FBI Director James Comey is unfit for public service

Kurt Eichenwald writes: James Comey should not simply be fired as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He must be barred forever from any form of public service.

In the last 10 days, Comey has whipsawed the election for president of the United States. Now we know he did it for no reason. When his agents found information that suggested there were emails on a laptop that might have relevance to the investigation of Hillary Clinton and her email servers, Comey did not wait until he knew even a scintilla of information before announcing it to the world. Reasonably, lots of voters assumed there must be a there there — who could imagine a person with the power of the FBI director would turn the election on its head for no particular reason, on the basis of nothing?

Then, Sunday, Comey handed down another missive from on high: Never mind. His agents had looked through the emails and decided they were piffle. His majesty, the FBI director, has not yet deigned to officially inform his subjects — the American people — whether the emails related to the Clinton case or what they were. (However, people involved in the case tell Newsweek that almost all of them were duplicates of what the bureau already had or were personal.) He just said “nothing to see here” and waived us on our way. [Continue reading…]

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Trump campaign CEO wanted to destroy Speaker Ryan

The Hill reports: Steve Bannon, the chairman of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart who became CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, gave explicit orders to his staff to destroy Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

On editorial conference calls, the Breitbart chairman would often say “Paul Ryan is the enemy,” according to a source who worked with Bannon at the news organization.

A former Breitbart staffer said Bannon used to rage against Ryan all the time.

Bannon views Ryan as a leader of an elite globalist cabal determined to sell out America by opening its borders on immigration and trade.

“Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” the source said, referring to the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist who runs the pro-Trump website Infowars.

“He goes on these amazing rants,” the source added of Bannon. “He thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government officially accuses Russia of hacking campaign to interfere with elections

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

The denunciation, made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, came as pressure was growing from within the administration and some lawmakers to publicly name Moscow and hold it accountable for actions apparently aimed at sowing discord around the election.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the two agencies. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

The public finger-pointing was welcomed by senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who also said they now expect the administration to move to punish the Kremlin as part of an effort to deter further acts by its hackers. [Continue reading…]

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GOP blocks probes into Trump-Russia ties

The Daily Beast reports: Suspicion is mounting about Donald Trump’s ties to Russian officials and business interests, as well as possible links between his campaign and the Russian hacking of U.S. political organizations. But GOP leaders have refused to support efforts by Democrats to investigate any possible Trump-Russia connections, which have been raised in news reports and closed-door intelligence briefings. And without their support, Democrats, as the minority in both chambers of Congress, cannot issue subpoenas to potential witnesses and have less leverage to probe Trump.

Privately, Republican congressional staff told The Daily Beast that Trump and his aides’ connections to Russian officials and businesses interests haven’t gone unnoticed and are concerning. And GOP lawmakers have reviewed Democrats’ written requests to the FBI that it investigate Trump before they were made public.

But the lawmakers in both chambers have declined to sign on to them. Republicans have no appetite to launch inquiries into their party’s presidential nominee, and they continue to believe the FBI flubbed its investigation into Clinton and her aides, who should have been charged with mishandling government secrets, the staffers said. [Continue reading…]

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America’s duty to take in refugees

Scott Arbeiter writes: This year the United States will take in 85,000 of the world’s most vulnerable so they can begin new lives in America, the highest number since 2001. But at a time when 65 million people have been displaced by violence, and 20 million of them are classified as refugees — more than half of them children — it is not enough.

Recently, the Obama administration took a small step forward, raising the number of refugees the country will let in to 110,000 for the next fiscal year. The next step is for Congress to allocate resources for resettlement — something it has always done, in a bipartisan fashion, since the refugee crisis after World War II.

Unfortunately, this time, a vocal minority in Congress, the states and the public are arguing that we should respond to this humanitarian crisis by pulling up the welcome mat, even for families fleeing the civil war in Syria and the brutality of the Islamic State. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, called the administration’s increase “reckless and extreme.”

