U.S.-China climate relations: Beyond Trump

Jackson Ewing writes: The days of cooperative climate change action in Washington and Beijing were short-lived.

After decades of friction in the climate arena, the United States and China spent the last three years of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term in office building a partnership that caught even close observers by surprise. In a March 2016 joint presidential statement, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared climate change a “pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship” and committed to ratifying the lauded Paris Agreement. The countries were by then drawing on more than two years of bilateral agreements on clean energy and emissions reduction targets, along with subnational agreements between cities, states, and provinces to bolster technical cooperation in areas ranging from carbon pricing to clean energy to sustainable urban infrastructure.

This cooperation reversed a history of recriminations and posturing that long defined the Sino-American climate change relationship. China would often emphasize its continuing poverty challenges, development needs, and relative lack of historical culpability for the climate problem, while the United States trotted out the common refrain that holding negotiations is well and good, but ultimately pointless if China fails to reduce emissions in internationally verifiable ways. For years, this divide between Beijing and Washington stubbornly persisted.

The Obama-Xi rapprochement was significant because it moved past these arguments and looked for opportunities in a nascent global climate regime based on voluntary commitments by all countries regardless of development levels. This played to the preferences of both China and the United States to chart their own paths without feeling overly constrained by international accords. It also dovetailed with China’s growing determination to solve its domestic pollution crisis, and with a realization in both capitals that clean energy was an economic growth sector.

The Trump presidency has ended this relatively brief period of national climate cooperation between the world’s two largest emitters. U.S. President Donald Trump has removed any mention of climate change from the executive branch agenda, and has moved to dismantle the U.S. Clean Power Plan (CPP), open up federal lands to fossil fuel exploration, reduce vehicle emissions standards, and broadly defund and de-emphasize environmental regulation and enforcement. Whether or not he attempts to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which is not a straightforward process, Trump is already disregarding the American commitments detailed in the pact.

Rather than sending the United States and China back to their adversarial positions of the past, Trump’s moves have taken climate change off the bilateral agenda completely. This eliminates a valuable mutual confidence-building measure and sets back global climate change efforts significantly.

In this context, climate change hopefuls can take solace in three countervailing trends. [Continue reading…]

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Obama accepts $400,000 fee for a speech

The New York Times reports: Former President Barack Obama has agreed to accept $400,000 to speak at a health care conference this year sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment bank.

The lucrative engagement, reported earlier by Fox, was confirmed by a person familiar with the speaking agreement. A spokesman for Mr. Obama declined to comment on the speech.

Out of office for about three months, Mr. Obama has begun the process of cashing in. In February, he and his wife, Michelle, each signed book deals worth tens of millions of dollars. And Mr. Obama’s spokesman confirmed last week that he is beginning the paid-speech circuit.

A $400,000 speaking fee for addressing the Cantor Fitzgerald conference is a sharp increase from the amounts typically paid to his predecessors. Former President Bill Clinton averaged about $200,000 per speech while former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid $100,000 to $175,000 for each appearance.

Mr. Obama, who was paid $400,000 a year as president, frequently criticized big banks and warned against what he said was a growing inequality in the country that was undermining civic life and the economic fortunes of the middle class. He also pushed for the Dodd-Frank law that regulated Wall Street. [Continue reading…]

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Chemical attacks underline the failure of U.S. policy on Syria under Obama

The New York Times reports: When it came time to make his case for the judgment of history, President Barack Obama had a ready rebuttal to one of the most cutting critiques of his time in office.

Although friends and foes alike faulted him for not following through on his threat to retaliate when Syria gassed its own people in 2013, Mr. Obama would counter that he had actually achieved a better result through an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons.

After last week, even former Obama aides assume that he will have to rethink that passage in his memoir. More than 80 civilians were killed in what Western analysts called a sarin attack by Syrian forces — a chilling demonstration that the agreement did not succeed. In recent days, former aides have lamented what they considered one of the worst moments of the Obama presidency and privately conceded that his legacy would suffer.

