Trump Trying To ‘Stifle Free Speech,’ 12 Former Intelligence Officials Say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Trump Trying To ‘Stifle Free Speech,’ 12 Former Intelligence Officials Say

The rare rebuke comes after the president revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
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In a joint statement Thursday, a dozen of the nation’s leading former intelligence officials slammed President Donald Trump’s recent decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

The officials, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, include former CIA Directors Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, William Webster, Porter Goss, David Petraeus and George Tenet, several of the agency’s former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances ― and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” they wrote. “You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information.”

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Elana Schor

@eschor

New: Statement from a dozen former top intelligence officials representing R and D admins (including ex-CIA chiefs) says yanking Brennan’s clearance has “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

Trump announced Wednesday that he had revoked Brennan’s clearance, part of an ongoing effort to retaliate against those who have criticized the administration. Former top intelligence and law enforcement officials have traditionally been allowed to retain their clearances as a professional courtesy, which also allows future administrations to call upon them for their expertise.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday also read a list of several other former officials whose credentials are currently being reviewed, including two people who signed Thursday’s statement.

“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” the 12 intelligence leaders wrote. The officials, who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, stressed that Brennan was an “enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation.”

Brennan himself fired back at the White House after the announcement, saying it was “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge” Trump.

Despite the outcry, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump felt bolstered by his decision and was eager to revoke the clearances of others in the near future, an effort sure to provoke the signers of Thursday’s statement.

“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech ― even when that right has been used to criticize us ― that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable,” the former intelligence officials wrote.

Architect of bin Laden raid issues stunning rebuke of Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Architect of bin Laden raid issues stunning rebuke of Trump

Washington (CNN)Retired Adm. William McRaven, the man who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, issued a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday, defending the former spy chief as “one of the finest public servants I have ever known.”

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, McRaven, a former Navy SEAL who led US Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, not only called Brennan “a man of unparalleled integrity,” but volunteered to have his own security clearance revoked in an act of solidarity.
“Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him,” McRaven wrote.
“Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he added.
His comments come just one day after Trump announced his decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance, marking an unprecedented use of a president’s authority over the classification system to strike back at one of his prominent critics.
“This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent,” Brennan tweeted after the announcement.
McRaven, who resigned as chancellor of the University of Texas in Austin earlier this year, is widely respected among the tens of thousands of active and retired special operators and his message will likely resonate within that community.
“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven said of Trump.
“If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be,” he added.

If Mueller Is Fired: Then Trump And Sessions Must Be Impeached Right Now

AGAIN TODAY TRUMP IS TELLING ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS TO FIRE SPECIAL COUNCIL ROBERT MUELLER AND TO SHUT DOWN THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: RIGHT NOW!

 

The U.S. Congress can not Impeach a sitting President, only the U.S. Senate can do that. Back when Bill Clinton was President the Republican led Congress voted to Impeach Bill Clinton because an adult female intern gave him oral sex in the Oval Office. What Mr. Clinton did was morally wrong but so is being a liar, a tax fraud, or colluding with a know enemy to commit treason. All are sins, all are wrong, just like making up evidence so that you can go bomb people is a sin, morally and physically. When the Republican led Congress voted to Impeach Mr. Clinton the whole act was nothing but symbolic, the vote had no teeth. Via the U.S. Constitution only the U.S. Senate can Impeach a sitting President and to do so it will require 67 of the 100 Senators to vote for the impeachment, in the Clinton case the Senate didn’t even hold a vote on the issue. There is another set of rules as far as Impeaching the Attorney General is concerned though. To do this, a simple majority of the Congress has to vote to Impeach and then the Senate would have to get 67 of their 100 to vote to Impeach.

 

One of the many things that Mr. Trump has proven over and over again is that he is a total habitual liar, folks this is not a quality trait for anyone to have, especially the Leader of any group or organization. If you can not believe anything that is coming out of a persons mouth, what good are they as a person or as a Leader? If you remember, right after Jeff Sessions was approved by the Senate to be Mr. Trumps Attorney General he was caught lying at least twice to the Senate about his Russian contacts during the Presidential campaign of 2016. This is why Mr. Sessions recused himself from anything to do with any investigation into any Russian collusion during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Mr. Sessions turned over this investigation to his number two-man Rob Rosenthal who then appointed the former Republican FBI Director Bob Mueller to head this investigation. As you most likely know, this whole set of events infuriated Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has tried to get Mr. Sessions to fire Mr. Rosenthal several times but Mr. Sessions has refused to do so. Now Mr. Trump is demanding that Mr. Sessions fire the Special Council, Mr. Mueller. One of the many realities of the real world that Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that Mr. Sessions can not legally fire the Special Council or shut down the Russia investigation because Mr. Sessions in his recusing himself made it to where he can not legally do what the President is demanding that he do.

