The New "Germany’s Strategic Repositioning", also as this propaganda piece, and the New Abwehr Hypothesis of the Trump Crisis and the so called Trump Russia Affair. - M.N. - 9:58 AM 12/30/2018

The New "Germany’s Strategic Repositioning", also as this propaganda piece, and the New Abwehr Hypothesis of the Trump Crisis and the so called Trump Russia Affair. - M.N. 

Germany’s Strategic Repositioning - Lawfare

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Editor’s Note: For many years, Germany and the United States cooperated to advance mutual foreign policy goals while Germany embedded itself in the European Union. This mutually beneficial arrangement is now in crisis as the Trump administration questions the German alliance and as Europe turns on itself. Gunther Hellmann of the University of Frankfurt gives us a picture of Germany at a crossroads and discusses the perils of each possible path.
Daniel Byman
German foreign policy is currently undergoing its most dramatic strategic repositioning since the 1950s. The “idea of a balanced partnership,” which German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laid out recently in a widely discussed newspaper article, is the most articulate expression of a fundamental reorientation vis-à-vis the United States. Never before has a German foreign minister advocated a role for Germany to serve as a soft balancer that would “form a counterweight when the U.S. crosses the line.” This reorientation coincides with an increasingly prominent role for Germany in European affairs with the European Union facing an increasingly assertive Russia and continuing internal divisions. For Germany (and Europe) this boils down to a dramatic realignment of the European balance of power. It also carries risks.
Adjustments in German foreign policy have been occurring since unification in 1990 due to the fundamental transformation in East-West relations and European politics. However, until early 2014, the central parameters of Germany’s strategic outlook remained essentially unaltered. The institutional framework of Germany’s embedded role in the West, the EU, and NATO continued to provide a reliable developmental trajectory to integrate Germany’s Eastern neighbors while expanding cooperative relations with Russia in the context of the NATO-Russia Council and the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014 and the escalating war in Eastern Ukraine have shattered German hopes of building a strategic “modernization partnership” with Russia, which was intended to essentially extend and expand what had begun in the early 1970s in the context of German “Ostpolitik.” More importantly, the other two essential pillars of Germany’s post-World War II integration in a dense Western network of multilateral cooperation, the EU, and NATO, were shattered in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. For Germans, Brexit was a shock because it undermined two foundational beliefs of the European integration project: that the EU could only move “forward” by “deepening” integration, and that it was inconceivable that a rational public would opt in a referendum to leave the Union.
The consequences of the election of Donald Trump turned out to be even more disturbing for Germans, not only because the U.S. president pursued a consistent line of singling out Germany as a peer competitor to (and a free-rider at the expense of) the United States, but even more so because of his derogatory remarks about the EU and NATO. When President Trump said in an interview in early 2017that the European Union was “basically a vehicle for Germany,” that it was formed, at least in part, “to beat the United States on trade,” and that he, therefore, didn’t “really care whether it’s separate or together,” he essentially removed the equivalent of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” in NATO on the EU side—the U.S. strategic support for European integration on which Germany and its European allies had been able to rely since the 1950s.
President Trump’s unwillingness to reaffirm the United States’ Article 5 commitments in the context of his first visit to Brussels in May 2017 (despite earlier indications that he would) was a similarly devastating blow for Germans. It essentially removed the foundation of trust on which German (and European) reliance on the United States had been built in previous decades. Chancellor Merkel’s public statement afterwards that “the times in which we could rely fully on others are somewhat over” and that “we Europeans ought to take our fate into our own hands” was a stunning public acknowledgement of this realization. The battering of Germany by President Trump during the following year, most recently in the July 2018 NATO summit meeting in Brussels, only reinforced the impression in Berlin that Germany had to prepare for a different future. As Maas put it recently: “The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing. The binding force of the East-West conflict is history. These changes began well before Trump’s election—and will survive his presidency well into the future.”
In sum, Germany’s strategic situation has been turned upside down: The commander in chief of its hitherto most important ally now treats it as one of the United States’ key competitors, while Russia seeks to undermine the EU at its Eastern flank. In the EU, member states are preparing for Brexit while struggling with rising popular dissent at home and sustained division across the Union. Under these circumstances calls on Germany to lead no longer fall on deaf ears in Berlin. Even on defense issues, Germany has expressed its readiness “to accept responsibility and to assume leadership” in the government’s most important official document on German security, the 2016 “White Paper.”