“If the Syrian government carried out the attack and the agent was sarin, then clearly the 2013 agreement didn’t succeed in its objective of eliminating Bashar’s C.W.,” or chemical weapons, said Robert Einhorn, who was the State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control under Mr. Obama before the agreement. “Either he didn’t declare all his C.W. and kept some hidden in reserve, or he illegally produced some sarin after his stock was eliminated — most likely the former.”

Other former advisers to Mr. Obama questioned the wisdom of negotiating with Mr. Assad and said last week’s attack illustrated the flaws in the agreement, which was brokered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a way to prevent the United States from using force.

“For me, this tragedy underscores the dangers of trying to do deals with dictators without a comprehensive, invasive and permanent inspection regime,” said Michael McFaul, who was Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Russia. “It also shows the limits of doing deals with Putin. Surely, the Russians must have known about these C.W.”

Putting the best face on it, former Obama advisers argued that it was still better to have removed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons from Syria even if Mr. Assad cheated and kept some, or later developed more. “Imagine what Syria would look like without that deal,” said Antony J. Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state. “It would be awash in chemical weapons which would fall into the hands of ISIS, Al Nusra or other groups.”

Still, the administration knew all along that it had probably not gotten all of the chemical weapons, and tried to get Russia to help press Syria, without success. “We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration,” Mr. Blinken said.

Even before last week’s chemical attack, many veterans of Mr. Obama’s team considered his handling of Syria his biggest failing and expressed regret that their administration could not stop a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead and millions displaced. [Continue reading…]

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Trump just exposed the ‘moral depravity’ of the Obama administration — says former Obama administration official

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes: “I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria…we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”

Those are the words of an American president who launched military strikes against the Syrian regime after pictures of babies gasping for air under grey medical blankets seized the world’s attention and punctured international indifference to the Syrian civil war, now entering its seventh year.

The speaker is not Barack Obama, the president who won the Nobel Prize and argued for ‘just wars,’ but his successor, Donald Trump, who tried to keep Muslims and Syrian refugees out of America.

Overnight, those who worked to convince the Obama administration to act against Assad — especially from Foggy Bottom — are watching Trump do what Obama would not: act decisively against the regime and send the message that more will not be tolerated. They sound as shocked as anyone that it was Trump who carried out the path they counseled.

“This shows the moral depravity of the last administration,” said one former Obama administration official. “I am stunned.” [Continue reading…]

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Former Obama administration officials credit Trump for doing what their boss failed to do

Antony J. Blinken, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, writes: President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people. Mr. Trump may not want to be “president of the world” but when a tyrant blatantly violates a basic norm of international conduct — in this case, the ban on using chemical or biological weapons in armed conflict, put in place after World War I — the world looks to America to act. Mr. Trump did, and for that he should be commended.

The real test for Mr. Trump is what comes next. He has shown a total disinterest in working to end Syria’s civil war. Now, the administration has leverage it should test with the Assad regime and Russia to restrain Syria’s air force, stop any use of chemical or biological weapons, implement an effective cease-fire in Syria’s civil war and even move toward a negotiated transition of power — goals that eluded the Obama administration.

At the same time, it must prevent or mitigate the possible unintended consequences of using force, including complicating the military campaign against the Islamic State. All this will require something in which the administration has shown little interest: smart diplomacy. [Continue reading…]

Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Obama administration, writes: Donald Trump is president; he now bears full responsibility for addressing the tragedy in Syria, and for the consequences of the response he has chosen. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect on America’s response to the Assad regime’s previous chemical weapons attacks—for how we interpret the difficult and debatable choice the Obama administration (in which I served) made not to use military force when Assad last used nerve gas against his people will shape our thinking about this and similar crises for a long time to come. The lesson I would draw from that experience is that when dealing with mass killing by unconventional or conventional means, deterrence is more effective than disarmament.

After Assad’s horrific 2013 sarin gas attack on civilians, President Obama settled first on deterrence—threatening a punitive military response—then changed course when Assad agreed to disclose and surrender his chemical weapons. There were many reasons for Obama’s decision to forego military action, from his own concerns about the risks of getting involved in Syria’s war to the shameful refusal of most members of Congress to back him up. In any case, the administration and many outside observers argued then that the U.S. had achieved a better outcome by threatening force and then negotiating a deal than if we had actually used force. Air and cruise missile strikes could not have eliminated Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, but the diplomatic deal, proponents argued, did.

