LIVE: The constitutional issues of Special Counsel investigation of Russia, Trump and campaign

Tuesday, 21 March 2017 11:08
Will distorting RussiaGate backfire on Trump and Company?
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backgunThe post-mortem on the Donald Trump-Comey-House Intelligence Hearing Monday continues.

On the extreme right, from the jowls of someone who knows a thing or two about investigations against a President, Pat Buchannan, there is still “nothing there, there”.

 

 

In a column entitled, "WILL RUSSIAGATE BACKFIRE ON THE LEFT?", the former Nixon aide wrote: 

   

"Yet longer-term damage may have been done to the left. For Monday’s hearing showed that its rendering of the campaign of 2016 may be a product of fiction and a fevered imagination.

After eight months investigating the hacking and leaking of the emails of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta and the DNC, there is apparently no evidence yet of Trump collusion with Russia.

Former Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper has said that, as of his departure day, Jan. 20, he had seen no evidence of a Russia-Trump collusion.

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell also made that clear this month: “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all. … There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” Morell was a surrogate for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

                                            

It is bad enough that our current President appears to have a penchant for making up facts, but, you would hope that someone who allegedly wanted Richard Nixon to destroy the Watergate tapes would have learned not to destroy facts.

Buchannan cited James Clapper, claiming the former Obama intelligence official had seen no evidence of Russia-Trump collusion and Morrell making similar claims and therefore, “there is apparently no evidence yet of Trump collusion with Russia”.

Maybe he is right, there is no evidence at this point in time because Comey refused to discuss any evidence his agency was reviewing.  But, to defend his argument by citing Clapper and Morrell, is simply the height of inaccuracy and makes one question if he even saw the hearing yesterday? 

If so, he would have learned not to depend upon the prior statements of Clapper and Morrell, something he and many other Trump supporters, including, the President himself, have been doing, to date.  Below are the reasons that prior Clapper and Morrell statements are apparently irrelevant:

SCHIFF: Director, you were asked about the Director Clapper's comments and I think your response indicated that they were correct as far as the unclassified intelligence assessment goes. 

COMEY: Yes. I understood the question to be about the report itself. 

SCHIFF: I want to make it clear to people though the intelligence assessment -- the unclassified intelligence assessment doesn't discuss the issue of U.S. person coordination with the Russians. And I assume that's because at the time of the report in January of this year that was under an investigation that you have now disclosed, is that right? 

COMEY: Correct. The counterintelligence investigation is the FBI's business. The IC report was about what the intelligence community had about what Russia had done. So there is nothing in the report about coordination writing like that. It's a separate responsibly the FBI to try and understand that, investigate it and -- and assess it. 

SCHIFF: So we shouldn't read Mr. Clapper's comments as suggesting that he takes a different view of whether you had sufficient -- sufficiently credible information and evidence to initiate a FBI counterintelligence investigation. 

COMEY: I don't know exactly what he meant. All I can say is what -- what the fact is which as we just laid out. There's the report and then there's our investigation. 

SCHIFF: And the report doesn't cover the investigation? 

COMEY: Correct

And I assume that Comey might extend his comments to the CIA.

Even later during the hearing, on what might be considered to be an attempt to clarify, a republican Congressman said the following: 

TURNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

There's been a lot of statements that have been made up here that is opposed to questions. And we don't certainly feel the need to clarify all of them, but there is one aspect that does need to be clarified because it's also involved both of your testimonies. 

There's been discussion up here concerning the statements by James Clapper and, rather than do the conjecture as it has been made, I'm going to just read it. Chuck Todd said, "Let me ask you this. Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?" James Clapper said, "We did not include any evidence in our report. 

I say 'our,' that's NSA, FBI, and CIA, with my office and the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report." Chuck Todd followed up. "I understand that, but does it exist?" James Clapper answered, "Not to my knowledge." So the text is not merely related to the report. I yield back.

What is very clear is this--we don't know what Clapper or Morrell knows.  We don't know if either one of them ae privy to the FBI investigative information of which Comey testified.  We don't know what new information has arrived since Trump's inauguration or where any of that potential evidence will take them.  It is clear that the report that Clapper was referring to was not the FBI information under investigation.  He did not say that no evidence exists.  What he said, when asked was, "not to his knowledge". Thus, to his knowledge and presumably Morrell's too, they don't know and their report did not even cover the alleged Russian-Trump collaboration.

So, for Buchannan and others whose comments I have read post-hearing to claim that Clapper and Morrell had opposing views to FBI Comey, therefore there is no evidence, perhaps they should start paying attention to the facts that do exist rather than apparently wanting to create or support alternative facts.

The absolute truth, at this point is very clear, none of us really know why the FBI is investigating, but they are.  Trump, during the election obviously wanted the country to believe that Clinton was guilty when Comey revealed the “October Surprise” investigation, but now that his team is under the federal criminal crucible, an investigation means nothing.

