Is Tehran spying on Southern California?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran
Authorities allege that two Iranians were operating in Orange County as spies on behalf of Iran. One of the men, Majid Ghorbani, worked at Darya, a popular Persian restaurant in Sana Ana, for more than 20 years. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They seemed an unlikely pair of spies.

The older man, Majid Ghorbani, worked at a posh Persian restaurant in Santa Ana’s South Coast Village Plaza. At 59, he wore a thick gray mustache and the weary expression of a man who had served up countless plates of rice and kebab.

The younger man, Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, was a Long Beach native who held dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. Round-faced and bespectacled, the 38-year-old answered to the Farsi nickname “Topol,” or “Chubby.”

Yet even as the men sipped coffee at a Costa Mesa Starbucks, chatted outside an Irvine market, or made trips to Macy’s at South Coast Plaza, they were doggedly trailed by federal agents.

Despite the pair’s disarming appearance, U.S. authorities allege they were operating in Orange County as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran — an accusation that has alarmed many in the local Persian community because it suggests tensions between the U.S. and Iran have spilled over into Southern California.

The men’s goal, authorities say, was to conduct surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., and to collect information on members of the Mujahedin Khalq, MEK, an Iranian exile group that has long sought to topple the regime in Tehran and enjoys newfound support among members of the Trump administration.

Within the span of a year — from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018 — authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago.

During that time, the men also flew back and forth between Iran and Los Angeles International Airport, and appeared to be assembling “target packages” — dossiers that would “enable an intelligence or military unit to find, fix, track and neutralize a threat,” according to documents filed in Washington, D.C., federal court.

In at least one instance, the pair were recorded by an FBI listening device as Ghorbani briefed Doostdar on a New York MEK event in September 2017, according to court documents.

“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they are working with,” the waiter said, according to court documents. “I have prepared a package, but it is not complete.”

::

The target of the alleged spying, the MEK, is a shadowy organization with a militant past. Up until 2012, it was deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Although few Americans have heard of it, the group has vexed the Iranian government since the revolution of 1979, when members helped to overthrow the shah.

Led by a husband-and-wife power couple — Massoud and Maryam Rajavi — the group was sheltered and armed by Saddam Hussein for nearly 20 years. Known for its female-led military units, the MEK was disarmed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Massoud Rajavi went missing that same year and is believed to be dead.

Despite a long history of lobbying U.S. lawmakers and officials for support, few have taken the group seriously — up until now, that is.

President Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, is not only a prominent hawk on Iran, he has championed the MEK. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has also supported the group.

“The MEK in recent years has spent time and money building political capital,” said Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth College’s Center for International Understanding. “Bolton has been the MEK’s most dedicated long marcher.”

Although the Trump administration has not explicitly stated that it seeks regime change in Iran, it has reimposed tough economic sanctions and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal. These actions, as well as new, cozier relations with the MEK, have apparently worried Iran enough to act against the group.

In a case similar to the one in Orange County, two Iranians in Albania were arrested in March after allegedly surveilling the MEK. In July, an Iranian diplomat in Germany was arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb a MEK rally in Paris.

“This is escalation of Iran attempting to attack us,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, the U.S. deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an MEK-linked organization.

::

It is unclear how Ghorbani and Doostdar first came into contact, but investigators believe their first physical meeting occurred behind Darya, the Persian restaurant where Ghorbani had worked for more than 20 years.

Doostdar was born in Long Beach but left at a young age to move to Canada and then Iran. An energy tech consultant, Doostdar had visited the U.S. on only a few occasions, court documents say. His wife gave birth to a baby girl in late August and was hoping to bring her to the U.S.

Ghorbani, whom neighbors and co-workers described as quiet and easygoing, was born in Iran but immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He kept mostly to himself and lived with his brother and a Pomeranian dog in a quiet Costa Mesa apartment complex not far from the restaurant.

A fellow employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the restaurant, said Ghorbani was well-liked and generous. On one occasion, Ghorbani lent money to a co-worker who was struggling, the employee said.

Investigators said Ghorbani also infiltrated meetings the MEK held at Darya. During one meetup in early August, Ghorbani met with MEK members as they discussed sending three American senators to evaluate the group’s base in Albania, according to the indictment.

Rene Redjaian, a spokeswoman for Darya, said the restaurant owners had no idea that Ghorbani was allegedly involved in spying. “Our owners love America and knew nothing about the events that took place at Darya,” Redjaian said.

