web analytics
a

Facebook

Twitter

Copyright 2015 Libero Themes.
All Rights Reserved.

8:30 - 6:00

Our Office Hours Mon. - Fri.

703-406-7616

Call For Free 15/M Consultation

Facebook

Twitter

Search
Menu
Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 152)

U.S. Indicts Turkish Bank on Charges of Evading Iran Sanctions

Westlake Legal Group 15dc-turkeybank-facebookJumbo-v2 U.S. Indicts Turkish Bank on Charges of Evading Iran Sanctions United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Turkey Trump, Donald J Politics and Government Money Laundering Lobbying and Lobbyists Justice Department Iran Halkbank Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Embargoes and Sanctions

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Tuesday sharply escalated economic pressure on Turkey by filing fraud and money-laundering charges against the country’s second-largest state-owned bank, accusing it of helping Iran evade United States sanctions.

The charges against the institution, Halkbank, came as the administration sought ways to project that it was taking a tough line with Turkey after President Trump effectively signaled this month that the United States would not stand in the way of Turkey’s desire to send forces into northern Syria.

Mr. Trump’s willingness to allow the military action has thrown the region into chaos and ignited an intense bipartisan backlash against him at home. As the criticism has mounted, the White House has emphasized the steps it is taking to restrain Turkey’s offensive, including a round of sanctions announced on Monday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had repeatedly raised the Halkbank case with Mr. Trump over the past year, urging the United States not to take further action, saying that to do so would unfairly expose Turkey to severe financial risks. One of the bank’s top executives was convicted on related charges last year, and the Justice Department has been reviewing since then whether to pursue the case further as Turkish officials and lawyers pressed the government not to indict the bank.

The charges appeared to catch at least some advisers to Turkey’s government off guard. They were filed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, which has been investigating the bank’s role in what has been called the largest Iran sanctions violation in United States history, as billions of dollars’ worth of gold and cash were illegally transferred to Iran in exchange for oil and gas.

Justice Department officials said high-ranking government officials in Turkey “participated in and protected this scheme,” with some receiving bribes worth tens of millions of dollars and helping to hide the conspiracy from the scrutiny of regulators in the United States.

“This is one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations we have seen, and no business should profit from evading our laws or risking our national security,” said John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security.

Lawyers and lobbyists representing the bank, including Brian D. Ballard, a friend of Mr. Trump’s and the vice chairman of his inauguration, have been trying for more than a year to persuade the Trump administration not to file charges against the bank, or at least to understand that doing so could threaten the economy of a NATO ally.

Turkish officials had directly made other appeals to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The lobbying campaign led some sanctions experts in Washington to question if the case might have been delayed or dropped.

After Mr. Trump came under intense criticism for choosing to stand aside as Turkey pursued its plan to assert control over a section of northern Syria, he began striking a tougher tone toward Mr. Erdogan, focusing in particular on the threat of harming Turkey’s economy if it put United States military personnel at risk or engaged in atrocities against Kurds in the region.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Monday, shortly before signing an executive order to impose the first set of sanctions.

Representatives for the Turkish government — who in interviews early Tuesday did not give any hint that they knew the criminal charges were imminent — said late in the day that they suspected a link between the new prosecution of the bank and the invasion of Syria.

“The timing is beyond any reasonable coincidence,” said one individual who has been working with the bank, but spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

The Justice Department and the White House did not respond to questions about whether the decision was influenced by Turkey’s decision to send troops in Syria.

Mr. Ballard, along with Robert Wexler, a former House Democrat from Florida, and James P. Rubin, a State Department official during the Clinton administration, had each been working at times over the last two years to lobby on the matter, Justice Department filings show. They had reached out in 2018 to the office of Vice President Mike Pence and the State Department, among others.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and adviser to Mr. Trump, also was involved in the matter in 2016 and 2017, trying to secure the release of one suspect in the case, in a possible prisoner swap with a pastor whom Turkey was holding on espionage charges that the United States claimed were fabricated.

Andrew Hruska, a former federal prosecutor in New York now with the law firm King and Spalding, had also been working on the matter, communicating directly with the Justice and Treasury Departments, on behalf of the bank.

Mr. Erdogan brought the case up with President Trump in November 2018, and his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, the country’s finance minister, following up a few days later with Mr. Mnuchin, pushing him to closely follow the case.

Lawyers for the bank did not dispute that money was illegally moved through Halkbank to Iran starting around 2012 and continuing through 2016.

But they argued that the moves were largely orchestrated by an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, named Reza Zarrab, who had hired Mr. Giuliani to try to secure his release.

Turkish officials argued that Mr. Zarrab, who then decided to plead guilty to charges and become a witness for the prosecution, had lied to American prosecutors. The Turkish officials said Mr. Zarrab accused the bank and government officials in Turkey of conspiring in the effort as part of an attempt to reduce any time he would spend in prison, after he was arrested by American authorities in 2016.

In January 2018, in part because of Mr. Zarrab’s testimony, a Halkbank executive named Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted of violating sanctions as part of the case. At his sentencing in May 2018, a federal judge said that while Mr. Atilla had “unquestionably furthered” the scheme, he was “somewhat of a cog in the wheel” and not “a mastermind.”

These assertions reflected claims made by federal prosecutors that the wrongdoing had reached high into the Turkish government.

But until Tuesday, there had been no public follow-up by the Justice Department, nor any action by the Treasury Department, which separately has the power to impose sanctions on the bank or impose a fine.

The bank was formally charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate sanctions, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Representatives for the bank said that they feared the charges alone might lead other global banks to limit doing business with Halkbank, and if a multibillion-dollar penalty results, it could threaten the overall viability of the institution.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump and Impeachment: The Elephant in the Room at Tonight’s Debate

Westlake Legal Group 15trump-politics-facebookJumbo Trump and Impeachment: The Elephant in the Room at Tonight’s Debate Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Presidential Election of 2020 Debates (Political) Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Tuesday night’s Democratic debate will play out with some unusual background noise coming from Washington: whistles being blown by multiple people.

Former ambassadors, top foreign policy aides and once-loyal campaign donors are disregarding orders from the White House to ignore congressional subpoenas, trudging up to Capitol Hill for marathon sessions of closed-door testimony about President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political help.

Former Trump aides are comparing each other to lethal weapons, and shadowy associates who did business for Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer are being indicted on campaign finance charges.

To what degree this drumbeat of dissension and disorder shapes the discussion at the debate is one of the big questions facing the 12 candidates who will be onstage. This is the first debate since Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the formal beginning of an impeachment inquiry last month.

It’s a lot of drama to compete with — it was revealed Monday night that John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, compared Rudolph W. Giuliani to a “hand grenade,” after all — especially when the point of Tuesday’s debate is to compete with one another for the Democratic nomination.

Add to the mix the fact that one candidate, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was the target of the president’s efforts to press a foreign power for political dirt, and will be under pressure to respond to the inquiry on Tuesday night.

Even if the political chaos surrounding Mr. Trump looms over the program, the candidates should do their best to ignore it, according to some political strategists in both parties.

Join us for live analysis on debate night. Subscribe to “On Politics,” and we’ll send you a link.

“The best thing the candidates could do is to compartmentalize it,” said Brian Fallon, who was the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “There’s very little opportunity for separation among the candidates, based on how they talk about Trump.”

Brendan Buck, a past adviser to former Speaker Paul D. Ryan, said a debate where everyone agrees that Mr. Trump deserves to be impeached is a snooze and a wasted opportunity.

“Other than Biden having his opportunity to say his piece, they’re generally better off leaving this debate to Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Buck said. The impeachment probe, he said, “isn’t terribly tangible to people’s lives.”