That argument was never persuasive to Syrians being killed by the barrel bombs and rockets that the chemical weapons deal allowed Assad to keep using. But even if one accepts that there is something uniquely awful about poison gas, the Syrian regime’s repeated use of chlorine weapons after 2013, and now its apparent reuse of sarin, shows the difficulty of relying on disarmament alone to stop a dictator from killing by all means at his disposal. No disarmament regime is foolproof, and it was always understood that Assad likely hid some elements of his chemical weapons production capacity from inspectors. A state that calculates that using a weapon or tactic of war is in its interest will generally find a way to do so.

The more effective strategy is to establish that the costs of using such a weapon or tactic will outweigh its benefits, even if a state keeps the capacity to do so. [Continue reading…]

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Inaction over Syria has exacted a terrible price

Jonathan Freedland writes: Let’s not speak of our horror. Let’s not hold emergency meetings or pass urgent resolutions expressing our outrage at the poisoning of Syrian children and adults in Idlib province through a nerve agent, probably sarin gas. Let’s have no declarations worded in the “strongest possible terms”. Let’s utter no more cliches about acts that “cannot be ignored”. Let’s not even condemn these attacks any more – because our condemnations ring so hollow.

We know what the use of this kind of chemical weapon does to people. If you have a strong enough stomach, and you make yourself look at the photos, you can see the bodies of dead children, arranged like sardines, under a threadbare quilt. You can read the accounts of how they died: “writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth,” according to the New York Times, killed by a substance so toxic that “some rescue workers grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead”.

We know that the poison spread after warplanes dropped bombs – and that the warplanes came again a few hours later, hitting a small clinic ministering to the victims. The injured and the dying were being treated there because the area’s larger hospital had been hit by an airstrike two days earlier.

And we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Sure, Damascus blamed the rebels who hold the town of Khan Sheikhoun, as they always do. And, yes, Assad’s enablers and accomplices in Moscow offered a variation on that theme, saying that Syrian planes had struck a rebel stockpile of nerve agents, accidentally releasing them into the atmosphere.

We know how seriously to take such pronouncements from the regime of Vladimir Putin. More credible is the word of Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who once led the British army regiment responsible for dealing with chemical weapons and is now a director of Doctors Under Fire. He told the BBC that the Moscow explanation was “fanciful” and “unsustainable”. As he explained, “if you blow up sarin, you destroy it”.

So we know all this, and we also know that for six long, bloody years atrocities have continued in Syria – and nothing happens. Indeed, impunity may not just be the consequence of this latest crime, but also its cause. In recent days, the Trump administration has all but told Assad that he has a free hand to kill as many people as he wants, in whatever way he chooses. [Continue reading…]

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After begging him not to attack Syria in 2013, Trump now blames Obama for latest chemical massacre

Julian Borger writes: The scale and horror of Tuesday’s gas attack on civilians in Idlib highlighted the vacuum in the Trump administration’s foreign policymaking: the incident was met first by silence, then by criticism of Barack Obama.

Donald Trump described the attack, which killed scores of victims, including many children, as a direct “consequence” of his predecessor’s Syria policy.

“These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution,” he said in a statement. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.” [Continue reading…]

Shortly after the Ghouta chemical attack in which hundreds of Syrian civilians died, Trump tweeted:


Charles B. Anthony provides a reminder of 17 Trump tweets in which he implored Obama not to attack and said the U.S. should “forget Syria.”

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Why Obamacare defeated Trumpcare

Jonathan Chait writes: With the collapse of the House health-care bill, the cause of repealing Obamacare, a right-wing obsession for seven years and a day, has died. The flame will never be fully extinguished in the hearts of the true believers — after all, in right-wing think tanks and other places far removed from electoral politics, anti-government zealots still dream of phasing out Social Security or Medicare. But the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.

Conservatives have already collapsed into mutual recriminations for their failure. Reporters have blamed Trump’s deal-making skills. Trump’s loyalists are loudly blaming Paul Ryan. “I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing site Newsmax and a longtime friend of Trump’s, tells Bloomberg. “The president had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.” David Brooks blames both Trump and Congress. “The core Republican problem is this,” he writes. “The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided.”