As time went on, the men continued their alleged covert operation, unaware that federal agents were closing in.

In December 2017, Doostdar returned to Iran allegedly to hand over the intelligence Ghorbani had collected. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agents searched his checked luggage at LAX and found an orange and white CVS pharmacy envelope. Inside the envelope, FBI agents found photos of Ghorbani standing next to people who were at the New York City MEK rally from September 2017. Many of the photographs had names and positions of the individuals written on the back, including one photograph that had “Dr. Ahmad Rajavi, the brother of Massoud,” written on it, prosecutors said in court documents.

In March 2018, Ghorbani traveled to Iran to conduct an in-person briefing about ways to take photos for an upcoming conference supported by the MEK, prosecutors allege.

When he returned April 17, authorities found tucked in his luggage a list written in Farsi that detailed his future tasks, including deeper infiltration into the MEK and recruiting a second person, according to court documents.

The pair never succeeded in allegedly recruiting another operative, however.

On Aug. 9, FBI agents swarmed Darya restaurant and arrested Ghorbani in front of stunned co-workers.

Doostdar was arrested the same day in Chicago.

Both men have been accused of acting as agents of a foreign government without prior notification of the U.S. attorney general and with providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain in custody.

Ghorbani’s lawyer has declined to comment on the case. Doostdar’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said he’s suspicious about the timing of his client’s arrest considering it comes on the heels of Trump reimposing sanctions against Iran.

“There’s political machinations going on between the Trump administration and Iran. Why did the government all of a sudden decide to arrest these people?” he said.

::

The arrests of Ghorbani and Doostdar have left many in Orange County’s Persian community shaken.

“There is a sense of fear in the Iranian community that the regime in Iran are sending people to USA and keeping track of movements,” said Mike Kazemi, an Irvine immigration lawyer.

For those in the Persian community who are against the Islamic Republic but also disagree with the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran, the escalation in tensions has been disconcerting. They say it serves as a reminder of how both American and Iranian officials view members of the Iranian diaspora with suspicion.

“We are in the middle of two hard places,” Kazemi said.

Yet others in the community say they are refusing to allow geopolitics to interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine, said she understands how recent developments might cause some Persians to feel scared of being too visible.

Throughout her career, Rahimieh said, she has been chastised for either appearing pro-Islamic Republic or anti-Islamic Republic.

But those experiences have left Rahimieh emboldened to speak out against what she said is the fear-mongering rhetoric present in today’s political environment.

“There is such rabid desire to show Iranians as bad actors and as bad agents that it’s had the opposite effect on me,” Rahimieh said. “To paint all Iranians with the same brush is something that needs to be protested.”

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Gov. Shutdown About To Get ‘Really Bad’ For Unpaid TSA Workers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

POLITICS 

01/10/2019 01:11 pm ET

The Government Shutdown Is About To Get ‘Really Bad’ For Unpaid TSA Workers

These essential federal employees are about to miss their first paycheck of 2019.
X

Transportation Security Administration employees would normally receive their first paycheck of the year on Friday, but the government shutdown means that won’t happen. Instead, workers are bracing for the next phase of the shutdown as they worry how to pay for gas, rent and food with no income in sight.

Now, the effects of the shutdown will get a whole lot worse, the TSA employee union and several officers told HuffPost.

“Morale is, I believe, close to rock bottom, and I think things will start getting really bad if this isn’t fixed by this weekend,” one TSA officer told HuffPost, requesting anonymity out of concern over repercussions at work.

TSA employees received their last paycheck on Dec. 28, giving them money that would typically last through the next pay period ― but which will now have to stretch much further. Many TSA workers live paycheck to paycheck, with the starting salary for officers between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. The shutdown has already forced some employees to look for new jobs or take on extra work, TSA staff say, and the pressure is immense for employees and families with no other source of income.

“I don’t know how people are going to get to work next week, when we don’t get a check,” said Joe Shuker, a regional vice president for the TSA employee union. Shuker says many workers will have to choose between the cost of getting to their job at the airport and covering everyday living expenses.

The shutdown is taking an increasing toll on federal workers, adding stress to already difficult work environments such as airport security. As the situation deteriorates at these jobs, some experts warn that it may also increase the risk of corruption at borders, prisons and airports. Meanwhile, the TSA employee union claims that a loss of staff over the shutdown could create a “massive security risk” for travelers if the agency is left short-handed.