Nor is it how most Americans would like to see Mr. Trump leave office. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 58 percent of Americans think Mr. Trump’s fate should be decided by voters next November, compared to 37 percent who think it should be decided by the impeachment process. (Even so, 52 percent of respondents in that poll approved of the decision to begin the impeachment inquiry.)

The focus on impeachment may make it difficult for lower-polling candidates like Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, or Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey to break through. But Democrats said that over all, the inquiry would be a huge gift to whoever emerged as the party’s nominee.

“It’s creating a permanent black cloud that will ultimately help the Democratic nominee,” Mr. Fallon said, pointing to the earned media coverage of impeachment as a way for Democrats to close the messaging gap with the Trump campaign, which is vastly outspending them online.

“It’s defining him in a way none of the individual campaigns could do during a primary,” Mr. Fallon said. “They should all be thanking their lucky stars.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

What’s Really in the Trade Deal Trump Announced With China

Westlake Legal Group 00DC-CHINATRADE-01-facebookJumbo What’s Really in the Trade Deal Trump Announced With China Xi Jinping United States International Relations United States Economy Trump, Donald J Protectionism (Trade) International Trade and World Market Foreign Investments Customs (Tariff) Currency Agriculture and Farming

President Trump portrayed the “Phase 1” agreement he announced on Friday with China with typical fanfare, describing the pact as “massive” and “the largest contract” ever signed.

“We made a fantastic deal,” Mr. Trump said during remarks on Tuesday at the White House.

There are good reasons to be skeptical about those claims. The deal appears likely to benefit American farmers by increasing Chinese purchases of agricultural goods and gives some other businesses more access to the Chinese market. But the “agreement in principle” is limited in scope and exact details have yet to be put in writing — a process that has derailed negotiations with China in the past.

American officials said Friday that they would work with China on completing an initial agreement in the coming weeks, with hopes of signing a deal when Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping attend a summit of global leaders in Chile in mid-November.

Here’s what we know so far about what the agreement might contain.

From Mr. Trump’s perspective, the centerpiece of the pact is a commitment by China to purchase $40 billion to $50 billion of American agricultural products per year. Administration officials said that target would be reached in the second year of the pact’s enactment.

That volume would be a huge increase over what China was purchasing before the start of the trade war. American farm exports to China peaked at around $25.5 billion in 2016, according to the American Farm Bureau, then dipped to $24.3 billion in 2017.

Since then, exports of soybeans, pork and other products have collapsed under pressure from the trade war. American farm exports to China fell to just $13.4 billion in 2018, and are on track for a similar total this year, according to the same data.

American officials have not specified which products would be purchased, or how they arrived at a $50 billion figure. But to many analysts, that level of exports seems hard to achieve. Mr. Trump himself acknowledged this on Saturday, saying in a tweet that “there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced.”

“Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you China!” the president added.

One factor that could sharply drive up China’s imports is its African swine fever epidemic. China has already lost about 40 percent of its hog herd to the sickness, increasing demand for foreign pork and other meats.

The $50 billion target may also include a generous estimate of how other parts of the agreement would affect sales. American officials said they had negotiated speedier food safety checks for imports into China and approvals for genetically modified products, both of which could bolster trade.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed at a news conference Tuesday that China would speed up its purchases of American farm goods. “What the U.S. is saying is the actual situation, which is consistent with what we know,” he said.

From China’s perspective, the biggest win is a promise by Mr. Trump to cancel an Oct. 15 tariff increase, when taxes on $250 billion of Chinese goods were set to rise to 30 percent from 25 percent.

American officials could also cancel plans to impose a 15 percent tax on another roughly $150 billion of goods in December if things go well.

But that still leaves a huge part of tariffs intact. Since the start of the trade war, the United States has imposed tariffs on more than $360 billion of Chinese products, while China has placed tariffs on roughly $100 billion of American imports.

Trump administration officials said that China had pledged to open its markets to American financial services firms, and that banks and credit card companies would be the primary beneficiaries. But few details have been offered and many of these changes are already in the works for other countries.

Under heavy American pressure, China has announced a series of moves over the past two years to open up its banking and other financial services sectors, allowing higher levels of foreign ownership or even removing ownership caps entirely. But China is unilaterally opening up its financial services sector to businesses from all over the world, not just from the United States.

Some trade experts say the gains to American companies may be limited, pointing out that China has delayed opening its markets for so long that Chinese companies already dominate the financial sector.

The White House initially began the trade war over concerns about China’s treatment of American intellectual property, including what the administration called outright theft of technology and trade secrets.

Mr. Trump said Friday that some measures concerning intellectual property and technology transfer would be included in the “Phase 1” agreement, with additional protections included in later phases. Officials have given few details, though people briefed on the negotiations said the measures include stronger protection for copyrights and patents.

Chinese negotiators have pointed to a foreign investment law passed this year as evidence that they have resolved some of the Trump administration’s concerns. That law contained assurances that China would even the playing field for foreign and domestic businesses, but it had few details. The crucial enforcement regulations are not scheduled to be issued until January.

The agreement also includes new guidelines for how China manages its currency — provisions aimed at resolving American complaints that China has intentionally weakened its currency to make its exports cheaper.

People briefed on the agreement said the provisions looked similar to the currency chapter in the Trump administration’s revised North American Free Trade Agreement. It also closely resembles a pledge that China gave when the Group of 20 nations’ finance ministers gathered in Shanghai in February 2016. Both texts call for countries not to devalue their currencies to achieve a trade advantage and to inform each other if they intervene by buying and selling large amounts of currency.

Some experts question whether requiring the Chinese government to disclose more data will do much to curb intervention. Beijing could respond by doing more of its intervention almost invisibly through state-owned banks, and there are some signs in Chinese data it has already begun doing so.

“The more disclosure there is of China’s formal intervention, the more China is likely to rely on shadow intervention,” said Brad W. Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Obama administration Treasury official.

A big question has been whether China will stick to the promises it makes. Robert Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s top trade negotiator, said the pact would set up “a very elaborate consultation process” with “escalation in various areas so that difficulties can be resolved.” But he added that the details were still being worked out.

American officials have emphasized that their current tariffs, and the threat of future ones, will act as an enforcement mechanism. If China violates the agreement, the Trump administration could move forward with additional tariffs on Chinese products. And if China follows through on its promises, some of Mr. Trump’s existing tariffs could be rolled back.

No agreement has yet been signed and some of it remains unwritten. Mr. Trump said Friday that the deal was “subject to getting everything papered,” but added he did not foresee a problem with that process.

But the United States and China have reached trade truces before — in Buenos Aires last December, and in Osaka, Japan in June — only to see them quickly crumble. That has left some critics hesitant.

“A deal that isn’t written down isn’t a real deal,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in a statement.

Longstanding concerns about Chinese economic policies that disadvantage American companies do not appear to have been addressed.

These policies, which are often called “structural issues,” include China’s generous subsidies to certain companies, the outsized role of the government in the economy and its systematic discrimination against foreign firms. In particular, the Trump administration has often criticized Beijing’s ambitious plan to dominate cutting-edge technologies like advanced microchips, artificial intelligence and electric cars, called Made in China 2025.

China has fiercely resisted any American demands that it sees as efforts to interfere with how it runs its economy. Negotiators have discussed some measures, like requiring China to disclose more information about how it subsidizes its industries, and people familiar with the talks say such talks will continue. But American officials made no mention of these issues with regard to the initial agreement.

