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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

The “Grand Bargain” at Risk: What’s at Stake When the President Alleges Politics in Intelligence

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Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes write in Lawfare:

The U.S. intelligence community is on the verge of a crisis of confidence and legitimacy it has not experienced since the 1970s. Back then, the crisis was one of the community’s own behavior. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s the intelligence community used its secret powers of surveillance and other forms of government coercion—often but not always at the behest of its political superiors—to spy on and engage in operations against Americans for political ends. At that time, politicians really did use executive branch intelligence tools to seek to monitor and harm political enemies, and exposure of that reality nearly destroyed the intelligence community. The problem was Hoover’s illegal wiretaps, bugs, and break-ins, and his attempts to annihilate Martin Luther King and others; it was NSA’s and CIA’s domestic espionage and propaganda operations; it was Richard Nixon’s many dirty tricks.

The community survived because it entered a “grand bargain” with Congress and the American people in the 1970s. And it is that very grand bargain that today’s crisis now threatens.

Today’s crisis is sparked by allegations, both by President Trump and by some House Republicans, of political misuse of the intelligence community by the Obama administration. Whether the allegations are entirely false or turn out to have elements of truth, they put the intelligence community in the cross-hairs, since some of the institutions that are supposed to be key legitimators are now functioning as delegitimators. After all, entirely appropriate investigations of counterintelligence can easily look like inappropriate political meddling, and if the President the House Intelligence Committee chairman are not merely not defending the intelligence community but are actively raising questions about its integrity, the bargain itself risks unraveling.

The central elements of the grand bargain were these: the president and his intelligence bureaucracy were allowed to maintain robust surveillance and espionage capacities, including domestically. But in exchange, Congress subjected them significant legal restrictions on how they collected, analyzed, and disseminated intelligence information; a bevy of lawyers throughout the intelligence community and, over time, in the Justice Department monitored and enforced those restrictions; domestic surveillance required a court order, including a court order from a new court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for foreign intelligence investigations; and two new committees, the Senate and House Intelligence committees, were to be kept “fully and currently informed” of all significant intelligence activities, and would have robust oversight authorities. The idea was that the use of these powers would be documented and watched by institutions that could be trusted to keep secrets but would act as credible surrogates for public oversight mechanisms.

These reforms proved vital. Intelligence collection, including in the homeland, is essential to our security. But it is also among the most dangerous of government powers because it is so consequential, so secret, and so easy and tempting to abuse. Its legitimacy is inherently fraught. So it is crucial not merely that the entire process be above board politically but that it be seen to be above board. If enough people believe that the intelligence community is a political instrument of those in power to be used against opponents, it actually doesn’t matter if it’s untrue. So the key function of the grand bargain was not merely keeping the intelligence community actually within the law but also validating it to a public conditioned by Watergate and COINTELPRO to believe the worst that the intelligence community was functioning within the law.

This system did not always work perfectly, and it has every so often required strengthening. Sometimes, as in Iran-Contra, it was because of real abuse. Sometimes, it was because of perceived abuses. Sometimes, it was the result of changed technology. Sometimes, it was the result of changed threat perception.

But on the whole, the system of overlapping internal and external checks, combined with massive changes in intelligence community culture, worked well. It gave the intelligence community legitimate operating space in the midst of a political culture obsessed with movies about intelligence community plots and rogue operations. Even as Hollywood made Minority Report and Enemy of the State, the intelligence community could carry on its business. That was a huge accomplishment.

Another achievement of the grand bargain was the actual elimination of the great evil of governmental use of its vast intelligence apparatus for politically-motivated surveillance. And while it did not eliminate the perception in the mass culture that this was going on, it did give the community a powerful response to suggestions of politically motivated misconduct. The response went like this: here are the rules; here are the bodies we report to on our operations; we did not violate the rules; and our many oversight bodies, who in the round are credible actors, were kept fully informed.

This basic system survived even the Snowden revelations. Many people found Snowden’s disclosures of vast intelligence collection shocking. But though Snowden disclosed many technical legal problems with this surveillance, as well as some controversial legal judgments signed off on by the executive oversight apparatus, it also showed that the the problem of politically motivated surveillance simply didn’t exist. None of the thousands of pages of NSA revelations pointed to anything like the venal activities of the 1970s and before.

Yet events of the last year have put the domestic political use of surveillance tools front and center once again. And ironically, today it’s the President of the United States and the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who are alleging precisely that which the Snowden revelations did not show. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Trump is really doing serious damage to our government, and seriously weakening it. And the whole world sees it, including those who are hostile to our country.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 6:39 pm

Larry Summers Had the Power to Punish Wall Street. Now He’s Slamming Obama’s Gentle Treatment.