People are out of money already.Joe Shuker, a regional vice president for the TSA employee union

Although TSA officers will very likely receive back pay when the government eventually reopens, that does little to help with their immediate expenses and concerns. Because TSA workers are classified as providing essential services, they must continue to work through the shutdown with no pay coming in and can face disciplinary action for unexplained absences.

Already the shutdown has resulted in hundreds of employees calling out of work sick, according to union officials. The TSA has rejected reports of widespread callouts, however, with a representative telling HuffPost that rates are only slightly higher than at this time last year ― but multiple employees say that they do know of some officers who are calling out due to the shutdown.

“No one wants to go to work and not get paid, especially for a job like TSA,” another TSA officer told HuffPost, also on the condition of anonymity.

The shutdown is now in its 20th day, and there is no sign of a breakthrough in negotiations over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall with Mexico. On Wednesday, Trump abruptly walked out of a meeting with top Democratic leaders ― which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described as “a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.”

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown, often resulting in them scrambling to make rent or even pay for medicine. Federal workers have already held or planned protests in major cities, including one in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, and Shuker expects more to come if the shutdown isn’t resolved soon.

“I can’t imagine it being a good situation next week, because people are out of money already,” Shuker said.

“We’ve got a lot of dedicated people, man, but sooner or later they’re gonna break.”

Can We Respect The Office Of Our President: Even If We Don’t Respect The President?

Can We Respect The Office Of Our President: Even If We Don’t Respect The President?

 

The first President I remember was the day President John Kennedy got murdered. Since then I have known of all of these Presidents, while they were Our President, some of whom I have little personal respect for. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, B-1, Clinton,  B-2, Obama, Trump. So, that means that I have known 10 Reins of power in my time. Some of the Men who have held this position were Democrats and some were Republicans, some of each were good, some were very not good. Even if we like, or dislike a certain man can we still respect the Office Of The Presidency of Our Country while they were holding it? I have known 10 Presidents, 4 of them Democrats, 6 Republicans. Personally I would give passing grades to 3 of these 10 men at doing at least an okay job of being Our President, of Our Country. The Passing grades would go to 2 Democrats and 1 Republican. Yes I may be a bit harsh on this issue, but shouldn’t we all be, at least on this issue?

 

Now that I got that pet peeve out of the way there are 2 others that I would like to talk with you about. One of these I remember seeing somewhere recently here online. Disrespectful things, at least to me, in my opinion.

Does the Nations Media ever refer to Our President as President, in at least as far back as George Bush Senior? Nowadays we pretty much only hear Obama or Trump did or didn’t do this or that, almost never it seems do I see or hear, President Obama or President Trump, do you?

 

The other pet peeve is how political type posters start off their slogans on how they want you to remember them, when is the last time you ever seen or heard them simply start their slogan or request with the simple word Please? The word Please is meant to simply refer to as a Request. Why is it wrong to say ‘Please vote for me’ instead of simply ‘vote for me’? Why is showing kindness for each other now out of style? Why not say ‘Please Support Our Troops’? is to do so being weak in your eyes? Would you not rather be asked to do something over being ordered to do the same thing?

 

Well, I guess that’s it for my pet peeve quipes of the day, I hope it gave you a moment or two of mental relaxation. I do hope that you are each able to have a good and a safe weekend.

Has Donald Trump Murdered Christianity In The U.S.?

Has Donald Trump Murdered Christianity In The U.S.?

 

While I was thinking about this article and what to call it I at first thought to name it ‘Donald Trump HAS Murdered Christianity in the U.S.’ but I realized that this was not the truth, he has not done so. To me, I believe that Donald Trump is a very VERY immoral and a very evil human being but he did not murder Christianity in this country nor in any other country. The Christian faith has been under attack by the Media and by simply ignorant people for decades now here in the U.S.. Having someone like Mr. Trump as our Nation’s President has without a doubt (in my opinion) hurt the Christian faith though. Now, I am going to write about who I do blame for hurting the reputation of The Faith and I promise that this will not be a long drawn out article. This is not going to be an article about whom I blame the most, then second most and so on, it is just going to be about guilt over all.