The agreement also excludes provisions related to the manufacturing sector. And it appears to allow China to retain, for now, its high tariffs on American-made cars.

That is notable, because nonagricultural goods — including cars, car parts and aircraft — account for both the bulk of American exports to China, as well as the very large American trade deficit with China that Mr. Trump has criticized.

Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday that the deal would include $16 billion to $20 billion in purchases of Boeing planes, but American officials have not shared any other details.

Officials have made no mention of a point that is as crucial for American competitiveness as it is hard to resolve: China’s treatment of data.

Chinese laws block multinational companies from moving much of the data they gather on Chinese customers out of the country, meaning that many technology and retail companies must silo off their China business from the rest of their global operations. Chinese officials insist this is a matter of national security and have signaled they are unlikely to yield on this point.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The U.S. Turned Syria’s North Into a Tinderbox. Then Trump Lit a Match.

Westlake Legal Group 15int-syria1-facebookJumbo The U.S. Turned Syria’s North Into a Tinderbox. Then Trump Lit a Match. United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Syria Russia Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Assad, Bashar al-

To understand why President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria has unleashed such violence, it helps to see this moment as the culmination of a problem that has been building since the conflict began.

In the war’s first days, northern Syria’s large Kurdish population effectively seceded and, later, came to control the area.

The war’s many actors, Kurds included, knew this was, in the long term, not sustainable.

The Kurds were too weak to hold out forever. But they were too strong, too fearful of outside dominance and, over the course of the war, had built too many institutions of self-rule to be simply folded back into the Syrian state.

At the same time, the outside world saw Kurdish autonomy as essential to running out the Islamic State, but knew it was, long-term, a barrier to ending the war. Syria’s government would never accept losing the north’s oil and agricultural wealth. Turkey’s government, just across the border, saw permanent Kurdish autonomy as an unacceptable threat.

This became the northern Syria problem: How to reconcile these contradictions and create a sustainable, broadly acceptable equilibrium in northern Syria. Only then could the world hope to make the Islamic State’s defeat permanent and to end an eight-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

But the northern Syrian problem never got resolved.

Instead, the United States kept what was known to be an unsustainable status quo “frozen in place,” said Frances Z. Brown, who served as a director on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump.

That status quo served useful ends for Washington, first to drive out the Islamic State and later, under Mr. Trump, as a potential bargaining chip with the Syrian government and its allies.

American officials knew that the northern Syria problem would have be resolved, Ms. Brown said, and that only Washington had the leverage and relationships to do it. But other priorities took precedence.

The contradictions widened. Northern Syria became a tinderbox. An American troop presence kept it from exploding — until last week, when Mr. Trump suddenly recalled those troops and, in what amounted to tossing a match, invited Turkey to invade.

Now, years of unresolved tensions are exploding as Turkish troops, Syrian government troops and their Russian allies, and Kurdish forces all rush to impose a new equilibrium.

The northern Syria problem has gone from a mostly political issue to an armed struggle, opening a violent new chapter in a war that only a week ago had seemed to be winding down.

Countries often fracture during a civil war. Rebels seize territory. Minorities declare independence. The pieces seem like they will never fit back together until, after years or decades of peacekeeping missions and power-sharing deals, they do.

Syria’s disintegration was unusual in degree, partly because of the government’s brutality and the crisscrossing interventions that helped pull the country apart, but not in kind.

Still, northern Syria fractured in ways that made it particularly complicated to reassemble.

As war broke out, long-oppressed Kurds rose up as much out of self-defense as to carve out a degree of autonomy.

Syria’s government, focused on other fights, largely let them be.

The two sides, nominally opposed, needed each other. Syrian leaders in Damascus, the capital, would rather that Kurds held territory that might otherwise be taken by rebels that sought the government’s downfall. And the Kurds, not quite organized enough to fully control the north, needed Damascus to continue funding local government salaries and institutions.

That cold peace became far less stable with the involvement of the United States and Turkey.

For Turkey, every inch of Kurdish expansion across Syria and every day that the Kurds deepened their autonomy posed an ever-growing threat.

But as Turkey opposed the new order in northern Syria, the United States moved to deepen it. Adopting Syria’s Kurds as its ground force against the Islamic State, Washington gave them the financial, diplomatic and military cover to retake extremist-held territory.

Complicating matters further, the United States and Turkey are NATO allies with a litany of shared issues. This forced each country to accommodate the other’s concerns even as their positions in northern Syria came into greater conflict.

Northern Syria became split along two political axes: first Kurdish-Syrian, and now American-Turkish.

The first of those was tenuous on its own, said Ms. Brown, who is now an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But it was the second that created “an unsustainable equilibrium.”

Northern Syria became ground zero for contradictions in Mr. Obama’s approach to Syria and, more recently, Mr. Trump’s, said Aaron Stein, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Mr. Obama had demanded that Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, step down. But, in practice, he took steps to weaken but not remove Mr. Assad. And after the rise of the Islamic State, Mr. Obama prioritized defeating the extremist group.

Backing Syria’s Kurds, Mr. Obama became the patron of breakaway Syrian territory — and the owner of the northern Syria problem.

But the contradiction in his policy prevented Washington from resolving it.

The Kurds and Damascus could not reconcile without Washington’s acquiescence, which Mr. Obama’s stated opposition to Mr. Assad prevented him from granting. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s emphasis on defeating the Islamic State required him to allow the Kurds and Damascus to maintain their cold peace.

This opened another contradiction: The United States pledged to accommodate both the political aspirations of the Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s vehement opposition to Kurdish autonomy.

So the United States froze the cold peace in place, with plans to resolve the crosscutting disagreements after the Islamic State had been fully defeated and the north stabilized.

Mr. Trump came into office dropping demands for regime change in Syria, seemingly “resolving the tension in American policy,” Mr. Stein said.

“It was in the execution that we got back into tension with ourselves,” he said.

As with other foreign policy initiatives, Mr. Trump and members of his senior staff seemed to pursue diverging agendas.

While the president promised withdrawal, Pentagon and State Department officials reassured Kurdish groups with promises to stay. Last year, the State Department, bowing to Turkish objections, quietly blocked a Kurdish effort to begin reconciliation talks with Damascus.

James F. Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria, has described America’s presence as a bargaining chip to secure not just the Islamic State’s defeat but also political change in Syria and a rollback of Iranian influence.

“It was, ‘We’re going to use a permanent occupation in the northeast to force Bashar al-Assad to cut his own head off,’” Mr. Stein said, describing American demands for Mr. Assad to hold elections that would likely see him lose power.

These “maximalist goals,” Mr. Stein said, created the conditions for open-ended occupation, locking the status quo in place.

And they opened a new set of contradictions: The United States was now promising the Kurds a secure future while signaling it might trade the Kurdish territory away for broader goals.

But Mr. Trump’s opposition to an open-ended commitment in Syria and his habit of lashing out when he feels boxed in by his staff made the status quo unlikely to hold.

Beyond that, the approach would work only as long as Turkey tolerated an American-Kurdish ministate on its border — something Turkey insisted it could not allow.

“It was always built on a house of cards,” Mr. Stein said. “Everything was in tension.”

Sure enough, Mr. Trump announced an American departure from Syria late last year, prompting staff resignations that led Mr. Trump to reverse his plan. But the northern Syria problem remained unresolved, waiting to burst.

“Ten months later, the United States is still the only pole holding up the tent in northern Syria,” Aron Lund, an analyst at the Century Foundation, wrote in a policy brief last week. “And Trump seems to be saying that time is up.”