However, Germany’s strategic repositioning also carries risks. Two such risks in the military field stand out. First, the Trump administration’s perspective that the European theater in general and the European Union in particular is just another “arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage” removes an essential reassurance for Europeans that the United States is fundamentally interested in fostering cooperative relations among EU members. This reassurance was already critical for both Germany and its neighbors before unification, and it has become an ever more critical factor as German power has grown in recent years. In this context, President Trump’s incessant push for Germany to increase defense spending even beyond the 2 percent commitment agreed upon at the Wales NATO Summit is particularly counterproductive because it would turn Germany into the most powerful military actor in Europe besides Russia at a time when binding ties are loosened. Recent calculations showed that Germany would not only have to increase defense spending by 129 percent in 2024 (from a defense budget of €37 billion in 2017 to a budget of €85 billion in 2024) to meet the 2 percent target from the Wales Summit, it would also have to outspend both Britain and France by €30 billion and €27 billion respectively to do so, prompting a classic security dilemma situation. It is not surprising that Chancellor Merkel herself warned about a potential backlash against German “militarization” from abroad at a recent conference of the German Bundeswehr as a result of a 2 percent increase.
A second risk is associated with the decline of multilateralism within the European Union that is loosening the ties that bind EU member states together. This decline may be slow and sometimes difficult to pin down, but incentives to enter new and genuinely multilateral arrangements within the Union have been declining gradually for years (as they have around the globe more broadly). This loosening multilateral collaboration further highlights German power, and what is more, Germany itself contributes to this trend in its strategic positioning in the White Paper 2016. To be sure, Germany still “embraces mutual interdependence” in principle. However, three new conceptual highlights in the White Paper might cause problems. First, the emphasis on Germany’s willingness to serve as lead nation in the context of the so-called “Framework Nations Concept” (FNC) is mostly welcome in NATO and the EU because few nations have the capacity (at least in principle) to serve in such a leadership role. However, Germany’s emphasis that it will be a “partner across the entire range of security instruments” while at the same time expecting its partners to specialize militarily creates asymmetries which may become problematic in the long term. These dependencies may become lopsided, producing distinct advantages for the German military at a time when the differential in military prowess between Germany and its allies is already increasing. Second, Germany expressed for the first time its readiness to not only contribute to “ad hoc coalitions,” but also to initiate them under its own leadership. Third, the more recent so-called “Conception of the Bundeswehr” (which details the tasks of the White Paper at the military level) specifies the necessity of building capabilities for “autarkic national missions.” Although Germany’s precise intent is unclear, the language of these strategic formulas serve as an indication that Germany is neither very confident that multilateral cooperation can be safely relied upon, nor that Germany itself should enhance the likelihood of it succeeding by offering symmetrical self-binding arrangements to its partners.
Currently, there is no reason to fear Germany’s military power. To the contrary, the Bundeswehr faces dire straits due to lagging investments in basic capacities over the past 20 years. However, the medium- to long-term outlook reveals a few risks for Germany and Europe if current trends continue and it continues to stake out a role as a rising power in Europe. Germany can counter such tendencies by reassuring its partners via self-binding arrangements in all fields of EU collaboration. The United States can also help by providing reassurance to its European allies and reemphasizing its support for a strong EU. But Germany’s strategic outlook reflects an unseen level of concern regarding the credibility of U.S. commitments and the continuity of U.S. policy. It will take time and effort to rebuild trust lost since early 2017.
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Trump Russia affair: Key questions answered

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For nearly two years the Trump-Russia affair has dominated front pages and mired the president's administration in conflict and controversy. But what is it exactly? How did it begin? And where is it going?
The inquiry is being led by Robert Mueller, a widely respected former director of the FBI. Holed up in an unremarkable office in Washington DC, Mr Mueller's team is quietly going about one of the most high-profile political inquiries in US history.
Five people connected with Donald Trump's campaign and presidency have been charged with criminal offences.
One of them, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, could be jailed on Wednesday on several charges, making him the first member of the president's inner circle to be imprisoned in relation to the inquiry.
President Trump denies any wrongdoing and says the charges against his former staff are "peanuts".
We've put together a straightforward guide to what we know, what we don't know, and what Mr Mueller may know that we don't.