 

As a 62-year-old citizen of the United States I have learned very plainly that the politicians on both sides of the ‘political isle’ both Republicans and Democrats, as a whole do not give a damn about this country or the people who live within its borders. The only reason that the Republicans in the Congress and the Senate are backing Mr. Trump is because the President says he is a Republican. If Mr. Trump was a Democrat these same Republicans like my disgusting home state Senator Mitch McConnell would have been trying to get him Impeached ever since he took Office on January 20th of 2017. I am not by any means going to give the Democrats a free pass here in this article today either, to do so would be total hypocrisy. If the Congress and the Senate were controlled by the Democrats at this time and Hillary Clinton were the President and she had done all these exact same treasonous sins that Mr. Trump has done (she has many of her own personal sins which she should be in prison for, just some different ones than Mr. Trump has) the Democratic leadership would be shielding her from Impeachment just like the Republicans are doing right now with Mr. Trump. To hell with the Country, to hell with the people, the only things that matter are ‘the Party’,  personal power and bigger bank accounts. If you don’t think so my friend, you are being naive at best.

 

Evidently by law the President can fire the Special Council, Mr. Mueller himself, just as he can fire Jeff Sessions and or Mr. Rosenthal and he can assign some flunky into those positions. This ‘flunky’ could then fire Mr. Mueller and shut down every thing that the DOJ (Department Of Justice) is investigating concerning the crimes that Mr. Trump and his family are so obviously guilty of. Then all the world will see if Mitch McConnell will grow a set of balls and insist that a vote for Impeachment take place, at once.  My guess is no, he won’t. The reason that I believe this is because of seeing how these bought and paid for pieces of trash have operated over the past 50 or so odd years. I have absolutely no faith in either ‘Party’ to ever simply be honest with the American people and to do their damn jobs that the people have been paying them to do. To me, if the events do play out like I believe they will with Mr. Trump and several members of his family being charged with major crimes against the sovereignty and security of the people of Our Nation, then it is time for the people to remove all the trash in the Senate and the Congress who are betraying us. Simply put, the people must then Impeach them ourselves, or we don’t deserve a free Country to live in!

Senator Corker compares revoking security clearances to Venezuela’s dictatorship

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

Corker compares revoking security clearances to Venezuela’s dictatorship

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday criticized the Trump administration’s decision to consider revoking security clearances for several ex-government officials who have been vocal about their opposition to President Donald Trump, adding that it’s “the kind of thing that happens in Venezuela.”

“I can’t even believe that somebody at the White House thought up something like this,” Corker said during an interview on MSNBC. “I mean, when you’re going to start taking retribution against people who are your political enemies in this manner, that’s the kind of thing that happens in Venezuela.”

“So you just don’t do that. I can’t believe they even allowed it to be aired, to be honest,” he said. “I mean, it’s a banana republic kind of thing.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s administration is considered a dictatorship by the United States.

Corker’s comments come a day after the White House announced it was looking to remove security clearances held by former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former NSA Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

McCabe’s security clearance was deactivated after he was fired earlier this year, and Comey also does not currently have a security clearance. Hayden, the only Bush administration-era official who is facing revocation of his security clearance, tweeted he does not go back for classified briefings but has occasionally been asked to offer a view on something.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Monday’s press briefing that Trump feels as though the former officials have “politicized” their positions by accusing Trump of inappropriate contact with Russia.

“The fact that people with security clearances are making baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” she said.

Gowdy: Trump advisers should consider quitting over Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO)

 

CONGRESS

Gowdy: Trump advisers should consider quitting over Russia

The South Carolina Republican chastised Trump for inviting Putin to Washington this fall.

Updated 

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy chastised Donald Trump for inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington, saying Sunday that some members of the president’s administration should consider quitting if Trump won’t listen to their advice.

