By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (3/15/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
In the last edition of the Russia Monitor we reported on Putin’s attempt to kill a turncoat former Russian military intelligence colonel, Sergei Skripal, along with his 33-year-old daughter. This being one of more than a dozen such attacks on Russians in Britain by Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years.
Theresa May Points to Russia while Trump Says “or whoever it might be”…
British Prime Minister Theresa May declared it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack on Skripal that “also poisoned a British police offer and exposed as many as 500 people”.
An attack that risks the lives of 500 people is a terrorist attack, not an assassination.
After a noticeable delay Trump finally spoke out following May’s formal statement pointing to Russia:
“”It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all the evidence they have,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact.”
“Trump added: “As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.””
Trump is incapable of criticizing Putin. “If we agree with them”, and “or whoever it might be”, does not sound like unequivocal support for an ally. With any opportunity to criticize Putin, Trump manages to always offer the equivalent of “It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Former speech writer for G.W. Bush, David Frum was blunt in his assessment of Trump’s tepid dawdling:
“Trump’s inaction speaks louder than any words. It is a confession for all to hear.”
As reported by Sky News:
“Dr Vil Mirzayanov is a chemist who ran the technical counter-intelligence department in Russia’s chemical weapons institute.
“He helped make “novichok“, the class of nerve agents the British government says was used to poison defected spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
“The doctor said that even minuscule amounts could affect victims, and that symptoms could develop “in years”.”
May announced the UK “will now expel 23 Russian diplomats whom the UK has identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”. May also threatened asset seizures if there is evidence “they may be used to threaten life or property”. The Royal Family will no longer attend the World Cup tournament in Russia this summer.
To which Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded, “Moscow had nothing to do with the event that took place in Britain.”
So, done and dusted. Russians attack a turncoat intelligence officer and expose some 500 British citizens to a nerve agent, placing their health at risk for years. May takes steps against Russians, who deny any involvement. Trump weighs in with his assurances to punish “whoever it might be”.
Safe to say the Russians have been taught a lesson? No doubt, but just what is the lesson?
The British Evening Standard reported: The Dead Billionaire And The ‘KGB poison killer’.
It’s more likely Putin has again seen that he can act with impunity and without fear of serious consequences. A month ago Badri Patarkatsishvili also died in London. It’s a more complicated story but a short version is that Patarkatsishvili was part of a London based group opposed to Russian president Putin.
Patarkatsishvili was part of a group of that “made billions in the smash-and-grab Yeltsin years when Russian state monopolies were privatized”. He used that money to challenge Putin in Ukraine and Georgia:
“Apart from their opposition to Putin, Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili were active in sponsoring the anti-Moscow Orange Revolution in Ukraine. …
“When Viktor Yushchenko took power in 2005 on a tide of revolutionary fervour, Putin was rattled. Despite his personal backing for the pro-Kremlin candidate, he had been beaten in his own backyard. And his old enemies Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili were among those who made it happen.”
All of this while people around him died (KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko – polonium poisoning) or almost died (Berezovsky, “after his car was blown up”; Elena Tregubova, “fled to London after a bomb exploded at her Moscow flat”).
Patarkatsishvili may have died from a heart attack and the real truth of his death may never be known. But we do know one thing: America Will Always Lose Russia’s Tit-for-Tat Spy Games.
The story subhead explains: In the asymmetric warfare of espionage, playing fair means Moscow wins.
The article is from October 2017 and foretells the “lack of imagination” in responding to Russia as an existential threat to American democracy.
“In fairness, there were no easy answers, and such confusion has been a standard outcome as the United States has tried to determine how to best deter, defend, or retaliate against attacks in the new world of cyberintrusions.”
A case of Russpublican collusion
It is true – to date, the US has lost at every turn. But it’s not only for lack of imagination. We are divided even by whether we can agree something happened in our elections, this “something” was done by Russia, and we should know the what and how, and protect ourselves going forward. We are divided and left vulnerable by a collusion between Trumputin and Russpublicans: ‘I wouldn’t wipe my ass with it’: Ex-CIA Analyst Rips House GOP Intel Committee’s ‘no collusion’ Report.
Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee again surprised their Democratic peers by unilaterally ending the committee efforts to investigate Trump-Russia and will issue a final report that concludes Russia did not interfere in the US election.
This is the third attempt by committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to exonerate Trump. It is his third failure.
“CNN’s Phil Mudd on Monday had a remarkable reaction to the conclusion by Republicans members on the House Intelligence Committee that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump, telling Wolf Blitzer if the report was “written on toilet paper, I wouldn’t stoop to wipe my ass with it.”
““Their responsibility was not to represent party, Democrat or Republican, but to represent people,” Mudd said. “How do we protect the next election?””
As soon as the report was announced GOP committee members went out of their way to walk back the committee conclusion. One GOP committee member that is not planning to run for reelection, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-PA), said “We have gone completely off the rails, and now we’re basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news.”
“Rooney pleaded with the members of his committee to come together before the 2018 midterms. “If we don’t get any of these recommendations out before this cycle gets fully underway, then we really have just completely wasted a year of everybody’s time,” he said. “Hopefully we can salvage something positive out of this.””