What's it all about?

President Trump's campaign and transition teams have been accused of colluding with Russian agents to influence the US election in the then Republican candidate's favour.
US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scales of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.
Both the Russian and US presidents have poured scorn on suggestions of collusion, with Mr Trump calling it "the greatest political witch hunt in history".

What contact do we know about?

At least 12 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition, according to an analysis of public records by CNN, with at least 19 face-to-face interactions with Russians or Kremlin-linked figures and at least 51 individual communications.
Trump aides known to have had contact with Russians include the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his son Donald Trump Jr, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president's supporters point out that interactions with foreign nationals are routine during any White House campaign, but three Trump aides have now admitted lying about these encounters.

Who's been charged?

The special counsel has indicted more than 30 people, including four members of Mr Trump's campaign team or administration and 25 Russians, as well as three Russian companies.
Mr Manafort was convicted of financial crimes in his first criminal trial and then reached a plea deal in the second trial. However, Mr Mueller has since said Mr Manafort breached that plea agreement by lying to the FBI at least five times - including about his interaction with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who Mr Mueller says is tied to Russian intelligence.
Mr Papadopoulos is said to have attempted to set up meetings between Mr Trump and Russian representatives, and in November 2018 he went to prison after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. He was jailed for 12 days.
Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
And in late November, the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow.
Then, in December, a taste of what he had told Mr Mueller's investigation in return for a less jail time was revealed in a memo advising the court on sentencing.
It included details about Michael Cohen's own contacts with "Russian interests" during the 2016 campaign, including one who said they were "trusted" in the Russian Federation and went on to suggest a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Thirteen Russians connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian "troll factory", were charged with spreading fake news stories through US social media. Among them was Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Mr Putin
And 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged with hacking the Democratic National Committee, using spear phishing emails and malicious software

Why are the Flynn charges important?

The most senior member of the Trump team to be indicted is Mr Flynn, who admitted one count of making false statements. This was a much lesser charge than analysts say he might have faced for conducting business as a private citizen with a foreign power. Such plea deals are only offered when a witness has incriminating evidence on someone more senior than themselves.
This was again hinted at in a heavily-redacted sentencing memo released in December in which Mr Mueller said Mr Flynn had provided "substantial" details about links between the Trump election team and Russian officials.
It also advised they were not seeking a jail sentence for Mr Flynn.
Mr Trump sacked Mr Flynn last February, saying he had lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about meeting the Russian envoy to the US. Questions have been raised over how much Mr Trump knew about Mr Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador and when. The answers to those questions could form part of Mr Flynn's plea bargain.

How many investigations have been conducted?

As well as the special counsel inquiry by Mr Mueller under the aegis of the Justice Department there have been four congressional investigations:
  • The Senate and House Intelligence Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are investigating alleged Kremlin meddling and any collusion with Trump aides
  • The House Oversight Committee is scrutinising links between Trump associates and Russian officials
All of the House inquiries were plagued by political squabbling amongst lawmakers, and closed without leading to any charges or claims of Russian collusion.
The Senate committee has yet to release its findings.

Who is special counsel Robert Mueller?

A former prosecutor, Mr Mueller went on to become the second-longest serving FBI director in history, after J Edgar Hoover. His Senate confirmation vote as FBI director went 98-0 in his favour. A special Senate vote to extend his term beyond the usual 10 years to 12 passed 100-0.
With a team of experienced lawyers drawn from private practice and from the justice department, as well as FBI officers, Mr Mueller has worked quietly from an unassuming building in south-west Washington, not issuing any public comment on his investigation.

Can't Trump just sack Mueller?

