March 9, 2017 John Hanno
‘The Russian Tarbaby’
One advantage of growing older is that you acquire the ability to quickly recognize bull pucky when you hear, see or smell it. King Donald and his Court of Putin wannabe’s has spun a tangled web indeed. Is the Trump Inc. cover-up worse than the crime, or is all this thick smoke just the tip of a massive conspiracy worthy of a blockbuster David John Moore Cornwell, alias John le Carre novel. Forget “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” the next le Carre opus arriving at Amazon.com will be “The Trump Double Spook who got Stuck to the Russian Tarbaby.” Move over George Smiley, former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, may soon be talking to American intelligence investigators (and consulting on a big screen project), about the 35 page dossier he compiled on Trump and his associates collaboration with the Russian Autocrat.
Their obfuscation and bold faced lies have super-charged every investigative journalist to turn over every rock that might uncover which Trumpet is sleeping with which Russian operative.
At the top of that list is The Rachel Maddow team of sleuths at MSNBC, who nightly present the latest chapter of that tangled web of double agents. They remind one of a hungry bloodhound devouring a round bone chock full of creamy marrow. And dozens of journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Daily Kos, The Nation, Esquire, Politico, Raw Story, Foreign Policy, The National Memo and all the ones I forgot, have undertaken what the Grand Old Party’s Congressional pretenders have failed to do, get to the bottom of this administration’s obvious collusion, Comrade Putin’s interference in our Democratic election and Trump’s and his comrades dodgy business interests.
U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Ca) House Intelligence Committee has asked for an independent investigation into the Trump administrations ties to Russia and has put together a flow chart of the connections of more than a dozen members of this cabal. See following article.
It’s hard to keep up with all the twists and turns but everyone who fancies themselves a patriotic American (or a spy novel aficionado), owes it to themselves and their family to pay attention.
Why does Trump “love” Wiki leaks and Vladimir Putin? They are not America’s friends. Why has every member of Trumps campaign, his transition team and cabinet, who has or had ties to Russia, including Trump himself, lied about their contacts with the Russians? Why was Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page kicked to the curb as soon as their implications with the Russians became public? Why did Michael Flynn’s direct line to the Kremlin cause his resignation? Why didn’t Jeff Sessions tell the Russian ambassador to stop trying to hack our election during his three meetings with the Russian Ambassador? Why did the Russian oligarch pay the Donald $100 million for a property he had just purchased for $40 million, never used it and then tore it down without ever visiting the property? Was the Donald involved with best friend and new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in the Russian laundering business? Why did Trump insist countless times he had no dealing with Putin and the Russians when his own son said they had an enormous amount of investments and deals with Russians?
Trump quickly fired numerous senior career State Department staff and proposed a 37% cut in the State Department’s budget, while Trumps new Secretary of State, ex Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillison, who also has close ties to Putin, hasn’t said a word about the carnage in his department.
America’s longest serving diplomat, Ambassador Daniel Fried, who served 6 presidents over 40 years was not retained by the Trump State Department. You have to ask, where is this administrations attention focused? Proposing increasing the defense budget by $54 billion dollars and cutting the State Department budget by 37% in Trumps first few weeks, is apocalyptic. We should have two peace makers at State for every soldier at the pentagon.
Yet no matter what new revelations spill out from this White House, Trumps supporters only stiffen their support. 88% of Republican supporters approve of his administration and a growing number of these dupes even approve of the murderer Putin.
What if President Obama and or Hillary Clinton were as embedded as this Republi-con cast of characters? What if they failed to turn over their obviously conflicted tax returns? What if, instead of eight years of scandal free Obama governance, they offered up this daily dose of conflicts and scandals? There would be investigations in every committee in the Republican controlled House and Senate and every member would be so apoplectic that they wouldn’t be able to talk out of the other side of their mouths.
Putin hates everything about America. They hate that we caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, hate that we support NATO and a United European Union, hate that no matter how hard despots like Trump and Bannon try to turn America into a failed Russian state, our entrenched free democratic institutions and the intrepid journalists within our fact based media keep standing firm.
The sooner the Republi-con Congress puts aside its partisanship and lives up to their oath of office, the sooner we can get to the bottom of this constitutional crisis. As usual, this tar will leave a stain on the GOP. John Hanno
‘Everyday, a new piece falls into place’: Maddow brilliantly spells out the Trump-Russia connection
Elizabeth Preza March 8, 2017
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday continued her brutal takedown of Donald Trump’s repeated denials that he or anyone in his campaign were involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election, arguing, “Everyday, a new piece of it falls into place.”
Maddow described a Politico report, released Wednesday, that revealed authorities investigated Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, over Kilimnik’s suspected ties Russian intelligence.
Maddow explained that authorities are “looking into a Russian citizen in conjunction with one of the incidents on the Trump campaign last year which defied explanation at the time.” That incident, Maddow said, was the Trump campaign’s decision to gut a GOP party platform that encouraged a hardline approach against Russia.
“This was one of the first direct signs that something strange was up,” Maddow said, explaining that while much of the GOP party platform last year didn’t “seem very Trumpian,” the campaign “let everything else in the platform slide” except for the adversarial stance against Russia.
Maddow said it was “weird at the time,” but it wasn’t until recently that we learned the platform change was made “specifically at Donald Trump’s request.”
“You can feel the pillars sort of start to sway here, right?” Maddow asked.
Maddow then turned her attention to the bombshell Trump dossier, a 35-page document released on Jan. 11 that alleged misconduct and direct ties between the president and the Russian government. The MSNBC host said she was bringing up that unverified dossier because the “baseline allegations of [it] actually appears to be about that platform change.”
“Everyday a new piece of it falls into place,” Maddow said, later adding, “all the supporting details are checking out.”
According to the MSNBC host, everyday another part of the “increasingly corroborated dossier” is verified, while the Trump administration’s “previous denials are all falling apart.”
By Liberal in a Red State, March 6, 2017
Rachel Maddow delivering exceptional Journalism on Trump and Russian ties-digging in deep
The Rachel Maddow Show-Doing amazing reporting on Trump / Russian ties
I can’t say enough about how outstanding Rachel Maddow’s recent reporting has been. She has a way of digging in on stories and laying them out in a very engaging, informative, effective and understandable manner. She is truly worth watching at 9:00 PM ET on MSNBC.
On Friday, March 3, 2017 her entire episode was a riveting deep dive into Russia and peeling back more and more layers of that corrupt, toxic and dangerous onion. One segment she did should be front page news in every newspaper and top story on every broadcast — yet it is crickets.
Intriguing overlap in paths of Russian oligarch, Trump campaign
Rachel Maddow looks at a line of investigation into the intersections of the travel of a prominent Russian oligarch’s plane and the Donald Trump campaign … “Nice place, Concord, NC …www,msnbc.com/…
As she previously reported, Dmitry Rybolovlev, known as the “King of Fertilizer” is the obscenely rich Russian oligarch who in 2008 bought Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion in Florida for nearly $100 Million dollars, making it the most expensive house sold in the US. money.cnn.com/…
And Trump had bought the mansion just two years earlier for only $40 million and had never lived in the house — made zero upgrades. en.wikipedia.org/…
So fast forward to 2016 and apparently, during the campaign Dmitry Rybolovlev has been flying his luxury private jet to several places that Donald Trump was also flying … ending up in places like Concord, NC, Charlotte, NC, Las Vegas, and most recently in January 2017 in Miami — ON THE SAME DAY AND TIME THAT DONALD TRUMP WAS IN THESE PLACES. They are tracking the flight numbers and even have photos of their planes on the same airport on the same day.
She ends her report with, “is Dmitry Rybolovlev an emissary for Putin?”
Again — very much worth the watch. www.msnbc.com/…
Can’t wait to see what she reports tonight. Trump is in deep with the Russians and we need an independent investigation to connect all these threads. In the meantime, we need to help her get this excellent reporting exposed even more … more outrage, more eyes, more questions… We need to beat the drums that he was meeting with the Russians during the campaign — at least at half a dozen airports.
This should be national news on every channel.
Trump keeps finding himself in the same city as Russian billionaire who paid him $95 million for mansion
Travis Gettys March 10, 2017
Russian billionaire paid Donald Trump $95 million for a Palm Beach mansion nearly a decade ago — a substantially higher price than the future president had paid several years earlier and more expensive than any other home for sale at the time.
Dmitry Rybolovlev paid Trump an unusually high $50 million premium to Trump in 2008 for the property, which the Russian billionaire bought as an investment rather than a residence, reported the Palm Beach Post.
The mansion, which Trump had bought for $41.35 million in 2004, turned out to have a mold problem and was torn down last year and divided into three lots, once of which sold afterward for $34 million — although that buyer remains a mystery.
Rybolovlev, who made his fortune selling fertilizer potash, denied “directly or indirectly” owning any property in Florida during divorce proceedings a couple years after purchasing the mansion through an LLC.
“Somebody paid me $100 million,” Trump told a reporter in February 2011.
At the time, the purchase was the highest price paid for any single-family home in the country.
Rybolovlev, who recently lost $150 million in an art deal, claims he has never met Trump — but he has often flown his private plane to cities where Trump is visiting.
Federal Aviation Administration records show Rybolovlev’s private plane arrived in Las Vegas in October, an hour after a Trump campaign event began.
The following month, Rybolovlev’s plane arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, 90 minutes before Trump’s plane arrived for a campaign event five days before the election.
The two men’s planes were both at Miami International Airport last month, on the same weekend Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
Trump also denies ever meeting Rybolovlev, an investor in the Kremlin-friendly Bank of Cyrus — which came up in the confirmation hearings of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a vice-chairman of the bank since 2014.
“No member of the Trump campaign or Mr. Trump met with Mr. Rybolovlev during the campaign or any other time,” a White House official told Business Insider this week.
“No one was even aware of the plane until receiving a similar email about this (Monday),” the official said. “For a press corps so obsessed with evidence, proof and feigning a general disgust at even the hint of conspiracy, this is pretty rich.”
Democratic senators were unhappy with the response of Ross to questions about whether the Bank of Cyprus had extended loans to the Trump campaign or Trump Organization, although the investor verbally told lawmakers he didn’t know of such transactions.
Hey, Look, Another Russian Connection in Trump’s Cabinet
How many does that make now?
Charles Pierce February 27, 2017
I have to say that, judging from his press availability, and as a first impression, Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a very impressively arrogant fellow. From contemptuously shuffling the Logan Act aside (“You a Logan Act guy?” he asked one reporter.) to his arch dismissal of the calls for a special prosecutor, to his clammy misuse of the word “McCarthyism,” to his robotic insistence that the real problem here are the leaks about possible Russian influence over the administration—rather than, say, Russian influence over the administration—Nunes is going to be someone to watch going forward. But let’s write something new about Russia anyway.
The essential folks at McClatchy have raised some questions about the ownership stake in a Cyprus bank held by Wilbur Ross, who by eight o’clock tonight likely will be your Secretary of Commerce. The bank that does a lot of business with various Russian oligarchs, including, it is alleged, as a spin cycle for money that the Russian kleptocracy would like to have cleaned.
More recently, he led a rescue of Bank of Cyprus in September 2014 after the Cypriot government — in consultation with Russian President Vladimir Putin — first propped up the institution. “Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” said Elise Bean, a former Senate investigator who specialized in combating money laundering and tax evasion. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.” The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system. Oligarch Dmitry Ryvoloviev took a nearly 10 percent stake in Bank of Cyprus in 2010. Two years earlier, amid the U.S. financial crisis when real-estate prices were softening, Ryvoloviev purchased Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. The transaction generated questions because of its inflated market price, about $60 million more than Trump had paid for the Florida property four years earlier. When Europe’s debt crisis spread and affected Cyprus in 2012 and 2013, that nation’s second biggest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed. The government imposed losses on uninsured deposits, many belonging to Russians.
As you might imagine, this whole business came up to no great effect during Ross’s confirmation hearings.
Ross had little history in global banking, but in 2011 he took an ownership stake in Bank of Ireland, the only bank in that nation the government didn’t seize. Ross tripled his investment when he sold his Irish stake in June 2014, then months later, he took a gamble on Bank of Cyprus. Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime Putin ally, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus and a former KGB agent believed to be a Putin associate. Aides to several of the senators confirmed late Friday that Ross hadn’t responded to their questions. The White House sent McClatchy to a Commerce Department transition aide, who didn’t respond to questions.