Technically, it does.  It means he does not know what they are investigating or why they are doing so.  Politically, it means his administration has the same cloud over its head as the Clinton campaign had over hers.

Under no circumstances should anyone interpret my comments as saying that there exists facts that prove any illegalities.  The only thing we know at this time is, the FBI has an ongoing investigation into potential collaboration between “Trump world” and the Russians.

That is all we know, or at least, that is all the FBI is willing to disclose at this time.

But, that does not mean there are no claims to consider because there do exist allegations that support the narrative that something untoward did occur.

Here is what, in part, has been alleged by Democrat Congressman Schiff (other Congressmen have made their own separate allegations):

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption. 

According to Christopher Steele, a British — a former British intelligence officer, who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian gas giant, Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin's. 

According to Steele's Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by such an on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share of Rosneft later takes place with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees. Also, according to Steele's Russian sources, the campaign has offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability like WikiLeaks.

The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia's invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share. Policies which even as recently as the President's meeting last week with Angela Merkel have now presently come to pass. In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the — the Trump campaign manager and someone who was a long on the payroll of Pro Russian- Ukrainian interests attends the Russian — the Republican Party Convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. 

Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian Embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party Convention and meets with Carter Page, and additional Trump advisors J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares. It was J.D. Gordon who approved Page's trip to Moscow. 

Ambassador Kislyac also meets with Trump national campaign chair, National Security Campaign Chair and now attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing. Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. 

Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign and altering the platform, but the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, J.D. Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision of the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed. 

Later in July and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on WikiLeaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. A leading private cyber security firms including Crowdstrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29 who are known to be Russian intelligence services. 

The U.S. intelligence committee also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises WikiLeaks, says he loves them and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents emails telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press. 

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a long time Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in his speech that he has communicated with Assange and that more documents would be coming, including an October surprise. In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cut out Guccifer 2.0 and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer's links to Russian intelligence. 

Then later, in August, Stone does something truly remarkable. When he predicts that John Podesta's personal emails will soon be published, trust me he says, it will soon be Podesta's time in the barrel, #crookedHillary. In the weeks that follow, Stone shows remarkable prescience. I have total confidence that WikiLeaks and my hero, Julian Assange will educate the American people soon, he says, #LockHerUp. Payload coming, he predicts and two days later it does. 

WikiLeaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta's emails would then continue on a daily basis, up until the election. On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high-profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin's propaganda outfit RT in the past, as well as another Russian entity. 

In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak, about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over attacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about the secret conversation. The vice president unknowingly then assures the country that no — no such conversation ever happened. The president is informed that Flynn has lied and Pence has misled the country. The president does nothing. 

Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the president is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The president then praises the man who lied, Mr. Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie. 

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with a Russian ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? 

Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak, about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke, the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company, Rosneft, sold a 19 percent share after former British intelligence officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? 

Is it a coincidence that Steele's Russian sources also affirmed that Russian had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for Pro Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be a victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself, was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed? 

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don't know, not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.

There were other allegations raised by the Democratic Congressmen in their respective questions.  Again, those are merely allegations, no more.  They are based on reported facts, newspaper reports, some possibly accurate, others, maybe not.  They are based upon court records and yes, the controversial "Steele dossier". 

To claim there are facts in place that support the claim of guilt by anyone is simply unfair.  But, to likewise insist that there are no reasonable allegations that should not be investigated, is also in my view, political poppycock.

So, where do we stand today in this era of what I am calling, the “age of hit and run politics”? Our current President continues to tweet false information while accusing others of publishing fake news.  He is the poster boy for “anything goes” world—“If you think it, say it”

Unfortunately, our President is using twitter and his office to make claims that are simply not based upon facts.  Unless he and his administration end this practice of making baseless and/or inaccurate claims such as “widespread voter fraud”, “Manafort’s role in the campaign was limited”  “system rigged”, “Obama tapped my phone” and so on--they have no grounds to complain about accuracy in government, in the media or in political discussion.

Truth and accuracy must at the minimum, start at the very top.  

On Friday, Trump tried to escape responsibility for a false Fox News claim his campaign floated.  He said to ask Fox and all his administration did was float the information out during the press conference.  We know that the British are angry for Trump's recklessness.  The German Chancellor and the World now know the President approves of just floating out information when it suits his own purpose.

Improper floating out unsupported allegations must end and the buck must start and end with Donald Trump and his own administration.  Without his lead, we can expect this country to continue to float and then sink towards the bottom in our growing heavy disbelief and lack of trust in our sacred American institutions.

The buck must start and end with Donald Trump.  Without his lead, you can expect this country to continue to cascade towards the bottom in our belief and trust in American institutions.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 12:08
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