Reports have swirled that the president might fire the special counsel and confer a presidential pardon on Mr Flynn, in an attempt to gut the investigation.
The rumours began after one of the president's lawyers accused the special counsel of illegally obtaining emails from the Trump transition team. The Mueller investigation said all material was obtained legally.
Firing Mr Mueller would be seen by Democrats as a brazen attempt to obstruct justice and could trigger an effort to impeach the president.
He cannot directly fire the special counsel but when he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day after November's mid-term elections, the issue was back on the table.

How does sacking of Sessions affect Mueller?

Mr Sessions recused himself early on from overseeing the special counsel investigation - a move that deeply irked the president.
His deputy Rod Rosenstein took on that role and appointed Mr Mueller.
But Mr Sessions' replacement in charge of the Department of Justice will have the power to sack Mr Mueller or end the investigation.
Mr Trump's nominee, conservative William Barr, who was attorney general under the late George HW Bush between 1991 and 1993, has previously voiced some disapproval of parts of the investigation.

What happened with James Comey?

Back in February 2017, before Mr Mueller was appointed as special counsel, the FBI was investigating Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russian officials.
Then-head of the FBI, James Comey, attended a briefing in the Oval Office at the White House, along with Vice-President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. According to a detailed account of the meeting written by Mr Comey immediately afterwards, the president asked Mr Pence and Mr Sessions to leave the room before suggesting Mr Comey end the Flynn investigation.
The FBI director's notes quote the president as saying: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Mr Comey prepared memos from his notes and shared them with other senior FBI officials, saying he was concerned about the nature of the meeting.
A few months later, in May, the president sacked Mr Comey, citing "this Russia thing", a move that shocked Washington and led to talk of a cover-up.

What about the Don Jr meeting?

Another focal point investigation is a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York City involving Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an influential Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting occurred after a Russian intermediary contacted Mr Trump Jr with a promise to provide material that would "incriminate" Hillary Clinton - the Democratic candidate - and be "very useful to your father". Mr Trump Jr replied: "I love it."
Mr Trump Jr later defended the meeting, saying Ms Veselnitskaya offered only "inane nonsense" and nothing came of it, but he also told Fox News' Sean Hannity "in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently".
In an initial statement to explain the meeting one year after it occurred, Mr Trump Jr claimed that it had been held to discuss Russian adoptions. But in a follow-up statement he said that the actual purpose had been about political opposition research.
In June 2018 Mr Trump tweeted that the meeting was "to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics".
President Trump's lawyers say he dictated his son's first misleading explanation, leading to questions of whether the president sought to obstruct a Justice Department inquiry.
See our full Russia timeline.

What is the Christopher Steele dossier?

In January 2017, a secret dossier was leaked to the press. It had been compiled by a former British intelligence official and Russia expert, Christopher Steele, who had been paid to investigate Mr Trump's ties to Russia.
The dossier alleged Moscow had compromising material on Mr Trump, including claims he was once recorded with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel during a 2013 trip for one of his Miss Universe pageants. Mr Trump emphatically denies this.
The file purported to show financial and personal links between Mr Trump, his advisers and Moscow. It also suggested the Kremlin had cultivated Mr Trump for years before he ran for president.
Mr Trump dismissed the dossier, arguing its contents were based largely on unnamed sources. It was later reported that Mr Steele's report was funded as opposition research by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
Fusion GPS, the Washington-based firm that was hired to commission the dossier, had previously been paid via a conservative website to dig up dirt on Mr Trump.

Who is 'coffee boy' George Papadopoulos?

Mr Papadopoulos's role in the drama begins with a May 2016 drink in a London bar with an Australian diplomat. He told the envoy that Russia had "political dirt" on Hillary Clinton - a conversation which was later reported by Australian authorities to the FBI and may have prompted the bureau's investigation into the campaign.
In late October 2017, court documents emerged showing Mr Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of meetings with alleged go-betweens for Russia.
He falsely claimed he had met two figures with Russian connections before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016. In fact, he met them after joining the campaign. After lying to the FBI, he deleted an incriminating Facebook account and destroyed a phone.
Emails reveal that he communicated with high-level figures in the Trump campaign. He was pictured in March 2016 seated at a foreign policy meeting with Mr Trump, Jeff Sessions and others, a photo Mr Trump shared on Twitter.
Just before he began a two-week sentence in a Wisconsin prison in late November 2018 however, he sent a tweet saying he had "never met a single Russian official". On his release, he announced he was publishing a book entitled "Deep State Target: How I got caught in the crosshairs of the plot to bring down President Trump".