Mr. Trump’s sudden departure has collapsed northern Syria’s already fragile equilibrium. The result is a political and security vacuum that the major forces — Turkish, Syrian government and Syrian Kurd — are scrambling to fill.

In a cycle familiar to such conflicts, all sides feel compelled to shape the new order to their advantage before others can do so first.

That creates an incentive for violence and, because political power in Syria derives from demographics, for atrocities of the sort that have punctuated the war’s worst moments.

The northern Syria problem, far from resolved by the American departure, is entering a new chapter that could be far bloodier, more chaotic and more destabilizing.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The U.S. Turned Syria’s North Into a Tinderbox. Then Trump Lit a Match.

Westlake Legal Group 15int-syria1-facebookJumbo The U.S. Turned Syria’s North Into a Tinderbox. Then Trump Lit a Match. United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Syria Russia Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Assad, Bashar al-

To understand why President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria has unleashed such violence, it helps to see this moment as the culmination of a problem that has been building since the conflict began.

In the war’s first days, northern Syria’s large Kurdish population effectively seceded and, later, came to control the area.

The war’s many actors, Kurds included, knew this was, in the long term, not sustainable.

The Kurds were too weak to hold out forever. But they were too strong, too fearful of outside dominance and, over the course of the war, had built too many institutions of self-rule to be simply folded back into the Syrian state.

At the same time, the outside world saw Kurdish autonomy as essential to running out the Islamic State, but knew it was, long-term, a barrier to ending the war. Syria’s government would never accept losing the north’s oil and agricultural wealth. Turkey’s government, just across the border, saw permanent Kurdish autonomy as an unacceptable threat.

This became the northern Syria problem: How to reconcile these contradictions and create a sustainable, broadly acceptable equilibrium in northern Syria. Only then could the world hope to make the Islamic State’s defeat permanent and to end an eight-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

But the northern Syrian problem never got resolved.

Instead, the United States kept what was known to be an unsustainable status quo “frozen in place,” said Frances Z. Brown, who served as a director on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump.

That status quo served useful ends for Washington, first to drive out the Islamic State and later, under Mr. Trump, as a potential bargaining chip with the Syrian government and its allies.

American officials knew that the northern Syria problem would have be resolved, Ms. Brown said, and that only Washington had the leverage and relationships to do it. But other priorities took precedence.

The contradictions widened. Northern Syria became a tinderbox. An American troop presence kept it from exploding — until last week, when Mr. Trump suddenly recalled those troops and, in what amounted to tossing a match, invited Turkey to invade.

Now, years of unresolved tensions are exploding as Turkish troops, Syrian government troops and their Russian allies, and Kurdish forces all rush to impose a new equilibrium.

The northern Syria problem has gone from a mostly political issue to an armed struggle, opening a violent new chapter in a war that only a week ago had seemed to be winding down.

Countries often fracture during a civil war. Rebels seize territory. Minorities declare independence. The pieces seem like they will never fit back together until, after years or decades of peacekeeping missions and power-sharing deals, they do.

Syria’s disintegration was unusual in degree, partly because of the government’s brutality and the crisscrossing interventions that helped pull the country apart, but not in kind.

Still, northern Syria fractured in ways that made it particularly complicated to reassemble.

As war broke out, long-oppressed Kurds rose up as much out of self-defense as to carve out a degree of autonomy.

Syria’s government, focused on other fights, largely let them be.

The two sides, nominally opposed, needed each other. Syrian leaders in Damascus, the capital, would rather that Kurds held territory that might otherwise be taken by rebels that sought the government’s downfall. And the Kurds, not quite organized enough to fully control the north, needed Damascus to continue funding local government salaries and institutions.

That cold peace became far less stable with the involvement of the United States and Turkey.

For Turkey, every inch of Kurdish expansion across Syria and every day that the Kurds deepened their autonomy posed an ever-growing threat.

But as Turkey opposed the new order in northern Syria, the United States moved to deepen it. Adopting Syria’s Kurds as its ground force against the Islamic State, Washington gave them the financial, diplomatic and military cover to retake extremist-held territory.

Complicating matters further, the United States and Turkey are NATO allies with a litany of shared issues. This forced each country to accommodate the other’s concerns even as their positions in northern Syria came into greater conflict.

Northern Syria became split along two political axes: first Kurdish-Syrian, and now American-Turkish.

The first of those was tenuous on its own, said Ms. Brown, who is now an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But it was the second that created “an unsustainable equilibrium.”

Northern Syria became ground zero for contradictions in Mr. Obama’s approach to Syria and, more recently, Mr. Trump’s, said Aaron Stein, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Mr. Obama had demanded that Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, step down. But, in practice, he took steps to weaken but not remove Mr. Assad. And after the rise of the Islamic State, Mr. Obama prioritized defeating the extremist group.

Backing Syria’s Kurds, Mr. Obama became the patron of breakaway Syrian territory — and the owner of the northern Syria problem.

But the contradiction in his policy prevented Washington from resolving it.

The Kurds and Damascus could not reconcile without Washington’s acquiescence, which Mr. Obama’s stated opposition to Mr. Assad prevented him from granting. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s emphasis on defeating the Islamic State required him to allow the Kurds and Damascus to maintain their cold peace.

This opened another contradiction: The United States pledged to accommodate both the political aspirations of the Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s vehement opposition to Kurdish autonomy.

So the United States froze the cold peace in place, with plans to resolve the crosscutting disagreements after the Islamic State had been fully defeated and the north stabilized.

Mr. Trump came into office dropping demands for regime change in Syria, seemingly “resolving the tension in American policy,” Mr. Stein said.

“It was in the execution that we got back into tension with ourselves,” he said.

As with other foreign policy initiatives, Mr. Trump and members of his senior staff seemed to pursue diverging agendas.

While the president promised withdrawal, Pentagon and State Department officials reassured Kurdish groups with promises to stay. Last year, the State Department, bowing to Turkish objections, quietly blocked a Kurdish effort to begin reconciliation talks with Damascus.

James F. Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria, has described America’s presence as a bargaining chip to secure not just the Islamic State’s defeat but also political change in Syria and a rollback of Iranian influence.

“It was, ‘We’re going to use a permanent occupation in the northeast to force Bashar al-Assad to cut his own head off,’” Mr. Stein said, describing American demands for Mr. Assad to hold elections that would likely see him lose power.

These “maximalist goals,” Mr. Stein said, created the conditions for open-ended occupation, locking the status quo in place.

And they opened a new set of contradictions: The United States was now promising the Kurds a secure future while signaling it might trade the Kurdish territory away for broader goals.

But Mr. Trump’s opposition to an open-ended commitment in Syria and his habit of lashing out when he feels boxed in by his staff made the status quo unlikely to hold.

Beyond that, the approach would work only as long as Turkey tolerated an American-Kurdish ministate on its border — something Turkey insisted it could not allow.

“It was always built on a house of cards,” Mr. Stein said. “Everything was in tension.”

Sure enough, Mr. Trump announced an American departure from Syria late last year, prompting staff resignations that led Mr. Trump to reverse his plan. But the northern Syria problem remained unresolved, waiting to burst.

“Ten months later, the United States is still the only pole holding up the tent in northern Syria,” Aron Lund, an analyst at the Century Foundation, wrote in a policy brief last week. “And Trump seems to be saying that time is up.”

Mr. Trump’s sudden departure has collapsed northern Syria’s already fragile equilibrium. The result is a political and security vacuum that the major forces — Turkish, Syrian government and Syrian Kurd — are scrambling to fill.

In a cycle familiar to such conflicts, all sides feel compelled to shape the new order to their advantage before others can do so first.

