Is the Supreme Court finally ready to tackle partisan gerrymandering? Signs suggest yes

Richard L. Hasen writes: Is the Supreme Court about to cause great political upheaval by getting into the business of policing the worst partisan gerrymanders? Signs from last week suggest that it well might.

At the very beginning of its term back in October, the court heard oral arguments in Gill vs. Whitford, a case challenging Wisconsin’s plan for drawing districts for its state Assembly. Republican legislators drew the lines to give them a great advantage in these elections. Even when Democrats won more than majority of votes cast in the Assembly elections, Republicans controlled about 60% of the seats.

The court has for many years refused to police such gerrymandering. Conservative justices suggested that the question was “nonjusticiable” (meaning the cases could not be heard by the courts) because there were no permissible standards for determining when partisanship in drawing district lines went too far. Liberals came forward with a variety of tests. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stood in the middle, as he often does. He argued that all the tests liberals proposed didn’t work, while trying to keep the courthouse door open for new tests. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the botched raid that left four U.S. soldiers dead in Niger

BuzzFeed reports: The mission that resulted in the death of eight soldiers — including four Americans — in a firefight with Islamist militants in Niger earlier this year was the result of reckless behavior by US Special Forces in Africa, according to insiders and officials with knowledge of the operation.

The deaths came as a result of a poorly executed mission intended to gather information about three senior ISIS militants operating in isolated territory on the border between Niger and neighboring Mali.

The US-led mission reached its target destination — BuzzFeed News can reveal for the first time that it was a militant camp across the porous border in Mali — on Oct. 3 and was returning back to base the following day when they were attacked, according to a senior ranking Nigerien official. But insiders say the fatalities in the remote village of Tongo Tongo were likely avoidable had the mission been better planned, although it is unclear whether key decisions were made by soldiers or their commanders back at base. Officials warn of the risks of further such operations just as the Trump administration is putting more US boots on the ground through the little-known Special Operations Command, Africa program (Socafrica).

A Nigerien general, two senior military officials, and an official from the Nigerien government’s anti-terrorist unit spoke about the mission to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak with the press.

In visits to “red zone” areas, deemed out of bounds by US and other foreign embassies, and high-level interviews, locals and senior officials told BuzzFeed News that the worst military fiasco under the Trump administration came after US soldiers rushed into a hornet’s nest of militants with insufficient intelligence, while a series of “negligent” decisions during the operation handed an accidental victory to an ISIS offshoot. The incident highlights the consequences of the US prizing firepower over intelligence-gathering, even in militant-controlled terrain where local military partners are on the backfoot. And it comes as Special Force troops are being drawn deeper into shadow wars against militant Islamists on the continent — wars that have no military solution, according to those mired within them. [Continue reading…]

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America’s uncritical admiration for its generals

Suzanne Garment writes: Trump came to office promising a return to American strength after years of what he calls failed foreign policy by an effete establishment. But Trump isn’t exactly an embodiment of American toughness: He’s an overweight and out of shape 71-year-old man who escaped military service by claiming bone spurs and has said he fought his personal Vietnam on the battlefield of sexually transmitted diseases.

You can see why he’d want alpha males around — not so much to wage war as because he seeks personal proximity to masculine winners. The generals lend Trump masculinity by association.

Yet Trump’s delight in proximate alpha males presents him with a dilemma because he also clearly enjoys dominating others and has a keen — critics might say pathological — sense of threats to his dominance. This makes him intolerant of alpha male behavior.

Mattis succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made the cover of Time Magazine, Trump reportedly complained to staffers, according to The New York Times. Several months later, the advisor was gone. Bannon’s return to Breitbart allowed Trump to make him a confidant again, without admitting that Bannon might be pulling the strings of power. But Breitbart’s current critique of Trump’s strategy in the Russia probe shows the unreliability of such a relationship.