(David Cay Johnson’s DC Report adds that, when Ross took over the Bank of Cyprus, he installed as chairman a guy who had left Deutsche Bank under a cloud, including a $650 million fine for laundering Russian money. Deutsche Bank, Johnson reminds us, is the president*’s largest known lender.)
It is nothing close to McCarthyism to point out that the entire Cabinet will be full to the gunwales with people who have done serious business with the Russian kleptocrats. At least they’ll all have a lot to talk about over vodka at lunch.
Ouch! Newsweek exposes Trump as the business fraud he is.
By Fokozatos Siker August 2, 2016
Trump’s big line is he should be president because he is a successful businessman. After reading this devastating Newsweek story, no Trump apologist can ever say that again.
The story goes through the bankruptcies of course, but there are defaults, people ripped off, and lie upon lie upon lie upon lie.
My favorite stuff from the article:
- Trump lied to Congress.
- Trump was publicly insulting Native Americans while other real business people were making deals to help manage their casinos.
- Trump signed a deal with one Native American casino, and they paid him $6 million to go away.
- Trump punched his second grade teacher
- Trump lied in his books, then blamed the same woman he blamed for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech.
- Trump lied in a filing with a bank where he was trying to get a loan about how much he was worth.
- Trump lied about how much money he got from his dad.
- Trump’s dad gave him illegal loans by taking cash to his casino, turning it over at a craps table, loading up a suitcase with $5,000 chips, and leaving.
- Trump’s earliest deals all lost money and he only did well when his dad guaranteed loans.
- Trump spent $1 million per plane to turn a shuttle into a luxury trip that no one wanted to take. The planes were only worth $4 million each.
There is just so much more. I want to give a few quotes:
Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors—Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles, according to regulatory, corporate and court records, as well as sworn testimony and government investigative reports. Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.
He is also pretty good at self-deception, and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there, according to his own statements. “I’m just telling you, you wouldn’t say that you’re failing,” he said in a 2007 deposition when asked to explain why he would give an upbeat assessment of his business even if it was in trouble. “If somebody said, ‘How you doing?’ you’re going to say you’re doing good.” Perhaps such dissembling is fine in polite cocktail party conversation, but in the business world it’s called lying.
Trump tells everyone he is a gazillionaire. How does he decide his net worth?
Trump is quick to boast that his purported billions prove his business acumen, his net worth is almost unknowable given the loose standards and numerous outright misrepresentations he has made over the years. In that 2007 deposition, Trump said he based estimates of his net worth at times on “psychology” and “my own feelings.” But those feelings are often wrong—in 2004, he presented unaudited financials to Deutsche Bank while seeking a loan, claiming he was worth $3.5 billion. The bank concluded Trump was, to say the least, puffing; it put his net worth at $788 million, records show. (Trump personally guaranteed $40 million of the loan to his company, so Deutsche coughed up the money. He later defaulted on that commitment.)
And the money quote:
Trump’s many misrepresentations of his successes and his failures matter—a lot. As a man who has never held so much as a city council seat, there is little voters can examine to determine if he is competent to hold office. He has no voting record and presents few details about specific policies. Instead, he sells himself as qualified to run the country because he is a businessman who knows how to get things done, and his financial dealings are the only part of his background available to assess his competence to lead the country. And while Trump has had a few successes in business, most of his ventures have been disasters.
It’s a long article, but it puts the lie to Trump’s lie that he is a successful businessman. He’s just a guy who inherited money.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell wants an independent probe into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia — and he has charts
Phil Willon March 9, 2017
Check out the flow chart on Phil Willon’s web page at the LA Times.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) created a webpage detailing the Trump administrations ties to Russia. (Office of Rep. Eric Swalwell)
Northern California Rep. Eric Swalwell really wants an independent investigation into President Donald Trump and his administration’s ties to Russia.
And he has some handy charts and graphics to prove his case.
Swalwell, a Democrat from Dublin, launched a new page on his official congressional website— which he titled “Protecting our Democracy” — detailing the alleged web of connections between Trump administration officials, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian interests.
Swalwell is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating Russia’s alleged election meddling.
“President Trump has also surrounded himself with people who do business with and are sympathetic to Russia,” his site declares in boldface type.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Putin had authorized an operation to try to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Trump has rejected calls for an independent investigation of his ties to Russia.
The Global Politico
‘Don’t Be So Desperate to Rub up Against Russia’
America’s longest-serving diplomat has some parting advice for President Donald Trump.
By Susan B. Glasser March 06, 2017
America’s most senior diplomat just hit the exits from President Trump’s melting-down State Department after 40 years of being the man in the room when Russia was involved.
And now Daniel Fried, a career Foreign Service pro who spent decades holding his tongue publicly while serving six presidents of both parties, is speaking out forcefully for the first time amid an escalating scandal here in Washington over the new administration’s Russia entanglements, warning about the threats posed by President Vladimir Putin’s aggression – and Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.
“Russia despises the West. And it is doing what it can to weaken the West,” Fried says in a new interview for The Global Politico podcast, his first extensive comments since leaving government. I had asked Fried, who until a week ago was the top diplomat responsible for overseeing American sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 armed takeover of Crimea and ongoing military incursions in Ukraine, about the Russian intervention in last year’s U.S. presidential election, an intervention now the subject of multiple congressional and law-enforcement inquiries as to whether the Trump campaign knew about or colluded with the Russians in any way.
Fried, known to his colleagues as an indefatigable negotiator and history buff, warned that the Russians are intent upon reconquering more former Soviet territory and won’t stop unless strongly countered by the U.S. “They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that.”
The last serving member of a generation of Foreign Service officers who saw the Cold War to a successful ending in Russia and Eastern Europe, Fried closed his career with the State Department he loved in what many officials have described as nothing short of demoralized turmoil, and he rallied the increasingly disgruntled diplomats with a rousing goodbye speech that warned both of a Cold War victory “under assault” by a resurgent Russia and of the new Trumpian vision of American nationalism. “The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox,” he said, in remarks that were widely shared afterwards.
Tony Blinken, the State Department No. 2 under President Barack Obama, called Fried’s exit speech a “powerful defense of the liberal international order.” Damon Wilson, a colleague from President George W. Bush’s administration, said it was a “clarion call for the U.S. to lead.”
It came as foreign policy hands in both parties are increasingly concerned about the marginalization of the State Department under Trump. The president has already cut his new secretary of state, longtime ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, out of key meetings; proposed a massive cut of up to 37 percent of the department’s budget; fired top career officials while refusing to allow Tillerson to name his own staff for key positions; and turned to a national security staff long on uniformed generals and short on diplomats and civilian expertise.
Even the fact that Fried left as America’s most senior diplomat reflected the Trump-imposed tumult; until a few weeks ago, he was the third most senior career official at the State Department, but then Trump cashiered the two top officials ahead of Fried, dumping them unceremoniously in his first week in office and leaving key posts open.
Washington And The World
The State Department is Already Running on Fumes
By Ilan Goldenberg
In the interview, Fried recounts his close dealings with presidents and secretaries of both parties (he considers both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton “wonderful”), recalls being in the White House Situation Room on 9/11 and the “ill-considered” Iraq war that followed, and notes the “weak hand” Obama gave Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria. Now, he says he is as worried about Trump’s foreign policy course correction as he is about the institutional threats to a State Department that has often been a “punching bag” in American politics.
“What does it mean to say ‘America First’? … Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals others kids’ lunch money?” Fried asked. “Apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what, to use the phrase, made America great.”
But it is Fried’s warnings about Russia that are the most striking. He has watched presidents in both parties over the last 25 years try and fail to come up with a workable post-Cold War policy toward a Russia that has now turned, once again, to becoming “an aggressive, revisionist power.” Fried said he hadn’t heard directly from the new Trump White House and found “puzzling” Trump’s repeated admiring comments about Putin and indications during the campaign that he wanted to lift the sanctions Fried has worked so hard with America’s European allies to impose after the Crimea takeover.
What would he have told Trump if asked?
“Don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.”
He might find Trump puzzling but this latest strange twist in the U.S.-Russia relationship is one that Fried the Kremlinologist has been watching coming for years now – over a career that gave him a front row seat among America’s Russia watchers for the last four decades.
Fried has made a professional study of Russia since the late 1970s, when he joined the Foreign Service at the start of the Carter administration. He was posted to Soviet Leningrad in the early 1980s and tells me he considers President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz to have been the gold standard of the secretaries he worked under, because he was able to pursue a “walk and chew gum” policy of opening negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev while also pushing back on the Soviets aggressively.
By the late 1980s, Fried had become the Poland desk officer at the State Department, when he ran up against a bureaucratic obstacle: He couldn’t get the higher-ups to listen to his increasingly pointed analyses warning that Polish Communism was coming unraveled. He reached out to an up-and-coming National Security Council official in George H.W. Bush’s White House, a Soviet expert named Condoleezza Rice. She told him, “Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope” containing the papers he wanted approved. In the flurry of the next few years, Fried would go on to become ambassador to Poland as post-communist economic reforms were enacted and a top NSC official dealing with the former Soviet Union for President Bill Clinton.
Washington And The World
How Anti-Democratic Propaganda Is Taking Over The World
By Christopher Walker
A key assignment was helping to outline options for the eventual expansion of NATO to include countries in the former Soviet Union such as Poland and the three Baltic states – a key complaint these days of the Kremlin, which argues that NATO’s encirclement of Russia once those countries joined is a major factor in the region’s current tensions.
Not so, insists Fried, who remembers that, at the time in the mid-1990s, the United States was in fact pulling its troops out of Europe and even potentially envisioning a NATO that could include Russia. “This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact,” he said. “It’s just flat wrong.”
After a little more than a decade of post-Soviet tumult, Fried would be sitting next to Rice, by then the national security adviser to Bush’s son, as President George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time and famously looked into his “soul.” (“Not in the talking points!” Fried noted in our interview.) Ever since, he has watched as Bush and Obama struggled – and often failed – to figure out how to deal with the former KGB spy in the Kremlin.
Rice, as he recalls it, was one of many to make the wrong – but “reasonable” at the time, Fried says – “case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times, that he would be a czar-restorer in a way. He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West.” Obama, too, proved eager to work with the Russians, but wrong in hoping that Dmitry Medvedev, his temporary placeholder in the Russian presidency, would prove more than an interim seat warmer for Putin.
The Global Politico
Ambassador Dan Fried: The Full Transcript
By Susan B. Glasser March 06, 2017
For the fifth episode of Politico Magazine’s Susan B. Glasser’s new podcast, The Global Politico, she sat down with Ambassador Dan Fried, who recently retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. A transcript of Glasser and Fried’s conversation, and the podcast, follows:
Hi, I’m Susan Glasser. Welcome back to The Global POLITICO. This week, we have a very special guest who’s joining us: Ambassador Dan Fried. One week ago, he retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. For 40 years, he’s worked as an American Foreign Service officer, a career that has spanned the arc of the Cold War at its coldest, the remarkable end of the Cold War in 1989, and the years of disillusionment and difficulty that followed.
Dan left office as he has occupied it, with incredible insight and clarity about the nature of America’s position in the world. He gave a rousing speech. I’ll read you a few quotes from it to start off our conversation. He talked about his experience of 40 years in the American Foreign Service, and the long arc of it covering the Soviet Union, and then the remarkable collapse of the Soviet Union, and everything that’s come since over the last 25 years.
“Nothing,” he said, “can be taken for granted. And this great achievement is now under assault by Russia. But what we did in my time is no less honorable. It is for the present generation to defend, and when the time comes again, extend freedom in Europe.” Dan, thank you so much for being with us today. I’m really—I’m—I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. You are a man liberated, if not entirely at least partially, so I’d love to talk to you a little bit about what that going away speech was like for you, why you decided to speak out and say what you did.
Fried: Well, thank you for the opportunity. My farewell speech really took 40 years to write, and it turned out, I did have something to say. I wanted to speak out about what I consider to be America’s grand strategy in the world, and we often talk about what the United States did after 1945, building the liberal world order on the ruins of World War II. And after 1989, when we extended freedom in Europe to help the hundred million liberated Europeans, and that’s all good.
But the American tradition of foreign policy exceptionalism, our grand strategy as a nation, reaches back much further. Really at the turn—the end of the 19th century, when we achieved power a generation after the Civil War, the outlines of an American vision came into focus, and what we—it was based on two things. One, our realization that our values and our interests were the same, and that our business interests would advance as our values advanced in the world.