“The fact that we have to talk to you about Syria or other matters is very different from issuing an invitation,” Gowdy said on “Fox News Sunday” of the Putin invitation, which the White House confirmed last week would be extended for the fall. “Those should be reserved for, I think, our allies.”

The South Carolina Republican suggested that some members of the administration may need to consider leaving if Trump continues to disregard their advice to stand firm against Russia.

That concern has dominated discourse in Washington since Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki last week, at which he spoke more harshly of the FBI than of Russia.

“It can be proven beyond any evidentiary burden that Russia is not our friend and they tried to attack us in 2016,” Gowdy told host Bret Baier. “So the president either needs to rely on the people that he has chosen to advise him, or those advisers need to reevaluate whether or not they can serve in this administration. But the disconnect cannot continue.”

Political commentators and Democratic lawmakers said after Trump’s news conference with Putin — in which he refused to side with the U.S. intelligence community on the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and said he held both countries responsible for tensions — that advisers including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and national security adviser John Bolton should quit their posts.

But Republican lawmakers have been more hesitant to call for such a response from the president’s team.

Earlier this weekend, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman penned an op-ed for a Utah newspaper in which he said he would not resign, saying he felt he is very much needed in the role. And Coats said during a Thursday interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that the question of resigning was “a place I don’t really go to publicly.”

“As long as I’m able to have the ability to seek the truth and speak the truth, I’m on board,” Coats said. After Trump indicated Monday that he did not believe Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic Party computers and other wrongdoing during the 2016 election, Coats defended American spies’ assessment that Moscow was to blame.

Gowdy struck a tone of admonishment Sunday on Trump’s refusal to side with the U.S. intelligence community — comments that the president later partially walked back.

“I’m glad he corrected it,” Gowdy said, “but when you’re the leader of the free world, every syllable matters.”

Still, Gowdy urged Trump to separate concerns about Russian interference from his frustration with the investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

“I have not seen one scintilla of evidence that this president colluded, conspired, confederated with Russia,” he said. “And neither has anyone else, or you may rest assured Adam Schiff would have leaked it,” he said, referring to the Democratic congressman from California.

Congressional Democrats continued Sunday to be skeptical of the response of their Republican colleagues on the Russia issue.

“When it comes to defending the country, they’re not willing to follow through,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Others were just rather startled at the week’s whole turn of events.

“The fact that we have to question the integrity, the honesty and the loyalty of a commander in chief when it comes to dealing with Russia is a problem in and of itself,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) on CNN‘s “State of the Union.”

Trump: released FISA documents show is that Republicans have been lying for months

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THINKPROGRESS’)

 

The only thing the newly released FISA documents show is that Republicans have been lying for months

Trump and his allies claim the Steele Dossier was the sole basis for a surveillance warrant of Carter Page. They are lying.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 12, 2016: Carter Page, Global Energy Capital LLC Managing Partner and a former foreign policy adviser to U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, makes a presentation titled " Departing from Hypocrisy: Potential Strategies in the Era of Global Economic Stagnation, Security Threats and Fake News" during his visit to Moscow. Credit: Artyom Korotayev/TASS via Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – DECEMBER 12, 2016: CARTER PAGE, GLOBAL ENERGY CAPITAL LLC MANAGING PARTNER AND A FORMER FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER TO U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP, MAKES A PRESENTATION TITLED ” DEPARTING FROM HYPOCRISY: POTENTIAL STRATEGIES IN THE ERA OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC STAGNATION, SECURITY THREATS AND FAKE NEWS” DURING HIS VISIT TO MOSCOW. CREDIT: ARTYOM KOROTAYEV/TASS VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

On Saturday night, the New York Times published a report detailing the public disclosure of more than 400 pages of heavily redacted documents related to a FISA warrant filed in 2016 against Carter Page, an advisor for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Page has been a key focus of the intelligence community’s investigation into Russian interference from the very beginning. And as Saturday’s disclosure reveals, the FBI presented enough probable cause suggesting Page had been recruited by Russian officials that four separate Republican-appointed judges authorized still-undisclosed surveillance measures targeting Page.

Oddly, both Donald Trump and Carter Page tried to spin Saturday’s disclosure as some kind of victory. Several members of the far-right fringe in Congress — led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) — lied to the public several months ago via a memo that falsely asserted the FBI sought the warrant on the sole basis of the infamous Steele dossier, a Republican-conceived memo written by a former British intelligence officer containing several salacious rumors about Donald Trump.