Herein lies the beauty of generals. Despite their alpha male-ness, generals obey the code governing the American military: They are explicitly constrained by the Constitution’s provisions that civilians control the military. Even after serving, generals respect these constraints. As The Washington Post recently observed about Mattis, he succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

This combination of masculinity and deference isn’t an oxymoron but an amalgam that perfectly suits Trump’s needs.

If you’re Trump, it’s a treasure you don’t easily discard. No wonder Trump keeps calling them “my generals” in the same proprietary way he’s called his wife, Melania, “my supermodel.”

But will this formula allow the generals to be the “adults in the room,” restraining a president who lacks impulse control?

Don’t count on it. We’re not talking Dwight D. Eisenhower or George C. Marshall here, let alone Colin Powell or Alexander Haig — just your basic war heroes. When generals have to perform beyond their political competence, they’re as fallible as anybody else. [Continue reading…]

As every marketing executive knows, Americans are suckers for attractive packaging and strong branding.

A sharply cut uniform and a few gleaming stars, present or past, is all it takes to mask the frail content of men who clearly don’t fully embody the qualities they are meant to represent.

Supposedly, the uniform is the ultimate representation of patriotism — the willingness to die for ones country — yet who in all seriousness can pretend that serving as a pillar, or to be more precise as a crutch, in this administration is an act of patriotism?

These generals, just like all their non-military cohorts were to some degree enticed by the allure of power and the hook of their own vanity around which no doubt they each embellished some noble narrative to rationalize their prostitution to the ultimate pimp.

Service with honor is one thing and obedience to Donald Trump is another, but there is no way to marry the two.

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Roy Moore’s Alabama

Howell Raines writes: The hickory tree, which stood hard by the unpaved road at the northeast corner of my grandparents’ front yard, is gone. So is the bipartisan flexibility it symbolized in the alliance of an anti-Wallace Democrat like Mr. Elliott and my grandfather, a conservative populist Republican. Like much of Appalachia, Winston County had very few slaves, and black people now account for less than 1 percent of the residents. A visiting Canadian journalist wrote recently that folks here are tight-lipped around outside reporters. The Walker graves in the Baptist cemetery give me dirt-road cred, but I didn’t push too hard. These people fear being depicted as “total rednecks” and argue urgently that they do not fit the stereotype. Neat brick bungalows have replaced ramshackle farmhouses. The community center conducts weekly yoga and aerobics classes, and the literary society convenes once a month.

But if you scratch this hard North Alabama soil, you’ll find Native American arrowheads and a secret dissent, like the patriotism that led rampaging Confederate guerrillas to loot the farms of Winston men who joined the Union Army. Lost Cause historians at the University of Alabama watered down the radical nature of Winston’s devotion to the Union. A misleading statue in Double Springs, showing a soldier in a uniform that is half Union and half Confederate, disguises the fact that Winston provided more troops to the Union Army than to the Confederate. Records in the National Archives show that my great-great grandfather, Hial Abbott, who farmed near here, was a key figure in a local underground that sneaked mountain boys through the Confederate lines to enlist for the North.

In Arley, women are the rebels in the current election. “All those women who are coming forward, they’re not making it up,” a female civic leader told me over coffee within sight of the “liars’ table.” This gender division exists in the household of Mavinee and Odis Bishop. Mrs. Bishop greeted me at the door saying, “Your grandfather married us 72 years ago when my husband was home from the war.” Mr. Bishop, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, said he had drifted over to the Democrats when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal paid him and his jobless friends to work on the kind of infrastructure projects promised by candidate Trump. But he sees modern Democrats as detached from common folk. He’ll vote for Mr. Moore and intends to “sway” his wife from her plan to support Mr. Jones.

“No, he won’t,” Mrs. Bishop said in that firm Free State way as she stepped in from the kitchen.

There in a nutshell are the swing factors that will determine this election. Upper-income suburbs in the state’s major cities are covered with Doug Jones signs, foreshadowing a powerful Republican soccer-mom rejection of Mr. Moore’s purported predation. Older Republican women whisper about lobbying their female friends to do the unthinkable and vote for the Democrat. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Sunday that his home state “deserves better” than to be represented by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, including one as young as 14, when he was in his 30s.

