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Archive for August 11th, 2018

Trump Now Faces Legal Peril Bigger Than Collusion and Obstruction

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David Atkins writes in the Washington Monthly:

The biggest news of the day is Trump’s admission on twitter that his campaign attempted to collude with Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. This is being treated appropriately as the incredible bombshell that it is, because it means that his campaign–including his own son, whom he has remarkably thrown under the bus–was guilty of a clear cut crime. It is illegal accept a donation of anything of monetary value (including campaign oppo material) from foreign sources. It is illegal to conspire with others to commit such a violation. And it is illegal to lie about having done so and obstruct justice in response to a federal investigation over the matter. We also know that despite his protestations, Trump almost certainly did know about the meeting in question, and was directly responsible for crafting a number of lies about it afterward. Which in turn makes Trump, his family and his immediate advisers guilty of collusion, conspiracy and obstruction. End of story.

But remarkably, it gets much worse for the president and his team. That’s not because of Trump’s most recent admission, but because of the lie Trump told before about the meeting. The lie about “adoptions.”

You will recall that Trump officials first tried to explain away the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian spies as being about “adoptions.” This is, of course, as we now all know a reference to the sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act and Vladimir Putin’s reaction to them. To recap, in response to the brutal murder of a lawyer investigating a massive theft by Putin’s oligarchs, the United States passed harsh sanctions on Russia’s kleptocrats, freezing many of their assets held in the west. This has been a constant source of frustration to Putin’s regime, and reversing the Magnitsky Act has been the focal point of his negotiations with American leaders. One of the actions Putin took in response to the sanctions was to bar the adoption of Russian children by American foster parents.

So the meeting about “adoptions” is really about the Magnitsky Act. And now we know from Trump’s own twitter fingers that it was also about “dirt” on the Clinton campaign.

Now, here’s the thing. If the Trump Tower meeting had just been about the Magnitsky Act, it would be an untoward and unethical but not a significant violation. A foreign government can try to lobby a electoral campaign if it wants. If the Trump Tower meeting had just been about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, it would have been (and was) a serious campaign finance violation, albeit one that the nation might or might not forgive from a fly-by-night rookie campaign team if it had produced no real results. Though even then, of course, Paul Manafort was no rookie, and the conspiracy to break campaign finance laws and the lies to cover it up are very serious matters.

But it’s the combination of the two that is most damning. The one interesting hitch of the campaign finance violation argument is that the Russians did not in fact deliver the stolen campaign documents directly to the Trump campaign. As we know, the Russians instead released the material to Wikileaks, who proceeded to drop it at a time and in a fashion most advantageous to the Trump campaign.

Why would the Russians do this if no deal had in fact been struck with Trump? Why, when Trump asked (and later claimed he was joking) if Russia could find Hillary Clinton’s emails, did the Russians proceed to attempt to hack her system that very night if there was no quid pro quo?

We can now trace a direct line from Trump’s own admitted statements not only to a conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations in collusion with Russia and a conspiracy to obstruct justice over them, but to a much greater crime: a conspiracy to defraud the United States in the service of a hostile foreign power, a promise to give away foreign policy concessions and alleviate sanctions on a foreign mafia in exchange for the release of stolen campaign materials of untold but enormous value. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2018 at 8:48 am

While Condemning Iran, the U.S. Contributes to Terrorism in the Middle East, Too

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Jonah Shepp writes in New York:

When President Donald Trump announced the restoration of sanctions on Iran on Monday, hammering another nail in the coffin of the the 2015 nuclear agreement, he said he hoped to reach a more comprehensive deal addressing “the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism.”

Hard checks on these activities would be difficult to enforce; moreover, Iran would never agree to them, which is why they were not included in the deal struck by the Obama administration. While not ideal, these omissions were seen as an acceptable price to pay in order to put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear-weapons activity for years to come and open up some breathing room for a more permanent diplomatic solution. (Trump’s closest advisers, of course, have a different kind of permanent solution in mind for Iran.)

Arms proliferation, terrorism, and meddling in the affairs of other countries are all rightly described as “malign activities,” but at the same time, it is hard to see why Iran would agree to give up practices that its rivals and enemies routinely employ.

The Trump administration’s concern over Iran’s support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East is entirely legitimate. Iran projects regional power through a variety of non-state proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas in Gaza, various Shi’ite militias in Iraq, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. All of these organizations have engaged in terrorist activity, while the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, an Iranian client, has committed countless atrocities over more than eight years of civil war there.

Yet the United States has little in the way of moral high ground from which to berate Iran for supporting terrorism and destabilizing fragile states in its backyard. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has often found itself doing the same thing in the course of projecting our own power and defending the hegemony of our problematic allies in the Middle East.

The latest example of this comes from Yemen, where an Associated Press investigation published Monday found that the U.S.-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has on numerous occasions paid off members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to abandon their strongholds or even to join up with coalition forces.

While ostensibly at war with both AQAP and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia see the latter as the more pressing threat by far. Accordingly, the AP found, local militias supported by the coalition frequently recruit seasoned Al Qaeda fighters into their ranks to fight the Houthis, in deals allegedly brokered by Emirati agents and greased with Saudi money.

The U.S. does not directly fund the coalition, and the investigation found no evidence of American money making its way to AQAP militants. Nonetheless, the U.S. has supported the coalition with billions of dollars in weaponry, while providing intelligence and air support, chiefly in the form of drone strikes. Money is fungible, and every dollar the U.S. spends on weapons for the coalition is a dollar Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E. saves to spend on bribing or recruiting AQAP jihadists. When our drones hold off on bombing AQAP convoys while the coalition grants them safe passage into their mountain hideaways, we are still complicit in a dirty deal.

This doesn’t make us any worse than Iran, but it underscores the reality that in messy wars over failed states, nobody comes out with clean hands. Not one participant in the humanitarian catastrophe that is the Yemeni civil war has in mind the best interests of Yemen as a country or the Yemeni people. As the regional powers play their grand strategy game and attempt to muscle the country into their respective spheres of influence, everyone on the ground is just scrambling to survive and to expand their piece of a very small pie.

The attitude of local militia commanders was described to the AP thusly: “We will unite with the devil in the face of Houthis.” In this context, the notion that we could intervene in Yemen and not end up doing business with people who ought to be our enemies is almost ridiculous.

The same is true of Syria, where the U.S. has consistently had a hell of a time sorting out the “good” rebel factions we can conscientiously support from the jihadists we’d rather not. Despite our best efforts to only arm the good guys, some of the weapons we dumped into Syria inevitably fell into the hands of radical terror groups, including ISIS.

In Iraq, too, militias once supported by Iran have become partners of the U.S. in our efforts to help that country beat back ISIS and restore some vestige of stability. Alliances with paramilitary groups were also a key component of the U.S. counterinsurgency operations during the most violent years of our occupation of Iraq. Needless to say, that occupation was itself among the most destabilizing events to befall the Middle East in its modern history and has led to tens of thousands of deaths from terrorism.

It’s hard for the U.S. to credibly condemn Iran for supporting terrorism when every time we involve ourselves in a Middle Eastern conflict, we find ourselves contributing — directly or indirectly, wittingly or unwittingly — to instability, violence, and yes, terrorism. The means of our foreign policy in the Middle East are at odds with its supposed ends. Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, our attempts to tip the scales of the conflicts in Libya and Syria, and our intervention in Yemen have only exacerbated the region’s ills.

Our close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which easily rivals Iran as an inspiration, sponsor, and financier of terrorism, is a big part of the problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2018 at 6:58 am

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