As Democrats and the FBI later disclosed — and as Saturday’s release makes clear — the dossier was far from the only evidence provided to the FISA court, and its inclusion contained a lengthy caveat noting the politicized nature and unsubstantiated claims contained within the document. Incidentally, several of the allegations contained in the dossier have since been verified. On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper invited Page to respond to Saturday’s revelations, and it took exactly one question for him to trip over the facts of the case.

“The document accuses you of being an ‘agent of a foreign power.’ Were you?,” asked Tapper.

Jake, this is so ridiculous, it’s just beyond words,” said Page. “You know, it’s — you’re talking about misleading the courts. It’s just so misleading, going through those 400-plus page documents, where do we even begin? It’s literally a complete joke, and it only continues. It’s just really sad.”

Tapper, who was still waiting for Page to answer his question, tried again. “Were you ever an agent of a foreign power? Did you ever advise the Kremlin or work with the Kremlin on anything?” 

After more stammering, Page finally got around to a “no,” before immediately admitting that he had, in fact, served as an advisor to the Kremlin and met several times with Russian officials during multiple trips to Russia over a period of years leading up to and including 2016.

Page went on to claim that the courts were misled by the FBI, alleging the agency knowingly relied on incorrect or incomplete information in seeking their warrant. He offered no basis for those allegations however, and the documents released on Saturday in fact make it clear that the FBI was very forthright about the sourcing of its information.

Of course, that didn’t stop Donald Trump from leveling the same false allegation. He tweeted about the release of the FISA documents early Sunday, lying about law enforcement agencies “misleading” the FISA court.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Congratulations to @JudicialWatch and @TomFitton on being successful in getting the Carter Page FISA documents. As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!

Because the FISA documents were heavily redacted, there isn’t very much new information the public learned on Saturday. One thing was made very clear though: the Trump administration and their extremist allies in Congress have been lying to the public for months.

12 Russian Indictments For Hacking Clinton Campaign: How Much Did Trump Know?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES NEWSPAPER)

 

Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein outlines a new indictment Friday against alleged Russian hacks into Hillary Clinton campaign accounts.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein outlines a new indictment Friday against alleged Russian hacks into Hillary Clinton campaign accounts. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Then-candidate Donald J. Trump said he was just joking in July 2016 when he called on Russia to “find the 30,000 emails” that Hillary Clinton had not turned over to State Department investigators, ostensibly because they were personal correspondence and not government business.

Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has obtained indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with hacking into multiple Clinton campaign-related email accounts in the four previous months, it puts Trump’s comments in a different light.

The indictment alleges that the Russian agents broke into accounts for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and various volunteers and employees at Clinton’s campaign — including the email account of her campaign chairman, John Podesta. It goes into some detail on how it identified the responsible parties, adding weight to the allegations.

The agents are not accused of hacking Clinton’s private email server, which isn’t surprising. Although former FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that the server could have been hacked by a hostile government, FBI investigators later told the agency’s inspector general that they were “fairly confident” the server was not compromised.

Regardless, emails taken from the DNC account started leaking in June 2016 at the site DCLeaks, then the following month from WikiLeaks. A hacker using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 — later linked by security experts to Russia — claimed credit for the leaks, but others did too, leaving the culprits unclear. Bear in mind that much of the discussion of the leaks centered on the DNC’s apparent favoritism for Clinton over her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). So while there were suspicions about Russia, the precise motives behind the leaks were hard to divine.

That’s the backdrop for Trump’s remarks. And now one has to wonder, just how much did he know about what Russia was actually doing?

In an editorial The Times ran shortly after Trump’s remarks, we noted the spin applied by Trump’s campaign:

“A spokesman for the Trump campaign later insisted that ‘Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.’ Instead, Jason Miller suggested, Trump was saying the Russians already had the data because Clinton’s server wasn’t secure.”

Or maybe Trump was saying the Russians probably had the data because he knew they’d grabbed so much else from Clinton’s campaign.

The White House responded with a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters: “Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”

Umm, Roger Stone?

Trump’s lies betray his desperation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

Column: 

Trump’s lies betray his desperation

Here’s what I hope Robert Mueller will conclude when he is done investigating Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign: The president is innocent of criminal wrongdoing. He did not know of or approve contacts with Russians to influence the election. His interactions with FBI Director James Comey and other Justice Departmentofficials never rose to the level of obstructing justice.