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

AS HEAD OF BARACK OBAMA’S National Economic Council during 2009 and 2010 at the height of the foreclosure crisis, Larry Summers broke many promises to help homeowners while simultaneously dismissing Wall Street’s criminality. Now, after the Obama administration has left power and Summers has no ability to influence anything, he finds himself “disturbed” that settlements for mortgage misconduct are full of lies. Those of us who screamed exactly this for years, when Summers might have been able to do something about it, are less than amused.

In Wednesday’s Washington Post, Summers writes about a “large systematic overstatement” of the burden actually felt by banks in various mortgage settlements. Typically with these settlements, the Justice Department announces a headline dollar amount that the media uncritically prints in their headlines. But that number bears no relation to reality.

Indeed, large amounts of the settlements are directed for “consumer relief,” which banks have been from the beginning adept at gaming. Financial writer Yves Smith coined the phrase “bullshit to cash ratio” to describe the relationship between actual hard-dollar fines for banks and these noncash consumer relief measures.

Summers highlights an agreement last April, where Goldman Sachs needed to supply $1.8 billion in consumer relief to homeowners to settle claims that they swindled investors with mortgage-backed securities. But Goldman Sachs didn’t own any mortgages. So it bought distressed mortgages in bulk on the open market, for as low as 50 cents on the dollar. Then it modified the balance to, say, 60 cents on the dollar, satisfying the consumer relief while earning profit.

In other words, Obama’s Justice Department sentenced Goldman Sachs to make money. A more recent Deutsche Bank settlement allowed the bank to invest in hedge funds that do the same purchase-and-modify loan scheme, getting credit for $4.1 billion in consumer relief simply from the investment. Deutsche Bank is even looking to earn credit for consumer relief by indirectly funding new subprime loans, also a moneymaking activity. This is like sentencing a bank robber to open a lemonade stand.

“While there may have been some encouragement to principle (sic) reduction through these settlements,” Summers writes, “neither the cost to banks nor the incremental benefit to consumers is remotely comparable to the consumer relief figures advertised by both the DoJ and the banks.”

Larry Summers should be the last person expressing outrage about any of this. It was his indifference to the suffering of homeowners after the financial crash that led to this fake justice-by-settlement scheme.

The week before Obama took office in 2009, when the incoming White House wanted the second half of the TARP bailout money released, Summers wrote a letter to Congress promising that “the Obama administration will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.” He added that “we will implement smart, aggressive policies to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners, while also reforming our bankruptcy laws.”

None of this happened. The ballyhooed $100 billion investment in mortgage mitigation ended up spending only $21 billion, and worse, was manipulated into a predatory lending program by mortgage servicers who had financial incentives to foreclose. The reform to bankruptcy laws Summers touted in his letter, which would have allowed judges to modify home mortgages, was something he actively opposed after Obama’s inauguration. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., publicly alleged that Summers “was not supportive of this,” and that he expressed doubts in private meetings.

Summers tries to separate himself from the Justice Department’s lies by saying, . . .

Continue reading.

It seems that Larry Summers is quite an unlikable fellow.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2017 at 7:50 pm

Preet Bharara: New York Times Promotes a False Narrative

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I had read that Preet Bharara, though strong against public corruption, was curiously gentle to, and incurious about, Wall Street. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

The narrative of Preet Bharara as a crusading crime fighter has gotten a big boost from the Editorial Board of the New York Times in a glowing editorial in today’s print edition. Bharara was, until this past weekend, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Wall Street’s stomping ground. Bharara Tweeted on Saturday that he had been “fired” by the Trump administration.

The Times’ editorial headline in its digital edition has to be bringing howls this morning from Wall Street veterans and corporate crime watchers. The Times is asking its readers to believe that Bharara was a “Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp.” That’s fake news at its finest. Despite Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, presiding over an unprecedented series of frauds upon the investing public at their banks, these men remain firmly entrenched as overpaid titans in the impenetrable toxic muck of the Wall Street Swamp.

We’ll get back shortly to Bharara’s tenure in the financial crime capitol of the world, but first some necessary background on the New York Times itself.

