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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Intelligence"

Report: U.S. shared intelligence with Turkey that may have been used to target the Kurds

Westlake Legal Group re Report: U.S. shared intelligence with Turkey that may have been used to target the Kurds withhold u.s. Turkey The Blog Syria northern Kurds kurdish ISIS Intelligence

If you’re going to betray an ally who fought valiantly against ISIS, you might as well go big.

The defense to intelligence-sharing in this case will be that Turkey too is an ally of the United States, even a member of NATO. Surely they’re entitled to certain information about external threats that’s in our possession as part of that partnership. Note the bit in the excerpt, though, about how their access to our intel on Kurdish positions has now been discontinued.

If we’re entitled to withhold that information now, why didn’t we withhold it before the attack began?

The United States military, which had been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, has cut off all support to the militia, two American military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military assessments.

The officials said the United States was not providing support to Turkey either, but for the last few weeks, as Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions.

Because of an American counterterrorism partnership with Turkey, Turkish aircraft were given access to a suite of American battlefield intelligence in northeast Syria. Turkey was removed from the intelligence-sharing program only on Monday, a Defense Department official said.

Did we give any intelligence on Turkish positions to the Kurds? They’ve spent the past few days begging Trump to create a no-fly zone against Turkey on the border. Not only is the United States not going to do that, it turns out we’ve essentially scouted Kurdish targets for the Turkish air force.

Trump could take the position in all this that the United States must necessarily remain neutral in a war between two allies. That’s not the argument he’s been hammering, preferring instead to frame his redeployment of U.S. troops in northern Syria as part of his program to end endless wars — even though this redeployment is facilitating a new war which might require a major new American redeployment to deal with an invigorated ISIS in the aftermath. But he could take that view. If he does, though, how will he explain sharing intelligence with only one side? Clearly we weren’t neutral. We aided Turkey.

Some American soldiers are heartsick about the betrayal:

“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.

“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.”…

The American troops are doing “nothing,” the source lamented. “Just sitting by and watching it unfold.”

The commander of the SDF claims that there have already been two prison riots by ISIS fighters at camps guarded by the Kurds since Turkish operations began. Guards remain in position for now but that will change as military necessity dictates. For his part, Erdogan expressed his own deep commitment to his partnership with NATO allies today by threatening to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if Europeans give him any flack about pummeling the Kurds.

A fun sidenote to a grim story is news today that Lindsey Graham apparently got pranked by a pair of Russians in early August when one of them called him up pretending to be Turkey’s defense minister. Graham, ever obsequious, assured the “minister” that he recognized that Turkey has a “Kurdish problem” and that the Kurds are a “threat,” language that strongly contradicts the ardently pro-Kurdish message he’s been pushing the last few days. The interesting part is that this two-month-old call is leaking only now. There’s speculation that the Russian pranksters are actually connected to the Kremlin, which might have been seeking to punish Graham for his Kurdish support by leaking this and embarrassing. Some call it a prank, others might call it “kompromat.”

In any case, Graham has made his Kurdish sympathies abundantly clear in the last 24 hours, tweeting out a draft proposal of U.S. sanctions on Turkey stemming from its anti-Kurdish initiative. I’m eager to see how that does on a floor vote and, if it somehow ends up passing with veto-proof majorities, how Graham himself will react if Trump decides not to implement the sanctions for fear of destroying the U.S.-Turkish alliance. That would pit Graham’s two core political identities against each other — ardent hawk vs. Trump sycophant. Which way will he go?

The post Report: U.S. shared intelligence with Turkey that may have been used to target the Kurds appeared first on Hot Air.

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Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about?

Westlake Legal Group tt Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about? zelensky whistleblower Washington Post Ukraine Trump The Blog schiff maguire Intelligence giuliani dni biden

Lots of buzz about this in political media this afternoon. But then, there were also many “bombshells” during the course of the Mueller investigation that caused a stir in political media and you know how those turned out.

Speculation about the troubling “promise” Trump may or may not have made to a foreign leader has naturally focused on Putin and Kim Jong Un. Did he promise Putin he’d make some startling international concession, like exiting NATO, in exchange for God knows what? Did he tell Kim that he’d withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea if Kim did X,Y, and Z? The mind reels. Journalist Laura Rozen flagged this passage from a story yesterday in the Independent, though, that may point in a different direction.

Note that the story has nothing to do with the whistleblower complaint. It’s about Trump’s relations with the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. But the timeline fits. And there’s been some odd media chatter about Trump and Ukraine lately.

[T]here have been claims that Mr Trump had refused to meet Mr Zelensky after his election this year, and that US officials have warned this would continue to be the case unless the Ukrainian authorities reopened the Burisma files.

The house committees’ chairs say they will scrutinise a telephone call between the US president and Mr Zelensky on 25 July, during which Mr Trump allegedly told the Ukrainian president to reopen the Biden investigation if he wanted to improve relations with the US.

They claim that Kurt Volker, the US special representative for Ukraine, was told to intercede with President Zelensky by the White House, and they are looking into the activities of Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer.