 

1.) First Donald Trump for daring to say in his ignorance that he is a Christian when he knows nothing about Christianity. He is what The Lord refers to as “lukewarm water”, he says he is a Christian and for those who don’t know any better some will tend to think that he is one of us and will use him as an example of why Christians are such bad people.

 

2.) The Media (over all). Not all media outlets are ignorant nor are they all evil by nature and some, are just stupid. Many outlets have been blaming Christianity as a ‘bad thing’ for years here in the U.S. through ignorance and some through hate.

 

3.) The Republican Party (especially Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the U.S. Senate) whom has been trying to say they are the “Christian right” all the way back to the time of the Reagan Presidency in the 1980’s. For the past 20 years or so there has been a group within the Republican Party who calls themselves the “Tea Party” who considers themselves “Conservative Christians” whom over all, I believe are far from being Christians at all. One of the big reasons that I am saying this is because they are a huge portion of the steadfast base of Mr. Trump. What these folks have been proving to the rest of the Nation and to the whole World is that they (Trump base) are ignorant, uneducated racists white people. The Media in turn has been glad to say  “see, these people are examples of Christians” so, do you see how horrible these Christian people are.

 

4.) This group is without a doubt (to me) the main villains in this story and that is the people themselves. The people who dare to call themselves Christians yet enthusiastically endorse Donald Trump. I know that a lot of people will say things like “well I have to endorse the Republicans because the Democrats endorse abortion and I just can’t go with them.” To a degree this can seem to make some sense but in effect all these people are doing is choosing one Demonic entity over another Demonic entity. Some people who call themselves Christians have chosen to not vote at all because of this issue even before Mr. Trump came onto the National political scene yet, is this the best way for the actual Christians in this Country to respond? My thought on this issue is no, Christians need to be voting in force in this and in all Countries but not for the Democrats nor for the Republicans.

 

I have heard for the past 40 years or so how we need more than two Political Parties in this Country and I do agree with this issue. We The People whom are Christians do need to come out of these two very evil Political Parties and to form at least one other Political Party. I believe that this would start the development of other Political Parties. There could end up being 5-10-15 other ‘Parties’ on the ballots but at least then groups of people could have real choices of whom and what they agreed with and did not agree with when or if they choose to vote. Christians MUST come out from ‘the world’ for we are not of this world, to not do so is to indorse Satan whom rules this world.

Jackie Chan sex scene leads to firing of TV station boss in Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

 

Jackie Chan sex scene leads to firing of TV station boss in Iran

An Iranian TV boss and other staffers have been axed after an “immoral” sex scene featuring actor Jackie Chan aired on a local station, according to reports.

Viewers on Iran’s Kish Island were stunned when a scene featuring the Hong Kong martial arts star sleeping with a prostitute in the 2009 movie “Shinjuku Incident” popped up on their screens.

The raunchy scene slipped through the country’s censorship rules, which are so strict that men and women aren’t even allowed to shake hands on screen.

“Clips of immoral scenes of a film featuring Jackie Chan have been circulating on social media which was apparently shown by Kish IRIB,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

The gaffe cost IRIB’s regional director general his job and some of the station employees were either let go or reprimanded, ISNA said.

Iranians blasted the harsh move as hypocritical, saying no one had been fired over a fatal bus crash that killed 10 students at Tehran’s Azad University last week.

“Buses turn over, planes crash, ships sink… no one is dismissed… A few seconds of Jackie Chan making love on IRIB and immediately all staff in that section are sacked,” one person wrote on Twitter.

Iran also censors interactions between men and women sharing “tender words or jokes,” women who aren’t covered up, close-ups of women’s faces and exposed necklines, and negative portrayals of police and bearded men, BBC News reported.

The head of IRIB, Aliasgari Ali Askari, has ordered an investigation and promised to “seriously deal with the offenders and report them to the relevant authorities.”

IRIB TV host Reza Rashidpoor joked on his morning talk show that the Chan drama could’ve been avoided altogether if the broadcaster had included a caption that said the actor was married to the actress playing the hooker.

Rashidpoor was referring to a show last week in which IRIB added a disclaimer to say a couple holding hands on screen were married in real life.

With Post wires

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Kremlin Denies Erdogan-Putin Meeting

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Kremlin Denies Erdogan-Putin Meeting

Wednesday, 26 December, 2018 – 11:30
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AP
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he would most probably meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin regarding US withdrawal from Syria, but Kremlin denied the meeting.

