Mueller is coming – and Trump can do nothing to stop him

The central fact of Donald Trump’s presidency is that it was never supposed to happen. Running for the White House was a publicity stunt, The Donald’s biggest yet, a bold effort to pump up his brand several notches and get more money for his myriad gigs. It was never a serious run for office. Yet, somehow, it worked.

Anecdotal evidence abounds. There was the stunning lack of a bona fide victory speech on the night of November 8, 2016. What Trump delivered in response to his unexpected victory was incoherently ad hoc even for him. Winning was never part of the Trumpian plan. As Howard Stern, who has known our 45th president for decades, explained, ‘Believe me, nobody wanted Hillary to win more than Donald Trump.’

Being president is a massive hassle, no how much of a part-time job Trump has endeavored to make it, with vast blocs of nebulous ‘executive time’ on the presidential calendar. Worse, winning the White House has exposed Trump’s decades of shady dealings to serious investigation and exposure for the first time.

Conducting secret meetings with Kremlin representatives to get dirt on your political rivals is not something done by normal Western politicos, but Team Trump was never normal. By parleying with shady Russians in 2016 they were merely doing what they had done for many years. Why stop just because you’re running for president?

Read the rest at Spectator USA…

A Kremlin Spy Mystery in Vienna Shakes the World Capital of Espionage

For a century, Vienna has been the world capital of espionage. It’s a city of world-class mystery and intrigue, as depicted in countless spy novels and films. Vienna has it all: lovely vistas, great food and wine, affordable prices, and an extraordinarily permissive environment for espionage.

In Austria, you’re free to spy on nearly whomever you want, and there are plenty of targets. Everybody has an embassy in Vienna, plus it’s the second city of the United Nations. When it comes to espionage, the only way to get in trouble in Vienna is by spying on your hosts—and that’s just what the Russians got caught doing.

The recent arrest of a retired Austrian army colonel on charges of spying for Moscow has shed light on something nobody in Vienna or the Kremlin wanted discussed openly. The suspect, identified only as Martin M. due to stringent privacy laws, is facing a raft of charges. He stands accused of passing Austrian secrets to Russian military intelligence, that is GRU, for a generation.

The 70-year-old Colonel M., now retired in bucolic Salzburg, began spying for GRU in 1992 and his treachery continued until September of this year, well after his retirement from the military. He had been assigned to the headquarters of the defense ministry in Vienna, where co-workers described him as being “a U-Boat,” utterly nondescript, barely visible.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trump had an opportunity to redefine American foreign policy. He blew it

Donald J. Trump is home from his whirlwind weekend trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s end. Even by The Donald’s formidable china-breaking standards, this was a doozy which will be discussed with opprobrium by the Transatlantic smart set for some time.

President Trump seemed to go out of his way to upset his French counterpart and host Emmanuel Macron, who’s hit a political rough patch and needed some brotherly love. That bromance is dead and buried, however, and Trump fired off a mocking tweet at Macron as he boarded Air Force One for Paris that denounced the French president’s backing of a European army as ‘very insulting.’

This rattled the Élysée Palace yet, while Trump’s use of Twitter to conduct diplomacy was its usual silliness, the point stands. Washington has always opposed any EU army, on the sensible grounds that it will weaken NATO. Since hardly any European NATO members spend the ‘required’ two percent of GDP on defense, the notion that there’s enough cash on hand to have a viable European army while keeping the Atlantic Alliance afloat is laughable. Not to mention there are only two major EU countries that take defense seriously, fiscally and otherwise – Britain and Poland – and the former is on its way out of the Union while Brussels is doing its best to evict the latter.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

Team Mueller is Holding ‘Dozens of Sealed Indictments,’ According to Intel Source

For every day of his presidency—657 so far, if you’re counting—the issue of Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia has darkened the Oval Office door. Since May 17, 2017, when former FBI director Robert S. Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to unravel Trump’s secret Kremlin linkages, the president has seethed, his rage seeping into his tweets. From its first day, President Trump has wanted to quash the Mueller investigation, and now he’s making his move.

But is it already too late? There’s mounting evidence it is, specifically that Team Mueller is ready to strike imminently with indictments, no matter what the White House does.

All the same, the feat was impetuous even for Trump. He could not wait even one day, dropping his bomb on Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of his wild, angry press conference about the midterm elections. Although Tuesday’s midterms were hardly the personal success that Trump presented them as—with the Democratic takeover of the House muted by GOP gains in the Senate—the hotly desired Democratic Blue Wave never quite swelled. The midterms were a setback for the White House, but hardly an unprecedented one. Barack Obama in 2010 and Bill Clinton in 1994 took worse midterm hits and got reelected.

Read the rest at The Observer …

What Makes a Blue Wave?

On Tuesday, American voters will give the president his first official performance review. There will be no opportunity to tell Donald J. Trump ‘You’re fired!’ in the reality TV verbiage he relishes – that will have to wait two more years – setbacks for the Republicans in Congress will inevitably be interpreted negatively for The Donald, who has pulled out the stops exhorting his loyal fanbase to the polls on November 6.

But will it happen? American political history is filled with stern midterm rebukes for presidents, especially Democrats who get ahead of their skis like Bill Clinton in 1994 or Barack Obama in 2010, when their party lost 54 and 63 seats in the House of Representatives, respectively.

Few expect such a historic setback to hit the GOP this year, though broad Beltway consensus has it that the Republicans may well lose control of the House, where the opposition needs to win only 23 seats to ‘get gavels’ as Hill wonks put it.