That creates an incentive for violence and, because political power in Syria derives from demographics, for atrocities of the sort that have punctuated the war’s worst moments.

The northern Syria problem, far from resolved by the American departure, is entering a new chapter that could be far bloodier, more chaotic and more destabilizing.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Tariffs Won’t Stop Turkey’s Invasion of Syria, Analysts Warn

Westlake Legal Group 15turkeyecon-sub-facebookJumbo Tariffs Won’t Stop Turkey’s Invasion of Syria, Analysts Warn Volkswagen AG Turkey Trump, Donald J Steel and Iron International Trade and World Market Economic Conditions and Trends Customs (Tariff)

FRANKFURT — Doubling tariffs on Turkish steel imports, as President Trump said he would do Monday, might make investors nervous. But it would take a much broader attack on the economy of Turkey to restrain its tanks from moving deeper into Syria, analysts say.

The reason is simple: Tariffs approved last year by White House officials have already gutted Turkey’s exports to the United States. They can hardly go any lower.

Mr. Trump’s threat to cut off talks on what he called a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey isn’t expected to have much of an effect, either. The figure was, to put it mildly, aspirational. Current two-way trade between Turkey and the United States is only about $21 billion.

Because neither American nor Turkish officials had detailed how they would more than quadruple trade, “analysts did not expect any immediate favorable impact on the Turkish economy,” said Selva Demiralp, economics professor at Koc University in Istanbul. “Thus, the withdrawal of this deal should not have much of an impact, either.”

The measures announced by the president are unlikely to destroy the Turkish economy, as he has warned, but plenty of other existing threats could. Economists have long regarded Turkey as a bubble waiting to burst because of government mismanagement, an inflated building boom and a shaky currency. Turkey’s military incursion into Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has unsettled investors who already had concerns about the region’s stability.

Mr. Trump’s tariff threat does give investors yet another reason to be apprehensive.

“The sanctions are ineffective, and they know they are ineffective,” said Sebastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management in Luxembourg. But he added: “Tariffs frighten both businesses and consumers. They save more and invest less because they are afraid of the future. The impact on expectations can be quite considerable.”

If the president really wanted to hurt Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Galy said, he would take steps to make it difficult for Turkish commercial banks and the central bank to conduct transactions in dollars.

The White House also said Monday that it would impose sanctions on several top officials in Ankara, including the defense and energy ministers and their ministries, essentially severing them from the global financial system. Mr. Trump’s executive order allows the sanctions to be expanded to other officials or government entities.

But comprehensive financial sanctions against the Turkish government would be seen as extremely hostile considering Turkey is still nominally a NATO ally.

Turmoil in Turkey has already caused the German carmaker Volkswagen to reconsider a big investment there. The company said Tuesday that it had postponed plans to build a $1.7 billion factory in the western part of the country that would employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 Volkswagen and Skoda vehicles a year.

“We are monitoring the current situation with great concern,” Volkswagen said in a statement, without elaborating.

A nightmare for the Turkish government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would be a plunge in the value of the lira. That would cause the prices of imported goods to spike, fuel inflation inside Turkey and undermine popular support for Mr. Erdogan.

On Tuesday, the lira slipped about 0.6 percent versus the dollar, a relatively small amount for an often volatile currency. Analysts assume that the Turkish central bank and state-controlled commercial banks are using their dollar reserves to buy liras in the market and prevent a steeper decline.

Eventually, though, the central bank will run out of dollars. The longer Turkey continues fighting in Syria, the greater the stress on the Turkish currency, analysts say.

“History suggests that geopolitical tensions, especially involving the U.S., are not kind to the lira,” analysts at Oxford Economics said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

The Turkish steel industry is feeling plenty of pain without any help from the United States. Production is down 10 percent this year, said Ugur Dalbeler, a member of the board of the Turkish Steel Exporters Association and chief executive of Colakoglu Metalurji, a steel producer based in Istanbul.

“It is tough,” Mr. Dalbeler said by phone from Mexico, where he was attending an industry gathering.

Turkish steel makers have been slammed from numerous directions. Customers in the Middle East have suffered from tensions in the region. Europe has restricted steel imports in response to a glut in global supply. Demand from Japan, another important customer, has slumped. United States tariffs are, by comparison, a small problem.

Mr. Dalbeler expressed anger that the tariffs, originally justified on national security grounds, were being used to put pressure on Turkey.

“Doubling tariffs again proves that the president is not using his authority for national security,” he said. “He’s using it against Turkey politically.”

The United States imposed tariffs of 50 percent on Turkish steel last year amid a dispute over a detained American pastor. The Trump administration cut the tariffs to 25 percent in May, to the same level as tariffs imposed on most other foreign producers. But the damage was already done.

From January through August, imports of Turkish steel by the United States plunged 80 percent to 136,000 tons, “which is nothing, basically, on a global scale,” said Alex Griffiths, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a research firm.

“Exports were already to the level where I wouldn’t consider the United States to be a major export destination,” Mr. Griffiths said.

Mr. Trump mentioned the $100 billion trade deal with Turkey during a news conference with Mr. Erdogan in Japan in June. After Mr. Erdogan said the goal was to expand trade to $75 billion a year, Mr. Trump said that was too low.

“I think the $75 billion is small,” he said, according to an official transcript. “I think it’s going to be well over $100 billion soon.”

In September, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged during a visit to Ankara that “$100 billion sounds like a lot.” But he added that it would be less than 2 percent of the United States’ total trade.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Tariffs Won’t Stop Turkey’s Invasion of Syria, Analysts Warn

Westlake Legal Group 15turkeyecon-sub-facebookJumbo Tariffs Won’t Stop Turkey’s Invasion of Syria, Analysts Warn Volkswagen AG Turkey Trump, Donald J Steel and Iron International Trade and World Market Economic Conditions and Trends Customs (Tariff)

FRANKFURT — Doubling tariffs on Turkish steel imports, as President Trump said he would do Monday, might make investors nervous. But it would take a much broader attack on the economy of Turkey to restrain its tanks from moving deeper into Syria, analysts say.

The reason is simple: Tariffs approved last year by White House officials have already gutted Turkey’s exports to the United States. They can hardly go any lower.

Mr. Trump’s threat to cut off talks on what he called a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey isn’t expected to have much of an effect, either. The figure was, to put it mildly, aspirational. Current two-way trade between Turkey and the United States is only about $21 billion.

Because neither American nor Turkish officials had detailed how they would more than quadruple trade, “analysts did not expect any immediate favorable impact on the Turkish economy,” said Selva Demiralp, economics professor at Koc University in Istanbul. “Thus, the withdrawal of this deal should not have much of an impact, either.”

The measures announced by the president are unlikely to destroy the Turkish economy, as he has warned, but plenty of other existing threats could. Economists have long regarded Turkey as a bubble waiting to burst because of government mismanagement, an inflated building boom and a shaky currency. Turkey’s military incursion into Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has unsettled investors who already had concerns about the region’s stability.

Mr. Trump’s tariff threat does give investors yet another reason to be apprehensive.

“The sanctions are ineffective, and they know they are ineffective,” said Sebastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management in Luxembourg. But he added: “Tariffs frighten both businesses and consumers. They save more and invest less because they are afraid of the future. The impact on expectations can be quite considerable.”

If the president really wanted to hurt Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Galy said, he would take steps to make it difficult for Turkish commercial banks and the central bank to conduct transactions in dollars.

The White House also said Monday that it would impose sanctions on several top officials in Ankara, including the defense and energy ministers and their ministries, essentially severing them from the global financial system. Mr. Trump’s executive order allows the sanctions to be expanded to other officials or government entities.

