Russian politician: US spies slept while Russia elected Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Russian politician: US spies slept while Russia elected Trump

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian parliament, made the snarky comment
  • Nikonov’s tone suggests that the remarks were made in jest

Washington (CNN)A Russian politician appeared to mock the US intelligence community in a recent television appearance, saying American spies “slept through while Russia elected a new US president.”

Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, made the snarky reference to Russian interference in the 2016 US election on Sunday during a weekly political show called “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.”
“(To achieve world dominance) the US overextended themselves,” Nikonov said. “Because the most recent tendencies, economical, military, even tendencies in the intelligence (services) which slept through while Russia elected a new US president.”
“It’s just ridiculous, what kind of intelligence in the USA one can even talk about?” he added. “The US sagged in all these aspects for the past two decades. This superpower is losing its ability to define the world.”
The comments were first noticed by Julia Davis, who runs a website that is largely critical of Russian media called “Russia Lies.”
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While Nikonov’s tone suggests that the remarks were made in jest for the purpose of arguing the point that American power in the world was declining, his jab at US intelligence services comes amid several ongoing investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, including a probe into alleged collusion with members of the Trump campaign.
The US government publicly announced in October that it was “confident” Russia orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in the lead-up to the election.
And in January, days before President Donald Trump took office, the US intelligence community concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at hurting Trump’s rival, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
Trump has branded the investigation the “single greatest witch hunt” in political history and consistently questioned the intelligence community’s findings well into his presidency.
Since the election, Trump has appeared to view suggestions of Russian meddling as a Democratic effort to de-legitimize his election win, even though the intelligence community did not conclude that Russian efforts made a difference in the election result.
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in any attempts to influence last year’s US Presidential election.
When asked directly whether Russia interfered in the election, Putin said in March: “Read my lips: No.” He also described the allegations as “fictional, illusory, provocations and lies.”
At a June economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin compared accusations of Russian meddling in the US election to anti-Semitism and labeled the reports of then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s meetings with Trump associates as “hysteria,” saying the envoy was simply doing what he’s paid to do.
In March, CNN reported that Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, citing senior US government officials. Russia’s Foreign Ministry strongly rejected the allegations.
Kislyak downplayed his contact with members of the Trump campaign in an exclusive interview with CNN last month, calling allegations that he worked as a spymaster and tried to recruit people within Trump’s orbit “nonsense.”

“Russia Has Never Denied Israels Rights To Jerusalem, The Temple Mount Or The Western Wall”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JERUSALEM POST)    (THIS IS A RE-POST FROM 11-06-2016 HAS ANYTHING REALLY CHANGED)

Moscow has never denied Israel’s rights to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said in advance of his visit to the Jewish state later this week.

“These rights are clear and it would be absurd to deny them,” he told Channel 2 anchorwoman Yonit Levy.

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He spoke warmly of Russia’s ties with Israel, despite Moscow’s votes against the Jewish state at the United Nations and its delivery of the S-300 missiles to Iran.


Benjamin Netanyahu Dimitry Medvedev. (Photo credit: RIA NOVOSTI / REUTERS)

Levy quizzed him about those controversial issues as well as his support for Syrian President Basher Assad and charges that his country had intervened in the US elections.

How does Russia explain its support of the UNESCO vote “to disregard the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” Levy asked Medvedev.

The issue had been blown out of proportion, he responded speaking in Russian, with a Hebrew translation by Channel 2.

There have been some ten votes by UNESCO Boards and Committees on such Jerusalem resolutions, Medvedev said.

“There is nothing new here,” he said, as he dismissed the significance of UNESCO texts that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif.

“Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall,” Medvedev said.

“Therefore there is no need to politicize this decision,” Medvedev said, adding that such resolutions, were “not directed against Israel.”

Similarly, he said, there was nothing contradictory in Russia’s sale and shipment of the advanced S-300 advanced surface to air missile defense system to Iran.

Israel had opposed such sales because they significantly upgrade Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear sites against any attacks. It is particularly concerned because it does not believe that the Iran deal, put in place in 2015, will limit Tehran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Medvedev told Channel 2 that prior to the Iran deal, Russia respected the sanctions against Tehran and refrained from delivering the S-300. Now that the deal is in place and the sanctions were lifted, there was no reason not to complete the sale, he said.

Moving over to Syria, he referred to President Bashar Assad as the country’s only legitimate leader and added that Israel’s leadership preferred his rule to the prospect of a divided country under terrorist leadership.

“I know him (Assad) personally. There are those who love him and those who don’t. At present Assad is the only legitimate authority operating in Syria. Any regime change would have to occur legitimately,” Medvedev said.