The American Health Care Act is a truly horrendous piece of legislation. But it did not become the vehicle for the Obamacare repeal effort because Trump, or Ryan, or anybody insisted on it over some other option. It became the repeal bill because nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s foolish effort to blame GCHQ and Fox News for a diplomatic mess of his own making

Former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, John Schindler, writes: Napolitano has zero background in intelligence and has no idea what he’s talking about. His accusation against Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, London’s NSA equivalent, was patently absurd, as well as malicious, demonstrating that neither Napolitano nor Fox News have the slightest notion how intelligence works in the real world.

Yet here the White House was publicly endorsing this crackpot theory—and blaming perhaps our closest ally for breaking American laws at the behest of Barack Obama. Our domestic crisis thereby became an international one, for no reason other than the administration has gone global in its efforts to deflect blame from its own stupidity and dishonesty.

This is no small matter. NSA and GCHQ enjoy the most special of special relationships, serving since the Second World War as the cornerstone of the Anglosphere Five Eyes signals intelligence alliance (the others are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) which defeated Hitler and won the Cold War. This constitutes the most successful espionage alliance in history, and just how close NSA and GCHQ are would be difficult to overstate.

Affectionately calling each other “the cousins,” they interchange personnel and, in the event of disaster—for instance a crippling terrorist attack on agency headquarters—NSA would hand most of its functions over to GCHQ, so that Five Eyes would keep running. It’s long been a source of consternation at Langley that NSA appears to get along better with GCHQ than with CIA. I once witnessed this issue come up in a top-secret meeting with senior officials, in which a CIA boss took an NSA counterpart to task when it became apparent that a piece of highly sensitive intelligence had been shared with “the cousins” before Langley was informed. The NSA senior official’s terse reply silenced the room: “That’s because we trust them.”

Publicly attacking the NSA-GCHQ relationship was therefore a consummately bad idea, particularly by a White House that has already gone so far out of its way to anger and alienate our own spies, and the British reply was one for the record books. Late yesterday, GCHQ issued a remarkable statement:

Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

American spy services are famously tight-lipped in their public utterances, falling back on “we can neither confirm nor deny” with a regularity that frustrates journalists. And our spooks are positively loquacious compared to British partners, who seldom say anything on the record to the media. Calling out Fox News and the White House in this manner has no precedent, and indicates just how angry British officials are with the Trump administration. For Prime Minister Teresa May, whose efforts to build bridges with the new president have been deeply unpopular at home, this had to be galling. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans are threatening to expose Trump as the emperor with no clothes

Aaron Blake writes: It’s almost as though Republicans are tired of having President Trump’s evidence-free allegations laid at their feet. Almost.

Late Monday, a spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) threatened to subpoena the Trump administration to produce evidence of Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. The White House has declined to produce this evidence publicly, offering various excuses, including the Constitution’s separation of powers and — most recently on Monday — arguing that Trump wasn’t speaking literally when he made the claim.

The Justice Department missed Nunes’s deadline to provide evidence Monday, which drew Nunes’s subpoena threat.

“If the committee does not receive a response, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said.

Then, on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made his own threat. Last week, Graham — who is clearly skeptical of the wiretapping claim and chairs a subcommittee looking into it — asked the Justice Department and the FBI to provide copies of any warrants or court orders related to the alleged wiretapping. Having not received anything, Graham said Tuesday that he would announce his next steps Wednesday and may push for a special committee. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A UK spy agency did not eavesdrop on Donald Trump during and after last year’s U.S. presidential election, a British security official said on Tuesday, denying an allegation by a U.S. television analyst.

The official, who is familiar with British government policy and security operations, told Reuters that the charge made on Tuesday by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd.” [Continue reading…]

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Preet Bharara said he wanted to be a U.S. attorney ‘forever.’ Well, he was just fired

The Washington Post reports: Days after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he summoned Preet Bharara to Trump Tower. The president-elect wanted to talk to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York about his future.

Afterward, Bharara — one of the most influential prosecutors in the country, best known for going after Wall Street as well as members of both political parties — told reporters he’d been asked whether he wanted to stay on.