But comprehensive financial sanctions against the Turkish government would be seen as extremely hostile considering Turkey is still nominally a NATO ally.

Turmoil in Turkey has already caused the German carmaker Volkswagen to reconsider a big investment there. The company said Tuesday that it had postponed plans to build a $1.7 billion factory in the western part of the country that would employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 Volkswagen and Skoda vehicles a year.

“We are monitoring the current situation with great concern,” Volkswagen said in a statement, without elaborating.

A nightmare for the Turkish government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would be a plunge in the value of the lira. That would cause the prices of imported goods to spike, fuel inflation inside Turkey and undermine popular support for Mr. Erdogan.

On Tuesday, the lira slipped about 0.6 percent versus the dollar, a relatively small amount for an often volatile currency. Analysts assume that the Turkish central bank and state-controlled commercial banks are using their dollar reserves to buy liras in the market and prevent a steeper decline.

Eventually, though, the central bank will run out of dollars. The longer Turkey continues fighting in Syria, the greater the stress on the Turkish currency, analysts say.

“History suggests that geopolitical tensions, especially involving the U.S., are not kind to the lira,” analysts at Oxford Economics said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

The Turkish steel industry is feeling plenty of pain without any help from the United States. Production is down 10 percent this year, said Ugur Dalbeler, a member of the board of the Turkish Steel Exporters Association and chief executive of Colakoglu Metalurji, a steel producer based in Istanbul.

“It is tough,” Mr. Dalbeler said by phone from Mexico, where he was attending an industry gathering.

Turkish steel makers have been slammed from numerous directions. Customers in the Middle East have suffered from tensions in the region. Europe has restricted steel imports in response to a glut in global supply. Demand from Japan, another important customer, has slumped. United States tariffs are, by comparison, a small problem.

Mr. Dalbeler expressed anger that the tariffs, originally justified on national security grounds, were being used to put pressure on Turkey.

“Doubling tariffs again proves that the president is not using his authority for national security,” he said. “He’s using it against Turkey politically.”

The United States imposed tariffs of 50 percent on Turkish steel last year amid a dispute over a detained American pastor. The Trump administration cut the tariffs to 25 percent in May, to the same level as tariffs imposed on most other foreign producers. But the damage was already done.

From January through August, imports of Turkish steel by the United States plunged 80 percent to 136,000 tons, “which is nothing, basically, on a global scale,” said Alex Griffiths, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a research firm.

“Exports were already to the level where I wouldn’t consider the United States to be a major export destination,” Mr. Griffiths said.

Mr. Trump mentioned the $100 billion trade deal with Turkey during a news conference with Mr. Erdogan in Japan in June. After Mr. Erdogan said the goal was to expand trade to $75 billion a year, Mr. Trump said that was too low.

“I think the $75 billion is small,” he said, according to an official transcript. “I think it’s going to be well over $100 billion soon.”

In September, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged during a visit to Ankara that “$100 billion sounds like a lot.” But he added that it would be less than 2 percent of the United States’ total trade.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

How the U.S. Military Will Carry Out a Hasty, Risky Withdrawal From Syria

President Trump’s decision — made in the span of a week — to withdraw about 1,000 American troops from northern Syria caught the Pentagon, and the forces on the ground, off guard.

To carry out the “endless wars” since Sept. 11, 2001, which Mr. Trump has vowed to wrap up, the American military has perfected the ability to build complex logistics pipelines that can funnel everything from armored vehicles to satellite internet access to gym equipment directly to combat outposts throughout the Middle East.

Now, American troops are making a hasty withdrawal from Syria — under pressure from encroaching Turkish proxy forces, Russian aircraft and columns armored by the Syrian government. This means the Pentagon will have to disassemble combat bases and other infrastructure that were built to stay for a mission that was supposed to last, all while protecting the troops as they withdraw amid a chaotic battlefield.

Before the Turkish offensive, American troops, mostly Special Operations forces, operated in an archipelago of about a dozen bases and outposts across northeastern Syria, mostly living alongside their Syrian Kurdish partners. They were divided into two main headquarters, known by their cardinal directions, East and West.

The outposts are often a mixture of blast-resistant walls known as Hesco barriers, rudimentary structures and all-weather tents. The large air base in the city of Kobani is replete with a small tent city and some container housing units.

The western headquarters, known as Advanced Operational Base West, oversaw roughly half a dozen smaller outposts that covered cities like Manbij and Raqqa. Roughly 500 troops are dedicated to the area partially overseen by A.O.B. West.

The eastern headquarters, known as A.O.B. East, is closer to the Iraqi border and helps monitor some of the roughly 500 troops in that area around the Euphrates River Valley, with several smaller outposts around Deir ez-Zor and some near the Iraq-Syria border in towns like Bukamal and Hajin. The number of forces in the east, however, is fluid, as units frequently move from Syria into Iraq.

As the troops withdraw, they first will collapse inward by abandoning the outposts closest to the line of advancing foreign troops, in this case the Turkish military and its ill-disciplined Syrian militia proxies, along with Russian and Syrian regime forces. That strategy was made clear in a video posted online Tuesday, showing a Russian journalist standing in an abandoned American outpost west of Manbij and closest to Syrian government troops.

Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the American-led coalition based in Baghdad, confirmed in a Tuesday message on Twitter, “We are out of Manbij.”

The troops are likely to be repositioned to Iraq or potentially to Jordan. Some may return to the United States, officials said.

The western and eastern headquarters are likely to withdraw independently of each other. In the west, American forces will, according to American military officials, most likely leave through the Kobani airfield, known as the Kobani Landing Zone. That base, with its long dirt runaway, can support C-17 transport aircraft and has a large Air Force contingent of maintenance staff. In the east, those forces will most likely exit overland and into Iraq in convoys, with some traveling via helicopter airlift.

The risk of confrontation with the medley of different ground forces — both state-led and proxy — is undoubtedly higher than it was several weeks ago.

Convoys moving through contested territory and aircraft making repeated landings all might contribute to an accidental confrontation or a staged attack, especially from any Islamic State leftovers that might want to take advantage of the sudden withdrawal.

One of the biggest risks to the remaining American troops as they pull back will most likely be attacks from Turkish-backed Syrian militia called the Free Syrian Army, which has spearheaded the Turkish offensive in many places along the border. Those troops are supported by Turkish army artillery and mortar fire, and Turkish air force strikes.

American officials say these Turkish-backed militia are less disciplined than regular Turkish soldiers, and deliberately or inadvertently have fired on retreating American troops. Another emerging threat comes from Islamic State fighters, who had gone underground after the defeat of the final shards of the terror group’s caliphate, or religious state, in northern Syria earlier this year.

The hasty, risky nature of the withdrawal might actually require that the number of American troops in Syria be increased, at least temporarily. The military’s Central Command is preparing to send hundreds of additional American forces to help secure bases where American Special Forces have been operating with their Syrian Kurdish partners — many of whom have now left to fight the Turks — and safely evacuate those Americans in the coming weeks.

“We are repositioning additional forces in the region to assist with force protection as necessary,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.

Westlake Legal Group syria-turkey-promo-1571094797315-articleLarge-v3 How the U.S. Military Will Carry Out a Hasty, Risky Withdrawal From Syria United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Milley, Mark A Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Defense Department

4 Big Questions About Syria’s Future

The surprise American withdrawal from parts of northern Syria reshuffled old alliances and touched off a new stage of the eight-year war.

In a sign of the concern over the safety of the remaining American troops in Syria, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Monday with his Russian counterpart about the deteriorating security in the country’s northeast.

