Archives for October 2016

Blackmail: Russia has been cultivating Trump for at least 5 years says a former senior intelligence officer

Mother Jones reports: a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jones that in recent months he provided the [FBI] with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump — and that the FBI requested more information from him.

Does this mean the FBI is investigating whether Russian intelligence has attempted to develop a secret relationship with Trump or cultivate him as an asset? Was the former intelligence officer and his material deemed credible or not? An FBI spokeswoman says, “Normally, we don’t talk about whether we are investigating anything.” But a senior US government official not involved in this case but familiar with the former spy tells Mother Jones that he has been a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.

In June, the former Western intelligence officer — who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients — was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.) “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” says the former spook, who asks not to be identified. But when he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”

This was, the former spy remarks, “an extraordinary situation.” He regularly consults with US government agencies on Russian matters, and near the start of July on his own initiative — without the permission of the US company that hired him — he sent a report he had written for that firm to a contact at the FBI, according to the former intelligence officer and his American associates, who asked not to be identified. (He declines to identify the FBI contact.) The former spy says he concluded that the information he had collected on Trump was “sufficiently serious” to share with the FBI.

Mother Jones has reviewed that report and other memos this former spy wrote. The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” [Continue reading…]

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The uninformed public speculation that might tilt this election

Donald Trump’s election campaign has been fueled, more than anything else, by prejudice — the willingness of his supporters to reach conclusions unsupported by evidence.

Yesterday, in New Mexico, Trump claimed that if Hillary Clinton becomes president the population of the United States could triple in size in one week and grow from 325 million to 975 million!

“Think of it,” Trump said, but as the crowd booed there was little evidence that anyone in front of him was indeed thinking about what he’d just said. Some thought should have produced derisory laughter in response to such an absurd statement.

If 650 million peopled poured across the U.S. borders, this would amount to the largest migration in human history. This would be like every single person in Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America all arriving in the U.S. — in the space of seven days.

Think of it!

Actually, it’s a bit difficult for anyone to think of it unless they are willing to indulge in an idle flight of fantasy.

What Trump was doing yesterday is what he been doing throughout his campaign: attempting to bypass all meaningful processes of thought and connect with the reptilian brain, animated as it is by archaic forces of fear and aggression. When Trump says think, what he’s really saying is be afraid, very afraid.

* * *

The daily drama of politics, in the age of Wikileaks and beyond the long shadow of Watergate, is repeatedly invigorated by the promise of revelations.

Since Watergate involved the mother of all cover-ups, any claim that something has been “discovered” comes charged with the implication that a discovery is the flip-side of a cover-up. What was meant to remain secret has now become known.

But when FBI Director James Comey wrote to Congress to inform them “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation [of Clinton’s personal email server]” nothing of substance had been uncovered.

At this point, all that is known is that a computer used by former Rep. Anthony Weiner (aka Carlos Danger) contained some emails connected to Clinton aide, Huma Abedin.

It has been reported that there are 650,000 emails, without any specifics about who they were written to and received by or when they were sent. The Wall Street Journal reports, “underlying metadata suggests thousands of those messages could have been sent to or from the private server that Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state, according to people familiar with the matter.” Yet it was not until this weekend that the FBI received a court order allowing them to begin reviewing the emails.

If when Comey wrote to Congress, he and those under him had been complying with the law, at that time no one in the FBI had looked at a single of the thousands of emails in question.

When anonymous sources leaked the seemingly hard fact that there are 650,000 emails involved, they were leaking a hard number that again obscures its lack of substance. We don’t know whether hundreds of thousands or hundreds or just a handful are connected to Abedin.

Comey was like a firefighter who runs into a crowded shopping mall and shouts: “There might be a fire. But don’t panic. There might be some smoke — but it could just be steam.”

In his confession to FBI employees he wrote: “I don’t want to create a misleading impression,” but admitted, “there is significant risk of being misunderstood…” Indeed.

Which is why Comey has now been admonished by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, along with close to 100 other former Department of Justice officials, who in an open letter conclude:

We believe that adherence to longstanding Justice Department guidelines is the best practice when considering public statements on investigative matters. We do not question Director Comey’s motives. However, the fact remains that the Director’s disclosure has invited considerable, uninformed public speculation about the significance of newly-discovered material just days before a national election. For this reason, we believe the American people deserve all the facts, and fairness dictates releasing information that provides a full and complete picture regarding the material at issue.