How did Russia (allegedly) hack a US election?

It didn't, exactly. Hacking voter machines, and rigging elections generally, is very, very difficult. Hacking people? That would be easier.
The special counsel charges show that Russia effectively ran a two-pronged operation. The first prong in mid-2016 allegedly involved sending rafts of so-called "phishing" emails to figures in the Democratic Party - an unsophisticated method used by everyone from state-sponsored actors to low-level scammers for duping people into giving up their passwords.
Hackers gained access to the Democratic National Committee's systems and leaked tens of thousands of emails revealing the inner workings of the Clinton campaign and the party's operations, along with mundane, embarrassing details.
The second prong allegedly involved flooding social media networks, especially Facebook, with bogus stories designed to smear the Democrats and undermine the Clinton campaign.
According to testimony by Facebook before Congress, Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on the social network during and after election.

What did Obama know and when?

In August 2016, an envelope arrived at the White House marked for the eyes of President Barack Obama and three senior aides.
According to the Washington Post, the envelope had come by courier from the CIA, and contained a bombshell revelation - Mr Putin was directing a state-sponsored effort to interfere with the US election.
The FBI was already looking at ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the CIA memo seemed to confirm Russian efforts to throw the election Mr Trump's way.
According to reporting in the Post and elsewhere, the Obama administration agonised over whether to divulge the alleged operations. Reportedly fearful of appearing to attempt to interfere politically, they stayed relatively quiet.
Other intelligence agencies were slow in reaching the same conclusion as the CIA, and congressional Republicans were reluctant to offer support to a public condemnation of Moscow.
Warnings were issued to Russian officials, but it wasn't until the main US intelligence agencies agreed, in late September, that President Obama directed them to make a public statement. To avoid appearing partisan, the statement would not carry his name.

How far will the inquiry go?

The special counsel investigation could potentially extend into 2019, which would infuriate a White House that is eager to draw a line under the affair.
After Mr Trump's legal team spoke to federal investigators about the president himself being questioned by Mr Mueller, the president submitted written answers to investigators in November, saying he had done so "very easily".
Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said he had provided "unprecedented co-operation" and that it was time to "bring this inquiry to a conclusion".

What about obstruction of justice?

There's been a lot of speculation that Mr Mueller is considering an obstruction of justice case against the president. It's hard to say if the sacking of Mr Comey alone constitutes a case, legal experts differ on this point. The hitch is that the charge carries a fairly high threshold - proof of "corrupt intent".
If the president intentionally pressed Mr Comey to drop the investigation into Mr Flynn, that could be considered a corrupt attempt to obstruct justice, but it is not clear cut. And even if it were, bringing charges against a sitting president is far from straightforward.
A controversial book by the journalist Michael Wolff claims Mr Trump went to some lengths to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the justice department's investigation, another possible case of obstruction. But the veracity of several parts of Mr Wolff's book has been called into question.

How does impeachment work?

It is effectively impossible to bring criminal charges against a sitting president - any case would have to be brought by the executive branch, of which Mr Trump is the boss.
As for impeachment, there is political resonance to obstruction of justice charges - it factored in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the resignation of Richard Nixon, prior to near-certain impeachment.
But it remains highly unlikely at this stage. A majority in the House of Representatives is first required to approve an article of impeachment, and the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress.
In the event of a successful House vote, the Senate holds a trial presided over by the Supreme Court chief justice, and a two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to convict the president.
That's a high bar - two presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have been acquitted at this stage.

What does the American public think?