“I remember that during my meetings with Israeli leaders, they told me they were not completely for Assad, but that there has to be someone in charge of the situation, rather than an uncontrolled break up of the country into enclaves ruled by terrorists,” Medvedev said.

Middle East terrorism, he said, is threatening his country from within.

“There are thousands of Russians fighting on behalf of ISIS and other Islamic Jihadist groups,” Medvedev said. “When they return they are experienced murders and terrorists. After their time fighting in Syria we don’t want them to organize something similar [within Russia],” he said.

Levy asked how the presence of the Russian air force in Syria impacted Israel’s ability to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

Medvedev said that it was operating from the assumption that “all sides would not take steps to aggravate the conflict.”

With regard to the United States, he charged that it had not kept its commitments in Syria and that the relationship between Washington and Moscow was at a very low point.

Medvedev chuckled when Levy asked him if Russia had interfered with the US elections.

He quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he stated that “the United States is not a banana republic.”

The US, he said, was a large and strong country and could not be influenced in that way. “It doesn’t matter who will be elected, but what policy they will execute,” he said.

“Its clear [that either candidate] will act in the best national interest of the US,” Medvedev said.

He called Republican candidate Donald Trump brilliant and said he had never met him. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said, was professional and known to him from the times he met with her when she was US Secretary of State from 2009-2012.

Russia expects to have a “normal” and “productive” relationship with whichever of the two candidates wins the White House, Medvedev said.

With regard to the Russian initiative to hold a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Presdient Mahmoud Abbas, Medvedev said that Moscow was not looking to replace the United States or anyone else when it comes to the peace process.

On the other hand, he said, there are very discouraging signs with regard to that conflict and there have been no advancements to speak of on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the last few years.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

For Donald Trump, the noose is tightening

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

For Donald Trump, the noose is tightening

At the end of six months in office, Donald Trump doesn’t have a single legislative achievement to crow about. The failure to repeal ‘Obamacare’ is the biggest. Another setback for Trump is Congress’ move to impose new sanctions on Russia. Added to this is the investigation into his and his team’s involvement with Russia during the 2016 election

OPINION Updated: Aug 08, 2017 08:21 IST

US President Donald Trump’s poll ratings are lower than ever – and the lowest of any president at such an early point in an administration. Members of his own Republican Party are distancing themselves from him
US President Donald Trump’s poll ratings are lower than ever – and the lowest of any president at such an early point in an administration. Members of his own Republican Party are distancing themselves from him(AFP)

Even with a new minder trying to bring some order to the White House, United States President Donald Trump remains in a heap of trouble. The recent installation of retired general John Kelly, formerly Trump’s secretary for homeland security, as chief of staff, replacing the hapless Reince Priebus, has reduced some of the internal chaos and induced a bit more discipline in Trump’s behaviour. But all this could change any day, or at any moment.

Kelly has put a stop to aides sauntering into the Oval Office whenever they felt like it –Trump tends to echo the last person he’s spoken with – and has demanded that papers and memos for the president be submitted to him first. For the time being, at least, the president’s tweeting has been reduced in number and nuttiness.

Keen Trump observers expect that he’ll soon begin to chafe under the discipline Kelly has encouraged. Understanding Trump’s enormous ego, Kelly is said to encourage gently rather than instruct. Kelly also has the advantage of Trump’s high regard for generals.

But Trump could well become incensed by news stories praising Kelly for bringing order to the White House. (Counsellor Steve Bannon never fully recovered in the president’s esteem after he was on the cover of Time magazine soon after the inauguration.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s poll ratings are lower than ever – and the lowest of any president at such an early point in an administration. Members of his own Republican Party are distancing themselves from him.

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The recent failure of the Republican-dominated Congress to repeal Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which made healthcare available for millions of people who previously couldn’t afford it, was a humiliating defeat for Trump. Just enough Republican senators (three, but more were in reserve if needed) voted to reject the last of several efforts to fulfil the party’s vow to replace ‘Obamacare’.

That nickname for the ACA, coined by the Republicans when the law was enacted in early 2010, was intended to be derogatory, and their opposition to the program seemed to be vindicated in that year’s midterm elections, when they swept both houses of congress. But the Republicans didn’t reckon on two things: that as people gained access to health insurance (some 20 million by this year), it became popular – as did Obama, who ended his second term as one of America’s most liked presidents.

Over Obama’s tenure, Republicans came to realise that it was no longer sufficient simply to call for a repeal of ‘Obamacare’, and their rhetoric shifted to the need to “repeal and replace”. They held more than 50 roll-call votes saying that they’d do just that, knowing that it didn’t really matter because Obama would veto any serious repeal. The roll calls were actually fundraisers: Appeals to the unsuspecting Republican base to send money to keep up the fight against the supposedly hated programme.