The whistleblower complaint landed on the inspector general’s desk on August 12. “The Biden investigation” refers to allegations that Joe Biden leaned on the Ukrainian government while he was VP to fire a prosecutor who just so happened to be looking into a company called Burisma, one of whose directors was Biden’s son, Hunter. That investigation was eventually shut down but Team Trump has taken an interest in seeing it reopened since at least May. Rudy Giuliani was slated to visit Ukraine to lobby for reopening the case that month but canceled his trip when the media noticed. Was the president using his lawyer to muscle a foreign power in order to generate dirt on his most likely 2020 opponent?

A month later, Trump flatly told ABC News that he probably would accept dirt on an opponent from foreign sources. And Giuliani did finally end up meeting the Ukrainians in August to discuss the Biden case and whether any Ukrainian officials tried to damage Trump during the 2016 campaign by sharing dirt with the Democrats.

As I write this, no newspaper has claimed to know the substance of the whistleblower complaint or what the mystery call between Trump and the foreign leader was about. But whether they really don’t know or *do* know and are withholding the information right now are two different things. There may be natsec reasons not to report what they know, or it may be that they simply can’t nail down the story with sufficient sourcing yet. But WaPo published an editorial two weeks ago about Trump and Ukraine that took the unusual step of introducing some original reporting into the mix — a strange move for a feature in the opinion section.

[W]e’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

“We’re reliably told”? Who told them? And why wasn’t that information reliable enough for a news story?

Maybe this was WaPo’s way of teasing what it knew about the whistleblower complaint, tucking it into an editorial while it remains technically unsubstantiated so that it doesn’t have to stake the credibility of the news division on it just yet. If so, the “promise” Trump may have made to the as yet unnamed foreign leader could be this: “Zelensky, if you reopen the Biden investigation and generate dirt on him for me, I promise that you’ll finally get that military aid we’ve pledged.” Lo and behold, after a long delay, just one week ago Ukraine did get the $250 million in U.S. military aid it had been waiting for. Not only that, according to Zelensky it’s getting an extra $140 million. Why? Unclear right now.

There’s one other thing. The Times reported today, cryptically, that the whistleblower complaint was “related to a series of actions that go beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader, according to interviews on Thursday.” It’s not just the chat between Trump and the mystery president, it’s other stuff too. That would also potentially fit Ukraine and Zelensky as the subject — there’s military aid involved, there’s Giuliani leaning on them over the Biden case, there’s the angle involving 2016 dirt. As I say, Trump’s team has showed interest in the Biden matter since at least May, shortly after Grandpa Joe entered the presidential race. There’s more to this than just a phone call, if in fact Zelensky is the leader in question.

It’s all just speculation. But if it turns out that Trump tried to extort a foreign leader into damaging his 2020 opponent and used taxpayer money to do it, yeah, he’s going to be impeached. Not even Pelosi will be able to stop that train.

You can already anticipate the response: “Why wasn’t Biden impeached when he leaned on the Ukrainians over the prosecutor sniffing around his son’s business?” We may end up spending the better part of next year on that.

There’s an interesting legal question swirling around all this, as tends to happen with Trump’s uses of presidential power. Does Congress have the constitutional authority to perform oversight of the president on national security? There’s a secondary legal question of whether they have *statutory* authority to perform oversight in this case: According to the Times, the acting DNI and the inspector general have a difference of opinion on the matter, with the IG claiming that the statute says the whistleblower complaint must be handed to Congress and the DNI claiming that Trump technically isn’t part of the “intelligence community,” in which case no, it doesn’t. (Adam Schiff is threatening to sue.)

But there’s a deeper, and frightening, question of whether Congress is entitled to the complaint under the Constitution even if the courts decide that the IG is right about what the statute says. Read this short but interesting Twitter thread from lawyer Jack Goldsmith who argues … no, Congress shouldn’t be entitled to know what the president is saying to foreign leaders even if he’s abusing his foreign-policy power. “Putting it brutally,” he writes, “Article II gives the president the authority to do, and say, and pledge, awful things in the secret conduct of U.S. foreign policy. That is a very dangerous discretion, to be sure, but has long been thought worth it on balance.” The president gets to do what he wants on FoPo and we must simply trust him and hope for the best — unless, of course, someone in the executive branch leaks his communications and accepts the criminal consequences. That person would go to prison. But Congress would have the material it needs, potentially, to impeach.

Update: If only I’d waited a few hours to write this post I could have saved myself some work. WaPo is reporting this evening that, yes, the whistleblower complaint is about Ukraine.

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch…

In letters to the White House and State Department, top Democrats earlier this month demanded records related to what they say are Trump and Giuliani’s efforts “to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity” — one to help Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is in prison for illegal lobbying and financial fraud, and a second to target the son of former vice president Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump…

Lawmakers also became aware in August that the Trump administration may be trying to stop [military] aid from reaching Ukraine, according to a congressional official.

The post Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Daily Beast: Is Trump going to cashier Coats’ deputy too?

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With Donald Trump’s choice for Dan Coats’ replacement as director of national intelligence getting pushback, is the White House looking to pick a parallel fight? The Daily Beast reports that the administration has demanded a list of all its top intelligence leaders, a curious request as Coats prepares to exit the ODNI. It might be a review aimed at getting around a statute that would require a career intel official to become the acting ODNI after Coats’ departure:

The White House recently asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for a list of all its employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more, according to two sources familiar with the request.