And the second precept of the American grand strategy is that our security and prosperity didn’t work unless other nations were also secure, and prosperous. There had to be something in it for them, so we weren’t looking simply to grab territory, or widen our sphere of influence, or anything like that. We wanted to make the world a better place, and get very rich in the process. That’s the American grand strategy; a combination of breathtaking ambition, apparent naivete, but actual insight, and it worked out in the 20th century. I wanted to talk about that, and I also wanted to talk about America’s identity.
Glasser: A lot of people here in Washington have been worrying not just since President Trump came into office, but certainly with an accelerating or escalating decibel level since President Trump came into office, that this is a moment that is the end of the liberal order that you celebrate. You wrote in your goodbye speech: “our mistakes, blunders, flaws, and shortcomings notwithstanding, the world America made after 1945 and 1989 has enjoyed the longest period of general peace in the west since Roman times, and decades of prosperity.”
A lot of people now think it’s on the way out the door. Tony Blinken, who was the deputy secretary of state, called your speech, “a powerful defense of the liberal international order.” “Clarion call for the United States to lead,” is what Damon Wilson, one of your colleagues from the Bush administration, had to say about it. How worried are you that this is the end of the liberal international order?
Fried: I don’t believe it’s the end. I believe the liberal international order is under assault from Russia, and from other authoritarian regimes, and it is being questioned from within the West by nationalists, by nativists, and by people who doubt our—doubt the values of the West. We’ve gone through periods like this before; in the ‘70s, after Vietnam and Watergate, and certainly in the ‘30s, when people thought liberal democracy was dead, and the future belonged either to the fascists or the communists.
Glasser: But the thing that’s surprising about this, right, is that it is now at least a faction of the party that controls the American White House, including potentially the President of the United States himself, who seems to be the ones attacking the liberal order, that in fact, the United States, not only largely built and secured, but has benefited disproportionately from. That’s different.
Fried: It is different, and it’s unusual, because Republicans—Reagan but also George W. Bush—believed in freedom, and they believed in America’s role. To have the governing party speak in terms of a zero-sum world, or speak in terms of America’s purpose as no more than grabbing the largest share possible in the short run, goes against our foreign policy tradition that goes back to 1900, really…
Glasser: So, that’s again, this is what’s so remarkable about this moment here in Washington. It’s hard to convey fully to people who are outside of it, right, that’s why you see a very almost non-partisan reaction, right. You know, you have conservatives, liberals, people who are used to arguing with each other, who are now making common cause in their concern about this potential break with decades of American foreign policy. Give us a little bit of a sense about what things are like inside the State Department these days. Trump not only ran against the foreign policy establishment, there’s a lot of questions about his proposed budget cuts of up to 37 percent of the State Department’s budget, he hasn’t hired a lot of people; there’s a lot of uncertainty. What is it like to feel that your profession is under attack by the leadership?
Fried: Well, the Foreign Service and the State Department have always been a punching bag for a certain part of the political spectrum; I don’t take that too seriously. Yet. The issue is a larger one: we hear the phrase America First, and that from the president. Of course, of course we should keep our country’s interests uppermost in mind. No argument there. But what does it mean to say America First? How do we understand our interests?
In a narrow, short-term sense, are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms? And it seems to me a broader, not a narrow vision of America’s interest, is one which suits our nation, and has worked out for us well. So, I think apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what to use the phrase, made America great.
Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms?”
Glasser: Well, I should point out, and it’s really a very crucial point, you are a classic representative of a kind of person who may or may not exist 20 years from now in Washington, but has a long tradition in the Foreign Service. You’ve served presidents of all parties, starting, I believe, back in 1977. You joined the Foreign Service when Jimmy Carter was still president. You worked under Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, the second Bush, Obama, and very briefly under Donald Trump. You worked very closely with many of those presidents, and you know, it’s interesting that you were able to have high-ranking positions in both the administration of Bill Clinton, but also the administration of George W. Bush. How is that possible in this partisan age?
Fried: I didn’t change my views, and I didn’t change the kinds of policies I recommended to both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush—did the same thing in Europe. Both of them, very different personalities, advanced freedom, and they did so not to hem in Russia, but to respond to the interests and—both of America, the West in general, and those 100 million Europeans from the Baltic to the Black Sea—the Poles, the Czechs, the Balts and others, who wanted to live in security.
And both presidents helped realize a Europe whole, free, and at peace. That was a pretty good achievement, and I was proud to be part of it.
Glasser: And they weren’t suspicious of you?
Fried: Oh, well, the Bush people, at first, thought I was a Clinton person; the Obama people thought I was a Bush person. God knows what the current team thinks; I don’t think they’ve thought about me at all. But it’s interesting, George W. Bush did not care about partisanship, not at all. It’s interesting that the Bush administration kept on holdovers from the Clinton administration, and treated them quite well.
President Bush once teased me about not being a Republican, which I will not confirm or deny, because partisanship is not part of my professional makeup, but he didn’t care. What he cared about is: Are you going to do your job? Are you serious about it? And what are your policy values?
Glasser: Probably he wanted to know what was really going on behind the scenes in the Clinton White House anyways. Was he trying to get the scoop out of you?
Fried: Well, I didn’t have much idea about the Oval, but I did know President Clinton, and I thought he made some crucial right decisions, and it is just interesting that both Presidents Clinton and Bush came out the same way on the crucial issues of the time.
Glasser: Defined as what?
Fried: Well, I mean about NATO enlargement; about support for European Union enlargement, and support for the—in Clinton’s time, the newly liberated peoples of Europe.
Glasser: All right, so I want to roll up our sleeves and really talk about Russia, because that is the thread that runs through a lot of your career. I should say that you really—you started out when it was the Soviet Union; you were in Leningrad before it turned back to St. Petersburg; you met with and knew the Refusniks, back in the beginning of your career as a Foreign Service officer. You then switched—you became the ambassador to Poland, and were a key figure in that country’s transformation from its communist days to maybe you couldn’t have even envisioned its role as a pillar of both NATO and the EU today.
But, you know … then you came back here to the United States. You basically mastered and worked inside the National Security Councils under Clinton and Bush, and then of course, were the assistant secretary for Europe in the middle of a very difficult period during the Iraq war, as well as some key moments during the U.S. relationship with Russia, I think, when George W. Bush was really souring on, or changing his view about Russia.
And then of course in the Obama administration, in many ways, right, the last few years of your portfolio have been some of the toughest jobs handed to you. You have been working both on the closure of Guantanamo Bay—I want to ask you about that, and getting prisoners to be accepted by other countries as part of the effort—the unsuccessful effort by Barack Obama to close it. And then of course, the last couple years you’ve worked on perhaps the even harder issue of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and takeover of the Crimea and its activities in eastern Ukraine.
So, basically, you’ve had a knack for getting in the middle of some very difficult issues, and Russia is the common theme throughout. Let’s start at the end first, though, and talk about sanctions. What is going on with them and President Trump?
Fried: Well, our sanctions policy remains intact, and it will remain intact until it changes, if it does, and I’m not sure it will. It is certainly true, and it is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke both consistent—in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions. It’s puzzling to me.
It is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke … in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions.”
Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine, and that’s the first time since 1945 a European country has seized the territory of another European country. That’s serious business. They started a war with their neighbor. Their troops as well as the separatists funded and controlled by Russia are killing people just about every day.
The West responded with sanctions, and the West responded with unity. I think that unity probably kept things from getting worse, and they could have been much worse. They gave the Ukrainians time to resist. And I think the sanctions have helped push the Russians into accepting at least in theory a framework for solving the eastern Ukrainian problem, if not the Crimean problem.
So, sanctions are a strong and agreed element of the West’s response to Russia’s aggression. It is, as I said, puzzling to me that there is so much skepticism about the sanctions. I don’t understand it.
Glasser: Well, it goes back to this question of A, how seriously do you view Russia’s intervention in the American elections? Is this something that we should really be spun up to Defcon 5 over here in the United States, and in our political system, which is right now pretty much in a tizzy over this?
Fried: I don’t have any particular inside knowledge. I’ve read the unclassified and the classified version of the report, but I don’t have any inside knowledge. But I will say this: Russia despises the West. And is doing what it can to weaken the West. What they did in our election is no different from what they appear to be doing with respect to a number of European elections coming up.
They are using the tools at their disposal to weaken Western solidarity, to create doubt, to support nationalist parties, just as the old Soviets supported leftist parties. We need a united Western response to this multi-pronged threat. Now, I am not against working with Russia in areas of common interests at the same time. We’re smart enough, or we should be smart enough to have a dual track policy. You know, walk and chew gum at the same time.
George W. Bush tried working with the Russians after 9/11; Obama had the reset. Both presidents achieved less than they wanted, but they both achieved something. Those policies made sense, and it’s to the credit of both Presidents Bush and Obama that even as they reached out to Russia, they did not sacrifice core American interests, or core American values. We didn’t give the Russians on the altar of better relations other countries. We were able to do two things at once.
And that reminds me of what Reagan did; best Soviet policy we ever had. Ronald Reagan reached out to Gorbachev. At the same time, we were pushing back against the Soviets all over the world. He was able to do two things at once, and it worked out very well for us.
So, there is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest, and that—I don’t see the American interest in doing so.
Glasser: Did you have anyone ever explain this to you? Were you able to ever have any time where you heard from former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his 24 days in office?
Fried: No. I never met with him. I won’t go into any details of meetings I was in while I was still in office, except to say that I never heard any explanation—I didn’t even hear an explanation with which I disagreed. I heard no explanation for why it would be in our interest to unilaterally abandon Ukraine, or unilaterally weaken the sanctions. Now, let’s take for a moment what might be—and I’m not saying it is, but might be the Trump administration grand strategy.
Let’s say that ISIS—that they’re right. That ISIS is the near-term threat, and that the longer—or the mid-term challenge is managing the rise of China. There’s some evidence that that’s the thinking of the administration. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach. Well, if that’s the case, then you surely want to have a united West to deal with both, and you want to have Russia alongside, but maybe not this Russia while it’s busy trying to undermine your chief asset, which is a united West.
You want to be able to push back against Russia now, the better to work with them later. So, show some patience and don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.
There is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest?
Glasser: Well, it’s interesting, they didn’t consult with you, obviously, and it sounds like you haven’t even heard from their own formulation of this shift that they have talked about, but only in very general terms. If President Trump had come to you for the exit interview that you and I are now having—
Glasser: What would you—unlikely. Let’s stipulate. Perhaps it’s not unlikely that, you know, you’ll hear from General McMaster now that he’s the national security adviser. What would you tell them? What is it that you think is missing from the understanding of Russia? You talked about Russia as basically putting under assault the liberal order, as it’s been constructed.
Fried: I would say that Russia is—comes from a place of deep resentment against the West, in general, and the United States in particular. They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that. At the same time, we should be able to look for areas of common interest. Again, this is the Bush policy and it’s the Obama policy.
And we should think about the future. That is, Putinsim is not necessarily the end state for Russia. Russia has moved in many directions since the early 1980s. We should not assume that Russia is doomed to live according to its worst traditions. In fact, in Russian history, failed efforts at external aggression, when they fail, usually bring on areas of internal reform.
And internal reform in Russia would require a better relationship with the West. So, why should we assume that that historical pattern in Russia has ended? I’m not talking about regime change; it’s not our responsibility and it’s not our objective. But if we blunt Russian efforts now to be aggressive, we may be pleasantly surprised by the policy options that become available to us, in terms of working with a better Russia. Remember, the American grand strategy works when other countries feel secure. But it doesn’t work if we acquiesce in the aggression of other countries.
Glasser: Well, I think you would never really define Russia as secure in its post-Cold War state, right? I mean, it’s almost the definition of a kind of a swaggering—an insecure power looking to go outwards.
Fried: The Russian myth that they broadcast to the world, and have their various surrogates in the West repeat, is that somehow the West took advantage of them, that we were mean to them. That writes out of history everything Strobe Talbott and Bill Clinton tried to do with Boris Yeltsin. Strobe Talbott leaned forward doing everything he could to help the Russians, and frankly, I have little patience for the notion that we gave them nothing but bad advice.