But it would require an extraordinary faith in Trump’s character and a stubborn disregard for his behavior to expect that outcome. If there is one inference to be drawn from everything he has done with respect to the investigation and the Russian government, it’s that he suffers from a powerful consciousness of guilt.

The latest came in a tweet expressing bitter regret that he didn’t choose someone other than Jeff Sessions for attorney general — because Sessions recused himself and therefore can’t send Mueller packing. Trump doesn’t want a fair and impartial investigation; he wants no investigation.

He insists over and over that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. But we already have evidence there was — in the form of guilty pleas by Trump aides Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians.

We have evidence in the 2016 meeting hosted by son Donald Jr. and attended by son-in-law Jared Kushner with a Russian lawyer who had promised information from the Kremlin incriminating Hillary Clinton. Meeting secretly with Russians in hopes of cooperating for mutual benefit is collusion, whether illegal or not.

This week, we got confirmation that the statement Donald Jr. issued — claiming the meeting was primarily about adoption issues — was dictated by his father. When The Washington Post reported that last year, the White House denied the story. In a memo to Mueller obtained by The New York Times, however, Trump’s lawyers admitted it was true.

Yet he has insisted that “nobody’s found any collusion at any level.” The assertion is not only false; it’s flagrantly, obviously false.

Over and over, Trump has resorted to complaints, attacks and deceptions. He fired Comey ostensibly because of how the director mishandled the investigation of Clinton. But Trump went on to say repeatedly that he did it because of the Russia probe. Recently, though, he tweeted, “I never fired James Comey because of Russia!” Lying is generally not a manifestation of innocence.

His shifting position on being interviewed under oath by Mueller likewise betrays him. When the question first was posed, Trump declared himself “100 percent” willing. Or maybe it’s zero percent. In January, his lawyers sent a letter to Mueller rejecting the idea.

“Your office clearly lacks the requisite need to personally interview the President,” they told him. “Having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world.” One of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, added another reason for this reluctance, expressing concern that Mueller might “trap him into perjury.”

But someone who tells the truth is in no danger of committing perjury. What Trump might be in danger of is admitting to crimes that could lead to his indictment or impeachment.

Giuliani, however, has not ruled out that Trump, if subpoenaed, might invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. (Trump in 2016: “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”) Nor has Giuliani ruled out refusing to submit to a subpoena.

If that weren’t enough to indicate the president has a large pile of things to hide, Trump now claims the power to grant himself a full pardon. But a pardon would be necessary only if he is guilty of specific crimes.

It’s impossible to exaggerate his lawyers’ claims about his impunity. They say a president may not be indicted. Giuliani said Trump could not be indicted even “if he shot James Comey.”

The president can’t obstruct justice, his team insists, because the president has complete power over federal law enforcement. Anything he does in that realm is therefore legal.

Maybe his pattern of chutzpah and untruth is just the essence of his toxic character, which bubbles over no matter what. But more likely, the conduct of Trump and his attorneys reflects their knowledge that he is guilty of serious offenses and their fear that he will be exposed and punished. He looks like someone terrified of going to prison.

Even congressional Republicans say he won’t do anything so foolish as to fire Mueller or pardon himself. But desperate men do desperate things.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.

[email protected]

Twitter @SteveChapman13

Trump’s legal memo to Robert Mueller is a recipe for tyranny

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF VOX NEWS)

 

Trump’s legal memo to Robert Mueller is a recipe for tyranny

A clear and present danger to the rule of law

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Essentially all presidents sooner or later end up commissioning lawyers to put forward an expansive view of presidential power, but those lawyers take pains to argue that they are notmaking the case for a totally unchecked executive whose existence would pose a fundamental threat to American values.

Donald Trump, however, is a different kind of president.

In a 20-page memo written by Trump’s legal team and delivered to Robert Mueller, as reported by the New York Time’s this weekend, they make an unusually frank case for a tyrannical interpretation of presidential power.

Trump’s lawyers say he has unlimited power over criminal justice

The key passage in the memo is one in which Trump’s lawyers argue that not only was there nothing shady going on when FBI Director James Comey got fired there isn’t even any potentialshadiness to investigate because the president is allowed to be as shady as he wants to be when it comes to overseeing federal law enforcement. He can fire whoever he wants. Shut down any investigation or open up a new one.