And last Friday, the American military logged an attempt to attack a Marine KC-130 transport aircraft landing in Kobani with “surface-to-air fire,” according to military documents obtained by The New York Times. The aircraft discharged flares as a defensive measure. The flight was unharmed and continued its approach, landing at the airfield.

Yes, there are roughly 150 troops at al-Tanf, a small base in southern Syria near the Jordanian border. While billed as a Special Operations mission to train local forces and go after the Islamic State, the base serves as a tollbooth of sorts for Iranian, Russian and Syrian forces in the region that have to navigate around its kilometers-wide defense bubble. The presence of American forces there gives the United States visibility on the movement and actions of those other military forces.

On the Jordanian side of the border, the American military keeps a quick reaction force staged there, including extra troops and artillery, in case anything were to go awry at the al-Tanf base.

The base also watches over a nearby refugee camp that is run by the United Nations.

That is unclear. Some of the various bases’ hard structures, tents, tables, gym equipment and larger construction machinery might be left behind. What won’t be abandoned is anything sensitive, such as radios, weapons, armored vehicles and important documents.

American military officials say the hastier the withdrawal, the more equipment will be left behind or have to be destroyed. Much depends on the security conditions on the ground.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Ceylanpinar, Turkey

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Impeachment Investigators Question George Kent, State Dept. Ukraine Expert

Westlake Legal Group 15dc-impeach01-facebookJumbo Impeachment Investigators Question George Kent, State Dept. Ukraine Expert United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Kent, George P Giuliani, Rudolph W

WASHINGTON — The procession of high-ranking witnesses to the House’s impeachment inquiry continued apace on Tuesday, as George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, arrived on Capitol Hill to face questions from investigators about his knowledge of the widening Ukraine scandal.

Mr. Kent, who appeared behind closed doors despite the State Department directing him not to do so, raised concerns to colleagues early this year about the pressure being directed at Ukraine by Mr. Trump and his private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, according to people familiar with Mr. Kent’s warnings.

As far back as March, they said, Mr. Kent was pointing to Mr. Giuliani’s role in what he called a “disinformation” campaign intended to use a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear targets of the president. Those included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine, and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information during the 2016 campaign about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Mr. Kent, wearing a three-piece suit and bow tie, entered the obscured chambers of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning to kick off another jam-packed day for investigators. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol from a two-week recess later Tuesday, and Democrats will huddle to compare notes on the direction of the inquiry. Separately, the committees leading the investigation had set a series of crucial deadlines on Tuesday for key witnesses and executive branch agencies to hand over relevant documents.

Mr. Kent’s appearance followed an emerging pattern. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the State Department directed Mr. Kent not to appear and sought to limit his testimony. The House Intelligence Committee then issued a last-minute subpoena ordering him to appear, and he complied.

He was the second high-ranking State Department official to defy the White House’s wishes and appear for questioning in recent days. The first was Ms. Yovanovitch, who Mr. Trump ordered be removed from her ambassadorial post in May, but is still a State Department employee. She answered questions from investigators on Friday, offering a blistering assessment of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and saying she had been told Mr. Trump himself pressed for her ouster for months based on “false claims” by outsiders working for their own personal and political objectives.

Fiona Hill, a former top White House Europe adviser, appeared on Monday under subpoena as well, and other current and former officials are expected to follow suit, casting doubt on the effectiveness of the White House’s attempts to stonewall the House inquiry. Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to Europe who appears to be at the center of the pressure campaign, will meet investigators on Thursday.

Mr. Kent’s warnings about the disinformation effort are reflected in internal State Department emails provided by the agency’s inspector general to Congress this month and obtained by The New York Times. In one, he assailed a “fake news smear” being pushed against Ms. Yovanovitch by conservative media personalities allied with Mr. Trump. In another, he criticized the Ukrainian prosecutor who was pushing the claims about Ms. Yovanovitch and called them “complete poppycock.”

A career diplomat, Mr. Kent has served since last fall as the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He has deep experience in Kiev, and with Ukrainian corruption specifically, having served as an anti-corruption coordinator in the State Department’s European Bureau in 2014 and 2015, and then as deputy chief of mission in the United States embassy in Kiev from 2015 until 2018.

At the White House, Mr. Trump, picking up a talking point from his Republican allies in Congress, accused Democrats of “allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings,” and said if Republicans tried to do the same thing “they would be excoriated by the Fake News.”

“Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for 9 hours each, not selective leaks,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Impeachment investigators thus far have been conducting their proceedings almost entirely in secret by holding staff-led witness depositions, or interviews, rather than public hearings. Republicans have seized on that approach as evidence that Democrats are trying to impeach the president out of public view.

But the tactic is not uncommon on Capitol Hill, at least in the early stages of an investigation. Senior House Democrats argue that conducting the interviews in private is a more efficient and effective form of fact-finding that avoids some of the spectacle of a public hearing and ensures that potential witnesses are not able to easily adjust their stories in ways that could mislead investigators. House aides during Watergate did something similar before holding public hearings related to whether to impeach Richard M. Nixon. Democrats say they, too, plan to publicly present their findings when they have sorted out what happened.

Investigators were waiting to see if the Trump administration and key witnesses in the case would produce documents related to Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Zelensky, the decision to withhold $391 million in security aid for Ukraine this summer, and other matters. Those already under subpoena to produce the material include the Office of Management and Budget, the Defense Department and Mr. Giuliani. Vice President Mike Pence also faces a deadline to hand over a vast set of records voluntarily, or face a subpoena.

The deadlines force each department or witness to decide between the demands of Congress and White House’s direction not to cooperate with the House’s work. Seeking to tip the scales in favor of cooperation, Democrats have warned that not doing so will be considered obstruction of their impeachment inquiry, behavior worthy of its own impeachment article against Mr. Trump.

New requests for depositions were still stacking up. The committees wrote on Friday to two top officials at the White House budget office, requesting they appear next week to discuss the suspension of the security aid, according to one of the officials. They targeted Russ Vought, the office’s acting director, and Michael Duffey, a senior Trump appointee there who was said to have helped approve orders freezing the funds. The letters to the men said merely that investigators believed they had “information relevant to these matters.”

Mr. Kent was believed to have special insight into Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine, but he was also deeply involved in previous efforts to persuade the country to investigate corruption. In his earlier roles, Mr. Kent had aggressively pushed Ukrainian prosecutors to pursue investigations into Mykola Zlochevsky, an oligarch who owned a gas company that started paying Hunter Biden, the presidential candidate’s son, as a board member in 2014.

When a British case against Mr. Zlochevsky for money laundering was dismissed in January 2015 for lack of evidence, Mr. Kent and others in the State Department blamed Ukrainian prosecutors. The Ukrainian prosecutors had refused to provide evidence to British prosecutors, Mr. Kent told associates, because they and other officials were being paid off by Mr. Zlochevsky or his allies.

Tensions boiled over at a previously unreported meeting in early February 2015 in Kiev, in which Mr. Kent scolded a deputy prosecutor in the office of Vitaly Yarema, who was the general prosecutor of Ukraine — the nation’s top law enforcement post, similar to that of the attorney general of the United States.

According to a Ukrainian and an American with knowledge of the meeting, Mr. Kent, demanded of the deputy prosecutor, “Who took the bribe and how much was it?”

The Ukrainian deputy replied — perhaps jokingly — that a $7 million bribe had been paid just before Mr. Yarema’s taking the office.