The same people the Americans sent over—that we sent over to advise the Russians, we also sent over to advise the Poles about how to build a post-communist economy. Same people, same advice, with radically different results, which leads to suspicion it’s not our advice which was the crucial variable. It was the Poles, on one hand, and the Russians on the other. The Poles succeeded; the Russians didn’t. Don’t blame us.
Glasser: You know, it’s interesting. You were involved very directly in another key aspect of the Russian complaint today, right, their complaint which is that NATO was expanded, and enlarged in a way that was meant to threaten and surround them, and you hear this from Putin, you hear this from his top lieutenants. It’s been a consistent complaint and theme of Russian nationalists.
Fried: That’s true.
Glasser: What was your thinking, and tell us a little bit back in the Clinton administration how that played out? There was a real debate at the time whether that was a good idea or not.
Fried: Debate—I would say at the beginning, about 95 percent of the foreign policy establishment was against it. The argument against was, well, the Russians won’t like it, and you don’t really need it, because it’s a new world. And that is attractive until the consequences begin to emerge. So, what message would we have given under this scenario to the Poles, the Czechs, and others?
That you—we’re going to hang a sign around your neck: property of Russia to be reclaimed when convenient? That they were going to live in a gray zone? That their reward for having been under—having overthrown communism peacefully was that they become part of Russia’s outer empire? How is perpetuating the line of the Cold War in America’s interest?
In political terms, I’ll tell you a story. We were in the middle of this debate when Bill Clinton took his first trip to Europe. It was January, 1994; he goes to Prague and he meets with the Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak leadership separately. And you have all four of them pounding him on this very issue. [Polish President] Lech Wałęsa and [Czech Republic President] Vaclav Havel—very different people with exactly the same message delivered in somewhat different ways. They said, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding? You’re going to take this moment in history, and you’re going to retreat because you’re worried about hurting Russia’s feelings? We’re 100 million Europeans, and you have a chance to finish the work of World War II, of the Atlantic Charter, and you should take it.” And the policy that Bill Clinton decided on after getting pounded by these guys—
Glasser: And how did he react to the pounding, by the way?
Fried: Well, he reacted politically, and I mean that as a compliment. He basically said, “Man, this policy is not going to work. You know, I cannot tell these guys to be patient. You got to get me something else,” he said, basically, to Tony Lake, and Tony Lake turned to me and some other—some close colleagues like Nick Burns and Sandy Vershbow, and we came up with a dual track strategy: NATO enlargement, but in parallel working the NATO/Russia relationship.
And the theory was, these two tracks could proceed as quickly as possible as these countries were ready, and we put no artificial limit on the NATO/Russia track. I even thought it was conceivable, and you didn’t want to shut the door, that Russia could become a member of NATO. You didn’t want to rule it out. This was an open period. We didn’t know what was going to happen.
Now, in the end, it worked out the way it worked out, but there was an open-ended policy, not one designed to hem in Russia. And by the way, while all of this was happening, American military forces in Europe were beginning to be drawn down. This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact. It’s—well, it’s just flat wrong.
The United States pulled back on its military deployments in Europe, and it was perhaps ironic that the Obama administration, which starts off with a reset with Russia, is the administration that then leads NATO to put in forces into the Baltics and Poland, after Russia has started its second war against its neighbors—Georgia in ’08, Ukraine in 2014, and that was enough.
Glasser: So, okay, you’re skipping ahead a little bit.
Fried: Yes, I am.
Glasser: Okay, so we have NATO enlargement. You’re right in the thick of it. Bill Clinton says, “Give me another policy. Give me another policy.” You give him another policy, but it’s bet hedging, because you don’t really know, as you said, where things are going to turn out. Now, flash forward to the surprising ascent of Vladimir Putin. A lot of people would say that America’s experts got Putin wrong, or at least enough of them did that our policy basically was not successful in dealing with him.
Fried: Well, you know, I was there in the early days after 9/11, when Putin reached out to Bush.
Glasser: You were at the National Security Council.
Fried: I was at the NSC. I was responsible—I was the senior director for Europe and Eurasia, which it—for a while, included Russia. And I remember these conversations with Condi Rice. She knew Russia very well, and it was possible to make the case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times; that he would be a czar-restorer in a way.
He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West, and we would be able to work with him. Now, it didn’t turn out that way, but you could, in those early days, make a reasonable case for that. And so, I’m certainly not going to criticize a policy that at the time I supported. And Condi Rice made that case, and, you know, President Bush had his famous meeting in Slovenia where he looked into his soul. It was not in the talking points.
Glasser: By the way, did—you must have known at that moment that it would forever be associated with Bush?
Fried: I would say this: I was sitting in the sort of bleachers watching this with Condi Rice, and when he said that, you could see her just sit up a little bit, very understated. If you didn’t know her, you would have missed it. But I thought, right. That’s a novel way of putting it, but President Bush was reaching out to Vladimir Putin. You have to understand what he was trying to do, and it was a reasonable position to take.
Glasser: When did your view of Putin change? When did you understand just the nature of his project, both in terms of restoring a more authoritarian government inside Russia, and also the nature of his views towards the West?
Fried: When Putin started going after the independent media.
Glasser: Well, that was pretty early on.
Fried: That was. That was 2002, 2003. And I’ll tell you another story: I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was. And I remember a conversation he had with Tony Blair, basically, in October ’03, about that. And they were ahead of their advisers.
I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was.”
I think President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had understood Putin pretty early. Now, we were still trying to work with them, and there was, as I said, good reason for doing so. I think the real turn came with Putin’s very aggressive speech at the Munich security conference; that was ten years ago. It was ’07, and I think Putin—I think if we made a mistake of judgment, it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions. Those were the democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine, and a little bit Kyrgyzstan, which the Russians thought we had orchestrated.
We knew we hadn’t, and we dismissed it, but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously. I mean, the whole thing is laughable, to think that at the time, we were unable to master political developments in Iraq, despite resources and American troops; that with no budget at all, we would manage a Ukrainian political revolution? I mean, we’re not that good. I wish.
But Putin thought we were, and it took—I think we did not fully appreciate that.
Glasser: Well, and both Bush and Obama, right, at various periods of time, believed in scenarios that didn’t come to pass when it came to Putin’s own behavior in office, right. So, Bush and his—at least some of his top advisers, including Condi Rice, at times believed that Putin would step out of power, and here we are, all these years later, and he’s still in power. President Obama clearly hoped that Dmitry Medvedev could be built up to be more of a real leader, and not just a leader in name or a placeholder for President Putin. Tell me a little bit about, you know, were they getting bad advice from people? You know, what—
Fried: I went through the—I wasn’t part of it, but I was watching President Obama’s reset, and Mike McFaul, our ambassador to Russia, and a real Russia expert, was behind that. That was based on an assumption that Medvedev, who was for a time the president of Russia, was a new generation figure, and more and better disposed to the West. And frankly, there was some evidence for that. It didn’t turn out that way, I realize, but I’m not going to go back and criticize them.
There was a reasonable basis for that, and we—the reset with Russia achieved something, especially, by the way, because Joe Biden, at the very beginning, abounded the reset by saying, “Yeah, we’re not going to recognize Russian dismemberment of Georgia; we’re not going to give Russia a veto over NATO membership, but under those conditions, we can do a reset.”
So, the Biden corollary to the reset meant that the Obama administration could proceed with the reset without ever messing up our policy, and they—Mike McFaul did a pretty good job. He—it was—it didn’t work out, but there are a lot of policies that don’t work out that are nevertheless worth doing.
Glasser: Well, that’s an interesting question when you look at this issue of where Putin and Russia are today, and this restoration of them as, at least on the European continent, our main adversary. Do you think that was inevitable? I mean, Trump maybe doesn’t speak in fully realized policy terms when he talks about this, but he is representing a critique that exists on both the right and the left that somehow the United States, if we’d been more successful in understanding what Putin was doing, and in countering it, we wouldn’t be in this position today. Is there anything to that? As you retire, are you doing any soul-searching on this front?
Fried: There is a rhetorical question; what would you have had us do? Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk, but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.
I would have regretted it had Strobe Talbott not been so forward-leaning. He was right to do so. It didn’t work out but we were right to try. Could we have done things differently? Maybe as I said, we should have been more sympathetic to Russia’s alarm over the Color Revolutions. I think that that was—I don’t know what we would have done in operational terms different, but we might have realized that earlier.
Had we not—Fiona Hill, a smart, wise Russia hand—said—
Glasser: Who is now going to be President Trump’s senior director at the National Security Council.
Fried: That hasn’t been announced, but I’ve read the press accounts, and I hope it’s true, because she’s just top rate. She’s excellent and commands respect of just about all the people in the field. But she made the case that American support for Kosovo independence in 2008 was so opposed by the Russians that they were going to take revenge, and this might’ve been a contributing factor to the Georgian war.
And I understand where she’s coming from on this, but Russia didn’t have real stakes in Kosovo. We had troops there as part of the United Nations-mandated mission. Had we not acted in Kosovo, we would have gone from being liberators to being occupiers of a radicalizing population. I’m not going to put our—policy which puts our troops at risk, and other countries’ troops at risk for the sake of not offending the Russians where they don’t have any real interests other than sentiment. Can’t do it.
But anyway, Fiona is great. That was the best thing to hear that she might take that position—best news of the day.
Glasser: All right, so you worked really pretty closely, or you certainly had a bird’s eye seat to watch a number of presidents both at the crucial period at the end of the Cold War, and all the way up to—
Fried: George H. W. Bush I don’t think has been given sufficient credit for the way he handled the year 1989. He just nailed it. At the time, he was criticized for being too reserved, and not triumphalist, but his cool tone, yet forward-leaning support for Poland and Hungary who were sort of the first people that were busting through the bars, so to speak, just nailed it. He just nailed it.
I’ll give you a specific. The way he was able to calm some of the Polish communists, his low-key conciliatory approach, I think, gave Jaruzelski the confidence to go ahead and surrender power, which turned out to be—I don’t know that ____ could have reversed it, but it could have been bloodier, it could have been I didn’t work in the Bush 41 White House.
I was the Polish desk officer. I was in a low position but at—I got—I met Condi Rice, and every—I was the one saying communism is coming down in Poland this year. Just watch this space.
So, she sort of brought me over. I started—I’ll have to tell you a story. I couldn’t get any papers cleared out of the State Department, because I was saying things like “communism in Poland is coming down,” “[Solidarity] is going to win.” I couldn’t get that stuff cleared. So, one day, I said to her, “I can’t get anything to you. From this moment forward, I work for you. If you want papers to appear on your desk as if by magic—this is a pre-email era—you just let me know.” She said, “Hmm. Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope.” And I started feeding her papers.
Glasser: That’s amazing. And that’s how the bureaucracy, right—you have to find ways around it.
Fried: Well, the only excuse for the insubordination I demonstrated in the spring of 1989 is when you win.
Glasser: Well, tell me a little bit about the different secretaries of state that you saw. Which ones would you go back and work for again?
Fried: Well, I think George Shultz, who was Reagan’s secretary of state, put together the best Soviet policy we ever had. And I still go back to some of his precepts. The way he cut through a lot of the nonsense about linkage—that you couldn’t work with the Soviets in any area until everything was fine, he just dismissed that. He was wonderful to watch.
He said, “No, we either link or we don’t link; that’s our business. That’s our policy. We’re going to advance our relations where it is in our interests.” It was terrific, so I think George Shultz was one of the great secretaries of state. I think Madeleine Albright understood in her guts the challenge of the moment, which is—was to extend freedom in the institutions of the West and central Europe, while we had that chance. And she leaned forward. She was the right person at the right time. Just terrific.
And honestly, I think Condi Rice was a wonderful secretary of state. She—the Bush administration was unpopular in Europe and around the world, and so every time she walked—it’s as if every time she walked out of the door, she’s in the—she’s in a gale, you know, an ice storm beating on her, and she just went ahead. And she’s an example of how a secretary of state can capture the building and the respect and affection of the whole Foreign Service, which she did.
Glasser: Well, she was also an example, though, of—obviously, she was very close to the president himself, and that was a key asset for her when she was going out around the world and representing the White House. People knew that she was speaking for the president; obviously, that was also something that Jim Baker had during Bush 41’s presidency.
Fried: That’s right.
Glasser: How important is that in the end, in getting things done?
Fried: Well, it was—her closeness with the president and her closeness with Steve Hadley, who was the national security adviser, meant that the president trusted the State Department, and Condi trusted the Foreign Service. She had the confidence to know that people would follow her.