Shelby, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, said he had already cast a ballot ahead of Tuesday’s special election and did not vote for Moore, opting instead for a write-in candidate that he declined to name in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’d rather see the Republican win, but I would hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name,” Shelby said. “I’d rather see another Republican in there, and I’m going to stay with that story. I’m not going to vote for the Democrat, I didn’t vote for the Democrat or advocate for the Democrat. But I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.

“The state of Alabama deserves better.” [Continue reading…]

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In Franken’s wake, three senators call on President Trump to resign

The Washington Post reports: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and two of his Democratic colleagues have suggested that President Trump should consider resigning, after a run of sexual-harassment scandals has driven out some members of Congress.

Sen. Al Franken “felt it proper for him to resign,” Sanders said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, referring to the Democrat from Minnesota. “Here you have a president who has been accused by many women of assault, who says on a tape that he assaulted women. He might want to think about doing the same.”

Sanders’s comment, which built on a tweet he sent last week, came after Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) suggested that the “#MeToo moment” should prompt another look at the women who accused Trump of sexual harassment during the 2016 presidential campaign. [Continue reading…]

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For Trump adviser at center of Russia probe, a rapid rise and dramatic fall in his ancestral land

The Washington Post reports: A brass band played, fighter jets streaked the clear blue sky and a red carpet adorned the airport tarmac on the day in May 2016 when Vladimir Putin came to Athens for a visit.

“Mr. President, welcome to Greece,” the Greek defense minister, Panos Kammenos, said in Russian as he smiled broadly and greeted a stone-faced Putin at the base of the stairs from the plane.

Kammenos, a pro-Russian Greek nationalist who bragged often of his insider Moscow connections, would receive a second key visitor that day, but with considerably less fanfare.

Not yet 30 years old, George Papadopoulos had been unknown in Greece — and everywhere else — only two months before.

But suddenly, just as Putin arrived, he was in Athens, quietly holding meetings across town and confiding in hushed tones that he was there on a sensitive mission on behalf of his boss, Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]

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Private war: Erik Prince has his eye on Afghanistan’s rare metals

BuzzFeed reports: Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of “security contractors.” Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US.

Prince, who founded the Blackwater security firm and testified last week to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, has deep connections into the current White House: He’s friends with former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon, and he’s the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

Prince briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he’s pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain’s empire in India. “An East India Company approach,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support.”

But the details have never been made public. Here is the never-before-published slide presentation for his pitch, which a source familiar with the matter said was prepared for the Trump administration.

One surprising element is the commercial promise Prince envisions: that the US will get access to Afghanistan’s rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and “rare earth elements,” critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion. [Continue reading…]

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Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents

CNN reports: Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton.

“WIKILEAKS: Hillary Clinton Sent THOUSANDS of Classified Cables Marked “(C)” for Confidential,” he tweeted, sharing a story from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative, pro-Trump website.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Congressional investigators are trying to ascertain whether the individual who sent the September email is legitimate and whether it shows additional efforts by WikiLeaks to connect with Trump’s son and others on the Trump campaign. The email also indicated that the Trump campaign could access records from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were made public by a Russian front group 10 days later. [Continue reading…]

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FBI warned Hope Hicks about emails from Russian operatives

The New York Times reports: F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events.

The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.

There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper. According to former officials, American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became alarmed by introductory emails that Ms. Hicks received from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election.

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

The meetings with Ms. Hicks, what the F.B.I. calls a “defensive briefing,” went beyond the standard security advice that senior White House officials routinely receive upon taking office. Defensive briefings are intended to warn government officials about specific concerns or risks. [Continue reading…]

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The Supreme Court upheld bigotry before. Its Muslim ban ruling does it again

Moustafa Bayoumi writes: The US supreme court has decided that the Trump administration’s Muslim ban can proceed in full, even as legal challenges to the ban continue. What a terrible and portentous decision not only for citizens from the banned countries but also for the very health and future our own nation.