Given the fact that in the remaining days before the election it is reasonable to assume that a full and complete picture will not and cannot be presented, it is also reasonable to assume that uninformed public speculation on the issue will continue without interruption.

And that should suit Donald Trump just fine.

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Sen. Harry Reid says FBI possesses ‘explosive information about close ties and coordination’ between Trump and Russian government

The Washington Post reports: In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey on Sunday night, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says Comey may have broken the law.

And that’s not even the most brazen claim in the letter — not by a long shot.

In the course of arguing that Comey’s disclosure that the FBI is looking into new Hillary Clinton investigation emails may have violated the Hatch Act, Reid slips in an extremely bold claim about the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Even for a man known for bare-knuckle politics, this is remarkable.

Reid is saying that he has been told the FBI has evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And he’s not just saying this information came from mysterious and unnamed national security officials; he’s saying Comey himself has left him with this impression. [Continue reading…]

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On Clinton emails, did the FBI Director abuse his power?

Richard W Painter writes: The F.B.I. is currently investigating the hacking of Americans’ computers by foreign governments. Russia is a prime suspect.

Imagine a possible connection between a candidate for president in the United States and the Russian computer hacking. Imagine the candidate has business dealings in Russia, and has publicly encouraged the Russians to hack the email of his opponent. It would not be surprising for the F.B.I. to include this candidate and his campaign staff in its confidential investigation of Russian computer hacking.

But it would be highly improper, and an abuse of power, for the F.B.I. to conduct such an investigation in the public eye, particularly on the eve of the election. It would be an abuse of power for the director of the F.B.I., absent compelling circumstances, to notify members of Congress that the candidate was under investigation. It would be an abuse of power if F.B.I. agents went so far as to obtain a search warrant and raid the candidate’s office tower, hauling out boxes of documents and computers in front of television cameras.

The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election.

Such acts could also be prohibited under the Hatch Act, which bars the use of an official position to influence an election. That is why the F.B.I. presumably would keep those aspects of an investigation confidential until after the election. The usual penalty for a violation is termination of federal employment.

That is why, on Saturday, I filed a complaint against the F.B.I. with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations, and with the Office of Government Ethics. I spent much of my career working on government and lawyers’ ethics, including as the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush. I never thought that the F.B.I. could be dragged into a political circus surrounding one of its investigations. Until this week. [Continue reading…]

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What Donald Trump could learn from Israeli journalist Ari Shavit on facing allegations of sexual assault

The Times of Israel reports: American Jewish reporter Danielle Berrin said Sunday she was “grateful” that Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, whom she has accused of sexual assault in a 2014 encounter, published a statement taking full responsibility for his actions.

“I’m grateful for Ari Shavit’s powerful, honest statement,” Berrin wrote on Twitter. She had rejected a previous statement from Shavit, who she said assaulted her and tried to persuade her to come up to his hotel room during an interview in 2014.

“His resolution to do ‘heshbon hanefesh’ — an accounting of the soul — is admirable,” she wrote after Shavit issued his mea culpa and resigned his posts at the Haaretz newspaper and Channel 10’s news program.

Berrin, a senior writer and columnist at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, published an article last week detailing how an unnamed Israeli journalist, whom she described as a husband and father, assaulted her. Shavit later acknowledged he was the man in question.

The announcement of his resignation came hours after the Forward newspaper published a fresh sexual harassment accusation against Shavit.[Continue reading…]

Danielle Berrin wrote: I remember staring at his scotch glass.

The swirling, caramel-colored liquid caught the dim light of the hotel lobby, reflected it back to me. The light was a relief from the glare of his dark eyes, his black hair, the lecherous look on his face.

I’d agreed to meet him, an accomplished journalist from Israel, at his hotel around 10 p.m. He was in the United States only for 48 hours, and told me he was completely booked during the daytime. I believed him. Back then, the book he’d written was among several titles having an impact on the Jewish conversation, and many local community leaders wanted to meet with him. If I was going to be a part of this conversation, this was my opportunity.

But almost as soon as I arrived and placed my recorder on the table between us, he put our interview on hold.

“First,” he said, “I want to get to know you better.” He asked me a series of personal questions — about my Jewish background, my family, my personal life; he wanted to know if the man with whom I’d attended his book event the night before was my boyfriend. His questions made me uncomfortable, but they weren’t all that surprising, actually — I’ve learned that if you’re Jewish and younger than 35, your relationship status is typically the first thing another Jew will ask about. Besides, the man was married, with children, and a public figure. I figured I was safe. But after I answered one of his questions in a way that moved him, he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him.