“The President-elect asked, presumably because he’s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I’d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work as we have done it, independently, without fear or favor, for the last seven years,” Bharara said in a brief statement to reporters after meeting with Trump.

Three months later, Bharara is suddenly out of a job, part of an ouster of 46 U.S. attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama.

Bharara was fired after he refused to tender his resignation.

It was an abrupt end to Bharara’s nearly-eight-year tenure prosecuting powerful people in finance and politics. [Continue reading…]

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Trump aides have nothing to say about his wiretap claims

The New York Times reports: President Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense.

After weeks of assailing reporters and critics in diligent defense of their boss, Mr. Trump’s team has been uncharacteristically muted this week when pressed about his explosive — and so far proof-free — Twitter posts on Saturday accusing President Barack Obama of tapping phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

The accusation — and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the former national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., emphatically deny that any such wiretap was requested or issued — constitutes one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history.

So for Mr. Trump’s allies inside the West Wing and beyond, the tweetstorm spawned the mother of all messaging migraines. Over the past few days, they have executed what amounts to a strategic political retreat — trying to publicly validate Mr. Trump’s suspicions without overtly endorsing a claim some of them believe might have been generated by Breitbart News and other far-right outlets.

“No, that’s above my pay grade,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and a feisty Trump loyalist, when asked on Tuesday at an on-camera briefing if he had seen any evidence to back up Mr. Trump’s accusation. The reporters kept at him, but Mr. Spicer pointedly and repeatedly refused to offer personal assurances that the president’s statements were true.

“No comment,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier in the day. Last week, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

“I don’t know anything about it,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said on CNN on Monday. Mr. Kelly shrugged and added that “if the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.”

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, have said they will add Mr. Trump’s request to pre-existing inquiries into intelligence community leaks.

But Mr. Nunes and Mr. Burr said they had not seen specific evidence backing up Mr. Trump’s claim.

Other Hill Republicans have responded with similar verbal shrugs. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that he “didn’t know what the basis” of Mr. Trump’s statement was. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s wiretap tweets raise risk of impeachment

Noah Feldman writes: The sitting president has accused his predecessor of an act that could have gotten the past president impeached. That’s not your ordinary exercise of free speech. If the accusation were true, and President Barack Obama ordered a warrantless wiretap of Donald Trump during the campaign, the scandal would be of Watergate-level proportions.

But if the allegation is not true and is unsupported by evidence, that too should be a scandal on a major scale. This is the kind of accusation that, taken as part of a broader course of conduct, could get the current president impeached. We shouldn’t care that the allegation was made early on a Saturday morning on Twitter.


The basic premise of the First Amendment is that truth should defeat her opposite number. “Let her and Falsehood grapple,” wrote the poet and politician John Milton, “who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

But this rather optimistic adage only accounts for speech and debate between citizens. It doesn’t apply to accusations made by the government. Those are something altogether different.

In a rule of law society, government allegations of criminal activity must be followed by proof and prosecution. If not, the government is ruling by innuendo.

Shadowy dictatorships can do that because there is no need for proof. Democracies can’t. [Continue reading…]

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Reassessing Obama’s legacy of restraint

Paul Miller writes: Obama’s foreign policy worldview came from his self-conscious effort to learn the lessons of history — specifically, the lessons of the George W. Bush administration — which no one will fault. As anyone who has ever taken a class in history or political science knows, Obama knew George Santayana’s famous aphorism that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” But learning the lessons of history can be difficult, even deceptive. Obama does not seem to have known Robert Jervis’ important riposte to Santayana that “those who remember the past are condemned to make the opposite mistake.”

Obama made the opposite mistake. In his eagerness to avoid making Bush’s mistakes, he made a whole new set of mistakes. He over-interpreted the recent past, fabricating the myth about a hyper-interventionist establishment. As a result, he overreacted to the situation he inherited in 2009 and, crucially, never adjusted during his eight years in office. In this sense and others, he contrasts starkly with Bush, who made major changes in his second term. The result is that Obama retrenched when he should have engaged. He oversaw the collapse of order across the Middle East and the resurgence of great power rivalry in Europe while mismanaging two wars and reducing America’s military posture abroad to its smallest footprint since World War II. Despite the paeans of Obama’s admirers, this is not a foreign policy legacy future presidents will want to emulate. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is said to reject Comey assertion that wiretapping claim is false

The New York Times reports: President Trump does not accept the contention of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, that Mr. Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama had him wiretapped was false, a White House spokeswoman said on Monday.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Mr. Comey had asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject Mr. Trump’s assertions. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is untrue and must be corrected, but the department has not released any such statement.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked early Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” whether Mr. Trump accepted Mr. Comey’s contention. “I don’t think he does,” she said.