The request appears to be part of the White House’s search for a temporary director of national intelligence—a prospect that raises concerns in some quarters about political influence over the Intelligence Community.

The request, which specifically asks for people in ODNI at the GS-15 level (the pay grade for most top government employees, including supervisors) or higher, comes as ODNI’s leadership faces turmoil. Earlier this week, President Trump tweeted that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will step down on August 15, and that he plans to nominate Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe for the post. But Ratcliffe faces a contentious confirmation process that’s all but certain to stretch past the 15th, and the White House needs someone to take the DNI role in the meantime.

According to federal law, ODNI’s senate-confirmed second-in-command—the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, currently Sue Gordon—steps in if the DNI departs. Gordon, who has spent decades in the Intelligence Community, is revered there and on Capitol Hill. But as a career intelligence official, she isn’t viewed as Team MAGA. And the White House is reportedly eyeing ways to put someone they trust in the top role after Coats departs.

Actually, one has to wonder why Gordon didn’t get more consideration for the top job. According to her bio, she spent 27 years in the CIA and worked up the ladder in all four of its directorates. In the two years before her August 2017 appointment as Coats’ deputy, she served as deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. At the very least, Gordon would make a capable acting ODNI while Rep. John Ratcliffe moves through his confirmation process. Gordon’s pass-over will raise some eyebrows during that time anyway, especially given Ratcliffe’s thin resumé on intelligence operations. Arguably, the one person Ratcliffe might need most if and when he gets confirmed would be Gordon for her experience and her connections to the full intelligence community.

Gordon picked up a remarkable endorsement on Twitter this morning, although it’s tough to figure out whether this helps or hurts:

Any attempt to push Gordon out of the way would be a very risky move in terms of Ratcliffe’s confirmation. Already, Senate Republicans are murmuring about Ratcliffe’s lack of qualifications in light of a statutory requirement for significant intel experience. If Trump tries pushing Ratcliffe through while pushing out the highly respected Gordon at the same time to get a more MAGA-friendly acting DNI, he’s likely to blow up both projects at the same time. Trump can’t afford to lose any more than three GOP votes, and a Gordon ouster might cost more than that for Ratcliffe.

That nomination might already be in trouble anyway amid claims that Ratcliffe might have engaged in a little resumé padding to justify his nomination:

ABC News reported Tuesday that Ratcliffe “misrepresented his role in an anti-terrorism case that he’s repeatedly cited among his credentials related to national security issues.”

Ratcliffe claimed in a 2015 press release that he convicted individuals who funneled money to Hamas, a group designated by the State Department in 1997 as a foreign terrorist organization, but ABC News reported that it could not find any public court record linking him to the case.

The outlet also raised doubt about Ratcliffe’s claim in a February 2016 campaign website post highlighting his “special appointment as the prosecutor in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation.”

The response from Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr to these issues doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of Ratcliffe:

“You’re asking me to comment on a news story about someone who’s not been nominated,” Burr said, noting that Ratcliffe has yet to be formally nominated. “When he’s nominated and we do an investigation I’ll be happy to comment on what I think his qualifications are.”

In other words, it might be a long time for Ratcliffe to gain enough support to win a confirmation vote … if he ever does. In the meantime, the White House should keep Gordon in place, if for no other reason than to provide cover in case they need to fall back to a different DNI nominee. And that may well be why they’re asking for the list — not to find another acting DNI to replace Gordon, but to find a friendly face to replace Ratcliffe if that nomination turns out to be a bust.

The post Daily Beast: Is Trump going to cashier Coats’ deputy too? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Is Trump’s new pick for intelligence chief about to be blocked by the Republican Senate?

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Two days ago I would have said no way. Rep. John Ratcliffe was one of the most aggressive Republican questioners at Bob Mueller’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, endearing him to the GOP base. And his biggest political “sin,” allegiance to the president, is to be expected (to some degree) in all cabinet officials. Even ones who, like the Director of National Intelligence, are expected to be less partisan in their roles than most department chiefs.

But, two days later, it’s an open question whether he can get through the Senate. Media coverage of Ratcliffe has been scathing because of his suggestion to Mueller at the hearing that Russia might have interfered in 2016 to help Hillary Clinton, not Trump, which contradicts U.S. intel assessments. That won’t bother Trump, of course, but it might bother Susan Collins. And confirmation fights are one of the few areas in which the Senate has asserted some independence from Trump, rejecting both Stephen Moore and Herman Cain for Fed appointments.

I think they’d rubber-stamp a well-qualified nominee for Trump even if he happens to be a sycophant whom they fear might politicize intelligence at Trump’s behest. But what if he’s not so well qualified? This piece at Time got my attention:

In naming Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence, Trump ignored a warning from Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the intelligence committee, according to Congressional aides familiar with the matter. Burr told the White House last week that the move would inject more partisan politics into the work of the intelligence agencies, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) stipulates that the DNI must have “extensive national security experience”. Ratcliffe was a prosecutor and politician in Texas and has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for only seven months. Coats and his predecessors in the job all had years of experience in the intelligence community, overseeing it, and serving as U.S. ambassadors.