However, Erdogan did not disclose the timing of the meeting.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for his part, said he will travel to Russia in the coming days to discuss the same issue, Reuters reported from CNN Turk, which quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

On Monday, Erdogan’s spokesman said Turkey would increase coordination with Russia in Syria following the US decision to withdraw.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin does not have immediate plans to meet with the Turkish leader.

Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Geneva office Gennady Gatilov announced in an interview with Izvestia on Tuesday that Turkey, which has long common borders with Syria, has certain reasons to respond to threats to its security, especially if those threats come from terrorist organizations.

“We believe that the Kurdish issue is a very sensitive subject of the entire political architecture in Syria.”

“Turkey’s activities in [Syria’s] north is a temporary phenomenon related to [Ankara’s] national security concerns and, first of all, terrorist threat,” Gatilov said when asked about Moscow’s assessment of Turkey’s steps.

Gatilov pointed to the fact that Turkey had expressed support for Syria’s territorial sovereignty and added that Russia had no reasons to doubt its plans.

Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

 

Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG

Wednesday, 26 December, 2018 – 10:45
French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkey warned France that it is pointless to maintain its military presence in Syria to protect the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“If France is staying to contribute to Syria’s future, great, but if they are doing this to protect the (militia), this will bring no benefit to anyone,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters according to state news agency Anadolu.

Cavusoglu hit out at France’s “support” of the YPG, which he said was “no secret”, pointing to a meeting French President Emmanuel Macron had held on Friday with the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF).

The YPG serves as the military backbone of the SDF.

Turkey views the YPG as terrorist organization affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

France is part of the international anti-terrorism coalition led by the US in Syria and Iraq. It dispatched military pilots and artillery soldiers to carry out bombings. Several sources also reported the deployment of French special forces in Syrian territory, but Paris has not confirmed this information.

Last week, US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 US ground forces that had been in Syria to provide training to the YPG under the SDF.

The shock move put allies on the backfoot, with Macron on Sunday saying: “An ally must be reliable”.

On Sunday, Macron avoided commenting on the demands made by two representatives of the “Syrian Democratic Council” after Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

He summed up by the situation by announcing Paris “regrets” the US decision, given that the mission to terminate ISIS was not over yet, adding that the SDF should not be abandoned and allies should not be “left in the middle of the road.”

France confirmed it will remain in the alliance despite the US withdrawal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara will intervene in the coming months against ISIS and the YPG.

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE BEAST’ NEWS)

 

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

The specific issue that brought down Bibi’s government was subsidies for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. Still, he thinks he’ll win at the polls again in April.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — In the most expected surprise declaration of 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and elections to be held in early April.

The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the region with the startling announcement he was immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and as his long-anticipated plan to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be have shriveled.

A 2019 electoral campaign was inevitable, in fact. Netanyahu’s four-year mandate runs out in November 2019, but Monday’s unforeseen move became inescapable when Netanyahu was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a popular law levying heavier fines against orthodox Jewish seminary students who dodge Israel’s otherwise universal draft of 18-years-olds on religious grounds.

Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition members opposed the law, and two opposition parties that had initially hinted at support withdrew it due to fears Netanyahu and his religious political partners had cut a secret deal providing financial compensation to counterbalance fines imposed on draft dodgers.

Elections have been in the air since Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last month, which left the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition hanging by a single Knesset vote.

Lieberman has since taunted Netanyahu for his “government for survival,” but the prime minister remains the most popular leader in Israel’s rambunctious multi-part political process.

The next three months will see Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, confront unprecedented tests, none more challenging than his own precarious legal predicament.

Following police and state attorney recommendations that he be indicted on several corruption charges, senior Israeli jurists say his prosecution appears inevitable.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, an essential partner in any future Netanyahu government, restated on Monday that no minister, and no prime minister, can continue to serve if indicted.

Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a rare statement reassuring the public that its work in sifting through the legal recommendations will continue “as usual” despite the announcement of elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who will make the final determination, said at a conference last week that Israeli law has not yet had to decide whether a sitting prime minister may remain in office if facing legal prosecution.

In recent years, both a president and a prime minister resigned when facing almost certain indictment,. Both eventually served time in prison.

Speaking to a quickly assembled meeting of his parliamentary faction, and ignoring the legal drama, Netanyahu forecast victory in the April vote and said the coalition he currently leads—the most right-wing in Israeli history and one of the most volatile— is “the seed” for his future government.