The F.B.I. looked into the bribe allegation, according to people familiar with it, but — as is common in the world of Ukrainian corruption investigations — the inquiry stalled amid a tangled web of contradictory and evolving stories.

In the days after the heated meeting with Mr. Kent, Mr. Yarema was fired and eventually replaced by another prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who American officials came to view as similarly problematic.

The elder Mr. Biden in 2016 successfully pushed for Mr. Shokin’s ouster because the Obama administration and other Western governments and international institutions contended he was turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the country’s elite, including Mr. Zlochevsky.

It was Mr. Biden’s role in the dismissal of Mr. Shokin that has subsequently been held up by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani as evidence that the former vice president intervened in Ukrainian affairs to help his son. There is no evidence of that.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Impeachment Investigators Question George Kent, State Dept. Ukraine Expert

Westlake Legal Group 15dc-impeach01-facebookJumbo Impeachment Investigators Question George Kent, State Dept. Ukraine Expert United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Kent, George P Giuliani, Rudolph W

WASHINGTON — The procession of high-ranking witnesses to the House’s impeachment inquiry continued apace on Tuesday, as George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, arrived on Capitol Hill to face questions from investigators about his knowledge of the widening Ukraine scandal.

Mr. Kent, who appeared behind closed doors despite the State Department directing him not to do so, raised concerns to colleagues early this year about the pressure being directed at Ukraine by Mr. Trump and his private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, according to people familiar with Mr. Kent’s warnings.

As far back as March, they said, Mr. Kent was pointing to Mr. Giuliani’s role in what he called a “disinformation” campaign intended to use a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear targets of the president. Those included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine, and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information during the 2016 campaign about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Mr. Kent, wearing a three-piece suit and bow tie, entered the obscured chambers of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning to kick off another jam-packed day for investigators. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol from a two-week recess later Tuesday, and Democrats will huddle to compare notes on the direction of the inquiry. Separately, the committees leading the investigation had set a series of crucial deadlines on Tuesday for key witnesses and executive branch agencies to hand over relevant documents.

Mr. Kent’s appearance followed an emerging pattern. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the State Department directed Mr. Kent not to appear and sought to limit his testimony. The House Intelligence Committee then issued a last-minute subpoena ordering him to appear, and he complied.

He was the second high-ranking State Department official to defy the White House’s wishes and appear for questioning in recent days. The first was Ms. Yovanovitch, who Mr. Trump ordered be removed from her ambassadorial post in May, but is still a State Department employee. She answered questions from investigators on Friday, offering a blistering assessment of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and saying she had been told Mr. Trump himself pressed for her ouster for months based on “false claims” by outsiders working for their own personal and political objectives.

Fiona Hill, a former top White House Europe adviser, appeared on Monday under subpoena as well, and other current and former officials are expected to follow suit, casting doubt on the effectiveness of the White House’s attempts to stonewall the House inquiry. Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to Europe who appears to be at the center of the pressure campaign, will meet investigators on Thursday.

Mr. Kent’s warnings about the disinformation effort are reflected in internal State Department emails provided by the agency’s inspector general to Congress this month and obtained by The New York Times. In one, he assailed a “fake news smear” being pushed against Ms. Yovanovitch by conservative media personalities allied with Mr. Trump. In another, he criticized the Ukrainian prosecutor who was pushing the claims about Ms. Yovanovitch and called them “complete poppycock.”

A career diplomat, Mr. Kent has served since last fall as the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He has deep experience in Kiev, and with Ukrainian corruption specifically, having served as an anti-corruption coordinator in the State Department’s European Bureau in 2014 and 2015, and then as deputy chief of mission in the United States embassy in Kiev from 2015 until 2018.

At the White House, Mr. Trump, picking up a talking point from his Republican allies in Congress, accused Democrats of “allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings,” and said if Republicans tried to do the same thing “they would be excoriated by the Fake News.”

“Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for 9 hours each, not selective leaks,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Impeachment investigators thus far have been conducting their proceedings almost entirely in secret by holding staff-led witness depositions, or interviews, rather than public hearings. Republicans have seized on that approach as evidence that Democrats are trying to impeach the president out of public view.

But the tactic is not uncommon on Capitol Hill, at least in the early stages of an investigation. Senior House Democrats argue that conducting the interviews in private is a more efficient and effective form of fact-finding that avoids some of the spectacle of a public hearing and ensures that potential witnesses are not able to easily adjust their stories in ways that could mislead investigators. House aides during Watergate did something similar before holding public hearings related to whether to impeach Richard M. Nixon. Democrats say they, too, plan to publicly present their findings when they have sorted out what happened.

Investigators were waiting to see if the Trump administration and key witnesses in the case would produce documents related to Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Zelensky, the decision to withhold $391 million in security aid for Ukraine this summer, and other matters. Those already under subpoena to produce the material include the Office of Management and Budget, the Defense Department and Mr. Giuliani. Vice President Mike Pence also faces a deadline to hand over a vast set of records voluntarily, or face a subpoena.

The deadlines force each department or witness to decide between the demands of Congress and White House’s direction not to cooperate with the House’s work. Seeking to tip the scales in favor of cooperation, Democrats have warned that not doing so will be considered obstruction of their impeachment inquiry, behavior worthy of its own impeachment article against Mr. Trump.

New requests for depositions were still stacking up. The committees wrote on Friday to two top officials at the White House budget office, requesting they appear next week to discuss the suspension of the security aid, according to one of the officials. They targeted Russ Vought, the office’s acting director, and Michael Duffey, a senior Trump appointee there who was said to have helped approve orders freezing the funds. The letters to the men said merely that investigators believed they had “information relevant to these matters.”

Mr. Kent was believed to have special insight into Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine, but he was also deeply involved in previous efforts to persuade the country to investigate corruption. In his earlier roles, Mr. Kent had aggressively pushed Ukrainian prosecutors to pursue investigations into Mykola Zlochevsky, an oligarch who owned a gas company that started paying Hunter Biden, the presidential candidate’s son, as a board member in 2014.

When a British case against Mr. Zlochevsky for money laundering was dismissed in January 2015 for lack of evidence, Mr. Kent and others in the State Department blamed Ukrainian prosecutors. The Ukrainian prosecutors had refused to provide evidence to British prosecutors, Mr. Kent told associates, because they and other officials were being paid off by Mr. Zlochevsky or his allies.

Tensions boiled over at a previously unreported meeting in early February 2015 in Kiev, in which Mr. Kent scolded a deputy prosecutor in the office of Vitaly Yarema, who was the general prosecutor of Ukraine — the nation’s top law enforcement post, similar to that of the attorney general of the United States.

According to a Ukrainian and an American with knowledge of the meeting, Mr. Kent, demanded of the deputy prosecutor, “Who took the bribe and how much was it?”

The Ukrainian deputy replied — perhaps jokingly — that a $7 million bribe had been paid just before Mr. Yarema’s taking the office.

The F.B.I. looked into the bribe allegation, according to people familiar with it, but — as is common in the world of Ukrainian corruption investigations — the inquiry stalled amid a tangled web of contradictory and evolving stories.

In the days after the heated meeting with Mr. Kent, Mr. Yarema was fired and eventually replaced by another prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who American officials came to view as similarly problematic.

The elder Mr. Biden in 2016 successfully pushed for Mr. Shokin’s ouster because the Obama administration and other Western governments and international institutions contended he was turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the country’s elite, including Mr. Zlochevsky.

It was Mr. Biden’s role in the dismissal of Mr. Shokin that has subsequently been held up by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani as evidence that the former vice president intervened in Ukrainian affairs to help his son. There is no evidence of that.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com