So Burr is lukewarm about Ratcliffe right out of the chute, and there’s statutory cover for Republican senators to reject him on “neutral” grounds — lack of experience — if they’re privately worried that he’s too eager to ingratiate himself to Trump to deliver intelligence that the president might not want to hear. As noted in the excerpt, Ratcliffe’s only served on the House Intel Committee for half a year; other than that, his sole experience with national intelligence was in the U.S. Attorney’s office in east Texas more than a decade ago, when he was chief of anti-terrorism and national security. How much experience he received in that role is as yet unclear, though: The U.S. Attorney who supervised him says he worked on several cases involving domestic and international terrorism but ABC discovered that one of the cases in which Ratcliffe has long claimed involvement (the Holy Land Foundation trials) has no mention of him anywhere in the record.

Even if he did supervise cases in one district for a few years, does that plus seven months on the House Intel Committee amount to “extensive national security experience” under the statute? Senate Republicans sound iffy:

Mr. Trump’s pick, Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas, could face an uphill battle, Senate Republicans said in private conversations. Several said they wanted to keep the intelligence post apolitical, and Mr. Ratcliffe will need to show he can move beyond the die-hard conservative persona that has made him a star in the House and on Fox News but less well known among senators who will decide whether to confirm him…

The political winds from the Trump White House have buffeted the intelligence agencies, and Mr. Coats worked to insulate them. If Mr. Ratcliffe is confirmed, some current and former American officials believe that other top intelligence officials like the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, could lose their shield against White House interference and partisan criticism…

Mr. Ratcliffe … has indicated that he intends to clean house [at DNI], according to people familiar with his plans. The fate of Mr. Coats’s deputy, Sue Gordon, who runs the office’s day-to-day operations, is unclear. The White House did not immediately announce that she would serve as the acting director when Mr. Coats departs on Aug. 15, as is typical.

Again, I think Ratcliffe’s lack of experience is mostly a pretext for a potential no vote. It’s a genuine concern among senators, with some intel pros warning WaPo that he’d be “the least-qualified person ever nominated to oversee the country’s intelligence agencies,” but it’s not their chief concern. Their chief concern is not letting a guy who gets most of his intelligence from “Fox & Friends” start dictating to U.S. intel bureaus what they’re “supposed to” believe about foreign threats, which Ratcliffe might enable by clearing out intel professionals for loyalists. One senior congressional official who spoke to WaPo claimed that he wasn’t confident that Ratcliffe concurs in the judgment of U.S. intelligence (and Mike Pompeo and Chris Wray) that Russia meddled in the 2016 campaign and did so specifically to try to aid Trump. He might reject other judgments that are inconvenient for Trump politically as well, like whether North Korea’s really prepared to denuclearize.

Trump’s first two years in office, particularly the experience of Russiagate, taught him to seek out yes-men for every vacancy, from the DOJ to the Fed to DNI. He doesn’t ever again want to be in a position where a department might cause him trouble politically, even if it’s justified on the facts, only to find the guy he put in charge recusing himself instead of putting out the fire for the White House. The Senate will have to decide over the next 15 months (or 15 months plus four years) how much it wants to push back on that.

Then again, does it really matter who ends up as DNI?

In a sign of how dysfunctional President Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community has become already, some senior spies and analysts say having a political ally as DNI may not make much of a difference at this point. Trump, these senior officials point out, pays only sporadic attention to his daily briefings, routinely ignores analysis that contradicts his own views, and in many cases pursues policies that analysts have concluded are fruitless or misguided.

If Ratcliffe tells him next year there’s evidence that Russia’s trying to interfere in the election on his behalf and Dan Bongino shows up on “Hannity” to say “no way,” who’s Trump going to believe?

Here’s Trump nemesis Ralph Peters going off on Ratcliffe. The fact that Trump’s enemies, including critics in the intel community who fear being marginalized by Ratcliffe as DNI, have mobilized to attack him so quickly will only help steel righties for the fight ahead. But if the votes aren’t there in the Senate, there won’t be a fight. All you’d need is Collins, Murkowski, Paul, and one more (Burr? Romney?) to balk and that’s that.

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Coats’ resignation a win for … Pompeo?

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John Ratcliffe may soon be the Director of National Intelligence, but will Mike Pompeo pull the strings? With Dan Coats’ resignation, the last of the “team of rivals” approach to national security has gone among Cabinet members. The direction of intelligence has increasingly been run by the Secretary of State, The Intercept’s James Risen reported this morning, and Ratcliffe’s ascension won’t change that a bit:

Mike Pompeo is still heavily influencing the U.S. intelligence community, more than a year after he left the Central Intelligence Agency for the State Department, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

Pompeo, who was Donald Trump’s first CIA director, is now serving as a key intermediary between Trump and the U.S. intelligence community, the officials say, a very unusual role for the Secretary of State, who is supposed to be a customer of the intelligence community, not its master.