Indeed, the President not only has unfettered statutory and Constitutional authority to terminate the FBI Director, he also has Constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction. Put simply, the Constitution leaves no question that the President has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations.

This is a particularly extreme version of the “unitary executive” doctrine that conservative legal scholars sometimes appeal to (especially when there’s a Republican president), drawing on the notion that the executive branch of government — including the federal police agencies and federal prosecutors — are a single entity personified by the president.

But to push that logic into this terrain would not only give the president carte blanche to persecute his enemies but essentially vitiate the idea that there are any enforceable laws at all.

Donald Trump’s impunity store

Consider that if the memo is correct, there would be nothing wrong with Trump setting up a booth somewhere in Washington, DC where wealthy individuals could hand checks to Trump, and in exchange Trump would make whatever federal legal trouble they are in go it away. You could call it “The Trump Hotel” or maybe bundle a room to stay in along with the legal impunity.

Having cut your check, you’d then have carte blanche to commit bank fraud or dump toxic waste in violation of the Clean Water Act or whatever else you want to do. Tony Soprano could get the feds off his case, and so could the perpetrators of the next Enron fraud or whatever else.

Perhaps most egregiously, since Washington DC isn’t a state all criminal law here is federal criminal law, so the president could have his staff murder opposition party senators or inconvenient judges and then block any investigation into what’s happening.

Of course, as the memo notes, to an extent this kind of power to undermine the rule of law already exists in the form of the essentially unlimited pardon power. This power has never been a good idea and it has been abused in the past by George H.W. Bush to kill the Iran-Contra investigation and by Bill Clinton to win his wife votes in a New York Senate race. Trump has started using the power abusively and capriciously early in his tenure in office in a disturbing way, but has not yet tried to pardon his way out of the Russia investigation in part because there is one important limit on the pardon power — you have to do it in public. The only check on pardons is political, but the political check is quite real (which is why both Bush and Clinton did their mischievous pardons as lame ducks) and the new theory that Trump can simply make whole investigations vanish would eliminate it.

This issue is bigger than Comey or Mueller

Much of the argument about Trump and the rule of law has focused rather narrowly on the particular case of Comey’s firing and the potential future dismissal of Robert Mueller.

These are important questions, in the sense that an FBI Director is an important person and a special counsel investigation is an important matter, but the memo is a reminder that they offer much too narrow a view of what the real extent of the problem is here.

One of the main purposes of the government is to protect the weak from exploitation at the hands of the strong by making certain forms of misconduct illegal. Trump’s assertion that he can simply waive-away investigations into misconduct because he is worried that the investigation might end badly for his friends or family members is toxic to that entire scheme. Trump, like most presidents, has plenty of rich and powerful friends and a much longer list of rich and powerful people who would like to be his friends.

If he really does have the power to just make anyone’s legal trouble go away because he happens to feel like it, then we’re all in a world of trouble.

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” From AI

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” that artificial intelligence could unleash

Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova

Editor’s Note:To get ahead of new problems related to disinformation and technology, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies, write Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect. This piece originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com.

Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts.

Europe is finally taking action. In January, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect. Designed to limit hate speech and fake news online, the law prompted both France and Spain to consider counterdisinformation legislation of their own. More important, in April the European Union unveiled a new strategy for tackling online disinformation. The EU plan focuses on several sensible responses: promoting media literacy, funding a third-party fact-checking service, and pushing Facebook and others to highlight news from credible media outlets, among others. Although the plan itself stops short of regulation, EU officials have not been shy about hinting that regulation may be forthcoming. Indeed, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at an EU hearing this week, lawmakers reminded him of their regulatory power after he appeared to dodge their questions on fake news and extremist content.

The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies.

The recent European actions are important first steps. Ultimately, none of the laws or strategies that have been unveiled so far will be enough. The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies. The EU’s measures are still designed to target the disinformation of yesterday rather than that of tomorrow.

To get ahead of the problem, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect.

To craft effective strategies for the near term, lawmakers should focus on four emerging threats in particular: the democratization of artificial intelligence, the evolution of social networks, the rise of decentralized applications, and the “back end” of disinformation.

Thanks to bigger data, better algorithms, and custom hardware, in the coming years, individuals around the world will increasingly have access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence. From health care to transportation, the democratization of AI holds enormous promise.