Polls suggest that most people are taking it seriously.
A Pew Research Center poll in March 2018 found that 59% of people believed Trump officials definitely or probably had improper contact with Russia during the election campaign.
Earlier, in November 2017, 49% of people surveyed in a joint ABC News /Washington Post poll thought Donald Trump was likely to have committed a crime, compared with 44% who said it was unlikely, and 53% who said they thought the charges against Mr Manafort, Mr Gates, and Mr Papadopoulos indicated a broader conspiracy.
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German Hypothesis of Trump Russia Affair - Google Search

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In Trump's America, it's important to remember: this isn't normal | Michael H Fuchs | Opinion

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This is not normal.
In the age of President Donald Trump, it is necessary to repeat this mantra constantly. The ways in which Trump breaks norms and shocks the conscience overwhelm America’s capacity to process each event with the appropriate level of outrage and accountability. America’s attention too often moves from one story to the next like sports highlights. Slowly, surely, America’s norms are stripped away.
The legal system is beginning to hold Trump and his associates accountable, evidenced by the guilty pleas, convictions and indictments emanating from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigationinto Russian election interference in 2016. Other Trump actions and policies have sparked countless lawsuits, from those challenging emoluments to the travel and asylum bans. However imperfect the system, breaking the law can have consequences.
The penalty for breaking norms, however, isn’t so simple. Presidents are not supposed to continue their private business while in office, attack the media as the “enemy of the people” or talk about throwing political opponents in jail. None of this is normal. But it’s not necessarily illegal.
When it comes to national security, it is much easier to discard norms. There are laws governing the conduct of US national security policy, but norms are an essential part of the glue that keeps America safe. Trump has taken aim at those norms.
US foreign policy has long recognized that alliances with democracies advance US interests, and that grudging partnerships with autocracies are to be managed. But Trump treats autocrats like friends, and friends like enemies. He defends Russia’s President Vladimir Putin against the US intelligence community; defends the Saudi Arabian autocrat Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused of ordering the murder of a journalist; and defends the systematic human rights abuses of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, even saying he wishes the American people would treat Trump with the same deference the North Korean people are forced to show Kim. Meanwhile, Trump picks fights with the leaders of Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

This is not normal. America should debate how best to uphold its values in its foreign policy, not whether those values have a role to play.
Despite periods of xenophobia, America at its best is a country welcoming of foreigners – the Statue of Liberty greets immigrants with the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But Trump is closing America to those yearning to breathe free. Trump has drastically reduced the number of refugees allowed to enter the US, imposed an arbitrary travel ban, is attempting to curb legal immigration, and sent the US military to the border with Mexico to respond to a group of desperate people fleeing violence and poverty.
This is not normal. America can debate the contours of the best immigration policy, but it should not undermine America’s spirit as a land of opportunity.
While climate change has become a partisan issue – with conservatives often denying its existence or extent – US policy should be driven by facts, and facts make clear that manmade climate change is imperiling life on earth. The entire world agrees – except for Trump. Climate change is one of the only existential threats the world faces, and Trump is actively working to make it worse.
This is not normal. America should debate the best way to tackle climate change, not its existence.
America has never had to question whether its president prioritized the country’s interests above all else. But with Trump, it increasingly looks like the president is compromised by Russia. While laws may have been broken (Mueller is on the case), the very idea of a compromised president is shocking. We already know that: Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016; Trump attempted to do business with Vladimir Putin during the campaign; Trump regularly takes Putin’s side over US intelligence agencies; a number of Trump’s senior aides are guilty of crimes related to dealings with Russia; and Trump regularly attacks US law enforcement for investigating Trump’s connections to Russia. Trump is acting like he is compromised.
This is not normal. America should debate the best way to protect itself from Russia – it should not have to debate whether the president is in Russia’s pocket.
And no national security decisions should be made on the fly by tweet. Decisions about how to safeguard America require extensive deliberation within the US government and public. But Trump often makes major national security decisions – such as removing US troops from Syria or meeting with Kim – on a whim, surprising US officials and endangering US interests.
This is not normal. America needs substantive debate about policies and should not have to wonder whether decisions are made on a whim by Trump’s “very, very large brain”.
American history is filled with dark periods, from the wars against Native Americans to slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans to the oppression of women and minorities. But America has also been a beacon to the world, as evidenced by the large numbers of people who have sacrificed much to come to these shores. America has continually worked to improve itself, over time building norms and laws that help protect this country.
The breakdown of norms at home undermines democracy. The breakdown of norms in foreign affairs undermines American security. That is why Americans must continue to remind themselves that what they are seeing right now is not normal and hold Trump to account with vigorous congressional oversight and vocal public pushback.
The breakdown of norms at home undermines democracy. The breakdown of norms in foreign affairs undermines American security. That is why Americans must continue to remind themselves that what they are seeing right now is not normal and hold Trump to account with vigorous congressional oversight and vocal public pushback.
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How fake news eclipsed social media impact of genuine news scoops