The intermediary role Pompeo has largely usurped is supposed to be filled by the CIA director and the director of national intelligence, a post created after 9/11 and designed to coordinate the work of all of the nation’s intelligence agencies. But CIA Director Gina Haspel seems to have accepted the fact that Pompeo continues to help set the agenda on intelligence in the Trump administration from the State Department, the officials say. And after months of rumors that Dan Coats, Trump’s longtime director of national intelligence and nominal head of the U.S. intelligence community, would soon be replaced, Trump announced Sunday that Coats will step down August 15. The president said he would name Rep. John Ratcliffe, a pro-Trump Republican congressman from Texas, to take Coats’s job. Ratcliffe, one of Trump’s most ardent defenders during special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last week, will likely be far less independent of the Trump White House than was Coats.

Meanwhile, Pompeo has emerged as the administration’s de facto intelligence czar. Although some officials say that both Haspel and Coats have been present when Trump receives his intelligence briefings and so have had regular, direct access to the president, Pompeo has gained Trump’s trust in a way they haven’t.

Risen uses the word “usurped” here, and relies heavily on an argument that the CIA director is (or should be) an independent operator, but … neither really hits the mark. The State Department has its own intelligence apparatus and is one of the key customers of the overall intelligence community as well as producing some of it on its own. Regardless of who’s the Secretary of State at any time, that position will always have considerable influence on intelligence gathering, analysis, and strategy.

Besides, the independence of the CIA director might have been a better argument prior to the creation of the DNI in the post-9/11 reshuffle. Haspel is a subordinate to Coats at the moment, not a superior officer. Both had to be confirmed by the Senate, as was Pompeo. Furthermore, it’s hardly the first time that intelligence operations has been headed by individuals of like mind to the president. Few Democrats complained, for instance, when Barack Obama made political mastermind Leon Panetta the director of the CIA — and he turned out to be pretty good at the job, certainly much better than John Brennan. (Panetta was also arguably a pretty good SecDef later.) James Clapper was no partisan wallflower either as DNI. The point of presidential appointments is to put the elected president’s agenda in action, which means that truly independent thinkers in Cabinet-level positions anywhere are fairly rare creatures.

With all that said, Pompeo’s reach on intelligence may not be as problematic as Risen suggests, but it is intriguing, assuming Risen’s sources are accurate. It might explain why Pompeo hasn’t exhibited much enthusiasm for the open Senate seat in Kansas next year, and expressly denied interest in it today. And, contra the (not altogether unwarranted) worries exhibited in Risen’s piece, it suggests that the Trump administration is looking for continuity in replacing Coats with Ratcliffe, not radical change.

Consider this as well: while Pompeo is a conservative, he’s not exactly the kind of Trumpian non-interventionist that one might assume would be problematic in the role. Pompeo spent a lot of years in the House working on intelligence matters through a few administrations, which means that his guidance is probably very valuable, regardless which hat he’s wearing when providing it. His instincts seem to be good thus far. Would the people inclined to worry about this prefer that John Bolton was in this position? For some, that’s a trick question …

The post Coats’ resignation a win for … Pompeo? appeared first on Hot Air.

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What did Alex Acosta mean when he allegedly said that Epstein “belonged to intelligence”?

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The word “allegedly” can’t be stressed enough here. But the Daily Beast is a credible publication and reporter Vicky Ward has been on the Epstein beat for a long time:

Epstein’s name, I was told, had been raised by the Trump transition team when Alexander Acosta, the former U.S. attorney in Miami who’d infamously cut Epstein a non-prosecution plea deal back in 2007, was being interviewed for the job of labor secretary. The plea deal put a hard stop to a separate federal investigation of alleged sex crimes with minors and trafficking.

“Is the Epstein case going to cause a problem [for confirmation hearings]?” Acosta had been asked. Acosta had explained, breezily, apparently, that back in the day he’d had just one meeting on the Epstein case. He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” he told his interviewers in the Trump transition, who evidently thought that was a sufficient answer and went ahead and hired Acosta. (The Labor Department had no comment when asked about this.)

That smells suspiciously like a BS excuse concocted by Acosta to explain away his horrid sweetheart plea deal for Epstein and preserve his chances of becoming Trump’s pick at Labor. “I wanted to prosecute him but I couldn’t. The Men In Black needed him! Very hush-hush!”

And yet the fact remains that Epstein’s life is suffused with an unusual degree of mystery for someone so well known for so long to so many famous people, including two U.S. presidents. And I don’t mean mystery in terms of how he spent his spare time; I mean mystery in terms of how he spent his time professionally. As noted yesterday, despite Epstein’s own fame as a wealthy investor, no one seems to know exactly how he made his money. Apart from one person, his client list has been a secret for decades. How he insinuated himself into the company of the likes of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump remains unclear, unless they invested confidentially with him.

New York magazine flags four separate theories today of how Epstein might have made his millions. One is that he really does have investment clients but was running a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, although that raises a question of how he kept the scheme going during his short stint in prison. Another possibility is money laundering, but there’s no hard evidence of that. A third is the “intelligence asset” theory hinted at by the Daily Beast, although Epstein seems to be verrrrrry rich. How much would an intelligence bureau be willing to pay an asset?