Fear of refugees is not new. In 1939, the United States turned away more than 900 Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany because of worries that some might be Nazi conspirators or Communists. More than a quarter of those refugees died in the Holocaust. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin

Michael Isikoff reports: U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials — including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue.

The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.

Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.” [Continue reading…]

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Ted Cruz is wrong about how free speech is censored on the Internet

Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner writes: Sen. Ted Cruz wants to engineer a United States takeover of a key Internet organization, ICANN, in the name of protecting freedom of expression.

Cruz’s proposal is one of the key sticking points in finalizing the government spending bill necessary to avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

But the misguided call for the United States to exert unilateral control over ICANN does nothing to advance free speech because ICANN, in fact, has no power whatsoever over individual speech online. ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — supervises domain names on the Internet. The actual flow of traffic, and therefore speech, is up to individual network and platform operators.

There is no international law or treaty that calls the Internet into existence or forces everyone to use the same standards and technology. Rather, it is a voluntary effort of people around the world. [Continue reading…]

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How Russian hacking has tied U.S. government in knots

CNN reports: Whatever Vladimir Putin’s goal is in a year-long campaign of apparent cyberattacks against the US political system, the Russian leader has accomplished this much: tying the US government in knots over what to do about it.

There’s debate in the Obama administration about how to respond to the hacks targeting Democratic Party organizations and increasing evidence that Russian hackers also were behind attacks on election registration websites.

FBI and Justice Department officials believe there’s strong evidence to warrant publicly naming Russia as responsible for the political organization attacks, law enforcement and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation say.

But there is opposition from US intelligence agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who have cautioned about moving to “name and shame” Russia, in part because of concerns about Russian retaliation and the possible exposure of US intelligence operations, the routine spy work that the US carries out against Russia and other countries.

White House officials, meanwhile, are cautious for other reasons, administration officials say: the political overtones of making such an attribution against Russia weeks before the US presidential election. Some White House officials also believe the FBI and intelligence agencies have more work to do to show definitive links between Russian intelligence hackers, whom US investigators believe stole documents from the Democratic National Committee, and WikiLeaks, the organization that published the material the weekend before the Democratic Party’s convention. [Continue reading…]

 

Politico reports: House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul said that he “misspoke” Wednesday when he told CNN that Russian hackers had penetrated the computer systems of the Republican National Committee.

In a statement released shortly after his TV appearance ended, McCaul (R-Texas) said it was “Republican political operatives,” not the RNC, that had been hacked. The RNC also swiftly denied that its systems had been breached. [Continue reading…]

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Colin Powell called Benghazi a ‘stupid witch hunt’ — and Condi Rice agreed

BuzzFeed reports: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the events surrounding and following the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, “a stupid witch hunt,” saying that fault partially lies with the US ambassador who was killed in the attack, according to personal emails seen by BuzzFeed News.

“Benghazi is a stupid witch hunt. Basic fault falls on a courageous ambassador who thoughts Libyans now love me and I am ok in this very vulnerable place,” Powell wrote in a December 2015 email exchange with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in the 2012 incident.

Hillary Clinton was secretary of state during the attack, which was the subject of a special congressional committee and remains an issue in the current presidential campaign.

“But blame also rests on his leaders and supports back here. Pat Kennedy, Intel community, DS and yes HRC” — the last acronym short for Hillary Clinton, added Powell, who served under former President George W. Bush.

“Completely agree,” Rice responds, adding, “Let me know when you’re in town and we’ll have that glass of wine (or two).” [Continue reading…]

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Former chief White House ethics lawyer: Clinton Foundation controversy is just a distraction from bigger issue

By Richard Painter, University of Minnesota

Hillary Clinton’s critics claim that federal ethics laws were broken when her subordinates at the State Department arranged meetings and other favors for donors to the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation.