Yet as with any dual-use technology, the proliferation of AI also poses significant risks. Among other concerns, it promises to democratize the creation of fake print, audio, and video stories. Although computers have long allowed for the manipulation of digital content, in the past that manipulation has almost always been detectable: A fake image would fail to account for subtle shifts in lighting, or a doctored speech would fail to adequately capture cadence and tone. However, deep learning and generative adversarial networks have made it possible to doctor imagesand video so well that it’s difficult to distinguish manipulated files from authentic ones. And thanks to apps like FakeApp and Lyrebird, these so-called “deep fakes” can now be produced by anyone with a computer or smartphone. Earlier this year, a tool that allowed users to easily swap faces in video produced fake celebrity porn, which went viral on Twitter and Pornhub.

Deep fakes and the democratization of disinformation will prove challenging for governments and civil society to counter effectively. Because the algorithms that generate the fakes continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality, deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms—indeed, in the case of generative adversarial networks, the algorithm works by getting really good at fooling itself. To address the democratization of disinformation, governments, civil society, and the technology sector therefore cannot rely on algorithms alone, but will instead need to invest in new models of social verification, too.

At the same time as artificial technology and other emerging technologies mature, legacy platforms will continue to play an outsized role in the production and dissemination of information online. For instance, consider the current proliferation of disinformation on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

A growing cottage industry of search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation provides services to clients looking to rise in the Google rankings. And while for the most part, Google is able to stay ahead of attempts to manipulate its algorithms through continuous tweaks, SEO manipulators are also becoming increasingly savvy at gaming the system so that the desired content, including disinformation, appears at the top of search results.

For example, stories from RT and Sputnik—the Russian government’s propaganda outlets—appeared on the first page of Google searches after the March nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom and the April chemical weapons attack in Syria. Similarly, YouTube (which is owned by Google) has an algorithm that prioritizes the amount of time users spend watching content as the key metric for determining which content appears first in search results. This algorithmic preference results in false, extremist, and unreliable information appearing at the top, which in turn means that this content is viewed more often and is perceived as more reliable by users. Revenue for the SEO manipulation industry is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

On Facebook, disinformation appears in one of two ways: through shared content and through paid advertising. The company has tried to curtail disinformation across each vector, but thus far to no avail. Most famously, Facebook introduced a “Disputed Flag” to signify possible false news—only to discover that the flag made users more likely to engage with the content, rather than less. Less conspicuously, in Canada, the company is experimenting with increasing the transparency of its paid advertisements by making all ads available for review, including those micro-targeted to a small set of users. Yet, the effort is limited: The sponsors of ads are often buried, requiring users to do time-consuming research, and the archive Facebook set up for the ads is not a permanent database but only shows active ads. Facebook’s early efforts do not augur well for a future in which foreign actors can continue to exploit its news feed and ad products to deliver disinformation—including deep fakes produced and targeted at specific individuals or groups.

Although Twitter has taken steps to combat the proliferation of trolls and bots on its platform, it remains deeply vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, since accounts are not verified and its application programming interface, or API, still makes it possible to easily generate and spread false content on the platform. Even if Twitter takes further steps to crack down on abuse, its detection algorithms can be reverse-engineered in much the same way Google’s search algorithm is. Without fundamental changes to its API and interaction design, Twitter will remain rife with disinformation. It’s telling, for example, that when the U.S. military struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April—well after Twitter’s latest reforms were put in place—the Pentagon reported a massive surge in Russian disinformation in the hours immediately following the attack. The tweets appeared to come from legitimate accounts, and there was no way to report them as misinformation.

Blockchain technologies and other distributed ledgers are best known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Yet their biggest impact may lie in transforming how the internet works. As more and more decentralized applications come online, the web will increasingly be powered by services and protocols that are designed from the ground up to resist the kind of centralized control that Facebook and others enjoy. For instance, users can already browse videos on DTube rather than YouTube, surf the web on the Blockstack browser rather than Safari, and store files using IPFS, a peer-to-peer file system, rather than Dropbox or Google Docs. To be sure, the decentralized application ecosystem is still a niche area that will take time to mature and work out the glitches. But as security improves over time with fixes to the underlying network architecture, distributed ledger technologies promise to make for a web that is both more secure and outside the control of major corporations and states.

