarah Huckabee Sanders, followed by his recent departure when Scaramucci was appointed to shake up White House messaging.

Based on his initial forays as Trump’s media guru – complete with anticipated bluster about shaking things up and firing leakers – Scaramucci seems to be functioning more as de facto White House chief of staff than the president’s communications director. That said, “The Mooch” is ideally suited to a job which will require ever grander public deceptions of mounting implausibility as multiple investigations into President Trump’s 2016 relations with the Kremlin start to bear fruit.

Read the rest at The Observer …

We Now Have Proof of Trump’s Collusion With the Kremlin

As Winston Churchill famously said, this is the end of the beginning

After months of speculation about the relationship between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, hard evidence has at last emerged which is deeply damaging to the White House. This represents a turning point in the ever-more-complex saga of what I’ve termed KremlinGate, and how the Trump White House handles the revelation will determine its future—if it even has one.

This comes on the heels of the president’s sidebar one-on-one meeting with his Russian counterpart last weekend at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Despite the fact that—as I recently noted—a meeting with the Kremlin leader (when the U.S. Intelligence Community says his spy services helped elect Trump last year) would seem to be the very last thing any sensible administration would want, Trump went ahead with it.

The meeting itself was awkwardly long, and afterwards neither side could agree on what was said. At a minimum, Trump allowed Putin to appear as his equal (and perhaps more, to examine the body language on display) and proceeded to go along with the Kremlin line that Russian intelligence played no nefarious role in keeping Hillary Clinton from the White House. That is dismissed as blatant deception by our spy agencies, yet appears to be accepted by Trump and his minions, extensive intelligence evidence to the contrary.

To make matters worse, once he was home, Trump fired off numerous combative tweets about his relationship with Putin, including the stunning idea that he and the Kremlin boss had discussed setting up a joint cybersecurity unit with Moscow to ensure the integrity of future elections. This, simply put, was the most shocking policy suggestion uttered by any American president in my lifetime—and quite possibly ever.

To get this straight: Trump wanted to share American cyber-secrets with the country whose spy services illegally and clandestinely helped put him in the White House, and which continue to cyber-pillage our government and economy right now, in real time.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why Is Donald Trump Enabling Russian Espionage in America?

White House refuses to push back on aggressive Kremlin spying

How the Obama administration mishandled clandestine Russian interference in last year’s election has become the talk of the town and social media thanks to a new, detailed report by the Washington Post. That piece portrays a White House in disarray through 2016, unable to decide what to do about Kremlin meddling, despite high-grade intelligence confirming that Vladimir Putin had ordered his spy services to create electoral mayhem in America.

Of course, I told you that months ago, and Barack Obama’s reputation for diffidence and indecision – particularly regarding Russia, which was by no means confined to 2016 – will mar his administration’s legacy, deservedly so. Obama’s fateful lack of pushback against the Kremlin will hang over last year’s election as the preeminent what-if for future historians to unravel.

Nevertheless, President Obama’s mistakes on Russia are now confined to the past, while his successor keeps making them in real time. Donald Trump’s recent tweets have only added to the mystery of his relationship with Moscow, which is the subject of no less than four major Washington investigations: by the FBI, by both houses of Congress, and by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

After months of protesting that the issue of Russian interference in last year’s election was wholly fake, conjured by liberals and journalists, the president at last conceded (or at least strongly seemed to) that Moscow had, in fact, done something nefarious in 2016. Trump subsequently opined that the real collusion with the Kremlin had been done by Obama – without adding any details – and that the current White House resident is therefore owed an apology by the media!

It’s difficult to know what to make of all this. All that can be stated for certain at present is that widely reported efforts by the president’s lawyers to get their client to stop sending inflammatory tweets which might be used against Trump by investigators and prosecutors have wholly failed.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Homegrown Terrorism Festers in America’s Toxic Political Environment

The US needs to look at its violence problem without ideological blinders

It’s happened again. This week’s horrifying assassination attempt against Congressional Republicans as they practiced for a bipartisan charity baseball game reminds Americans that violence is ever present in our society.

Four innocent people were shot and the highest-ranking victim, Rep. Steve Scalise, remains in critical condition at this hour. However, the fact that Scalise is the majority whip in the House of Representatives may be the only reason there wasn’t a far worse massacre. As the third-ranking Republican in the House, Scalise travels with bodyguards from the Capitol Police (two of whom were shot while protecting Congress-members). Had they not been present, a much bloodier event would have surely transpired.

The gunman was fatally wounded by those bodyguards – thereby saving uncounted lives – in a wild melée with dozens of rounds expended in a firefight on a suburban baseball diamond. James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old from the St. Louis suburbs, was exactly the sort of angry ne’er-do-well commonly associated with such killings. A man with a lengthy arrest record known for violent outbursts, Hodgkinson descended into ever-greater anger until he traveled to Virginia to kill his political enemies.

On social media and in person, Hodgkinson exuded hatred for Republicans in general and President Donald Trump in particular. Whether the difference between this killer’s ideological venom and that of millions of perfectly peaceful liberals was one of degree or kind looms as an important question right now. Regardless, it would help the country if citizens on both sides of the aisle took this week’s tragedy as an opportunity to tone down our increasingly shrill political rhetoric.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Return of Frankie and The Iceman

New trials for Balkan war criminals are set to reopen old wounds – and may expose Washington’s secret role

For the last 24 years, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, has attempted to mete out justice to those accused of war crimes in the ugly conflicts which engulfed Southeastern Europe from 1991 to 1999. The track record of this UN-mandated court, termed the ICTY for short (said as ick-tee by Balkan cognoscienti) can be fairly assessed as mixed.