Evidence is still surfacing as to who at the State Department did what and why. But as a former chief White House ethics lawyer in the Bush administration, I can tell you that allegations of favoritism for donors is nothing new. There were plenty such allegations during the Bill Clinton administration. If nothing changes, I believe it will be more of the same in a Hillary Clinton administration.

As I illustrate in my book, “Getting the Government America Deserves,” there was also favoritism for donors in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations. Same for Congress over many years. The same is arguably true for the Obama administration. One case in point: access to staff in the White House and Department of Energy granted to investors in Solyndra Solar Energy Company. The Clinton Foundation may be a novel twist to an old problem, but donors get high-level access every day in Washington.

The Clinton Foundation is a marginally relevant side show in the gigantic multibillion dollar circus of American campaign finance. Almost all American politicians depend upon money to get elected, and almost all consciously or unconsciously do favors for their donors. Corruption is eating away at our republic. The media’s obsession with the indirect ways in which a single charitable foundation advances a single candidate’s career misses the point.

Clinton’s critics and the candidate herself should instead focus on what American voters of all political convictions really want: less influence for big money in American government.

[Read more…]

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A stark reminder of Guantánamo’s sins

In an editorial, the New York Times says: It is haunting, maddening even, to revisit the facts of Abu Zubaydah’s time in American custody more than 14 years after he was detained in Pakistan in the frenzied period following the Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner known to have been waterboarded by the Central Intelligence Agency, loomed large in America’s imagination for years as the personification of evil.

On Tuesday, a small group of human rights advocates and journalists got a fleeting glimpse of Abu Zubaydah — the first since his detention — when he appeared before a panel of government officials to argue that he would not be a threat to the United States if he were released from the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba. The hearing, which civilians were allowed to watch part of from a live video feed, is an opportunity to reflect on the shameful tactics employed during years of national panic about terrorism and to reinvigorate efforts to close the prison.

George W. Bush’s administration believed that Abu Zubaydah, a bearded Saudi who wears a patch on his left eye, was the operations head of Al Qaeda. Mr. Bush singled him out in a 2006 speech, calling him a “senior terrorist leader,” and claiming that “the security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.” Abu Zubaydah and men like him, government officials argued, fully justified the facility at Guantánamo as well as a secret web of prisons run by the C.I.A. They also justified the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture, then eagerly embraced by some American intelligence officials.

Years later, it became clear that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t a top figure in Al Qaeda after all. It also became clear that he had willingly provided insights into terrorist groups when he was interrogated by F.B.I. agents, who treated him cordially. By the time he was turned over to the C.I.A., his knowledge about threats to the United States appears to have been largely exhausted. Yet agency personnel insisted on the need for torture, waterboarding him at least 83 times and subjecting him to other cruelty.

Never charged and never tried, Abu Zubaydah has also never been allowed to speak publicly about his ordeal. His American abusers have never been held to account. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. considers sanctions against Russia in response to hacks of Democratic groups

The Wall Street Journal reports: U.S. officials are discussing whether to respond to computer breaches of Democratic Party organizations with economic sanctions against Russia, but they haven’t reached a decision about how to proceed, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Levying sanctions would require the White House to publicly accuse Russia, or Russian-backed hackers, of committing the breach and then leaking embarrassing information. The U.S. has frequently opted not to publicly release attribution for cyber-assaults, though Washington did openly accuse North Korea of carrying out an embarrassing breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. in 2014.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. intelligence agencies have been studying the Democratic hacks, and several officials have signaled it was almost certainly carried out by Russian-affiliated hackers. Russia has denied any involvement, but several cybersecurity companies have also released reports tying the breach to Russian hackers.

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters, regarding a breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spearheads the Democratic House campaigns: “I know for sure it is the Russians” and “we are assessing the damage.”

She added, “This is an electronic Watergate…The Russians broke in. Who did they give the information to? I don’t know. Who dumped it? I don’t know.” [Continue reading…]

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