Glasser: But that—it’s so interesting, too, because you’ve seen—that’s a very different approach than the new Trump White House, in the sense that they just, like the Bush White House, must’ve known that historically the Foreign Service probably wasn’t really on their side; that the invasion of Iraq, as you said, was very unpopular in Europe, but it was also unpopular with your colleagues.
Fried: Sure, but look what Condi Rice was able to do. Sure, the Iraq war was unpopular, but I’ll tell you, the State Department people would’ve walked 100 miles barefoot through snow for her, and she led them.
Glasser: And how much were they willing and able to speak their mind when they disagreed with a policy?
Fried: She was open to all kinds of views. She was—she had the advantage of being secure, both bureaucratically—her relationship with the president—but intellectually secure, and she knew perfectly well what the criticisms were. And she wanted loyalty of service, but not subservience intellectually.
Glasser: Now, you were actually—if I have the chronology correct—inside the White House and the NSC during the period when the Iraq war was decided upon, and then you moved over to become assistant secretary—
Fried: Yes, during the second term.
Glasser: So, what was that like? People talk a lot now about Trump—is he blowing up the inter-agency process, and you know, the regular decision making, but there’s evidence that Bush sort of bypassed that process in making the decision to go to war in Iraq anyways. What was it like to be there at that time?
Fried: I was not part of that decision-making process. I was responsible for trying to assemble as big a coalition as we could get, so we wouldn’t do it alone. After 9/11, there was kind of an inner war cabinet established, and there were a number of, frankly, bad decisions made, and I think if you read Condi Rice’s memoirs closely, you will see that she recognizes that.
But I will say this: these were bad decisions made in the wake of 9/11. That wasn’t made up.
Glasser: Where were you on 9/11? Were you in the White House?
Fried: I was in the White House. I was in—when the second—when the news of the second plane hitting the, you know, the towers came through, I was in the regular senior staff meeting, and the word came through. Condi Rice stood up, dismissed the meeting, and things went into motion.
I saw the vice president being evacuated. It was a bad day. I spent several hours that day in the Situation Room helping out, but I didn’t have a particularly important role. I was just doing what I could.
9/11 was a genuine trauma, and President Bush rallied the country. I think the Iraq war was ill-considered, but there—it was done in the wake of a national trauma. And that the errors made under such circumstances are different than errors made in the cold.
Glasser: So, coming back to the cold: Russia today. This current controversy here in Washington may be a lasting one or not—we don’t know. But it certainly risks papering over what’s happening in Russia itself and in Europe with the expansionist tendencies that you now see in Russia, which was not the case just a few years ago.
Fried: Russia is an aggressive revisionist power. And they are working—there’s evidence they’re working to interfere not just in our electoral process, but the electoral processes of Europeans with the same toolkit—money, fake news, propaganda, and what those Soviets used to call aktivniye meropriyatiya, active measures. This is serious.
Glasser: Well, you’ve talked about, I mean, not just those kind of measures, but also poisonings, killings, assassinations.
Fried: Yeah, they have—this was also what the Soviets did.
Glasser: If you Google Dan Fried and Wikileaks, you will find that the one thing that came up that got a lot of attention was a cable in which you discussed the poisoning of Litvinenko in Great Britain, and that was obviously an early indicator, perhaps, of the more aggressive outside the country measures that the Russians were taking. You said in this account that was included in these cables that you believed that Putin was a very hands-on leader of the country, and that he would not have, you know, something like that wouldn’t have happened probably without his knowledge.
Fried: Wikileaks. I will neither confirm nor deny, but I certainly will not discuss the contents of a cable that shouldn’t have been leaked, but I’ll say this, that the character of Russia has been clear to a number of us for some years. And I am not one of these people that believes that Russia is doomed, or somehow, you know, inevitably disposed to act according to its worst traditions. But all the more reason, therefore, to resist their aggression and take it seriously.
Glasser: Russia could be, in fact, it would have to be a different Russia, but it could be a splendid ally. I will say this for the Russians: on their—in their favor, they have the intellectual capacity and the habits of mind to act in the world on a strategic scale, and were they do to so in service of a better cause than their current set of grievances, they would be a natural partner. And to that degree, the Trump administration is right, but don’t mistake the Russia you want to exist for the Russia that there actually is. Be realistic.
Glasser: Well, you know, you talked in your going away speech, and that’s a good way to bring it back, about the so-called realists. Your critique of them, basically, is that they have an unrealistic view of Russia.
Fried: Well, realism is important in foreign policy. You have to be realistic about what you can achieve, and about the pitfalls, and problems along the way, of which there are plenty. Nothing is easy. It’s always rough. Be careful about a policy generated with enthusiasm in the rush of a moment. It usually doesn’t turn out well, but I’m talking about—in my speech, I was talking about realism as a foreign policy doctrine.
Which means basically you don’t care about values; you consider them a luxury, and it leads to a kind of acquiescence in spheres of influence. Now, spheres of influence sound good if you’re a graduate student, or a certain kind of—an academic with a certain habit of mind. But in fact, spheres of influence don’t work out very well, certainly not for the victims, and there are always victims.
But they don’t work out for the great powers in the end, because no great power is ever satisfied with its sphere of influence. They never are.
Glasser: But you’ve seen many secretaries of state who are seduced by this idea that they’re going to have this sort of Kissingerian grand bargains and deals between great powers, arguably even your most recent secretary, John Kerry, was attracted to that vision of diplomacy.
Fried: Well, John Kerry tried to work with the Russians on Syria, and the man was honorable, because he was trying to do the right thing, and frankly, playing a very weak hand, a hand that was weak not because of him, okay. He did the best he could, but I will say this to his enormous credit: he never offered a dirty deal. You can have Ukraine if you only help us out on Syria. Never—he never did that.
Glasser: And when you say he was playing a weak hand, that was because you believe that President Obama had constrained him by making so clear that he was not willing to consider other options in Syria.
Fried: I remember in the—that week in which it looked like we were preparing military action in concert with some of our European allies, John Kerry made not one but two speeches in favor of it. It was pretty clear, and those were compelling speeches; that was powerful stuff. And I think he was right, and the fact that we changed our mind meant that his diplomacy was a lot weaker.
Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy.
Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy. That’s when you can have a productive discussion. Secretary Kerry did the best he could, and his stamina and determination was probably responsible for getting us the Iran deal, which I think is certainly in the national interest, and a good achievement. So, I admire and respect what Kerry was doing. No, I don’t think he’s guilty of that kind of sphere of influence grand bargain thinking. It’s usually attributed to Kissinger, but Kissinger was working in a different era. He was working to manage a Cold War that people thought would go on forever.
Glasser: So, one name that hasn’t come up at all, is Hillary Clinton. A lot of people think that she was more hawkish, quote-unquote, on Russia than Barack Obama, and that there would have been a different policy towards Russia, had she come into office. The Russians certainly are more critical of her. What was your view of Hillary Clinton, just as a boss, and then also, on Russia?
Fried: She was a wonderful boss. She was a wonderful boss. I’ll tell you a story. I had the job—in fact, she gave me the job of being the special envoy for trying to close Guantanamo.
Glasser: Yes, you know, that doesn’t seem like such a prime job, Dan.
Fried: Yes, it’s not a great job. But I will say this for her: she knew when she hired me that I would push hard, that I wasn’t going to go through the motions. By God, I would bear down on it, and I pushed, and when I pushed, she backed me all the way, and I am grateful to this day. She didn’t have to do that.
There are lots of secretaries who send off special envoys and yes, say, “Do a great job,” and that’s fine until it costs you something. And then they cut you off. Never—she never did that. She backed me all the way.
Glasser: Were you aware at the time that this was pretty much of a hopeless cause?
Fried: She was aware of it. The trouble is, in foreign policy, you have to mean it. You can’t go through the motions. Don’t start something if you’re not serious. As Napoleon said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” If you set out to close Gitmo, close Gitmo, which means, you’re going to have to stare down the opposition. She was willing to do so.
But it became clear that the new Obama administration had miscalculated the politics; they thought that because the Bush administration wanted to close Gitmo, which it did, by the way, and because John McCain wanted to close Gitmo, that there was a bipartisan consensus. Well, wrong. That fell afoul of politics. And they hesitated. Now, there’s more of a story to that.
There were some people in the Obama White House, like Greg Craig, who were determined to do it, and other people let us say less determined. And in the end, we were—we did not stare down the opposition, and some of the Republicans smelled weakness. But she backed me all the way, which says something about her, and it was—there was no political profit whatsoever for her to do that. It sometimes—she’s sometimes accused of being calculating. There was no profit whatsoever in her support for my efforts to close Gitmo, and yet she backed me up 100 percent, all the way.
I’m one of the many people who has said that the Hillary Clinton we know in private was effective, strong, courageous, and funny. And the campaigner we saw was less so, more scripted. Many people have made that observation, and it was my observation, too, but I’m grateful for what she did. She didn’t have to do that.
Glasser: So, what about her, quickly, on Russia?
Fried: Well, I was there when she gave the misspelled reset button to Lavrov. It was worth a try. I think she was properly careful not to cross any lines, and I do think she was on the more hawkish side. I think that she has an appreciation that American power needs to be put in the service of American values, which is an American tradition and a pretty good one, and I think she was willing to do that.
The Russians—it’s said that Putin can’t stand her. I don’t know that for a fact, but it certainly looks that way, but I think her approach to Russia stands up pretty well.
Glasser: So, in many ways, we’ve talked a lot about Russia, but I think it’s striking to me that in your goodbye speech, you ended it by coming back to America, and your conclusions about what kind of a country we are, and you said—and I’ll read this. “America’s grand strategy did not come from nowhere. It followed from our deeper conception of ourselves, and our American identity. Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”
Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”
Fried: Yeah. Isn’t it odd that simply channeling Lincoln’s political thought is regarded as some sort of a statement, but there we are. And Lincoln is quoted more often than he’s understood, and he understood that the founding principle of our nation is, in fact, the Declaration of Independence. We are a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That’s what makes us Americans.
When we sign onto that belief, we sign onto the core American identity, and that’s very deep in us. That makes us who we are, and it means that we are not an ethnostate. We are not rooted in blood and soil. The Civil War was fought, in a sense, over whether that sentence—all men are created equal—is to be taken literally. And the southerners in the 1850s argued that it was not.
And I thought it’s important—I thought it was important to remind people of that, because our grand strategy doesn’t come from nowhere; it comes from that conception of ourselves. We have a deep sense of American equality and opportunity, and that informs the way in which we brought our American power to the world, because we thought that other nations were entitled to that same opportunity in a rules-based system.
Now, George Kennan, who is basically a realist as well as one of the great American diplomats of all time, called it our moralistic, legalistic tradition, and he didn’t have much use for it. But I disagree; I think that’s our glory.
Glasser: A lot of people thought George Kennan was a greater analyst of the Soviet Union than of the United States.
Fried: George Kennan was dead right when he analyzed the Soviet Union and punctured the liberal illusions we had about them. He was dead right, and the containment policy that he articulated, but that Acheson and Truman and Marshall put into effect, was the grand strategy that wins the Cold War two generations later, absolutely brilliant. That is George Kennan’s great contribution. He nailed it. But in terms of understanding our country, Lincoln was—Lincoln understood who we are, and then Lincoln redefines the way we think about ourselves, so much so that we assume that that’s who we are.No, we think of ourselves that way because Lincoln taught us to think that way, and I wanted to make that point. We are not a white man’s republic.
Glasser: Dan, you came to serve your country 40 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. You leave it with the Cold War having been over for 25 years, but America as or more divided politically than at any time since you’ve been serving the country. We are grateful, all of us, to you, and for sharing this time with us, and I hope that all of you listeners out there will not only thank Dan, but keep listening to The Global POLITICO, and subscribe to our podcast. I hope you’ll rate us, and please, any time, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, giving us feedback, ideas for guests, or just telling us what you thought of the episode. Thanks again.
Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.
Trump Takes on The Blob
By Susan B. Glasser
Was there any soul-searching to be done, I asked Fried, about why the West was confused for so long about Putin, despite his years of cracking down on domestic opposition, reconsolidating power in the Kremlin and making increasingly muscular demands on independent neighbors he still sees as part of Russia’s rightful sphere of influence?
“What would you have had us do?” Fried responded. “Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk” in embattled eastern Ukraine, “but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.”