It’s put some certified bad guys behind bars – most infamously Slobodan Milošević, Serbia’s longtime president and the preeminent architect of the Balkan nightmares of the 1990s, who died in ICTY custody in 2006 before his trial was completed – but there have been plenty of missteps too. Back in 2012-13, several prominent Balkan war criminals who had been convicted by the ICTY after extended and expensive trials were released on appeal, leading to awkward questions about the tribunal’s practical effectiveness.

The court has faced doubters from the start, including those who suspect the ICTY’s less-than-even-handed justice is merely keeping political wounds open, rather than promoting much-needed healing in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, which remain politically traumatized by Communism’s collapse and the unpleasant conflicts which followed in its wake. Although – full disclosure alert – I’ve aided the ICTY as an expert witness in more than one case, I’ve been a skeptic too, suspecting that a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation model might have served the Balkans better than justice imported by outsiders.

The problem seemed to be resolving itself, however, as the ICTY was slated to shut its doors imminently since it had few cases left to try. By late last year, there was only one upcoming trial on the books, that of Ratko Mladić, the infamous commander of the Bosnian Serb military during that country’s brutal 1992-95 war.

The tribunal has been given new life, though, by a sensational trial slated to start this week which aims to prosecute two of the most sinister and shadowy of all the Balkan warlords who perpetrated crimes back in the 1990s. They are Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, who a quarter-century ago were top officers of Serbia’s secret police. As such, they oversaw secret units of commandos and criminals who murdered and plundered their way across Croatia and Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s at Belgrade’s behest.

Read the rest at The Observer …

3 Big Takeaways from Comey Day in Washington

Yesterday’s much-anticipated testimony from the former FBI director included genuine bombshells – which some may have missed

After weeks of anticipation, yesterday James Comey testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, offering his account of how and why President Donald Trump unexpectedly fired him as FBI director one month ago. As expected, Comey came across as the careful and calm career legal bureaucrat which he is. Both the pro- and anti-Trump camps heard things they liked in Comey’s testimony.

Predictably, the president’s supporters are trumpeting things which they heard Comey say – or at least what they think they heard him say. Already the White House is running with Comey’s words which, they claim, vindicate the president and his version of how things went very wrong between Trump and his FBI director over the Bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in our 2016 election.

On the positive side, Trump’s supporters are taking comfort from Comey’s admission that he had, in fact, informed the president that he was not personally under FBI counterintelligence investigation last winter. This, while true, is something of a technicality, since Comey admitted that Russian interference in our 2016 election was very real – “with purpose and sophistication” as Comey put it – no matter what the president tweets.

When asked about this critical issue by Republican Senator Richard Burr, the SSCI chair, Comey’s responses were clear-cut:

Burr: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections?

Comey: None.

Burr: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the D triple C systems and the subsequent leaks of that information?

Comey: No, no doubt.

Burr: Do you have any doubt the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files?

Comey: No.

Read the rest at The Observer …

50 Years Ago: NSA’s Deadliest Day

A half-century ago, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 Americans – an incident still shrouded in mystery

June 8, 1967 was the worst day in the history of the National Security Agency. On that date, Israeli airplanes and torpedo boats mauled and nearly sank an American spy ship in international waters, killing or maiming most of its crew. This tragedy appears as a footnote to Israelis, an unpleasant sideshow of their victorious Six Day War, while official Washington preferred the embarrassing episode be forgotten. But NSA has never let the Liberty and her ill-fated crew disappear from memory altogether.

The USS Liberty was owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, which euphemistically referred to her as one of its Technical Research Ships, but she really worked for NSA. A converted World War Two freighter, the Liberty was barely a warship, possessing minimal armament for self-defense, and her mission was very hush-hush. She sailed the world collecting signals intelligence on behalf of her bosses at Fort Meade, Maryland. Her hull contained a large top-secret room where sailors of the Naval Security Group, NSA’s Navy component, intercepted and translated foreign communications.

In the mid-1960s, the Liberty sailed from crisis to crisis, wherever NSA needed her on station to collect SIGINT, and the beginning of June 1967 found her off the coast of west Africa. However, the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East required her dispatch to the eastern Mediterranean, where war was about to break out again between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

On the fateful morning of June 8, the Liberty was sailing almost 30 miles north of the Sinai Peninsula, a war zone. By this point, the Six Day War’s fourth day, Israel was well on its way to defeating the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, an epic victory that changed the map of the Middle East. The Liberty was in position to monitor possible Soviet movements, since there was concern in Washington that Moscow might come to the aid of its humiliated Egyptian client. The Cold War was still very real and as a result most of the Naval Security Group linguists aboard were specialists in Russian and Arabic, not Hebrew.

A half-century on, considerable debate persists about what really happened to the Liberty on June 8, but the essential facts not in dispute are these. Throughout the morning, several Israeli warplanes individually approached the U.S. Navy vessel, in some cases circling above the Liberty, in an apparent reconnaissance effort. Just before 2 p.m., two Israeli Air Force Mirage fighter jets raked Liberty’s decks with cannon fire. They were soon joined by three Israeli Mystère attack jets which executed multiple attack runs on the American ship, offering cannon blasts, rocket fire, and even napalm. The jets made repeated low-level attacks on the nearly defenseless Liberty for about 20 minutes. By the time they ceased, Liberty’s radars and communications gear were destroyed, nine Americans were dead or dying, and dozens more were wounded.

Read the rest at The Observer …