That’s an alarming prospect for the beleaguered White House, since Democratic control of committees, above all the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, promises subpoenas and investigations of President Trump’s Kremlin ties beyond the existing Special Counsel inquiry led by Robert Mueller for the Justice Department. For the last two years, the Republican-controlled HPSCI, chaired by the obsequious Rep. Devin Nunes, a full-bore Trumpist, has kept that powerful committee off Trump’s back.

Read the rest at The Spectator USA …

The Mystery of Donald Trump’s Secret Kremlin Ties Just Got a Lot Deeper

Many Americans regard President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin as uncomfortably cozy. Some, top intelligence officials among them, believe our president has a concealed relationship with Russia, and that it’s nothing new.

To anyone versed in counterintelligence, Trump’s summer 1987 inaugural visit to the Soviet Union, ostensibly to develop Moscow’s never-developed Trump Tower, looks like Ground Zero. The KGB habitually monitored visits by Western VIPs, and since Trump’s junket came by invitation of the Soviet foreign ministry, it’s certain that his trip did not escape the KGB’s attention.

KGB veterans have said as much. Oleg Kalugin, once the youngest general in the KGB and an expert on counterintelligence, confirmed to author Craig Unger “that Trump had fun with lots of girls during that trip and he was almost certain that the KGB had kompromat [compromising material] on that.” Since Kalugin spent several years in the 1980s as the deputy chief of the KGB’s office in Leningrad—a city visited by Trump in 1987—it’s safe to assume that his comment was not speculative.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Yes, Mr. President, the Kremlin Murders Its Enemies—Even in the USA

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, President Trump finally admitted that Vladimir Putin “probably” murders his opponents abroad, but he insisted the Kremlin wouldn’t do such a thing in the United States. Many in U.S. intelligence would disagree.

The mystery on everyone’s mind right now is the October 2 disappearance of the Saudi journalist-turned-dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As I explained in my last column, there’s good reason to believe that Khashoggi, a legal resident of the United States, was murdered by Saudi intelligence, a conclusion that looks firmer with each day he fails to appear.

Khashoggi’s disappearance is a problem for the White House, given the close relationship between the Trump administration and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Kingdom’s de facto leader, whose dislike for the dissident was no secret. Worse, the National Security Agency gave the White House advance warning that the Saudis planned to harm Khashoggi, but Team Trump apparently did nothing (or at least nothing effective) to protect the doomed journalist.

Read the rest at The Observer …

NSA: White House Knew ‘Disappeared’ Saudi Dissident Was In Danger. Why Didn’t They Protect Him?

What did U.S. intelligence and the White House know about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi—and when did they know it? Those are the Top Secret questions haunting Washington right now. A National Security Agency official tells me that the codebreakers, as usual, have some answers.

For a week, the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi has been one of the world’s top news stories, a bona fide international mystery. A prominent Saudi journalist with deep connections to the Kingdom’s leadership circles, the 59-year-old Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and has not officially been seen since.

While the Middle-Eastern rumor mill can’t agree whether the unfortunate man was murdered or merely abducted, few expect to see Khashoggi alive and well again. At a minimum, he has been disappeared, to use the jargon of repressive regimes. Turkish authorities claim that Khashoggi was killed then dismembered inside the consulate, like something out of a low-budget horror movie, while unconfirmed rumors assert that the missing man is being held against his will in his home country, having been smuggled out of Turkey by Saudi intelligence. In any event, the Khashoggi case has become a sore point between Ankara and Riyadh, as well as a black eye for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its allegedly reformist leadership.

Read the rest at The Observer

Why the FBI’s Kavanaugh Investigation is a Minefield—for the FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation occupies an exalted and somewhat awkward position in American society. It’s simultaneously our lead federal law enforcement agency, with a broad remit, and our main domestic intelligence agency. The FBI catches Mafiosi, bank robbers, spies and terrorists, among other duties. Its national security activities are protected by a steep wall of classification. Although it rankles the FBI and its defenders, using the term “secret police” to describe the storied Bureau is not inaccurate.

One of the FBI’s missions, which is little understood by the public, is its role in conducting background investigations of senior executive branch officials. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, currently besieged by allegations of sexual misconduct, successfully passed no less than six FBI “BIs” (as they’re called in the trade) during his federal career in Washington, which stretches back to the early 1990s.

Since such BIs include a comprehensive look at the applicant’s personal and professional life, to include finances, foreign contacts, illegal activities, addictions, and even mental fitness, how someone as manifestly unfit as Judge Kavanaugh—if you believe the evolving Democratic accusations against him—could have passed FBI muster six times does seem more than a little odd.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Poland Stands Up For the West Against Russia—Again

Voltaire is supposed to have said that God is on the side of the big battalions, but there can be no denying that, even in this age of technology-driven conflict, when machines do much of the dirty work once done by men, numbers still matter in war—and in deterring it.

Here NATO has a problem, since its eastern flank includes several countries whose militaries are dwarfed in size by the neighboring Russian bear. For instance, while recent defense efforts in Estonia are impressive, that little country of not much more than a million citizens would be steamrollered by the Kremlin’s forces in the event of war, before NATO reinforcements could arrive in enough numbers to help.

The outlier is Poland, which stands guard on the Atlantic Alliance’s vulnerable eastern flank. Warsaw’s military is NATO’s bulwark against Russian aggression from the east, especially considering Poland’s border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which houses late-model ballistic missiles aimed westward. While there is a now a modest deterrent force drawn from a across the Alliance standing watch close to Russia, including a rotational U.S. Army armored brigade in Poland, military reality dictates that the success or failure of any Kremlin aggression against NATO will be determined by Polish resistance, more than any other factor.

Read the rest at The Observer …