Listing his administration’s achievements, Netanyahu ignored instability in the financial markets that saw the Tel Aviv stock exchange lose more than 5 percent of its value since U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, where they have provided crucial support for Israeli efforts to contain and halt Iranian entrenchment.

Lauding his government’s “four full years of achievements,” Netanyahu praised Israel as “a growing power, with flourishing diplomatic ties” with continental powerhouse nations such as India, Brazil and Australia, far from Israel’s historic allies.

After extolling ties with “west and east Europe, and central Europe, and Latin America,” Netanyahu extolled Israel’s alliance “with the United States that has never been stronger, with the historic decision made by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

“Israel has the eighth most powerful military on earth,” he boasted to his followers. “It is hard to believe, Israel is not a large country, but serious institutions rank us that high.”

Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Treat allies with respect: Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

In devastating note stressing importance of America’s alliances, Pentagon chief tells US president he should pick a defense secretary ‘whose views are better aligned with yours’

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

The full text of the resignation letter US Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted to President Donald Trump on December 20, 2018.

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong US global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

READ MORE:

Trump Defrauded Voters. But What Does It Mean?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(SIMPLY PUT, TRUMP IS A FRAUDULENT PRESIDENT) 

Prosecutors’ Narrative Is Clear: Trump Defrauded Voters. But What Does It Mean?

In the narrative that prosecutors are building, President Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia well into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him.CreditAl Drago for The New York Times
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In the narrative that prosecutors are building, President Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia well into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him.CreditCreditAl Drago for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.

The prosecutors made clear in their memo that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump dismissed the filings, and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, minimized the importance of any potential campaign finance violations. Democrats, however, said they could lead to impeachment.

In a sentencing memo filed on Friday in the case of Mr. Cohen, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York depicted Mr. Trump, identified only as “Individual-1,” as an accomplice in the hush payments. While Mr. Trump was not charged, the reference echoed Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury investigating the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters.

“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the prosecutors wrote.

“He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” they continued. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

The exposure on campaign finance laws poses a challenge to Mr. Trump’s legal team, which before now has focused mainly on rebutting allegations of collusion and obstruction while trying to call into question Mr. Mueller’s credibility.

“Until now, you had two different charges, allegations, whatever you want to call them,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on Saturday. “One was collusion with the Russians. One was obstruction of justice and all that entails. And now you have a third — that the president was at the center of a massive fraud against the American people.”

The episode recalled a criminal case brought against former Senator John Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, who while running for president in 2008 sought to cover up an extramarital affair that resulted in pregnancy. He was charged with violating campaign finance laws stemming from money used to hide his pregnant lover, but a trial ended in 2012 with an acquittal on one charge and a mistrial on five others.

Mr. Giuliani pointed to that outcome on Saturday to argue that the president should not be similarly charged.

“The President is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others the payments are not campaign contributions,” Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter. “No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law.”

But Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty under that interpretation of the law, and even if Mr. Trump cannot be charged while in office, the House could still investigate or even seek to impeach him. The framers of the Constitution specifically envisioned impeachment as a remedy for removing a president who obtained office through corrupt means, and legal scholars have long concluded that the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors” does not necessarily require a statutory crime.

If the campaign finance case as laid out by prosecutors is true, Mr. Nadler said, Mr. Trump would be likely to meet the criteria for an impeachable offense, and he said he would instruct his committee to investigate when he takes over in January.

But he added that did not necessarily mean that the committee should vote to impeach Mr. Trump. “Is it serious enough to justify impeachment?” he asked. “That is another question.”

The strategy of Mr. Trump’s lawyers has been predicated on the assurance by senior Justice Department officials that if Mr. Mueller found evidence that the president broke the law, he would not be indicted while in office. But the hush money investigation is being led by a separate office of prosecutors in New York, and far less time has been spent publicly or privately trying to protect Mr. Trump from that inquiry.

And while the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, that does not mean a president cannot be charged after leaving office. The prosecutors in New York have examined the statute of limitations on the campaign finance violations and believe charges could be brought against Mr. Trump if he is not re-elected, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that if the campaign finance case as laid out by prosecutors was true, Mr. Trump would likely meet the criteria for an impeachable offense.CreditJ. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
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Representative Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that if the campaign finance case as laid out by prosecutors was true, Mr. Trump would likely meet the criteria for an impeachable offense.CreditJ. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Mr. Trump’s lawyers view that as unlikely if it is based solely on the current charges.