The fourth theory, which seems more plausible, is extortion:

And in a 2015 court filing, alleged Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre claims that U.S. authorities were in possession of footage of her having sex with members of Epstein’s elite friend group. “Based on my knowledge of Epstein and his organization, as well as discussions with the FBI, it is my belief that federal prosecutors likely possess videotapes and photographic images of me as an underage girl having sex with Epstein and some of his powerful friends,” she said. Giuffre claimed that Epstein “debriefed her” after she was forced into sexual encounters so that he could possess “intimate and potentially embarrassing information” to blackmail friends into parking their money with him.

If it’s true that Epstein was pimping out underaged girls to fabulously wealthy men and had documentary evidence of it, there’s no limit to how much money he might have made off of them. Remember, Bill O’Reilly allegedly paid more than $30 million to settle a sexual harassment claim by an adult colleague at Fox News. Epstein’s “business” might have involved people an order of magnitude richer than that who were facing consequences much more severe than a sexual harassment suit if their behavior with minors was found out. He could have named his price theoretically from some of them. And that feeds into the “intelligence asset” theory: If Epstein had life-destroying evidence against powerful men abroad, obviously that would be of use potentially to U.S. intelligence. It might also explain how Epstein managed to avoid being killed by any of these powerful blackmailed men. Maybe he was being protected somehow by people with the means to provide protection. Or maybe he let it be known to his blackmail targets that he’d already shared the evidence with U.S. intel and any attempt to harm him would result in them using it.

Or, since we’re speculating wildly here, maybe Epstein wasn’t allied with any particular intel bureau. What if he was an “arms dealer” of sorts, except instead of weapons he was selling nuclear-grade blackmail material to whichever foreign intel bureau wanted it on a particular target? He could make a lot of money that way.

But there’s an obvious question. If all of that (or any of that) is true, how could the feds risk prosecuting him now? The revelation that the U.S. government allowed a child predator to operate with impunity in the name of entrapping its enemies sexually would be a scandal to end all scandals. The feds’ fear that Epstein would reveal all would be so enormous that they wouldn’t dare touch him. To put it another way, if Acosta was telling the truth about Epstein belonging to intelligence, what’s changed since Acosta was U.S. Attorney to make the feds feel that (a) it’s safe to charge Epstein now and (b) he won’t implicate them in his crimes?

Speaking of blackmail, a juicy bit from Vanity Fair about Trump’s relationship with Epstein. There’s no evidence that Trump ever visited Epstein’s notorious private island, notes VF, but there’s circumstantial evidence that he knew Epstein was up to no good:

In the week or so leading up to his CPAC speech, David Pecker, who owned the Enquirer until it was sold in ruin earlier this year, visited Trump on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, bringing along an issue with a Prince Andrew and Epstein-related cover, according to people familiar with the meeting. Pecker, of course, was in the business of protecting Trump…

After the meeting Trump called in Sam Nunberg, then a Trump Organization employee, who saw Pecker leaving Trump’s office. “Michael [Cohen] was sitting in there when I came in, and the issue of the National Enquirer with the pictures of Prince Andrew was on his desk,” Nunberg recalled. “He said not to tell anyone, but that Pecker had just been there and had brought the issue with him. Trump said that Pecker had told him that the pictures of Clinton that Epstein had from his island were worse.”

Cohen told VF in a phone call from prison that Nunberg is telling the truth. Trump has hinted publicly at times in the past about Epstein’s preference for “younger” women, saying in 2002 of Epstein that “he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Years later, Roger Stone recalled Trump telling him about once visiting Epstein at his home in Palm Beach: “The swimming pool was filled with beautiful young girls. ‘How nice,’ I thought, ‘he let the neighborhood kids use his pool.’” Maybe all Trump meant by “younger women” is twentysomethings, but that reference to the neighborhood kids is ominous.

What did Trump know about what Epstein was doing? Yesterday author James Patterson claimed on Fox News that Trump and Epstein had a falling out related to Epstein misbehaving at Mar-a-Lago, with Trump banning him from the club. The Times’s sources claim the falling out was related to a “failed business arrangement” between the two, although, errrrr, again, no one knows exactly what Epstein’s “business” is. I’m skeptical that Trump will be implicated in Epstein’s crimes but it’s not crazy to wonder if the man to whom the DOJ now reports had a basic idea of the crimes Epstein was committing long before the DOJ itself did. And if he did, why didn’t he say anything? This isn’t a buddy carrying on an affair surreptitiously. This is something much darker.

Acosta’s going to speak to the media this afternoon to try to keep his job. Mick Mulvaney reportedly wants him gone, although that may have less to do with Acosta’s mishandling of the Epstein matter than with him not being as aggressive on deregulation as Mulvaney would like. Here’s Ann Coulter on the radio yesterday doing a little speculating of her own about Epstein. Exit question: Why’d Epstein ship himself a nearly 200-pound tile and carpet extractor a few months ago, after the feds started showing interest in him again?

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Hmmm: Steele agrees to DoJ questioning over FBI relationship

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How did oppo research from a political opponent become a central focus of the FBI? Until now, the man who developed the material has resisted efforts by investigators to find out. Now, however, the Times of London reports that Christopher Steele has agreed to meet with Department of Justice investigators to discuss his relationship with the FBI:

The former MI6 agent behind the Trump dossier has agreed to be questioned by US officials over his relationship with the FBI.