I turned my face to the left and bowed my head to avoid his mouth. “I don’t understand,” I told him. “Last night, in front of everybody, you spoke so lovingly about your wife.”

“We have an arrangement,” he responded.

“Don’t you have children?” I asked, trying to wedge conversation in front of contact.

He looked at me with a sly smile. “Yes,” he said, “and I’m not done yet. … ”

Even in the midst of such a profoundly awkward situation, I remember thinking that this was the first time any man had made a pass at me by suggesting we procreate.

“Let’s go up to my room,” he suggested. “Just for a minute.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.

“We don’t have to have sex,” he countered. “I just want to give you a hug.”

The fact that the suggestion we’d have “sex” was even uttered during a professional meeting — by another journalist, no less — is insane. I remember how ridiculous his pickup line sounded, even as it filled me with dread. Even as he continued to pull and paw at me.

Confused, I found myself feeling paralyzed. Earlier that day, this man had been someone I deeply respected. I’d read his book voraciously and underlined passages; I’d even read every review, and recommended the book to friends. And this was supposed to have been a really important interview — one I was lucky to get. My editors were expecting something good. Could I just walk away? From someone so prominent?

Today, it would be an easy choice. But at the time, several years ago, I felt beholden to the man in power. [Continue reading…]

Trump should not only consider following the example of Shavit in taking responsibility for his own behavior — he should also reflect on the fate of former President Moshe Katsav who as a man in power thought he could get away with rape. At the same age as Trump he now sits in jail.

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FBI agents waited weeks to tell Comey about emails possibly relevant to Clinton probe

The Washington Post reports: FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state knew early this month that messages recovered in a separate probe might be germane to their case, but they waited weeks before briefing the FBI director, according to people familiar with the case.

Director James B. Comey has written that he was informed of the development Thursday, and he sent a letter to legislators the next day letting them know that he thought the team should take “appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails.”

That missive ignited a political firestorm less than two weeks before the election. Almost instantly, Comey came under intense criticism for his timing and for bucking the Justice Department’s guidance not to tell Congress about the development. And his announcement means that Clinton could have to contend with the news that the FBI has resumed its investigation of her use of a private email server — without any clarity on whether its investigators will find anything significant — up to and beyond Election Day.

The FBI has obtained a warrant to search the emails found on a computer used by former congressman Anthony Weiner that may contain evidence relevant to the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, according to law enforcement officials. The warrant was obtained in New York, as FBI agents there have possession of the laptop.

One official said the total number of emails recovered in the Weiner investigation is close to 650,000 — though that reflects many emails that are not relevant to the Clinton investigation. However, officials familiar with the case said the messages include a significant amount of correspondence associated with Clinton and her top aide Huma Abedin, Weiner’s estranged wife. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: In their initial review of the laptop, the metadata showed many messages, apparently in the thousands, that were either sent to or from the private email server at Mrs. Clinton’s home that had been the focus of so much investigative effort for the FBI. [Continue reading…]

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Emails, genitalia and the FBI

Charles M Blow writes: Who would have thought that the final leg of this election cycle would be dominated by crowing about violating vaginas and by probes into penis pictures?

But even that frame is problematic because it creates an equivalency that doesn’t exist. One scandal is about a man boasting of predation and the other is about a woman weary of people’s prying. These are fundamentally different flaws, one being clearly about a pattern of assault and the other about a pattern of ill-fated insularity.

And yet an utterly irresponsible media, thirsty for a scoop and ignoring the consequences of its scope, has egged on a public with a scandal lust, aiding and abetting Republicans in turning an email mistake into a colossal crime.

Far from the faux election rigging that Donald Trump has been harping on for weeks, this election isn’t in danger of being stolen by Hillary Clinton, but in danger of being stolen from her. [Continue reading…]

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Eric Holder: James Comey is a good man, but he made a serious mistake

Eric Holder writes: I began my career in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section 40 years ago, investigating cases of official corruption. In the years since, I have seen America’s justice system firsthand from nearly every angle — as a prosecutor, judge, attorney in private practice, and attorney general of the United States. I understand the gravity of the work our Justice Department performs every day to defend the security of our nation, protect the American people, uphold the rule of law and be fair.

That is why I am deeply concerned about FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to write a vague letter to Congress about emails potentially connected to a matter of public, and political, interest. That decision was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season. That guidance, which reinforced established policy, is still in effect and applies to the entire Justice Department — including the FBI.

The department has a practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations. Indeed, except in exceptional circumstances, the department will not even acknowledge the existence of an investigation. The department also has a policy of not taking unnecessary action close in time to Election Day that might influence an election’s outcome. These rules have been followed during Republican and Democratic administrations. They aren’t designed to help any particular individual or to serve any political interest. Instead, they are intended to ensure that every investigation proceeds fairly and judiciously; to maintain the public trust in the department’s ability to do its job free of political influence; and to prevent investigations from unfairly or unintentionally casting public suspicion on public officials who have done nothing wrong. [Continue reading…]

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The xenophobic leaders overseas who are rooting for Trump

Jackson Diehl writes: It might seem as if the United States’ allies, from Mexico to Britain to Japan, are holding their breath while not-so-silently praying that Donald Trump does not become president. They’ve been watching Trump’s campaign “with disbelief, a good portion of dismay and distinctly growing apprehension,” as Sweden’s former foreign minister and Post columnist Carl Bildt put it.

That’s true — but not entirely so. There are, in fact, a number of important U.S. allies, in and outside NATO, who either openly or quietly are rooting for Trump to win. They offer a road map of some of the trouble a Clinton administration would face as it tried to rebuild U.S. leadership in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Let’s start with the two NATO heads who have publicly endorsed Trump: President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. Zeman, an admirer of Vladi­mir Putin, holds a mostly ceremonial position, and the Czech government disagrees with him. But Orban is the leader of a powerful political current in Central Europe: nationalistic, xenophobic and autocratically minded. He gave a speech praising Trump for, among other things, favoring a halt in Muslim immigration and opposing “the policy of exporting democracy.” [Continue reading…]

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Spooked by Russia, tiny Estonia trains a nation of insurgents

The New York Times reports: Her face puffy from lack of sleep, Vivika Barnabas peered down at the springs, rods and other parts of a disassembled assault rifle spread before her.

At last, midway through one of this country’s peculiar, grueling events known as patrol competitions, she had come upon an easy task.

Already, she and her three teammates had put out a fire, ridden a horse, identified medicinal herbs from the forest and played hide-and-seek with gun-wielding “enemies” in the woods at night.

By comparison, this would be easy. She knelt in the crinkling, frost-covered grass of a forest clearing and grabbed at the rifle parts in a flurry of clicks and snaps, soon handing the assembled weapon to a referee.

“We just have to stay alive,” Ms. Barnabas said of the main idea behind the Jarva District Patrol Competition, a 24-hour test of the skills useful for partisans, or insurgents, to fight an occupying army, and an improbably popular form of what is called “military sport” in Estonia.

The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia’s incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States.

Estonia, a NATO member with a population of 1.3 million people and a standing army of about 6,000, would not stand a chance in a conventional war with Russia. But two armies fighting on an open field is not Estonia’s plan, and was not even before Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, said European members of NATO should not count on American support unless they pay more alliance costs.

Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes. [Continue reading…]

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Unless Baghdad fills the political vacuum in Mosul, ISIS will revive

Hassan Hassan writes: Islamic State’s doctrine of survival is based on a simple notion: defeat on the battlefield must always leave behind the seeds for a comeback. Whether the operation to retake Mosul will be the beginning of the end for Isis or the beginning of a new cycle hinges largely on understanding this basic fact.

The security and political vacuum in Mosul will be the likely seed that could enable an Isis regeneration. Unless the government in Iraq allows a situation in which local Sunnis fill the void, a new cycle is almost certain. That much seems to be accepted by Iraqi and American planners directly involved in the effort to dislodge Isis from its most populous and prestigious stronghold. The current strategy stipulates that Shia and Kurdish militias will not fight inside the city, a way to reduce local concerns about political ambitions.

The question, though, is who will fill the void? Can the government in Baghdad empower a Sunni alternative to isolate Isis? Even if Baghdad has the desire and the ability to do so, who is this alternative?

The northern parts of Iraq stretching from Anbar to Nineveh are a microcosm of the problems that plagued the country for a decade. Isis was able to emerge out of the ashes in 2014 but the country is significantly more fractured today than when the group was driven out of the urban centres in 2007. Deeper wounds have opened over the past two years and many sectarian, ethnic and political stakeholders are vying for influence in this particular region of Iraq.

Yet there is cause for guarded optimism amid today’s bleak landscape. [Continue reading…]

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A two-state solution looks more distant than ever

Roger Cohen writes: There is agreement on very little in the fractious Holy Land, but on one issue there is near unanimity these days: A two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more distant than ever, so unimaginable that it appears little more than an illusion sustained by lazy thinking, interest in the status quo or plain exhaustion.

From Tel Aviv to Ramallah in the West Bank, from the largely Arab city of Nazareth to Jerusalem, I found virtually nobody on either side prepared to offer anything but a negative assessment of the two-state idea. Diagnoses ranged from moribund to clinically dead. Next year it will be a half-century since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began. More than 370,000 settlers now live there, excluding in East Jerusalem, up from about 249,000 in 2005. The incorporation of all the biblical Land of Israel has advanced too far, for too long, to be reversed now.

Greater Israel is what Israelis know; the smaller Israel west of the Green Line that emerged from the 1947-49 war of independence is a fading memory. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with its contempt for Palestinians and dissenting voices in general, prefers things that way, as the steady expansion of settlements demonstrates. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has lost the legitimacy, the cohesion and the will to do much about it. The cancellation of municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza that had been set for this month was another sign of paralyzing Palestinian infighting. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Jazzanova — ‘Dance The Dance’ (Atjazz Remix)

 

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FBI still does not have warrant to review new Abedin emails linked to Clinton probe

Michael Isikoff reports: When FBI Director James Comey wrote his bombshell letter to Congress on Friday about newly discovered emails that were potentially “pertinent” to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, agents had not been able to review any of the material, because the bureau had not yet gotten a search warrant to read them, three government officials who have been briefed on the probe told Yahoo News.

At the time Comey wrote the letter, “he had no idea what was in the content of the emails,” one of the officials said, referring to recently discovered emails that were found on the laptop of disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under investigation for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.

As of Saturday night, the FBI was still in talks with the Justice Department about obtaining a warrant that would allow agency officials to read any of the newly discovered Abedin emails, and therefore was still in the dark about whether they include any classified material that the bureau has not already seen. [Continue reading…]

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The newly discovered emails that were neither written to or by Hillary Clinton

Newsweek reports: The disclosure by the Federal Bureau of Investigation late on Friday, October 28 that it had discovered potential new evidence in its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of her personal email when she was Secretary of State has virtually nothing to do with any actions taken by the Democratic nominee, according to government records and an official with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity.

The revelation that the FBI has discovered additional emails convulsed the political world, and led to widespread (and erroneous) claims and speculation. Many Republicans proclaimed that the discovery suggests Clinton may have broken the law, while Democrats condemned FBI Director James Comey for disclosing this information less than two weeks before the election, claiming he did it for political purposes.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, said the development showed his opponent had engaged in corruption “on a scale we have never seen before,’’ while Clinton called for the FBI to release all of the information it has, saying the American people have a right to know everything.

The truth is much less explosive. There is no indication the emails in question were withheld by Clinton during the investigation, the law enforcement official told Newsweek, nor does the discovery suggest she did anything illegal. Also, none of the emails were to or from Clinton, the official said. Moreover, despite the widespread claims in the media that this development had prompted the FBI to “reopen” the case, it did not; such investigations are never actually closed, and it is common for law enforcement to discover new information that needs to be examined. [Continue reading…]

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James Comey stands tall, and alone, in a tight corner in Clinton email mess

The Daily Beast reports: Former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch insisted there was nothing improper about their little chat when their planes chanced to be in Phoenix and he strode across the tarmac to her plane.

“I did see President Clinton at the Phoenix airport as he was leaving and spoke to myself and my husband on the plane,” Lynch said afterwards. “Our conversation was a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix.”

The fact remained that the former president had met in private with the country’s top law enforcement official when the Department of Justice was actively investigating his wife in a criminal matter. His wife being Hillary Clinton, who could quite possibly be our next president.

Lynch then could have simply recused herself from the probe, as prosecutors have in the past. She did not.

And, say some who know FBI Director James Comey, this left him in what he felt was an untenable situation.

Comey had essentially come to the end of the investigation and he had concluded that there was insufficient cause to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime. The usual protocol called for him then to refer the findings to the attorney general and let her make the prosecutorial decision.

But the attorney general had been sitting on a plane with the target’s husband less than two weeks before. And for Lynch now to announce that Hillary Clinton had been cleared would call into question the integrity of all involved, including Comey and the FBI.