With their short and unsigned orders, the supreme court appears now to be favoring the government’s argument, suggesting the court will rule with Trump when the legal challenges to the ban are finally heard. This may be unsurprising when considering the traditional deference the court has afforded the executive branch in matters of immigration, but it is no less infuriating.

After all, the constitution forbids discriminating on the basis of religion, and the Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality and place of birth. It would be a travesty of justice to enshrine this kind of official bigotry against Muslims due to the separation of powers doctrine.

But the supreme court has made many wrongheaded decisions in the past. In Dred Scott v Sanford (1857), the court ruled that African Americans could not become citizens, further enshrining slavery into the American system.

The case of Plessy v Ferguson (1896) upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation. In Buck v Bell (1927), the court sided with eugenics (yes, eugenics!) by legally upholding the forced sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. Fred Korematsu challenged the constitutionality of Japanese internment in Korematsu v United States (1944) and lost. Will we soon be adding the Muslim ban cases to this shameful list? [Continue reading…]

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Investigators probe European travel of Trump associates

Politico reports: Congressional investigators are scrutinizing trips to Europe taken last year by several associates of President Donald Trump, amid concern they may have met with Kremlin-linked operatives as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Several people close to then-candidate Trump visited Europe during and after the campaign, including his son Donald Trump Jr., Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and foreign policy advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Jeffrey Gordon. Their known destinations include London, Paris, Budapest and Athens.

But their explanations of those trips have not always been forthcoming, and some congressional investigators find their stories suspect.

When a House Intelligence Committee member asked Page last month about his end-of-summer 2016 visit to Budapest, for instance, Page initially said he “did a lot of sightseeing and went to a jazz club. Not much to report.”

Under further questioning, Page admitted to meeting with a Hungarian government official who some congressional investigators suspect is an intelligence officer and cryptically offered that “there may have been one Russian person passing through there.”

Trump Jr. flew to Paris late in the campaign to meet with and speak before a foreign policy group with ties to Russian officials. Cohen traveled three times to Europe last year, though he strongly denies the claim in a controversial dossier on Donald Trump’s Russia connections that he met secretly with a Russian official in Prague.

Such trips have raised concerns about whether the Trump associates were approached by Russian intelligence agents as part of the Kremlin’s election meddling or even sought face-to-face meetings themselves, possibly to discuss acquiring incriminating information on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to two congressional officials familiar with the probes. [Continue reading…]

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The Jerusalem Embassy Act was only meant to be a piece of political theater

Yoav Fromer writes: In light of the Clinton administration’s firm objection and threats to veto the law, an unusual compromise was born [in 1995]: Congress would pass the law, but would include a provision under which the president may suspend the law’s implementation according to his own discretion. In other words, Congress passed the law assuming it would never see the light of day. That way, everyone stood to gain: The lawmakers raked in voters and donations for supporting Israel; and the administration, on the one hand, didn’t prevent pro-Israel legislation, and the other hand, alleviated Arab states’ fears by indicating that it had no intention of allowing its implementation.

In a perfect reflection of a political theater, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was a symbolic, empty and superficial move, which wasn’t actually aimed at changing reality on the ground. And that is essentially what President Trump is likely about to do: Instead of providing the “historic deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, as he promised to do, he has apparently given up the hard and challenging work involved in diplomatic negotiations for the sake of empty declarations. And instead of using the momentum he gained following his successful visit to the Middle East and advancing a creative and bold solution to the conflict, Trump is once against settling for words at the expense of action.

We must not forget there is a good reason why the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was enacted 22 years ago, was never implemented: Because it harms the US, and it harms Israel too indirectly. Trump’s predecessors—and quite a few Israeli leaders—objected to the embassy’s relocation because they understood the cost would be greater than the benefit: Not only would the US give up its status as a decent mediator in the conflict, which would only hurt Israel, but the president would waste the little sympathy he had left in Arab capitals, inflame the Arab street and divert the attention from the real regional threat—Iran’s growing power.