Still, Fried like other Russia experts in the United States in recent years, believes that much of Putin’s motivation has been to shore up his own support at home – both by demonizing the West and by making sure he is not vulnerable to the fate of other leaders in the region who have been toppled by what Putin considers to be U.S.-funded revolutions.
“If we made a mistake of judgment,” Fried said, “it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions” in former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Georgia. “We knew we hadn’t [made those revolutions], and we dismissed it,” Fried said, “but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously.”
Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.
FP Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him
Max Boot, Foreign Policy Magazine, March 6, 2017
It didn’t last long.
Immediately before and after his well-received speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, President Trump curtailed his use of Twitter. “For precisely four days, eight hours and five minutes, Trump refrained from tweeting anything inflammatory,” the Washington Post noted. “That’s 6,245 consecutive minutes!”
That self-restraint began to break down on the evening of March 2, just two days after his big speech, when Trump accused Democrats of having “lost their grip on reality” and engaging in a “total ‘which hunt.’” Just before 1 p.m. the next day, he tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) having coffee and donuts, lifted directly from the Drudge Report, accompanied by the mock demand for “an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!” Then a few hours later came a picture of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2010 underneath the caption: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” (It took the president with the “very good brain” three tries to spell “hereby” correctly, having first tried “hear by” and “hearby.”)
The presumption behind those tweets was that there was some kind of ethical or legal equivalence between the public meetings that Democratic lawmakers held with Russian leaders and the lies — in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s case under oath — that Trump aides told about their own private meetings with Russian representatives while Putin was intervening in the presidential election to help Trump. This notion can only be credible to the most purblind Trump partisans — the same people who would take seriously Trump’s even more sensational allegations, soon to come.
At 6:35 a.m. on Saturday, March 4, the president of the United States tweeted from his weekend getaway, Mar-a-Lago: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” A few minutes later: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” Followed by: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” (“Tapp”? “Hearby”? Doesn’t Trump’s phone have a spell-checker?)
Having supposedly uncovered a scandal comparable to Watergate, what did the president do next? He took a respite from Twitter for more than an hour, until 8:19 a.m., when he sent out an insult against the actor who replaced him on The Celebrity Apprentice: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.” (So much for Trump’s premature claim to Congress on Tuesday night that the “time for trivial fights is behind us.”) And then he headed out for a nice round of golf.
It was left to Trump’s aides, the news media, and members of Congress to answer the “Huh??? What???” questions. Had Trump actually gotten his hands on classified information that the FBI had wiretapped him during the Obama administration? There are only two ways this could have occurred: Either the FBI had presented a court with evidence that Trump was engaged in criminal activity or was an agent of a foreign power, or Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap. Either conclusion would be scandalous. But after a frantic weekend of fact-checking, no evidence whatsoever was presented by the White House to support Trump’s allegations, which were denied by everyone from Obama’s spokesman to James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and FBI Director James Comey.
It’s possible that Trump aides were wiretapped as part of a broader FBI probe into the connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or were simply recorded, as had been the case with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during the routine monitoring of Russian officials. But there is no reason to think that Trump himself had been a target of the wiretapping, nor that Obama interfered in the lawful workings of the FBI. It appears that Trump had gotten his information not from a top-secret briefing but from a Breitbart article long on innuendo and short on verifiable facts.
One would be tempted to say that the president’s reliance on “alternative facts” to smear his predecessor is the real scandal here were it not for the fact that an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal — one that may conceivably rival Watergate — is at the bottom of this ruckus. Why, after all, did Trump have a midweek meltdown that dashed pundits’ hopes that he would act in more sober fashion? The answer is as obvious as it is significant: On the evening of March 1, the day after his lauded speech, major new revelations emerged about the mysterious links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.
The New York Times was first out of the gate that evening with a story reporting: “American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”
The Times story would have been big news were it not almost immediately overshadowed by a Washington Post article with an even more alarming finding: “Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.”
Smaller but still significant revelations followed the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. “was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.” (What could Trump Jr. say that would possibly be worth $50,000?) J.D. Gordon, Trump’s national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump’s instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. And campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn’t have something pretty significant to cover up.
Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions — which may open him to perjury charges — that was the most significant. In response to the Post report, the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Kremlingate inquiry, much to the fury of President Trump, who was not consulted about this decision. This is what led to Trump’s wild-eyed rants on Twitter, designed to distract from the real scandal and to convince his more credulous followers that he is the victim of a plot by his predecessor.
But why would Sessions’ recusal make Trump so unhinged? The president must have felt relatively confident that the “Kremlingate” probe would go nowhere as long as it was in the hands of Trump partisans such as Sessions, Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But with Sessions out of the picture, the way is now clear for the deputy attorney general — either the current placeholder, career Justice Department attorney Dana Boente, or Trump’s nominee to replace him, Rod Rosenstein, another career government lawyer — to appoint a special counsel because of the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding this case.
A special counsel would not have the same degree of autonomy as the independent counsels who in the post-Watergate era probed executive-branch misconduct until the law authorizing such appointments expired in 1999. Independent counsels were appointed by, and answerable to, a three-judge panel; special counsels can be appointed, and fired, by the Justice Department. But a special counsel would be expected to investigate much more aggressively than the White House would like, and firing a special counsel would only aggravate the scandal. In addition to a special counsel, Congress could and should appoint a joint select committee to look into Kremlingate and issue a public report, but a special counsel would be likely to conduct a more professional investigation and, unlike lawmakers, would possess the power to indict, which may help loosen the tongues of suspects.
There is a good reason why Trump and his partisans are so apoplectic about the prospect of a special counsel, and it is precisely why it is imperative to appoint one: because otherwise we will never know the full story of the Kremlin’s tampering with our elections and of the Kremlin’s connections with the president of the United States. As evidenced by his desperate attempts to change the subject, Trump appears petrified of what such a probe would reveal. Wonder why?
President Trump’s Untruths Are Piling Up
Conor Friedersdorf March 3, 2017
The need for Congress to figure out why he and his team keep misleading the public about Russia grows more urgent by the day, even if they are ultimately exonerated.
Let’s be clear from the start: There is no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign coordinated with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s emails or funnel them to Wikileaks; no evidence that they are puppets of Vladimir Putin; and no proof that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president.
There are suspicions voiced by members of Congress, leaked by parts of the intelligence committee, held by journalists at respected publications who are investing lots of time and money chasing down leads, and of concern to millions of Americans.
And that status quo is unhealthy for American democracy.
I would welcome proof that Trump is innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter, because the alternative is a compromised president, the possibility of a constitutional crisis, and consequences that are hard to predict.
If he is guilty of anything I want the truth to out.
Either way, the major obstacle is Trump’s untrustworthiness. He is a frequently mendacious man, and many of his associates possess the same deficiency in character. I do not know if the many untruths Trump and his team have uttered on this subject are making them appear guiltier than they are or obscuring a shocking reality.
But the contradictions cannot be ignored.
A couple weeks ago, Trump gave a lengthy, combative press conference where he was asked, “Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?”
He said no, aside from Mike Flynn, who ostensibly resigned from the Trump administration for misleading Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Then Trump went much farther.
Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me a few days ago. We had a very good talk, especially the second one … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine.
Even two weeks ago, Trump’s claims were highly dubious.
Now consider what we have learned in the last 24 hours.
“Three weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump Jr. left the campaign trail and the country to speak at a private dinner in Paris organized by an obscure pro-Russia group that promotes Kremlin foreign policy initiatives and has since nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize,” ABC reported.
Then CNN reported that J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser to Trump, attended an event with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. Trump national-security advisers Carter Page and Walid Phares were there, too. And Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn met with Russia’s ambassador at Trump Tower in December.
One can imagine non-nefarious explanations for all of these meetings. USA Today’s writeup of the Cleveland RNC event makes it sound especially innocuous.
But they inevitably create suspicion when they directly contradict bygone untruths told by the president and his team; follow Manafort and Flynn resigning over matters related to Russia; concern a president who will not release his tax returns; and dovetail with a dossier that alleges alarming ties between Trump and the Kremlin.
Look again at Trump’s words from his press conference: “I have nothing to do with Russia,” the president said. “To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”
That is bullshit. Among many other things, Russia’s ambassador clearly made a concerted effort to interact with many on the Trump team and succeeded spectacularly.
Nor do the contradictions end there.
On CNN, Jim Acosta reported more about his phone conversation with J.D. Gordon.
“Gordon said he was part of the effort pushed by the Trump campaign to put some language in the GOP platform that essentially said that the Republican Party did not advocate for arming the Ukrainians in their battle against pro-Russian separatists,” Acosta related. “He said that his is the language that Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March at a meeting at the unfinished Trump hotel here in Washington D.C. J.D. Gordon says then-candidate Trump said he did not want to ‘go to World War III over Ukraine,’ and J.D. Gordon says at the Republican convention in Cleveland he advocated for language in that Republican Party platform that reflected then-candidate Trump’s comment.”
In my view, there was nothing substantively wrong with softening the language in the Republican Party platform. I find establishment Republicans and hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton terrifying when they seem eager for conflict with Russia.
But Team Trump’s behavior surrounding the change was very odd.
After The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign orchestrated the change in the GOP platform, the Trump campaign denied any involvement. Paul Manafort went on Meet the Press, where he could not have been any clearer about the matter:
Chuck Todd: There’s been some controversy about something in the Republican Party platform that essentially changed the Republican Party’s views when it comes to Ukraine. How much influence did you have in changing that language, sir?
Paul Manafort: I had none. In fact, I didn’t even hear of it until after our convention was over.
Todd: Where did it comes from then? Because everybody on the platform committee had said it came from the Trump campaign. If not you, who?
Manafort: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. And I don’t know who everybody is, but I guarantee you it was nobody that was on the platform committee–
Todd: So nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?
Manafort: No one, zero.
That seemed even more unlikely later that month when Trump gave an interview to George Stephanopolous:
George Stephanopolous: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?
Donald Trump: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.
Stephanopolous: Your people were.
Trump: Yeah. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.
Stephanopolous: Do you know what they did?
Trump: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.
Stephanopolous: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves. Why is that a good idea?
Trump: Look, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.
Stephanopolous: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?
Trump: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.
Trump appeared to acknowledge that his team pressed for the change. And days later, The Daily Beast quoted four sources in the room who confirmed the campaign’s involvement. Eric Brakey, a Maine delegate who favored the change, told the web site, “Some staff from the Trump campaign came in and … came back with some language that softened the platform. They didn’t intervene in the platform in most cases. But in that case they had some wisdom to say that maybe we don’t want to be calling … for very, very clear aggressive acts of war against Russia.”
That’s where the matter rested … until Thursday, when CNN’s Jim Acosta filed his standup dispatch in front of the White House suggesting that Trump was, at the very least, involved in the matter directly, and more deeply than he led us to believe.
Gordon’s story doesn’t reveal any nefarious plot, or even any surprising view. Trump was constantly touting his desire to get along with Russia and avoid World War III. He repeatedly said things about Russia and Putin on the campaign trail that were far more controversial and eyebrow-raising then a desire to soften platform language. So why did Team Trump strain itself to obscure its involvement?
For months I’ve urged Congress to assert itself more on this matter.
As the weeks pass, the press continues to uncover contradictions, and Team Trump’s demonstrable untruths pile up, making it impossible for the public to trust their president when he denies inappropriate contacts with a foreign adversary because they can’t trust anything he says, the need to get to the bottom of whatever they are hiding only grows more urgent—whether to exonerate a president who creates the appearance of serious impropriety with every absurdity he utters about Russia, or to uncover whatever nefarious truth he is contorting himself to hide.
Top Trump Advisor Reveals HORRIFIC Plan On Live Television, Constitutional Experts Are Disgusted
Allan Davis, 3 weeks ago
People are waking up, and Americans are really showing that we do indeed have the capacity to protest on a large scale! There has even been a viral post making the rounds on the internet about the best and most effective ways to resist Trump and create a meaningful opposition that will surely be triumphant.
And in some ways, it’s almost as though Trump himself is helping out the protests…because the absurd things he is doing are turning even more people away from him, even some that initially supported him! No one likes totalitarianism, after all. And now Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s top advisers, told a national TV audience on Sunday that his boss’s power is absolute.