The Times has a new advertising slogan. It goes like this:Truth. It’s hard to find. But easier with 1000+ journalists looking. Subscribe to The Times.” Unfortunately, when it comes to New York’s biggest and richest hometown industry known as Wall Street, those 1,000 journalists regularly have dull pencils and fogged lenses. (See related articles below.) Even worse, the Editorial Board at the Times has repeatedly served as a propagandist for the serial Wall Street ruses to fleece the public.

It was the Editorial Board of the Times that played the role of Head Majorette when Sandy Weill needed support for his self-serving plan to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing Wall Street investments banks to merge with commercial banks holding federally-insured deposits in order to make wild gambles for the house while putting taxpayers on the hook for the losses. John Reed, Weill’s partner in the plan, explained to Bill Moyers’in 2012 the real motivation behind the scheme: “Sandy Weill. I mean, his whole life was to accumulate money. And he said, ‘John, we could be so rich.’ Being rich never crossed my mind as an objective value. I almost was embarrassed that somebody would say out loud. It might be happening but you wouldn’t want to say it.”

The New York Times Editorial Board bought into Weill’s outlandish narrative, writing on April 8, 1998: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2017 at 11:11 am

He SAID he had the proof. Trump administration wants more time to give Intel committee wiretapping proof

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Joe Uchill reports in The Hill:

President Trump’s administration has asked for more time to comply with a House Intelligence Committee request for evidence substantiating Trump’s claims of wiretapping.

The Monday evening request came hours before the committee-set midnight deadline.
This afternoon, the Department of Justice placed calls to representatives of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to ask for additional time to review the request in compliance with the governing legal authorities and to determine what if any responsive documents may exist,” the DOJ letter read.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s (R-Calif.) office confirmed the request in a statement, and said the delay could force the committee to “resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered.”

“The Department of Justice has asked for more time to comply with the House Intelligence Committee’s request for information related to possible surveillance of Donald Trump or his associates during the election campaign,” Nunes’ statement said.

“We have asked the Department to provide us this information before the Committee’s open hearing scheduled for March 20. If the committee does not receive a response by then, the Committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered.”

Ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) weighed in on the delay on Twitter. . .

Continue reading.

It’s the tax returns all over again. Do we at least get Arpège?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2017 at 5:42 pm

Lawfare note on investigating the alleged Obama wiretapping order

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Paul Rosenzweig has an interesting note in Lawfare:

esterday, I wrote about the strategy and tactics for investigating the Trump/Russia connection.  As you may imagine, I got a number of responses which are unpublishable in these pages.  To my surprise, however, at least two lawyers whom I respect asked a question of the form “what about investigating the Obama wiretap order” and suggesting, implicitly, that my failure to include an investigative plan for that allegation was evidence of incompleteness, if not bias.  Because they were serious questions (unlike some of the other inquiries I got!) I thought I would treat the suggestion with respect and answer more fully.  I would not include the Obama/Wiretap allegation in a Russia/Trump investigative plan for at least three independent reasons:

1) The investigations are not really connected.  As discussed yesterday, there is a plausible (albeit unproven and perhaps unprovable) overarching thesis of investigation to the Russia/Trump allegations—namely that the allegations of influence, contacts, and cover-up are directly derived from allegations of counter-intelligence influence.  This may or may not be true—but as a thesis for investigation it has coherence.  The Obama/Wiretap allegations don’t fit into the thesis—rather they are completely disconnected from it and therefore not well-suited to inclusion in the investigative plan.  NOTE:  This is not to say that the two are factually completely disconnected—indeed the alleged wiretap was (if it happened) probably in service of one of the Russia/Trump investigations identified and likely was targeted at the Russian end of the conversation (as seems to be the case with General Flynn’s ill-fated calls to the Ambassador).  Rather, this is to say that the motivations are unrelated, if not completely opposed to one another and thus don’t fit into the same strategic investigation, even if we credit the allegations.

2) Unlike the Russia/Trump allegations, the Obama/Wiretap allegation is simply not credible.  As noted, there is significant doubt that such a wiretap order was even entered.  Its origins appear to lie in a conspiracy theory without any factual basis.  For me (and here I speak personally) the allegation is of a piece with the suggestion that there were 3-5 million illegal votes; that Ted Cruz’s family was involved in the JFK murder; and that President Obama was not born in Hawaii.

Still, to honor the request, if this were, in fact, my investigation, the thesis for this investigation would NOT be “the government got a wiretap order, that authorized an interception which may have involved someone at Trump Tower.”  For if that were the allegation it would have no legs—after all the lawful issuance of a warrant authorizing interception is … well … legal authorization.  The thesis would, instead, have to be either: a) that in securing the warrant the warrant applicant knowingly lied to the court; or b) that no warrant was applied for or received but interception nonetheless occurred.  And to give credence to President Trump’s suggestion there would have to be a subsidiary thesis that these occurred because President Obama directly or indirectly ordered them to happen.  Had any of this actually happened it would be a plausible criminal case.