But when the 2016 election put a Republican in the White House, the party’s congressional leaders had nowhere to hide. The Republicans were now in full control of the government – and they hadn’t a clue about what should replace Obamacare.

At the end of six months in office, Trump doesn’t have a single legislative achievement to crow about (though he has claimed the Senate’s approval of Neil Gorsuch as a new Supreme Court justice as a victory). Significantly, Senate Republican leaders ignored Trump’s demand that they take up repeal and replace of Obamacare again, before they consider any other major issue.

While the healthcare bill was commanding most of the attention on Capitol Hill, another piece of legislation was moving along in the Congress, representing another setback for Trump. Troubled by the president’s apparent soft spot for (or perhaps fear of) Vladimir Putin, overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both chambers passed a bill to impose more sanctions on Russia and – most unusually – to prevent the president from lifting any such penalties. And, because the bill passed with enough votes to override a presidential veto, Trump had little choice but to sign it, which he did in private, without the customary presence of a bill’s sponsors and the press.

Meanwhile, the investigation into Trump and his campaign’s relations with Russia in connection with its meddling in Trump’s favour in the 2016 election has continued out of the public’s sight. That investigation has broadened to include Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his son Donald Jr.

This spring, Trump let it be known that he wanted the special counsel running that investigation, Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who is highly respected by both parties, to be fired. He’d already fired FBI director James Comey, but by law, he couldn’t fire Mueller himself, so he tried to bully Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had (appropriately) recused himself from the investigation, into resigning. That way, Trump could appoint a replacement who would fire Mueller.

But Sessions, the first Republican senator to endorse Trump, was enjoying rolling back numerous Obama-era protections in areas like civil rights, and refused to resign. Several of Sessions’ former Senate colleagues also demanded that Trump back off. Though Kelly called Sessions to tell him that his job was safe, Republican senators, concerned that Trump might remove him during the August recess, established a procedure that would prevent Trump from appointing an interim attorney-general to fire Mueller, and warned that such a move would provoke a constitutional crisis.

Then, as Congress prepared to leave for the August recess, it was learned that Mueller – who had hired highly regarded prosecutors specialising in international financial transactions, despite Trump’s warnings not to investigate his finances – had impaneled a grand jury in Washington. The noose tightens.

Elizabeth Drew is a journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

Project Syndicate, 2017

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President’s Trump, Jingping, Putin: When Habitual Liars Are Lying To Each Other, Destruction Follows

 

Truth troubles, yes it is the name that I chose for this blog about five years ago when I started it and for reasons like today’s article is a good example why. Our Lord Jesus told us that “no liar shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven” yet we are also told that we should all “pray for our leaders”, yet what do we do when our leaders are habitual liars to their own people and to the whole world? Here in the U.S. the majority of our Congressmen and Senators have a ‘Law’ background. You would think that if a Lawyer or Judge wished for such a position that they were seeking the political office to help make sure that the Government was performing their job in a Constitutional manner. Unfortunately it seems that these people use their Law education to find ways around the Constitution to bring themselves more riches. Here in the States new Lawyers are required to take what I have long called the ‘Hypocrites’ Oath. So, to me it seems fitting that such people become politicians. I do not know how other Countries obtain their Politicians ‘Chairs’ but it does seem that ‘Truth’ is a worldwide issue/problem for almost all political figures.

 

In November of 2016 ‘We The People’ here in the U.S. basically only had the option of choosing which one of two habitual liars we were going to vote in as our next President. Basically we had to choose between two people that seems incapable to being honest. I am an Independent voter whom chose a ‘Third Party’ candidate, I chose him not because I thought he could win, but because I just couldn’t choose Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump and the main reason was because of their constant lies. For those who chose Mr. Trump they are now seeing just how big of a constant liar he is. Mr. Trump lies so often that he has proven that he can’t remember what lies he told from one day to the next, yet Hillary is certainly is no better.

 

The U.S. does not have a monopoly on lying/crooked people in positions of power as recent events in South Korea and Brazil have proven quite well. There should be no shock or dismay that Countries who have Dictators such as Venezuela, North Korea, Russia and China are also plagued with ‘Leaders’ who say what ever is ‘convenient’ for their own agenda. I am going to bring up the issue of North Korea today because of the huge lies that President Putin of Russia but mainly President Xi Jingping of China have been telling the world. As most people in the wired world know, the world has a problem with the crazy little fat boy with the bad haircut in North Korea. This week Mr. Kim fired an ICBM just before the G-20 Summit started in Germany. North Korea’s missile program has been getting much better, much faster than the UN was aware of. This missile used technology that undoubtedly came from China, they also used a launching pad system that was Chinese.