If and when online activity migrates onto decentralized applications, the security and decentralization they provide will be a boon for privacy advocates and human rights dissidents. But it will also be a godsend for malicious actors. Most of these services have anonymity and public-key cryptography baked in, making accounts difficult to track back to real-life individuals or organizations. Moreover, once information is submitted to a decentralized application, it can be nearly impossible to take down. For instance, the IPFS protocol has no method for deletion—users can only add content, they cannot remove it.

For governments, civil society, and private actors, decentralized applications will thus pose an unprecedented challenge, as the current methods for responding to and disrupting disinformation campaigns will no longer apply. Whereas governments and civil society can ultimately appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if they want to block or remove a malicious user or problematic content on Twitter, with decentralized applications, there won’t always be someone to turn to. If the Manchester bomber had viewed bomb-making instructions on a decentralized app rather than on YouTube, it’s not clear who authorities should or could approach about blocking the content.

Over the last three years, renewed attention to Russian disinformation efforts has sparked research and activities among a growing number of nonprofit organizations, governments, journalists, and activists. So far, these efforts have focused on documenting the mechanisms and actors involved in disinformation campaigns—tracking bot networks, identifying troll accounts, monitoring media narratives, and tracing the diffusion of disinformation content. They’ve also included governmental efforts to implement data protection and privacy policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and legislative proposals to introduce more transparency and accountability into the online advertising space.

While these efforts are certainly valuable for raising awareness among the public and policymakers, by focusing on the end product (the content), they rarely delve into the underlying infrastructure and advertising marketsdriving disinformation campaigns. Doing so requires a deeper examination and assessment of the “back end” of disinformation. In other words, the algorithms and industries—the online advertising market, the SEO manipulation market, and data brokers—behind the end product. Increased automation paired with machine learning will transform this space as well.

To get ahead of these emerging threats, Europe and the United States should consider several policy responses.

First, the EU and the United States should commit significant funding to research and development at the intersection of AI and information warfare. In April, the European Commission called for at least 20 billion euros (about $23 billion) to be spent on research on AI by 2020, prioritizing the health, agriculture, and transportation sectors. None of the funds are earmarked for research and development specifically on disinformation. At the same time, current European initiatives to counter disinformation prioritize education and fact-checking while leaving out AI and other new technologies.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats. In the United States, the government has been reluctant to step in to push forward tech research as Silicon Valley drives innovation with little oversight. The 2016 Obama administration report on the future of AI did not allocate funding, and the Trump administration has yet to release its own strategy. As revelations of Russian manipulation of digital platforms continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that governments will need to work together with private sector firms to identify vulnerabilities and national security threats.

Furthermore, the EU and the U.S. government should also move quickly to prevent the rise of misinformation on decentralized applications. The emergence of decentralized applications presents policymakers with a rare second chance: When social networks were being built a decade ago, lawmakers failed to anticipate the way in which they could be exploited by malicious actors. With such applications still a niche market, policymakers can respond before the decentralized web reaches global scale. Governments should form new public-private partnerships to help developers ensure that the next generation of the web isn’t as ripe for misinformation campaigns. A model could be the United Nations’ Tech Against Terrorism project, which works closely with small tech companies to help them design their platforms from the ground up to guard against terrorist exploitation.

Finally, legislators should continue to push for reforms in the digital advertising industry. As AI continues to transform the industry, disinformation content will become more precise and micro-targeted to specific audiences. AI will make it far easier for malicious actors and legitimate advertisers alike to track user behavior online, identify potential new users to target, and collect information about users’ attitudes, beliefs, and preferences.

In 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released a report calling for transparency and accountability in the data broker industry. The report called on Congress to consider legislation that would shine light on these firms’ activities by giving individuals access and information about how their data is collected and used online. The EU’s protection regulation goes a long way in giving users control over their data and limits how social media platforms process users’ data for ad-targeting purposes. Facebook is also experimenting with blocking foreign ad sales ahead of contentious votes. Still, the digital ads industry as a whole remains a black box to policymakers, and much more can still be done to limit data mining and regulate political ads online.

Effectively tracking and targeting each of the areas above won’t be easy. Yet policymakers need to start focusing on them now. If the EU’s new anti-disinformation effort and other related policies fail to track evolving technologies, they risk being antiquated before they’re even introduced.

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