At the White House on Friday evening, staff members gathered for a holiday dinner with Mr. Trump and the first lady as if nothing were wrong. Mr. Trump’s advisers have told him that the latest filings do not present a danger to him legally, although they cautioned him that the political risks were hard to calculate, according to people familiar with the discussions.

One adviser said the president’s team had concluded that Mr. Trump was not likely to face a threat from prosecution in the New York case because if Mr. Cohen had more to deliver, then prosecutors would not be bringing him to court for sentencing in the coming week or requesting substantial prison time. Another adviser said that the Cohen threat appeared to be over.

For public consumption, at least, Mr. Trump and his Republican allies chose to focus on the Russia matter on Saturday, arguing again that no wrongdoing had been proved.

“On the Mueller situation, we’re very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia.”

American intelligence agencies have said the Russians were in fact trying to aid Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who will be the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the new Congress, which begins next month, said he saw no reason conservatives should walk away from Mr. Trump given his record of policy achievements and questions about the impartiality of the president’s investigators.

“I always come back to the facts,” he said in an interview. “To date, not one bit of evidence of any type of coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election.”

If prosecutors have conclusive evidence of conspiracy, they have not shown their hand. But the filings in recent days made clear that while Mr. Trump repeatedly insisted he had no business dealings in Russia, it was not without trying.

Mr. Trump’s business was pursuing a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow until June 2016, while Mr. Trump was locking up the Republican nomination and long after Mr. Cohen had previously said the project was dropped.

At the same time, Mr. Cohen, starting in November 2015, was in contact with a well-connected Russian who proposed “synergy on a government level” with the Trump campaign and proposed a meeting between Mr. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The Russian said such a meeting could grease the way for the tower, telling Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than consent” by Mr. Putin.

In his own court memo, Mr. Mueller said that Mr. Cohen’s false account that the deal had collapsed in January 2016 was designed “in hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election — an issue of heightened national interest.”

The president’s lawyers have been deeply concerned that Mr. Trump could be portrayed as an unindicted co-conspirator in court documents. As he was preparing to submit written responses to questions from Mr. Mueller last month, Mr. Trump’s lawyers learned about language the special counsel wanted to include in a plea agreement with a conservative conspiracy theorist, who was under investigation for his links to WikiLeaks, which released Democratic emails that intelligence agencies said were stolen by Russian agents.

The document said that the conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi, understood that one of Mr. Trump’s associates, Roger J. Stone Jr., was “in regular contact with senior members of the Trump campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump,” when Mr. Stone asked Mr. Corsi to find out from the head of WikiLeaks what he had in store for the Clinton campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers feared that Mr. Mueller was trying to cast Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator. Mr. Trump’s lawyers held off sending the answers and demanded a meeting with Justice Department officials and Mr. Mueller’s team, according to one person close to the president.

In a meeting at the Justice Department that was presided over by the principal associate deputy attorney general, Ed O’Callaghan, Mr. Trump’s lawyers — including Mr. Giuliani and Jay Sekulow — expressed concern to Mr. Mueller’s team. It was unclear what Mr. Mueller’s team said in response, but shortly thereafter Mr. Trump sent in his answers.

Mr. Corsi has declined to accept a plea deal and has not been charged with a crime.

Although Mr. Trump asserted on Saturday that he was “happy” with the latest filings, others did not agree. The Cohen information alone “puts impeachment on the table, and I can’t help but think that that is what this is barreling toward,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican strategist who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “Any other presidency at this point would have been done when their own Department of Justice filed something like that.”

But while the House can impeach a president on a majority vote, conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote, meaning that unless at least 20 Republican senators abandon Mr. Trump, he is safe from removal. Despite the losses in the House last month, Republicans, if anything, have moved closer to the president.

While liberals are pressing Democrats to move on impeachment, party leaders remain wary, fearing a backlash. Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, said the standard set during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying under oath certainly puts Mr. Trump “in impeachment territory” because of the campaign finance issue.

“On the other hand,” he added, “in the compendium of Donald Trump’s offenses against the rule of law and the Constitution, this may not be in the top five.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York, and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on  of the New York edition with the headline: Exposure on Election Laws a Challenge to Trump. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe