Flynn offers to testify in Trump-Russia probe in exchange for immunity

The Wall Street Journal reports: Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

As an adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and later one of Mr. Trump’s top aides in the White House, Mr. Flynn was privy to some of the most sensitive foreign-policy deliberations of the new administration and was directly involved in discussions about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.

He has made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees though his lawyer but has so far found no takers, the officials said. [Continue reading…]

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Two White House officials helped give Nunes intelligence reports

The New York Times reports: A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The revelation on Thursday that White House officials disclosed the reports, which Mr. Nunes then discussed with Mr. Trump, is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.

It is the latest twist of a bizarre Washington drama that began after dark on March 21, when Mr. Nunes got a call from a person he has described only as a source. The call came as he was riding across town in an Uber car, and he quickly diverted to the White House. The next day, Mr. Nunes gave a hastily arranged news conference before running off to brief Mr. Trump on what he had learned the night before from — as it turns out — White House officials.

The chain of events — and who helped provide the intelligence to Mr. Nunes — was detailed to The New York Times by four American officials.

Since disclosing the existence of the intelligence reports, Mr. Nunes has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. In his public comments, he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.

That does not appear to be the case. Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee. Though neither has been accused of breaking any laws, they do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration. [Continue reading…]

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Unlike a divorce, the terms of Brexit aren’t up for discussion

Joris Luyendijk writes: As Britain formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave it is essential for Brits and Europeans alike to be aware of what is about to start. Both sides tend to speak of a “divorce”, while some British commentators compare the coming negotiations to a “game of chicken”.

These figures of speech are deeply misleading as they feed into a narrative that the UK is still a world power able to shape the circumstances it finds itself in – if not to dictate its terms outright. To see how much this line of thought is still alive, consider how Britain spent the past nine months discussing whether it preferred a “soft” or a “hard” Brexit. The implication was that Britain had a choice – in truth the EU has made it clear from the outset that there are two options only: hard Brexit or no Brexit.

A divorce is between two equal partners. But the UK is to the EU what Belgium, Austria or Portugal are to Germany: an entity eight times as small. If the EU informs the UK that “no soft Brexit means no soft Brexit” then that is what it is.

For the same reason the analogy of a “game of chicken” for the coming negotiations should be cast aside. The UK and the EU may be driving at furious speed into one another, each expecting the other to swerve. But if the UK is a Mini then the EU is a truck.

Except that it is not, because this too is a misleading analogy. Angela Merkel runs the EU’s most important and powerful country but she does not determine what happens in the EU, if only because Germany comprises a mere 20% of the EU economy and only 16% of its population. As much as the Brexiteers like to talk of a European superstate the fact is that no such thing exists. The European commission, the European parliament and the EU member states share power without a single overriding body or office to coordinate events or impose its will. To return to the “game of chicken” analogy: the EU truck has no driver. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May’s empty Brexit promises

John Cassidy writes: Brexit has begun. On Tuesday evening, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, signed a letter formally giving notice that the United Kingdom intends to leave the European Union. On Wednesday, Sir Tim Barrow, the U.K.’s Ambassador to the E.U., delivered the letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. Next up: a long set of talks about the terms of Britain’s exit.

“When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the United Kingdom—young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country, and all the villages and hamlets in between,” May told the House of Commons on Wednesday. “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country. For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests, and ambitions can—and must—bring us together.”

“We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today,” she added. “We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world.”

May’s speech was filled with so many false claims, so much cant, and so many examples of wishful thinking that it is hard to know where to begin. Her vow to represent “every person” in the U.K. is blatantly false. Last year’s referendum, in which 51.9 per cent of the people who voted signalled a preference to leave the E.U., represented a victory for the old, the less-educated, and the xenophobic. The young, the college-educated, and the outward-looking all rejected, and still reject, Brexit. Many of them regard it as a willful act of self-destruction, and future historians will surely agree with them. [Continue reading…]

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NGOs under attack for saving too many lives in the Mediterranean

By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

European politicians and media have accused non-governmental organisations (NGOs) carrying out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean of undermining their efforts to stem the flow of migration from Libya. Recent accusations by the EU’s border agency Frontex mark a new low in the trend of criminalising those helping migrants and refugees in Europe. The Conversation

Until recently, negative media coverage and police investigations for so-called “crimes of solidarity” were directed mostly at small NGOs and volunteers. Now a main target of Frontex’s ire is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is accused with other NGOs of colluding with human smugglers and ultimately being responsible for more migrants dying at sea.

Speaking in late February, the Frontex director, Fabrice Leggeri, said the presence of NGO vessels in the proximity of Libyan waters “leads traffickers to force even more migrants on to unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years”. MSF labelled the charges “extremely serious and damaging” and said its humanitarian action was not “the cause but a response” to the crisis.

Leggeri’s comments are not an isolated case and a number of European politicians have put forward similar statements. But their main intent is to divert attention away from their own inactivity and escape responsibility for the growth in irregular crossings and deaths across the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Europe.

The current focus on search and rescue operations at sea carried out by NGOs signals a more general shift in the political and public mood in Europe. Despite superficial public displays of outrage and condemnation for Donald Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-refugee stances in the US, similar initiatives and a similar rhetoric have gradually become part of the political mainstream in several European member states.

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Trump leaves science jobs vacant, troubling critics

The New York Times reports: On the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the staff of the White House chief technology officer has been virtually deleted, down from 24 members before the election to, by Friday, only one.

Scores of departures by scientists and Silicon Valley technology experts who advised President Trump’s predecessor have all but wiped out the larger White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Mr. Trump has not yet named his top advisers on technology or science, and so far, has made just one hire: Michael Kratsios, the former chief of staff for Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor and one of the president’s wealthiest supporters, as the deputy chief technology officer.

Neither Mr. Kratsios, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Princeton, nor anyone else still working in the science and technology office regularly participates in Mr. Trump’s daily briefings, as they did for President Barack Obama.

“The impression this leaves is that Trump isn’t interested in science and that scientific matters are a low priority at the White House,” said Vinton G. Cerf, a computer scientist, vice president of Google and one of the chief architects of the internet. The dwindling of the White House science and technology staff for scientific research could have long-term consequences, Mr. Cerf said. [Continue reading…]

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EPA chief, rejecting agency’s science, chooses not to ban insecticide

The New York Times reports: Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved late on Wednesday to reject the scientific conclusion of the agency’s own chemical safety experts who under the Obama administration recommended that one of the nation’s most widely used insecticides be permanently banned at farms nationwide because of the harm it potentially causes children and farm workers.

The ruling by Mr. Pruitt, in one of his first formal actions as the nation’s top environmental official, rejected a petition filed a decade ago by two environmental groups that had asked that the agency ban all uses of chlorpyrifos. The chemical was banned in 2000 for use in most household settings, but still today is used at about 40,000 farms on about 50 different types of crops, ranging from almonds to apples.

Late last year, and based in part on research conducted at Columbia University, E.P.A. scientists concluded that exposure to the chemical that has been in use since 1965 was potentially causing significant health consequences. They included learning and memory declines, particularly among farm workers and young children who may be exposed through drinking water and other sources. [Continue reading…]

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Congress’s vote to eviscerate Internet privacy could give the FBI massive power

Paul Ohm writes: Many are outraged about congressional efforts to eviscerate Internet privacy regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission under President Barack Obama. But a frightening aspect to the bill remains underappreciated: If signed, it could result in the greatest legislative expansion of the FBI’s surveillance power since 2001’s Patriot Act.

Don’t believe anyone who suggests that the law merely returns us to the state of the world before the FCC finalized its landmark privacy rules in October. The obvious reason Internet service providers burned through time, money, political capital and customer goodwill to push for this law was to ask for a green light to engage in significantly more user surveillance than they had ever before had the audacity to try.

This must be the reason, because on paper, the law accomplishes little. President Trump’s handpicked choice to head the FCC, Ajit Pai, already began work to roll back these rules in a more orderly fashion. Make no mistake: ISPs aren’t just asking for relief from a supposedly onerous rule; they want Congress’s blessing. Once Trump signs the bill, diminishing the FCC’s power to police privacy online, ISPs will feel empowered — perhaps even encouraged — by Republicans (no Democrats voted for this measure) to spy on all of us as they never have before. And spy they will. [Continue reading…]

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Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified’

BBC News reports: The BBC has learned that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.

So far, no single piece of evidence has been made public proving that the Trump campaign joined with Russia to steal the US presidency – nothing.

But the FBI Director, James Comey, told a hushed committee room in Congress last week that this is precisely what his agents are investigating.

Stop to let that thought reverberate for a moment.

“Investigation is not proof,” said the president’s spokesman.

Trump’s supporters are entitled to ask why – with the FBI’s powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice – nothing damning has emerged.

Perhaps there is nothing to find. But some former senior officials say it is because of failings in the inquiry, of which more later.

The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6.

He wrote a series of reports for political opponents of Donald Trump about Trump and Russia.

Steele’s “dossier”, as the material came to be known, contains a number of highly contested claims.

At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”

There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin. [Continue reading…]

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Why the FBI can’t tell all on Trump, Russia

WhoWhatWhy reports: It will take an agency independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expose Donald Trump’s true relationship with Moscow and the role Russia may have played in getting him elected.

Director James Comey recently revealed in a congressional hearing for the first time that the FBI “is investigating … the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

However, a two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower — while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source — despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime — that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump’s private security force.

In this way, the FBI’s dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public’s right to know about their president? [Continue reading…]

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Who is ‘Source D’? The man said to be behind the Trump-Russia dossier’s most salacious claim

The Washington Post reports: In June, a Belarusan American businessman who goes by the name Sergei Millian shared some tantalizing claims about Donald Trump.

Trump had a long-standing relationship with Russian officials, Millian told an associate, and those officials were now feeding Trump damaging information about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Millian said that the information provided to Trump had been “very helpful.”

Unbeknownst to Millian, however, his conversation was not confidential. His associate passed on what he had heard to a former British intelligence officer who had been hired by Trump’s political opponents to gather information about the Republican’s ties to Russia.

The allegations by Millian — whose role was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and has been confirmed by The Washington Post — were central to the dossier compiled by the former spy, Christopher Steele. While the dossier has not been verified and its claims have been denied by Trump, Steele’s document said that Millian’s assertions had been corroborated by other sources, including in the Russian government and former intelligence sources. [Continue reading…]

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Senate intelligence leaders pledge bipartisan Trump-Russia inquiry

Reuters reports: The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday promised a thorough investigation into any direct links between Russia and Republican Donald Trump during his successful 2016 run for the White House.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, pledged at a joint news conference that they would work together, in contrast with the partisan discord roiling a similar probe by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Burr was asked if the Senate panel wanted to determine if there was anything suggesting a direct link to Trump, and responded: “We know that our challenge is to answer that question for the American people.”

Trump’s young presidency has been clouded by allegations from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to help him win, while connections between his campaign personnel and Russia also are under scrutiny. Trump dismisses such assertions and Russia denies the allegations.

The Senate committee intends to begin interviewing as many as 20 people, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, beginning as early as Monday.

Burr served as a security adviser to Trump’s campaign but said he had not coordinated with him on the scope of the committee’s investigation. He insisted he could remain objective.

Burr declined to go along with the White House’s denial of collusion between the campaign and Russian hackers, who U.S. intelligence officials believe favored Trump in last year’s campaign at the expense of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Warner and Burr both stressed the importance of exposing the activity of Russian hackers, which Warner said included reports of “upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls” who spread false negative stories about Clinton. [Continue reading…]

Aaron Blake writes: Americans live in two realities when it comes to the Russia investigation. On one side is the intelligence community, and on the other is a Republican Party that very much believes President Trump’s alternative facts.

Including, apparently, that Trump’s offices were wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign.

A new CBS poll shows that three in four Republicans believe it’s at least “somewhat likely” that Trump’s offices were wiretapped or under some kind of surveillance during the race. Although 35 percent think it’s “very likely,” 39 percent say it’s “somewhat likely.” About half (49 percent) of independents also say it’s at least “somewhat likely.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. war footprint grows in Middle East, with no endgame in sight

The New York Times reports: The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military “fight to win.” [Continue reading…]

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The art of a deal with the Taliban

Richard G. Olson writes: This year, America’s war in Afghanistan will pass a grim milestone as it surpasses the Civil War in duration, as measured against the final withdrawal of Union forces from the South. Only the conflict in Vietnam lasted longer. United States troops have been in Afghanistan since October 2001 as part of a force that peaked at nearly 140,000 troops (of which about 100,000 were American) and is estimated to have cost the taxpayers at least $783 billion.

Despite this heavy expenditure, the United States commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., recently called for a modest troop increase to prevent a deteriorating stalemate. The fall of Sangin in Helmand Province to the Taliban this month is a tactical loss that may be reversed, but it certainly suggests the situation is getting worse. With the Trump administration’s plan to increase the military budget while slashing the diplomatic one, there is a risk that American policy toward Afghanistan will be defined in purely military terms.

Absent from the current debate is a clear statement of our objectives — and a way to end the Afghan war while preserving the investment and the gains we have made, at the cost of some 2,350 American lives. It has always been clear to senior military officers like Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was the American commander in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, as well as to diplomats like me, that the war could end only through a political settlement, a process through which the Afghan government and the Taliban would reconcile their differences in an agreement also acceptable to the international community.

The challenges of bringing about such a reconciliation are formidable, but the basic outline of a deal is tantalizingly obvious. Despite more than 15 years of warfare, the United States has never had a fundamental quarrel with the Taliban per se; it was the group’s hosting of Al Qaeda that drove our intervention after the Sept. 11 attacks. For its part, the Taliban has never expressed any desire to impose its medieval ideology outside of Afghanistan, and certainly not in the United States.

The core Afghan government requirements for a settlement are that the Taliban ceases violence, breaks with international terrorism and accepts the Afghan Constitution. The Taliban, for its part, insists that all foreign forces withdraw. No doubt, both sides have additional desiderata, but the basic positions do not seem unbridgeable. This is particularly the case now that the Islamic State has emerged in Afghanistan, in conflict with both the government and the Taliban. [Continue reading…]

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Federal judge in Hawaii extends ruling halting travel ban indefinitely

CNN reports: A federal judge in Hawaii granted the state’s request for a longer-term halt of the revised travel ban executive order Wednesday.

US District Court Judge Derrick Watson blocked the core provisions of the revised executive order two weeks ago, concluding that the order likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.

But Watson’s earlier decision was only a limited freeze of the executive order through a temporary restraining order.

As a result, the plaintiffs asked the judge to convert that decision into a longer-term preliminary injunction and Watson agreed Wednesday night, meaning that the President’s 90-day ban on foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-ban on all refugees entering the country are now blocked indefinitely unless any higher court changes Watson’s order or the state’s lawsuit is otherwise resolved. [Continue reading…]

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Obama WH ethics lawyer: Ivanka’s job is nepotism

The Hill reports: Former White House ethics lawyer to President Obama Norman Eisen said Wednesday that he and the former ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush see Ivanka Trump’s role as an adviser to President Trump as a violation of nepotism laws.

“My view… is that the nepotism statue does apply to the White House,” Eisen said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” of the announcement that Ivanka Trump would receive an official role in the Trump administration. “For decades the Justice Department held ‘yes’ the nepotism statue applies to the White House.”

Eisen conceded that the “reasonable minds can disagree” on whether the statue should apply.

“President Trump got an opinion from the Justice Department that the nepotism statute doesn’t apply to his White House,” Eisen continued. “We don’t agree with that opinion.”[Continue reading…]

Aside from the issue of nepotism, and aside from the fact that daddy Trump must feel the need for family loyalists close at hand inside a White House filled with potential back-stabbers, it seems to me that Ivanka’s primary function is to serve as a media distraction. Tweets alone cannot fully serve that need.

After all, nothing can preoccupy Trump more than his need to continuously manufacture distractions as threats loom from so many directions. Hence Ivanka’s usefulness when her mere presence in the view of cameras can reliably create a story — at least in the short term.

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