In an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, Miller argued to host John Dickerson that the federal court overturning Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries and halting the refugee resettlement program was unfair and should be reversed. To make his point, Miller made an unusually despotic claim:
“[O]ur opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial, and will not be questioned,” Miller said. Um, yeah, that is incredibly disconcerting and not at all something that should be tolerated.
This is terrifying, and there’s never been a more important time to stand up to fight and defend your country. If you are ready to join the opposition but aren’t quite sure how to get involved, take this grassroots call to action today!
Author and beloved radio producer/personality of Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor has been on a social media roll for months. He seems to have the right words when describing and destroying Donald Trump relaying his prose with a twist of humor — and a whole lot of truth.
Below are some excerpted highlights from two of his op-eds in The Denver Post. The first titled, What Mark Twain Killed, Donald Trump has revived. Keillor starts off with “The Constitution does not allow 13-year-olds to become president and after last week we can see why.” and in most of his pieces he addresses Trump as “the Boy President.” Keillor writes about how Trump “proudly holding his latest executive order up for the cameras, to show that he knows right-side-up from upside-down.” (The image Keillor is referring to has been mocked countless times showing the words of the EO saying things a elementary child would write and phrases like “I don’t know what I’m doing” — or really anything that makes Trump look like the ass he is.)
Garrison Keillor brings up Trump hanging up on Australia’s prime minister, his clueless and callous reference to Frederick Douglass, and the ‘so-called judge’ who interrupted his travel ban. Keillor says:
“You think, let the man be president but please don’t put him in charge of the Weather Service or Amtrak or the TSA.”
In response to Trump’s tribute to the Navy Seal Ryan Owens last month (before his March Joint Session speech to Congress), Keillor writes:
“His homage to the Navy SEAL killed in the botched raid in Yemen showed off his style. He has only one, the Jerry Lewis Telethon style: ‘Very, very sad, but very, very beautiful. Very, very beautiful. His family was there. Incredible family, loved him so much. So devastated — he was so devastated. But the ceremony was amazing.’ Bill Murray destroyed this style, so did Ray of Bob & Ray, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain and every satirist who ever lived, and here it is, still walking around, and it will be the voice of our government for years to come.”
With snark and disgust, Keillor mocks the pieties in Trump’s administration. Keillor writes:
“Every elected official must now wear a flag pin; more and more public meetings now begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, grown people whose allegiance used to be assumed now required to stand and salute the flag, like obedient grade-school pupils. Why not recite the multiplication tables and the parts of speech? And then there is the official prayer breakfast, which shows the reason for separation of church and state: because politicians corrupt the church. Jesus was rough on those who pray for show, but there was the Boy President complimenting the Senate chaplain for his fine prayer, as if it were a performance.”
Keillor brings up how Trump cites his agent and his TV show and how 45 said “as long as we have God, we are never alone” adding he supposed grew up in a “churched home.” Keillor seemed entertained when Trump said “We each have a soul.” Keillor writes:
“I’d like to believe that he does have one and that we just haven’t seen it yet. I would’ve been moved if he had said a prayer at the prayer breakfast. A classic Christian prayer, such as “Lord God, You know that I am unworthy to be here as president. You know that I have lied and worked hard to incite fear and intolerance and to capitalize on it politically. I have seduced your believers and made myself their Great White Hope, even though I am not one of them and never was. You know that I am not capable of executing my duties as the American people deserve. Lord, I come to You in my unworthiness and shame and I ask You to take this cup from me.”
Trump didn’t use those words, says Keillor sarcastically, but “there will be more opportunities.” (Let’s hope not too many more.) In his second op-ed by Garrison Keillor titled, Donald Trump’s tremendous Sermon on the Mount, Garrison Keillor decides to write a mock “Sermon on the Mount” as if he himself were Jesus (as he’s been described by some of his supporters — or second to Jesus).
‘Religious Trump’ begins:
The Lord is my shepherd. OK? Totally. Big league. He is a tremendous shepherd. The best. No comparison. I know more than most people about herding sheep. And that’s why I won the election in a landslide and it’s why my company is doing very well. Because He said, “I’m with you, Donald. You will never want.
It gets worse and funnier.
’Religious Trump’ says:
So He was saying to me, Blessed are the deal-makers for theirs is the kingdom. Big time. Blessed are they who scorn: for they shall be comfortable. Blessed is machismo for it wins again and again. Blessed are they who are persecuted by the dishonest press for they shall continue down the paths of righteousness and that’s what is going on here. We are bringing righteousness to Washington for the first time and making incredible progress. I’ve done more in the past month than most presidents do in a year. Washington was without form and void and I issued an executive order, “Let there be light” and did I get credit for it? No, the dishonest press said, “It hurts our eyes.”
Even on Trump’s Sermon on the Mount, he attacks the media.
‘Religious Trump’ says:
I tell you, I have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death. I have to say that. Terrible. Because of the dishonest Midianites, or, as I call them, the media, including a lot of you here in this room, writing stories about chaos. Where’s the chaos? We’ve got light and darkness, day and night. There is no chaos. I know what’s true and the level of dishonesty is unbelievable. The story about the rich man in hell and the beggar Lazarus in heaven — fake news. Totally fake. … I am not a bad person. You don’t get to 306 electoral votes by being a bad person.
Keillor mocks Trump’s insecurities we see every day.
‘Religious Trump’ says:
I inherited a mess, the instability, divisiveness, darkness, iniquity, leprosy, madmen, but nonetheless the Lord has prepared a tremendous table before me in the presence of my enemies. Beautiful table. Steaks, seafood, tremendous wines, anything I want, … but the media is still bitter about Hillary losing in a landslide and the Lord anointing my head with oil which people make fun of and that’s OK, let them laugh at my hair, I got 306 Electoral College votes. They said there’s no way to get 222. No way, Jose. I got 306. That’s what I call the cup running over. Filled the cup and then it ran over. The overflow was tremendous. Huge overflow. Biggest overflow ever. Fantastic. Through the ceiling.
Keillor ends his second piece with Trump saying. “So it looks like I am going to be dwelling in the house of the Lord forever and I’m having a good time. I love this. I am having fun.” These are just samples of Garrison Keillor’s two op-eds. To take a look at them in full (encouraged) or others your can visit The Denver Post.
It’s hard to stomach Donald Trump, a man of such chest-beating, pompous evil, but Garrison Keillor helps get us through. Many of us need, at minimum, a daily dose of humor to keep our simmering internal pressure cookers from blowing our tops. In reading his words, Keillor helped me make it through one more day. Cheers to Mr. Keillor for continuously calling out a madman.
Who Will Save Us From The Conspiracy Theorist In Chief?
Gene Lyons, March 8, 2017
You know, along with having the impulse control of a seven year-old boy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald J. Trump just ain’t real smart. He’s a cunning self-promoter, but dim. He did manage to go bankrupt in the casino business, you know. That’s really hard to do.
Trump showed losses of close to a billion dollars operating his grandiose gambling dens in Atlantic City. In the process, he stiffed investors and contractors alike, right down to the guys who installed the toilets and slot machines. Around the same time, Trump Air — his personal airline — also went bust. U.S. banks basically quit lending him money.
So he turned to the Russians.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. Trump eventually made good playing a tycoon on a scripted “reality program,” dabbling in professional wrestling on the side. If he hadn’t inherited a fortune, odds are he’d have ended up a sideshow barker luring hayseeds to see the bearded lady. Instead, with a little help from Vladimir Putin they made him president of the United States.
Anyway, let’s keep it real simple. A smart person, if he wanted to accuse his predecessor as president of the United States of a serious felony — such as an illegal wiretap against Trump himself, which would constitute the worst crime against American democracy since 1860 — that person would assemble an airtight case before opening his mouth. Only an impulsive fool would blurt out such an incendiary charge with no evidence whatsoever.
A man not fit to lead the Mayberry PD, much less the USA.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You think that Obama, that two-faced Muslim pretender, maybe did it. Fine, then show me the proof. Not some desperate rationalization cooked up to convince yourself Trump’s playing with a full deck. Face it, he’s not.
Meanwhile, ever wonder what it must be like for the White House flaks — Spicer, Conway, Sanders — tasked with explaining away Trump’s overnight Twitter-storms? Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago:
The whole country is learning how exhausting it can be to live with a seriously mentally ill person: the constant feeling of apprehension and unease over what kind of manipulative, delusional nonsense is coming next. The uncertainty about how to react…Will calling the police make things better, or worse? Is it too early to seek an order of commitment? Or too late?
My fellow Americans, we’re there.
So am I saying Trump’s mentally ill? Not in the sense of having a treatable brain disease, no. Nor am I a psychiatrist, although I spent years writing a book (Widow’s Web) about a couple of characters like Trump, one a politician who eventually sabotaged himself by making wild allegations he could never prove.
Most professionals who have weighed in on Trump’s mental health mention Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic’s website says about it:
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having ‘the best’ of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.
So did you read about President Trump screaming and cursing at White House aides last week before flying off to his Florida castle to launch a bizarre Twitter-storm against Obama? Or as the inimitable Charles P. Pierce put it, “Ensconced in Camp Runamuck, the president is a voracious consumer of angry paranoid junk food. We are all now living in Talk Radio Hell.”
So now what? Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Lee Siegel put it this way:
We don’t need to be told by a doctor that the guy who is coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick…All we know is that the safe thing to do is to stay away from him.
When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm.
Barring some unpredictable (if quite likely) disaster, it’s basically up to the Republicans, who have it in their power to keep the presidency while saving the nation from Trump.
I am not holding my breath.
Christopher Steele: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Tom Cleary January 11, 2017
The former British spy who wrote the unverified report on President-Elect Donald Trump’s alleged activities and connections in Russia has been identified as Christopher Steele, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Sources told the Wall Street Journal, that Steele, 52, wrote the dossier, which includes accusations that Russian officials have blackmail on Trump, and that his campaign staff maintained close ties with Russian connections during the election.
Steele, a former intelligence officer who was based in Russia in the 1990s, now runs an intelligence firm in London.
Trump has denied the allegations and said the information in the report is fake. Russia has also said the information in the report is not true and is a “hoax.”
“It’s all fake news,” Trump said at a Wednesday press conference. “It’s all phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”
At a press conference, Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said, “The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Trump, such information isn’t consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy,” the New York Times reports.
The full report was published Tuesday by Buzzfeed News, after it was reported on by CNN, which said Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed on a synopsis of the document. Another report, by NBC News, disputes that Trump was briefed about the synopsis. NBC reports that U.S. intelligence leaders were prepared to brief Trump on the synopsis, but did do so.
The 35-page document had been circulating among Washington D.C. insiders for several months, dating back to before the election. Its release came 10 days before Trump’s inauguration.
The document, made up of memos apparently written by Steele from June to December 2016, contains many spelling errors and other mistakes, and some of the information has already been proven to be untrue.
Here’s what you need to know about Steele and the report:
1. Steele Runs a London-Based Intelligence Firm & His Partner Would Not Confirm or Deny That They Were Behind the Report
Chris Steele, of Surrey, runs a London-based intelligence firm called Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., The company was founded in 2009.
His business partner, Christopher Burrows, would not “confirm or deny” Orbis produced the Trump dossier when contacted by the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper reports.
Orbis, “a leading corporate intelligence consultancy that provides senior decision–makers with strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services. We then work with clients to develop and implement strategies which protect their interests worldwide,” Christopher Burrows is Christopher Steele’s business partner and co-founder of Orbis.
According to the Journal, Steele’s neighbor told a reporter Steele would be away for a few days. The newspaper reports that Steele has declined “repeated requests for interviews” because the subject is “too hot.”
Steele’s London-based company provides corporate intelligence, along with investigations and insight, according to its website:
The team now draws on extensive experience at boardroom level in government, multilateral diplomacy and international business to develop bespoke solutions for clients.
Our tailored approach means the Directors are closely involved in the execution and detail of every project, supported by an in–house team of experienced investigators and professional intelligence analysts.
Our global network of senior associates is made up of regional, industry and academic experts, as well as prominent business figures. We call upon their expertise and closed network of contacts to help our clients frame business decisions, protect our clients’ reputations, and problem–solve for companies facing complex issues worldwide.
Ethical business practice is a fundamental value for the Orbis Business Intelligence team. Our documented procedures, developed in conjunction with external legal counsel, ensure compliance with relevant UK, US and EU legislation.
Burrows, 58, told the Journal that the company’s “the objective is to respond to the requirements set out by our clients. We have no political ax to grind.”