Christopher Steele, 54, has agreed to meet investigators in London within weeks, according to a source close to him. Mr Trump has tweeted more than 50 times about Mr Steele, calling him a “failed spy” and accusing him of spreading fake news.

Last year Mr Steele, who runs a corporate intelligence company, was named as the author of memos containing unsubstantiated allegations that the Kremlin held sexually lurid information about Mr Trump.

The rest of the Times’ report is buried behind a paywall. The Daily Beast picks up a bit more of the story. Note the scope of what Steele’s prepared to discuss:

An insider at Steele’s Orbis Business Intelligence company said the former MI6 officer told the Department of Justice that he would only discuss his dealings with the FBI and wanted assurances that U.S. officials would secure the agreement of the British government, which has reportedly not yet been approached about the meeting.

In other words, Steele’s not going to discuss sources or methods, or likely not even the dossier itself. He’s willing, it seems, to discuss his interactions with the FBI — but even then, only if the British government agrees to the interview. Presumably that relates to Steele’s earlier work in MI-6, which officially ended a decade ago but likely continued in some kind of unofficial capacity after he opened his own private intelligence firm.

Assuming that the Brits agree to a DoJ debriefing of Steele, what potential information can they get from this limited scope? Steele can perhaps discuss how he either promoted his dossier with the FBI and/or his recruitment to produce more intelligence. Steele could also perhaps shed light on Steele’s briefings with reporters in September and October 2016 about the dossier and just how much the FBI knew about them — and perhaps whether they encouraged Steele. The issue of payment from the FBI will certainly come up, although in the end it didn’t happen.

Steele has some good reasons for refusing to discuss sources and methods, even apart from proprietary concerns. As former CIA deputy director Mike Morell noted at the time and reported by CBS, Steele used questionable methods for collecting the data, almost all of it secondhand or worse:

“Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.” …

“I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris talk to these sources? I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.

“And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,’ because they want to get paid some more.

“I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.”

Another former CIA officer in the room pointed out that the CIA also pays its sources.

“But we know who the source is and we know how they got the information,” Morell responded.

That explains a lot about the dossier and the later inability of the FBI to confirm any of its claims. Even if Steele doesn’t want to discuss the sources and methods, investigators will want to know how much the FBI knew about those while pushing Steele to develop more intel from his dossier. If those methods and sources were bad enough to have caused alarm under any other circumstances, the DoJ will want to know why the FBI continued to work with Steele.

That will be of very special interest when it comes to the FBI’s pursuit of a FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page, which was based on Steele’s intel. Speaking of which, Sean Hannity declared last night that Attorney General William Barr may already have the long-awaited report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz:

Fox News host Sean Hannity said Attorney General William Barr may already have the Justice Department inspector general report on the investigation into alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses.

“Sources are telling me it may now have already been handed to the attorney general,” Hannity said on his Monday evening show.

Let’s assume that’s the case. It might be why Steele has changed his mind and now wants to talk with Barr’s other investigators about the FBI and their approach to the dossier. If Horowitz finds that the FBI knew full well that the Steele dossier and Steele’s methods were flawed and unreliable before they got that FISA warrant, it’s not going to reflect well on any of them.

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Lindsey Graham to Trump Jr: If I were you, I’d ignore that subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee

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I don’t know what he means here when he says his legal advice to Trump Jr would be to “call it a day.” If you’re a private citizen and you’re subpoenaed, you have four options: Show up and answer questions, show up and plead the Fifth, threaten to plead the Fifth unless you’re granted immunity, don’t show up and be held in contempt. Which does he mean by “call it a day”?

I think he’s thinking of a new fifth option: Exercise your royal prerogative as a Trump not to answer questions with no consequences to you for doing so. Don Jr needn’t follow the rules to which the grimy masses are subject. That’s Republican “populism” in 2019.

According to CNN, Junior and Richard Burr’s Committee have been negotiating since December about a follow-up appearance, with Trump reportedly having agreed twice to come in before backing off. His last scheduled appearance was to have happened on April 4, two weeks after Barr issued his summary of the Mueller report announcing that the special counsel wouldn’t be charging anyone with conspiracy in Russiagate. You can imagine how that changed Don Jr’s calculus. Up to that point, fearing that he might be indicted, he had been cooperative with Congress, probably figuring that that fact would help him during the criminal process if he were charged. Once he realized he wouldn’t be charged, his incentive to keep talking vanished. And so the two sides were at an impasse:

Sources with knowledge of the discussions told CNN the committee initially provided Trump Jr. with a list of roughly a dozen topics that investigators want to cover, including the Trump Tower meeting and Trump Tower Moscow. Trump Jr.’s legal team expected a much shorter followup interview than proposed by the committee, which would not agree to limit the time or topics, according to the sources.

But Trump Jr.’s lawyers are pushing back at addressing questions about the June 2016 meeting or Moscow project because he’s already sat before three congressional committees for more than 20 hours and answered questions about those topics under oath, the people said. Trump’s lawyers viewed the format of the followup interview as effectively a “do-over” from his 2017 appearance.

There is a concern, echoed by several Republicans, that the interview is an effort to try to catch Trump Jr. in a lie since several Democrats have already accused Trump Jr. of committing perjury, the sources said.

The panel allegedly wants to clear up “discrepancies” in some of the testimony it’s heard about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer and the Trump Tower Moscow project that Don Jr, Ivanka, and Michael Cohen were involved in. Perfectly understandable for Burr to want more answers about that; perfectly understandable for Don Jr not to want to expose himself to further legal jeopardy; perfectly understandable for Trump Sr to stick up for his son by criticizing the decision to subpoena him.

But having Republican members of Congress, including Senate colleagues of Burr’s, coming out of the woodwork to pressure Burr on Junior’s behalf is a rolling disgrace, not least because they realize better than most people how much political courage it took for Burr to sign that subpoena. He’s a young man by Senate standards, just 63 years old. He’s said that he won’t run again for Senate but people have said that before and changed their minds. His chances at another term are probably dead now. If he had any thoughts of running for governor potentially, those are probably out the window too now that he’s made enemies of the Trump family. It may even cost him friends in Republican social circles in North Carolina if this standoff deepens and he’s forced to cite Junior for contempt. Given the steep price to him personally and professionally, whatever he needs to know from Trump must be important enough for him to incur that cost. At a minimum, if they’re afraid to risk the president’s wrath by defending Burr, you’d think Republicans on the Hill would remain studiously neutral in the dispute out of respect for his guts in following through on this.

But all of the Trump servants in the chamber have taken up the cause of protecting the royal offspring. Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim Jordan, and of course ol’ Lindsey Graham: Not one of them knows precisely what Burr’s concerns are or where the Intelligence Committee investigation stands but they’re eager to earn presidential favor by extending Trump Jr the sort of political cover that no commoner could dream of. Special exceptions from legal process for the presidential brood is one of the swampiest things I can think of. And of course it’s mostly tea-party heroes who are calling for them, the latest reminder lest there was any doubt from current federal spending levels of how far short of its ideals that movement fell.

What Graham might mean here by “call it a day” is Trump Jr tearing up the subpoena and daring Burr to hold him in contempt. Would a Republican senator dare threaten a Trump with consequences for flouting the law? Rest assured that if Burr does, Graham will be on TV shilling for Junior in that case too. In a better world, he’d be worried about being disciplined by the South Carolina bar for what he’s suggesting here. Exit quotation: “A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.”

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More Comey: It’s “totally normal” to use undercover agents on presidential campaigns

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Really? Americans might be curious as to precisely when it became “reasonable” and “totally normal” for the FBI to use undercover agents to penetrate presidential campaigns. James Comey stuck his foot in his mouth with this exchange in last night’s CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper, although it may be somewhat more defensible than it appears (via Twitchy):

COOPER: You said it’s not spying. Why do you think Attorney General Barr used the word spying, which is obviously a word that the president has used, as well?

COMEY: I can’t explain it. I mean, the only explanation I can think of is he used it because the president uses it, which is really disappointing. He knows better than that and knows that the FBI conducts electronic surveillance by going to federal judges and getting warrants based on probable cause.

COOPER: But sending an investigator undercover to meet with somebody who is connected to the campaign, they claimed he was later on just a coffee boy, that is an extreme step, no?

COMEY: No, it’s a reasonable — that was the guy, Papadopoulos, who was the subject of the information we got from the Australians, that he had talked to the Russians.

COOPER: Did you sign off on the investigator going?

COMEY: I don’t remember talking about that particular step with my team. I knew they were trying to see if they could check it out. That’s a totally normal step, see if you can get somebody close to the person and see if they’ll confirm what we heard from the Australians.

Former CIA and NYPD intel analyst Buck Sexton calls this explanation “utterly insane”:

Just how “totally normal” and “reasonable” could this be? I suspect Comey was trying to answer about investigative techniques regardless of investigative context. If an allied intelligence agency passed along information that an American was acting as a conduit for a hostile intelligence service, what investigative techniques would be normal and reasonable? Without regard to other circumstances, using an undercover agent to probe the suspect’s contacts and intent would be a “normal” and “reasonable” investigative technique. The FBI and the CIA undoubtedly make great use of that technique along with others, such as (ahem) surveillance and records trawling, using appropriate warrants.

Context matters, though, especially in this case. Papadapoulous wasn’t just some random US person; he was a second-tier advisor to a presidential campaign, one from the party opposed to the current administration. What might be “totally normal” and “reasonable” under other circumstances would look very strange in these circumstances. It would look like political interference if it turned out to be baseless, especially if some of the agents involved texted their disgust with said candidate on a fairly regular basis.

In this case, it’s “reasonable” to ask what intermediate options the FBI had to accomplish its mission. If the FBI worried that a junior advisor to a presidential campaign might be currying favor with Russian intel, wouldn’t the first step be to warn the candidate first? Junior advisers are disposable, after all, and if the mission is to protect the American political system from Russian penetration, that would be the most direct way of accomplishing it. The fact that the FBI didn’t take that step certainly raises the question as to what mission the FBI had in mind. At least thus far, it’s an open question as to whether that mission was “totally normal” and “reasonable.”

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