Generally the committee is attempting to end the Trump-Russia investigation without solid conclusions. The motive is to give Trump an ‘out’: it might have been the mysterious 400-pound man Trump likes to blame, we should punish “whoever it might be”, “violence on many sides, on many sides” and now there is “evidence of both sides” … yada, yada.
But another GOP committee member that is also not running for reelection, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) offered less equivocation. Gowdy “disagrees with the conclusion” that the intelligence agencies got it wrong.
Whereas the committee findings will try to have it both ways by saying the intelligence agencies were 98% but overplayed their hand, the Russpublican conclusion is:
“It is my belief that Russia’s intent was to influence our elections by having the American people distrust the institutions that serve them,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in a statement, when asked whether she supported the report’s conclusions. “However, I do not believe this interference swayed the electorate to vote for one candidate or another. “
And that’s it – find a spin that doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of Trumputin’s election.
As there has been on the prior Nunes attempts to exonerate Trump, there will be a Democrat response.
Committee minority co-chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) offered, “I think many of us could see that Donald Trump was going to be a very poor president. What we couldn’t see is how many people would be complicit in that.”
Yep, from Moscow to Washington DC.
Meanwhile, back to Jared “KaCHING” Kushner
Putin acts with disregard, Trump only cares about the perception of the legitimacy of the election and Trump associates continue to milk any opportunity for personal enrichment and benefit: Kushner Conflict Cloud Hovers Over Brooklyn Sale Linked to Japan.
As reported by Bloomberg, while he was serving in the White House ,Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family firm sold a stake in a Brooklyn building to a company substantially owned by the Japanese government:
“The buyer of record in the $103-million deal for 175 Pearl St. was , a New Jersey-based investment firm. But documents filed in Tokyo show that it was operating on behalf of a subsidiary of . By law, the Japanese government owns at least of NTT, in effect a controlling share.”
Kushner’s concept of U.S. foreign policy is the advancement of his own personal wealth. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to be able to keep his head down and not say anything contrary to Trump and associates – until he wasn’t: Rex Tillerson Gets Fired the Day After He Criticized Russia.
Suffering from a momentary inspiration to say the right thing and support an age-old U.S. ally:
“On Monday, Rex Tillerson, the departing Secretary of State, cut short a visit to Africa to fly back to Washington. Before he left, he remarked that the nerve-gas attack recently carried out on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, England, was a “really egregious act,” but he also said it wasn’t entirely clear who was responsible. Later on Monday, though, the State Department issued a statement in which Tillerson expressed his “full confidence” in the British government’s assessment that the Russian state was almost certainly the culprit. (In the House of Commons on Monday, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.)”
But no good deed will go unpunished by Trump. The day after issuing the single firm comment in support of Britain and May while criticizing Putin, Tillerson was fired via presidential Tweet.
Russpublicans clear Japanese in Pearl Harbor incident
We’ll end with a bit of humor from the New Yorker’s satirist Andy Borowitz. Thanks to a Commoner Call reader for this: House Republicans Say Japanese Did Not Meddle in Pearl Harbor.
Andy Borowitz credits House Intelligence Committee member and acting Trump-Russia chair Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) with insights such as these:
“Is it possible that some of their planes were flying in places they shouldn’t have flown and dropping some things that they shouldn’t have dropped, by accident?” Conaway said. “Absolutely. Does that prove that there was intent to meddle in Pearl Harbor? Absolutely not.”
And one final contribution, this from Charles Pierce writing for Esquire: Can You Count the Lies?
The article’s subhead puts things in proper context: Ben Carson and Roger Stone appear on our new national game show.
Pierce refers to an ongoing White House series, “Who’s Bullshitting You Now?” Long-time Trump advisor and self-acclaimed liar Roger Stone brings the competition head-to-head against Trump friend and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
While the entire article is worth the read, we’ll stay within the Trump-Russia guardrails and focus on Stone’s nomination:
“Our next contestant is a longtime favorite of our audience, veteran ratfcker Roger Stone. For a while now, while both under oath and just for laughs, regarding the stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016. WikiLeaks has backed him up on this.”
No spoiler here, link to the story for the answer to who is bullshitting us more, Stone or Carson?
Inside the Trump-Russia barrel: Russpublican dereliction of duty.
The United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is charged with the oversight of U.S. Intelligence Community. The initiative to create this committee in 1977 came from then House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. The recommendations for the creation of the committee came from the Church Committee (then chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID)) and the Pike Committee (then chaired by Rep. Otis Pike (D-NY)).
Church was one of the first Senators to publicly oppose the Vietnam War (after initially supporting the war). On the NSA, Church said, “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
In the mid 70’s Church chaired the “Church Committee” investigating abuses of power by U.S. intelligence agencies including the Watergate Hearings and a lengthy report by Seymour Hirsch reporting for the New York Times of a long and shocking history of CIA abuses.
It is against this backdrop that Devin Nunes and the GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee intend to issue a one-sided report with a singular intent of not bringing into question the legitimacy of the election that made Trump president.
Russpublicans place loyalty to Trumputin over their duty to their oath of office and country.