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In their book on election rigging, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas write fake news factories were the unwitting accomplices of the most high-profile election interference in modern history. Here’s an excerpt:
In February 2016, a young Macedonian teenager posted a false story on his website. Its premise was salacious, its ‘facts’ completely wrong. The story claimed that Donald Trump had accosted someone in the audience at a campaign rally and slapped him. This was not true. But the story took off on social media, and the young teenager made $150 in ad revenues from all the clicks he was generating. In that instant, he decided to quit high school and become a full-time producer and distributor of fake news on America’s elections. Soon, he was raking in large sums of money by generating made-up viral stories.
By October, Veles was home to more than 100 pro-Trump websites. They ran stories such as ‘Pope Francis forbids Catholics from voting for Hillary’ and ‘Proof surfaces that Obama was born in Kenya – Trump was right all along!’ One seventeen year-old involved in the fake news factories of Veles told BuzzFeed News that he did not care about Trump, Clinton or politics in general. Instead, he wanted to buy music equipment. Duping voters in America made that possible: ‘I started the site for an easy way to make money. In Macedonia the economy is very weak and teenagers are not allowed to work, so we need to find creative ways to make some money. I’m a musician but I can’t afford music gear. Here in Macedonia the revenue from a small site is enough to afford many things.’ It is impossible to say precisely how many people read the fake stories that may have been penned by a Macedonian teen in order to finance his desire for musical instruments, but the number is said to be enormous – as high as 126 million on Facebook alone.
Of course, not all the fabricated stories were being produced by youths in Macedonia. Some were written by men in their twenties in Romania. Others by young students in Georgia (the country, not the US state) like Beqa Latsabidze. One of his articles, claiming that Mexico would close its border to Americans if Trump won the election, went viral and earned him some much-needed money to help fund his studies. And, of course, not all the fake stories were coming from outside the United States. One American media company called Disinfomedia, for example, registered domain names like and, in order to try to masquerade as the legitimate news outlets. They published debunked stories too, although some of these American efforts were ideologically rather than financially driven. But wherever the stories came from, the conveyor belt of disinformation likely had a significant impact on voter perceptions of the election campaign and the candidates contesting it.
Sixty-two per cent of American adults reported getting at least some of their news from social media in 2016.That is not necessarily worrying. After all, new media replace old media in cycles, in the same way that mass printing in the nineteenth century drove citizens towards newspapers, and would later face new competition from radio and then television and now the internet. But social media present a new and much more uncontrollable challenge. In 2016, the most viral fake stories were shared more times than the most viral real stories. Furthermore, the sheer scale of the spread of misinformation is astonishing. One 2017 study examined 115 fabricated stories that were pro-Trump and 41 fabricated stories that were pro-Clinton. They found that those 156 stories were shared on Facebook a combined total of 37.6 million times. Each of those shares would be visible to the user’s network of Facebook friends, greatly amplifying its potential reach. A thorough BuzzFeed analysis of social media during the campaign found that several fake news stories eclipsed the social media impact of many genuine news scoops, such as when the New York Times revealed that Donald Trump had actually declared the loss of nearly $1 billion in an unreleased tax return.
All this raises the question of whether the fake ads benefited one side or the other, or cancelled themselves out. Of the twenty most shared fake news articles during the final stages of the residential campaign, seventeen were explicitly pro-Trump or anti-Clinton. As multiple investigations after the election documented, pro-Trump messages were most effective – partly because of the demographics of Trump voters and partly because they had help from Russia to spread the news (of which more shortly). Topping the list of pro-Trump fake news was an absurd story claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed him, followed closely by another fabricated tale suggesting that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS. Both stories had nearly a million engagements on Facebook, and both were completely made up. Of course, many people would have known that these articles were not to be trusted, but some did not, and many equally false stories were more believable in tone.
Despite appearances, the viral nature of these fake stories was not really organic. Instead, the incentives of impoverished teenagers in Macedonia aligned with the geopolitical machinations of the Kremlin. Fake news factories were the unwitting accomplices of the most high-profile digital election interference campaign by a major state power in modern history. If the analysis of the United States intelligence community is correct, Vladimir Putin sought to influence the election to help elect Donald Trump. This verdict was reached despite Trump’s nonsensical reaction that it ‘could have been anybody’, even, as he suggested, an obese man lying in bed in New Jersey. In the midst of the campaign, inadvertent digital bedfellows ended up forming a potent team against Hillary Clinton.
Whilst some of the false stories are crude, the way in which they are shared is not. Computer algorithms can be used to identify which messages would be most powerful to which users. If you search the internet daily for a job, you are more likely to get economic messages. If your profiles indicate a greater cultural malaise, you might get messages about immigration or ISIS. What you clicked on in the past dictates how digital manipulators may try to influence you in the future.
This excerpt was taken with permission from the book ‘How to Rig An Election: Tricks Despots Play’ by Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas. It was published by Harper Collins India in 2018.
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Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch - TIME