So before opening champagne bottles and celebrating the declaration, it’s important to remember that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was born by mistake. The attempt to execute it or change Jerusalem’s diplomatic status quo could end in a disaster. [Continue reading…]

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Twelve Senate Democrats call on Franken to resign amid further allegations of sexual harassment

The Washington Post reports: A dozen Senate Democrats called Wednesday for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment, raising the possibility he will become the second lawmaker to step aside over recent accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Franken’s office said he would make an announcement about his political future on Thursday. No other details were provided.

In a campaign started by Democratic women, nearly a dozen senators said Franken should leave Capitol Hill. Franken faces multiple accusations of inappropriate touching and unwanted advances. He has denied intentional wrongdoing and has apologized.

“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told reporters at a news conference. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay, none of it is acceptable. We as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. That is where this debate has to go.” [Continue reading…]

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Flynn said Russian sanctions would be ‘ripped up,’ whistle-blower says

The New York Times reports: Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistle-blower made public on Wednesday.

Mr. Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistle-blower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.

Mr. Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, as he sat behind the president listening to the inaugural address, Mr. Flynn, according to the whistle-blower, texted the former business associate to say that the project was “good to go.”

The account is detailed in a letter written by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Mr. Cummings said that the whistle-blower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistle-blower. [Continue reading…]

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Trump Jr. cites attorney-client privilege in not answering panel’s questions about discussions with his father

Politico reports: Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday cited attorney-client privilege to avoid telling lawmakers about a conversation he had with his father, President Donald Trump, after news broke this summer that the younger Trump — and top campaign brass — had met with Russia-connected individuals in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

Though neither Trump Jr. nor the president is an attorney, Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee that there was a lawyer in the room during the discussion, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff said he didn’t think it was a legitimate invocation of attorney-client privilege.

“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” he said, after the committee’s lengthy interview with Trump Jr. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.” [Continue reading…]

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Russia probe tests Pence in-the-dark defense

CNN reports: New revelations about Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI are laying bare Vice President Mike Pence’s in-the-dark strategy when it comes to Russia’s election meddling, raising new questions about whether he could have been left in the dark as he has argued for nearly a year.

Advisers have long insisted that Pence was unaware Flynn spoke to then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak about a new set of US sanctions on the day they were announced last December.

But court filings unsealed last week, paired with new details about President Donald Trump’s own knowledge of events, indicate a wide circle of advisers were aware that Flynn raised the issue when he spoke by phone to Moscow’s envoy — even as Pence reportedly remained in the dark.

The new questions raised by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation signal what could be a pivotal moment in Pence’s careful calibration of trying to keep a safe distance from the Russia probe even while maintaining his credibility for being left out of the loop by the West Wing.

Pence — who was in charge of Trump’s transition — knew Flynn had contacted Russia, but was left unaware of the sanctions discussion, according to transition officials. It’s led to anxiety within Pence’s circle that he’ll eventually be called to sit for an interview with Mueller. [Continue reading…]

If Pence has to choose between lying to Mueller or betraying Trump, that’ll be the day Pence’s unwavering loyalty evaporates.

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Mueller subpoenaed Trump Deutsche Bank records, source says

Bloomberg reports: Special prosecutor Robert Mueller zeroed in on President Donald Trump’s business dealings with Deutsche Bank AG as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections widens.

Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced.

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd disputed that account, saying he had been told by Deutsche Bank that no such subpoena had been issued.

“We have confirmed that the news reports that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the president are false. No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources,” Dowd wrote in an email.

When approached about the Dowd comment, the person familiar with the matter reiterated that the bank had received a subpoena. Handelsblatt reported the subpoena earlier Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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Trump White House weighing plans to create rogue global spy network

The Intercept reports: The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency.

The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.

“I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.” But a current U.S. intelligence official appeared to contradict that assertion, stating that the various proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. The Intercept reached out to several senior officials that sources said had been briefed on the plans by Prince, including Vice President Mike Pence. His spokesperson wrote there was “no record of [Prince] ever having met with or briefed the VP.” Oliver North did not respond to a request for comment. [Continue reading…]

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