Comey decided that he had to present the results directly to the public. He did so, insisting that the evidence did not establish the intent he said was necessary to bring criminal charges. He made clear that he felt Hillary Clinton had been reckless and irresponsible and that she had shown terrible judgment.

“He wasn’t going to indict, but he was going to scold,” a former federal prosecutor said on Saturday. “Scolding in the first degree has never quite made it.”

Along with their surprise at Comey’s break with protocol, some veteran agents were outraged by the decision itself. Few of them are Hillary fans. And all of them had learned from their first days the importance of treating classified materials properly. They viewed it as the highest arrogance to ignore the strictures to which they adhere. [Continue reading…]

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Vladimir Putin’s campaign to seduce, subvert and screw over Western democracies — including ours

The Daily Beast reports: The golden domes would look at home on Moscow’s Red Square. There are five of them, onion-shaped and glistening in the sun, each one bearing a cross — potent symbols of the Russian Orthodox Church. But here in front of them flows the Seine River. Behind them rises the Eiffel Tower. Down the street is the French foreign ministry, known as the Quai d’Orsay.

That much you can see.

What French and other Western intelligence agencies have been concerned about as they watched the building go up over the last six years is what you don’t see when you look at the just-inaugurated Holy Trinity Cathedral and Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center.


French journalist Nicolas Hénin in his new book La France Russe notes that the building abuts an apartment used (at least until recently) by the French Secretary General of Defense and National Security, as well as the mail service of the French presidential palace.

An inter-ministerial note on the state of France’s intelligence agencies cited by Hénin observed that the cathedral domes, made of composite materials, could hide sophisticated listening devices, and since the “cultural center” enjoys diplomatic immunity, there’s no obvious way to get inside to look.

According to other sources, the French are now employing active countermeasures, just in case, and several Western embassies and enterprises have checked to make sure there is no line of sight contact between them and the domes.

It’s a strange spectacle, an obvious outpost of Mother Russia, even if all its aspects are benign, which was assumed to be the case when then-President Nicolas Sarkozy approved its construction in 2010. But since then, “benign” has become a word hard to associate with the Kremlin. So when Russian President Vladimir Putin was supposed to open the center here this month, the current French president, François Hollande, said he wouldn’t attend, and if he talked to Putin at all, his office declared, it would be about war crimes in Syria. Putin decided to postpone his visit more or less indefinitely.

Perhaps this seems like crazy neo-Cold War paranoia. High-tech spookery hiding behind onion domes on the Left Bank? Yet almost anything seems possible at a time when Putin has been using every conceivable means at his disposal to extend Russian influence and disrupt or discredit Western democracy in Europe, and, indeed, in the United States.

If there is a new cold war chill, it’s coming from the east. [Continue reading…]

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Justice officials warned FBI that Comey’s decision to update Congress was not consistent with department policy

The Washington Post reports: Senior Justice Department officials warned the FBI that Director James B. Comey’s decision to notify Congress about renewing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was not consistent with long-standing practices of the department, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

FBI officials who work closely with Comey on Thursday contacted attorneys at the Justice Department. Their message: Comey intended to inform lawmakers of newly discovered emails potentially connected to the Clinton email investigation.

Justice officials reminded the FBI of the department’s position “that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election,” said one Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the high-level conversations.

“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the official said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”

Comey’s decision less than two weeks before the presidential election has stunned former and current law enforcement officials and rocked the Clinton campaign, which appeared to be coasting to victory. [Continue reading…]

Simon Tisdall writes: Comey’s move is either extremely naive or extremely cynical. FBI investigations are routinely conducted behind closed doors. Only when a decision to prosecute has been taken, based on persuasive evidence, is an inquiry made public or suspects named.

For a respected, ostensibly independent figure like the FBI director to tip his hand at this extraordinarily sensitive moment amounts to an overtly political, partisan act. Since it must be assumed that Comey is no fool, it must also be assumed that he knew what he was doing.

A less damning explanation is that he was clumsily attempting to save the FBI (and himself) further criticism from the Republican right, which denounced his earlier investigatory efforts as a pro-Hillary cover-up. But if that is the case, why did Comey not have a confidential word with the relevant congressional oversight committees? Nobody could then subsequently accuse him of a cover-up. And he would not have triggered the firestorm in which the FBI’s impartiality is again being questioned, and this time from the left. [Continue reading…]

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