The investigative plan would be simple — get copies of any and all FISA and Title III applications and orders relating to Russia and or President Trump issued in the last 2 years.  Review same.  Interview FBI agents assigned to any cases relating to such orders.  Interview IT service providers for Trump Tower.  All of the evidence that relates to these allegations is presumably within the United States and readily available.  All of which brings me to the third factor:

3) Since the allegation is of misconduct by the former President, the current President and/or the Congress are well-situated to investigate.  There is no formal conflict of interest and thus no need for an independent investigation.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2017 at 1:32 pm

Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking

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It’s almost as if they believed that the Trump administration would try to cover it up. Mathew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:

In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.

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.

Then and now, Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence suggesting that the Russian government had tried to meddle in the presidential election. Mr. Trump has accused the Obama administration of hyping the Russia story line as a way to discredit his new administration.

At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.

It also reflected the suspicion among many in the Obama White House that the Trump campaign might have colluded with Russia on election email hacks — a suspicion that American officials say has not been confirmed. Former senior Obama administration officials said that none of the efforts were directed by Mr. Obama.

Sean Spicer, the Trump White House spokesman, said, “The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election.” He added, “There continues to be no there, there.”

As Inauguration Day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.

At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.

There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. In one instance, the State Department sent a cache of documents marked “secret” to Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland days before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The documents, detailing Russian efforts to intervene in elections worldwide, were sent in response to a request from Mr. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Mr. Obama. “When the intelligence community does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.” . . .

Continue reading. And do read the rest. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs to be followed…

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 7:09 pm

Congress targets a California law that aims to give low-income workers retirement security

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Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:

ambitious California law intended to help create retirement security for low-income workers is in the crosshairs of the Trump-era Congress, which is moving to block the state and others from launching programs to automatically enroll millions of people in IRA-type savings plans.

The push is one of the most direct confrontations yet with California and other liberal states by a GOP-led Congress emboldened by President Trump’s election.

And it is intensifying the debate about whether conservatives who now control Washington will honor their pledge to respect states’ rights, even when states pursue policies out of step with the Republican agenda.

By targeting the novel “auto IRA”-style programs, congressional Republicans are also provoking one of California’s most visible leaders, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the Democrat who championed the policy in California and nationwide and is leading a movement in the Legislature to resist the Trump White House.

The 2016 law being targeted requires employers to enroll 6.8 million California workers who currently have no access to a retirement savings account at work in a state-sponsored plan. Millions more in seven other states that have passed laws similar to California’s would also be enrolled in those states. Many more states are now weighing joining a movement that has been years in the making.

California first took steps toward creating its program in 2012. Other states, including Illinois, have been slowly implementing their own laws, which have been complicated by federal Labor Department rules governing such investment pools.

In its final months, the Obama administration gave states the green light to pursue their vision.

The state laws generally require employers with no retirement plans to automatically invest a small percentage of each worker’s pay in a state-sponsored retirement account. Employers are not required to contribute anything and workers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The first such program was expected to launch this year in Oregon. California and other states were hoping to begin next year.

Now at the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of Wall Street investment firms long opposed to government-sponsored retirement programs that could compete with their own offerings, key Republicans are moving to revoke the federal approval.

“Our nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution,” said a statement from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of a House subcommittee on retirement issues who is taking a lead in the repeal effort.

Walberg and his colleagues are invoking an obscure parliamentary tool that gives Congress a small window to repeal new regulations. It has rarely been used in recent years because any repeal effort would have faced certain veto by President Obama. But under Trump, it is now a potent tool for Republicans to swiftly unwind Obama-era regulations.

“The results of the November election give us an opportunity to go back and correct this,” Aliya Wong, executive director of retirement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of its effort to block California and other states from moving ahead with their programs.

No hearings are required before the full House votes on the repeal of the federal approval, which could happen as soon as next week. . .

Continue reading.

It’s really out in the open now, isn’t it? The next step will be fistfights.

And contract reporter? Shouldn’t he be on staff?

In that connection, note the GoFundMe of Pizza for the Newsroom: contribute toward buying pizza for the staff of the NY Times and the Washington Post. I have digital subscriptions to both, and they are fully worth it. And I bought a pizza, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 7:40 pm

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