Speaking generally about corporate intelligence, he said when a client asks Orbis to investigate something they “see what’s out there,” and later do a “stress test” of their findings against other evidence, according to the Journal.
- He Was Stationed in Russia for Several Years & Has a ‘Good Reputation’ in the Intelligence World
Steele in British intelligence and was stationed in Russia for several years, the Wall Street Journal reports.
John Sipher, who retired from the CIA in 2014, told the Wall Street Journal that Steele has a “good reputation” in the intelligence world. Sipher specialized in Russia and counterintelligence while in the CIA, the Journal reports.
Steele’s Linkedin profile does not provide details of his career prior to working for Orbis Business Intelligence, but CNN reported the author of the report is a former MI6 agent who worked in Russia in the 1990s and is considered to be credible.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Intelligence officers often use diplomatic postings as cover for their espionage activities.”
He is named on a diplomatic service list published by the British government as being posted at its Moscow embassy in 1990 with the title “Second Secretary (Chancery),” Forbes reports.
It does not say how long Steele was stationed in Moscow, but he is also listed as having been a “First Secretary” with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2003, and as “First Secretary (Financial)” at the British embassy in Paris in 1998, according to Forbes.
Steele is also listed as a “former intelligence officer” as a speaker at a black tie gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of MI6, according to Forbes.
Forbes reports that Steele is also a director of Walsingham Training, a company that according to its website provides “understanding and mitigating the cyber and physical risk posed by hostile states, criminals and companies,” in “how to gain traction in complex markets like Russia” and “how to recognize misinformation.”
The Guardian describes Steele as “a retired western European former counter-intelligence official, with a long history of dealing with the shadow world of Moscow’s spooks and siloviki (securocrats).” But the newspaper did not name him in its report on the dossier.
One of Steele’s first assignments in the private sector was helping the FBI bring down corruption in FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, Reuters reports.
U.S. officials told Reuters they gave credence to his memos on Trump because of his work with the FBI in the FIFA case.
Emails seen by Reuters indicate that, in the summer of 2010, members of a New York-based FBI squad assigned to investigate “Eurasian Organized Crime” met Steele in London to discuss allegations of possible corruption in FIFA, the Swiss-based body that also organizes the World Cup tournament.
People familiar with Steele’s activities said his British-based company, Orbis Business Intelligence, was hired by the Football Association, Britain’s domestic soccer governing body, to investigate FIFA. At the time, the Football Association was hoping to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. British corporate records show that Orbis was formed in March 2009.
According to Reuters, Steele was looking into corruption allegations surrounding the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Moscow and the 2022 competition to Qatar. Steele met with FBI investigators leading to a major investigation that led to dozens of indictments in the United States, including several prominent soccer officials, and the eventual resignation of FIFA’s longtime president Sepp Blatter.
Chris Burrows, the co-founder of Orbis, worked as a first secretary with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1990 to 1999 and as a counsellor with the same office from 2000 to 2009.
3. Steele Left His Cat With a Neighbor & Went Underground, Fearing ‘Potentially Dangerous Backlash’ From Russia
The Telegraph reports that that Steele went underground prior to his name was released, fearing “potentially dangerous backlash,” from Russia.
He left his cat with a neighbor and said he would be gone “for a few days,” disappearing on Tuesday after realizing his name would be released, according to The Telegraph.
A source told The Telegraph that Steele was “horrified” when he learned his nationality had been published in the CNN report and is “terrified for his and his family’s safety.”
He is married and has children. They were also not at his home Wednesday, according to The Telegraph.
“He asked me to look after his cat as he would be gone for a few days,” his neighbor told The Telegraph. “I’m not sure where he’s gone or how to contact him. I don’t really know much about him except to say hello. We’re all pretty secretive round here to be honest. All I know is he runs some sort of consultancy business.”
After Christopher Steele’s name was published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, the British media received a “D-Notice,” from Andrew Vallance, the Air Vice-Marshal of the Defence and Security Media Secretariat, according to the Register.
A “D-Notice,” essentially a gag order, is a “peculiarly British arrangement, a sort of not quite public yet not quite secret arrangement between government and media in order to ensure that journalists do not endanger national security,” according to The Guardian.
The notice relating to Steele says that “in view of media stories alleging that a former SIS officer was the source of the information which allegedly compromises President-Elect Donald Trump, would you and your journalists please seek me for advice before making public that name. Irrespective of whether or not the stories are true, the public disclosure of that name would put the personal security of that individual directly at risk.”
At least one British-based news organization, The Telegraph, appears to have deleted its story on Steele, while another, the Financial Times, does name the former spy in its report.
But the notice was later lifted and British outlets have published Steele’s name.
According to The Mirror, Steele worked with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned with polonium-210 in 2006 in London. Litvinenko was a former FSB agent who fled from Russia after criticizing Vladimir Putin.
A source told The Mirror that emergency measures were taken to secure Steele after he was named:
Once his name came out the view was that he could be under threat so steps are being taken to protect him and put him in a more secure environment. The safest place for him is in Britain but it’s highly probable that MI6 will want to distance themselves from this as it was done commercially. He will likely plug into a well-established network of contacts and disappear for a while to a safe place or safe house with friends or contacts. Any protection will almost certainly be a police matter in terms of security but it is possible MI5 may be consulted about whether there is a threat to him here from Russia. Russia does have a history of exporting violence against people who act against its interests as we saw with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
According to The Mirror, the “D-notice” asked British newspapers and media outlets not to name Steele until after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, to allow for more time for him to be made safe. Sources told the news site that it is possible he was taken to an emergency safe house, possibly in a different country.
4. Trump Has Said the Unverified Report Was Funded by His Political Opponents & Is a ‘TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE’
Trump has claimed the document was paid for by his political opponents.
His first reaction to the report came in a tweet on Tuesday, which read “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”
He took to Twitter again Wednesday morning to fire back at the report, tweeting, “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair!”
He then followed that with a series of tweets in which he asked, “are we living in Nazi Germany?”
CNN has reported that the report paid for first by anti-Trump Republicans during the presidential primary, and then was also funded by Democrats.
The BBC reports a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s campaign first commissioned the report from the D.C. firm FusionGPS. Steele continued working for Fusion GPS after Trump’s win, and his research was passed on to Democratic Party figures, and eventually the media.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “No presidential campaigns or super PACs reported payments to Orbis in their required Federal Election Commission filings. But several super PACs over the course of the campaign have reported that they paid limited liability companies, whose ultimate owners may be difficult or impossible to discern.”
According to The Telegraph, Orbis was hired by a Washington, D.C. firm, and Steele gave his information to them. He also passed along the information to the FBI, The Telegraph reports.
At the same time, Steele began providing the dossier to several journalists, including David Corn, of Mother Jones. Corn wrote about the report in October 2016, but did not reveal any details of the report, saying it came from an unnamed “former spook.”
The Guardian, which did not name Steele in its story, reports that the former agent grew frustrated at the lack of action taken by the FBI after he gave them the report. The Guardian also reports, however, that the FBI applied for a warrant through the FISA court to monitor members of Trump’s campaign as part of an investigation into the campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, but the application was denied.
According to The Guardian, the report was first paid for by a Republican opponent of Trump, but by the time Steele completed his investigation, the primary was over. A Democratic client of the D.C. firm that contracted Steele to investigate Trump’s Russian ties then paid for further research, according to The Guardian. It is not clear if the person who purchased the report was connected directly to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Opposition research is frequently financed by wealthy individuals who have donated all they can and are looking for other ways to help,” according to The Guardian.
The Guardian reports that Steele collected his information from Russian sources he trusted, including those in Moscow and oligarchs living in the western part of the country.
“He delivered his reports, but the gravity of their contents weighed on him. If the allegations were real, their implications were overwhelming,” The Guardian reports, so he went to the FBI as well. He never heard back from them.
He later met with Senator John McCain after a former senior western diplomat who had seen the documents told the Arizona senator about them, according to The Guardian:
The emissary hastily arranged a transatlantic flight and met the source at the airport as arranged. (The Guardian has agreed not to specify the city or country where the meeting took place.) The meeting had a certain cold war tradecraft to it, as he was told to look for a man with a copy of the Financial Times. Having found each other, the retired counter-intelligence officer drove the emissary to his house, where they discussed the documents and their background.
The emissary flew back within 24 hours and showed McCain the documents, saying it was hard to impossible to verify them without a proper investigation. McCain said he was reluctant to get involved, lest it be perceived as payback for insulting remarks Trump had made about him during his rambunctious campaign.
McCain later gave the documents to the FBI, despite hesitation about getting involved because he had been targeted by Trump in the past.
“Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue,” the senator said in a statement to The Guardian.
5. The Lurid Details of Alleged Sexual Activities Involving Trump & Prostitutes at a Moscow Hotel Blew Up on Social Media
The detail getting the most attention in the report is a detailed description of alleged sexual activities involving Donald Trump and Russian prostitutes at a Moscow hotel.
The report says that while Trump as visiting Moscow in 2013, he stayed in the Ritz Carlton’s Presidential Suite, where President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had previously stayed. The report alleges that Trump wanted to defile the bed out of hatred for the Obamas, and employed “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”
The report claims the hotel was under surveillance by the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, with microphones and concealed cameras. The allegation is that Russia could use that video as kompromat, or compromising information, to blackmail Trump.
That detail claimed the most attention on social media, with “golden showers” and “GoldenShowerGate” trending on Twitter.
Trump addressed “Golden Shower Gate” during his press conference Wednesday. He said when he went to Moscow, on a trip for the Miss Universe contest, he knew cameras would be watching him, and he said he tells people all the time to be careful of that.
“I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place,” Trump said. “Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me.”
The document also contains allegations that Trump campaign staffers had close ties to Russia officials and were coordinating with them during the election.
Russia has been accused of hacking emails of Democratic officials in an effort to interfere with the election. The report claims Trump had been cultivated for years by Russia.
At least one Trump staffer named in the report, his attorney, Michael Cohen, has denied the allegations and has said he has proof information in the report was not true.
The report claimed Cohen had met with Russian officials in Prague, but Cohen said he has never been to Prague, and was on a trip with his son at the time the report says he was in the Czech Republic, visiting the University of Southern California. Reports have confirmed Cohen was at USC with his son at the time.
On Wednesday morning, CNN reported that it was actually a different Michael Cohen who went to Prague in 2016.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement Wednesday night that he does not believe the document was leaked by a member of the U.S. intelligence community, and said he spoke to Trump about the issue.
“We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC,” Clapper said. “The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
Clapper said he told Trump, “I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.”
Trump, who earlier criticized the intelligence community, “again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the intelligence community,” Clapper said.
Tom Cleary is a reporter and editor for Heavy.com. Tom was a breaking news reporter at the Connecticut Post and an editor at the Register Citizen and New Haven Register.
Nigel Farage visits Julian Assange’s Ecuadorian embassy hideout after WikiLeaks CIA dump
Josh Robbins, International Business Times March 9, 2017
Former Ukip leader turned radio host Nigel Farage was photographed leaving the Ecuadorian embassy on 9 March. It is the building where Julian Assange has been holed-up since 2012.
Farage reportedly spent 40 minutes in the building and left at noon. He was said to be with Christian Mitchell, head of operations at LBC radio, the station where Farage now hosts nightly call-in shows.
Quizzed by reporters as to the nature of his visit to the West London embassy, Farage said he could not remember. When asked directly if he had been to see WikiLeaks figurehead Assange, Farage replied: “I never discuss where I go or who I see.”
There are no known ties between Farage and Assange. But Assange is regarded to have aligned himself with Donald Trump in the run-up to the US election and Farage likes to think of himself as part of the US President’s inner circle.
Trump told a campaign rally in Pennsylvania: “I love WikiLeaks!” in October 2016 after the organization released troves of documents that were damaging to Hilary Clinton’s campaign. The US accused WikiLeaks of being part of a plan – potentially with Russian state involvement- to destabilize the Clinton campaign and ensure that Trump got the keys to the White House.
On Tuesday WikiLeaks dumped a cache of files known as Vault 7, believed to be genuine CIA hacking technique manuals including details of how to remotely transform smart televisions into listening devices. Once again there are suspicions of Russian involvement in the leaks.
Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge since mid-2012 when Swedish Police announced that they wanted to question him in relation to two allegations of sexual assault.
A spokesperson for Farage confirmed to IBTimes UK that he had visited the embassy but would not give any details as to why.