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Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch  TIME
A TIME investigation reveals ex-spy Victor Boyarkin was a key link between former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and a powerful ally of Russian ...

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Week 84: This Was the Year Mueller Made the Liars Writhe - POLITICO

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Week 84: This Was the Year Mueller Made the Liars Writhe  POLITICO
There's so much we don't know about what Robert S. Mueller III knows about Trump and the Russians. Governed by its own rhythms, the Mueller black box ...

Identity of Russian ex-spy who served as Manafort's main foreign contact during 2016 election revealed - Business Insider

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Identity of Russian ex-spy who served as Manafort's main foreign contact during 2016 election revealed  Business Insider
One of Manafort's Russian contacts has been revealed as ex-spy Victor Boyarkin, who acted as a link between Manafort and billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Trump-Russia: Republican probe of alleged FBI bias ends 'with a whimper' - The Guardian

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Trump-Russia: Republican probe of alleged FBI bias ends 'with a whimper'  The Guardian
Committee chairs issue just a letter rather than final report after inquiry that was condemned as ploy to undermine Robert Mueller. Staff and agencies. Fri 28 Dec ...

'He’s still in prison': Trump lifts Turkey sanctions but Americans remain detained - POLITICO

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The move baffled those who say the U.S. has otherwise been working hard behind the scenes to free those still held in Turkey.

Reps. end House probe into FBI, but call for scrutiny to continue

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Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Two outgoing senior House Republicans Friday called for a continued investigation into the FBI and Justice Department's handling of the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton's emails while renewing a request for a second independent counsel.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz, U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy encouraged federal law enforcement leaders to "investigate these matters, consistent with your jurisdiction, so the final definitive accounting can be made to the American people."
While the letter signaled an end to the House investigation into the handling of Clinton's emails and Donald Trump's ties to Russia, Goodlatte, the outgoing chair of the House judiciary committee, and Gowdy, the House oversight committee chair, charged that their work was stymied.
"Regrettably, our joint investigation was impacted by institutional protectionism on the part of the DOJ and FBI," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote. "For example, the agencies delayed the production of relevant documents and failed to provide witnesses in a timely manner.
"DOJ continues to refuse to declassify documents necessary to the investigation despite the President's request [that] the documents be declassified," the letter continued.
The Democrats take over House leadership in January and have long been critical of the Republicans investigating the FBI. They charged that Republicans were doing the bidding of the president to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
"Our Republican colleagues seem intent on spending their final days in power attempting to provide cover to President Trump and attempting to re-litigate the Department of Justice's decision not to prosecute Secretary Clinton," Reps. Jerry Nadler and Elijah Cummings said in a statement earlier this month after former FBI Director James Comey's testimony to a House committee, CNN reported.
Gowdy and Goodlatte denied their investigation was an attempt to undermine Mueller.
"Quite the opposite, whatever product is produced by the special counsel must be trusted by Americans that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed," the letter said.

Mueller opened the floodgates on Cohen and Manafort

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