“I think he firmly believes that this is a story line that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets,” Ms. Sanders said. She went on to cite several news reports about the F.B.I.’s investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News host interviewing Ms. Sanders, pointed out that the articles Ms. Sanders cited did not back up Mr. Trump’s claims that Mr. Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped the month before the election. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Al Qaeda’s plot to blow up an American airliner

The New York Times reports: In a series of conversations in Qaeda safe houses in Yemen in 2009, Anwar al-Awlaki carefully sized up a young Nigerian volunteer, decided the man had the diligence and dedication for a “martyrdom mission” and finally unveiled what he had in mind.

Mr. Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had become a leading propagandist for Al Qaeda, told the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that “the attack should occur on board a U.S. airliner,” according to the account Mr. Abdulmutallab gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Abdulmutallab told F.B.I. agents that he “was resolved to killing innocent people and considered them to be ‘collateral damage.’” With “guidance” from Mr. Awlaki, he said, he had “worked through all these issues.”

Newly released documents, obtained by The New York Times after a two-year legal battle under the Freedom of Information Act, fill in the details of a central episode in the American conflict with Al Qaeda: Mr. Abdulmutallab’s recruitment by Mr. Awlaki and his failed attempt to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit on Christmas in 2009 using sophisticated explosives hidden in his underwear.

The documents’ detailed account of Mr. Awlaki, who stars in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s story as both a religious hero and a practical adviser on carrying out mayhem, is particularly important. The government allegation that Mr. Awlaki was behind the underwear bomb plot — never tested in a court of law — became the central justification that President Barack Obama cited for ordering the cleric’s killing in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Mr. Awlaki became the first American citizen deliberately killed on the order of a president, without criminal charges or trial, since the Civil War. Some legal scholars questioned whether the order was constitutional. Mr. Obama argued that killing Mr. Awlaki was the equivalent of a justified police shooting of a gunman who was threatening civilians.

The F.B.I.’s decision in 2010 to keep the interview summaries secret led some critics to question the quality of the evidence against Mr. Awlaki. The 200 pages of redacted documents released to The Times this week, on the order of a federal judge, suggest that the Obama administration had ample firsthand testimony from Mr. Abdulmutallab that the cleric oversaw his training and conceived the plot.

The detailed reports of Mr. Abdulmutallab may also play into the debate President Trump has renewed about whether torture is ever necessary to get useful information from terrorism suspects. Most experienced interrogators say no, and their arguments would receive support from these interviews. [Continue reading…]

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Obama supports protests: ‘American values are at stake’

Politico reports: Barack Obama spoke out Monday afternoon against his successor — and in support of the protests opposing President Donald Trump — with a spokesman saying the former president thinks they’re “citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.”

Obama, who left office vowing to uphold the presidential tradition of not criticizing his successor but also promising to speak out when he saw core values under threat by Trump, made it all of 10 days before releasing a statement following Friday’s executive order that temporarily halted the nation’s refugee program and severely restricted immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Obama flew to California immediately after the inauguration and a farewell speech to staff at Andrews Air Force Base, where he called Trump’s presidency “not a period,” but “a comma in the continuing story of building America.” He later flew to the Caribbean. He has still not returned to Washington, where he is expected to live for at least the next year and a half.

When a reporter at the daily press briefing on Monday raised the existence of the statement without providing detail, White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s response was only “Okay, thank you.”

The statement from Obama’s office (notably not in his voice directly) is extraordinary compared to the usual deference between presidents, but reflects both the existential threat that Obama truly believes Trump poses to the country and a Democratic Party brimming with anti-Trump energy but lacking any clear leaders. [Continue reading…]

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