 

Just before this latest missile was launched by North Korea China’s President Xi Jingping visited Moscow and President Putin, what a coincident that he was there when the ICBM was fired. President Trump has been trying to get China to enforce tougher sanctions on North Korea because they are not only neighbors they are North Korea’s financial lifeline. Russia also shares a border with North Korea but they do not have the financial clout there like China does. President Jingping has said that they are cracking down on North Korea this year as the UN has requested all nations to do yet Mr. Jingping has been lying to the world about China’s policies with the North Korean government. Last month the U.S. put sanctions on a large Bank in China who has been laundering billions of dollars into and out of North Korea. Now the UN is saying that during the first three months of this year that China has increased their exports with them by 37.4%. Mr. Trump used the figure of 40% so I guess he was just rounding up.

 

The problems that the different Nations are having with each other is not at all the fault of the people of these Countries, it is the Leaders who are causing the problems that the world is facing. Mr. Jingping and his Communist Party leadership as well as Mr. Putin in Russia are playing a strategy to make the U.S. as weak as possible because they have the intent of filling that power vacuum. China’s government seems to believe that all of the Countries that are anywhere near China belong to China. Mr. Putin seems to have dreams of reforming Russia back into the Soviet Union. To make a long story short I believe that the governments of China and Russia if North Korea is able to strike as many Democracy’s as possible with Nukes as well as Iran doing the same thing. They know that the U.S. would strike back at North Korea and Iran and not at China or Russia. This is why they are trying to delay any U.S. strikes on North Korea so that they and Iran can have the time to build their Nuke programs and it appears there is no doubt that China is helping North Korea to reach that level, they are very obviously not hindering them. In other words Presidents Jingping and Putin are just like Mr. Trump in that they are professional liars, they are like three brothers from different mothers. The difference in this threesome is that Presidents Jingping and Putin are very smart and they are playing the Western Democracies for fools as they are using the gullible egomaniac Trump like an out of tune fiddle. It is a sad thing for the human race that these three have such Truth Troubles. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

G-20: It Is Every National Leaders Obligation To Put Their Country First, But Not Only Their Country

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Hamburg, Germany (CNN) World leaders at the G20 summit in Germany went into their final day of talks Saturday scratching their heads over what to do about an increasingly isolationist United States.

Leaders appeared to be at an impasse over trade and climate change, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel making clear that the US’ stance on the key issues were threatening to derail progress and that talks had been difficult.
US President Donald Trump won the 2016 election on an “America First” platform that would pull the United States out of several multilateral trade deals and negotiations, as well as the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.
Merkel illustrated an everyone-versus-the-US scenario late Friday, and said leaders were considering how they could now present these markedly different stances in one communique.

Gergen: Trump not seen as world leader at G20

Gergen: Trump not seen as world leader at G20 01:48

Trans-Atlantic trade war?

Merkel criticized Trump’s protectionist trade policies, saying that “virtually everyone believes we need free but also fair trade.”
“However, I can foresee that the Sherpa’s have a lot of work ahead of them tonight to hammer out the communique on trade, and I hope that they will present us with a good result tomorrow. But I don’t want to beat about the bush, the discussions are very difficult.”
Key to the trade impasse is the suggestion that the US might impose tariffs on steel imports.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would react to steel tariffs perhaps even with their own, giving early warning signs of a trade war.
“We’ve got to look at protection when it comes to steel imports. It’s necessary for the EU to react in an adequate and appropriate way when it comes to steel. We’ve got to take measures to ensure that we act properly when it comes to imports from other parts of the world,” Juncker said.
“I cannot go into details now, but we will react. We will take counter measures in the hope that all of this will not be necessary.”

Trump talks climate

Trump faced a chorus of global outrage last month when he announced he was withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord.
“As you know, almost everyone is committed to the Paris Agreement,” Merkel said.
“But it will also be very interesting to see how we word the communique tomorrow and make it clear that there are, of course, differing opinions on this topic, because the US has sadly withdrawn, or wants to withdraw, from the Paris Agreement, and that is obviously playing a part in our discussions.”
She said, however, that Trump had taken part in climate talks and that leaders were now working out how to organize such differing opinions.
Talks between Emmanuel Macron, Trump and several other leaders on climate change delayed the French President for his meeting with Putin, who seemed to mock the leaders over the impasse.
“Well, I hope now the climate will be better,” he laughed when Macron apologized for being late. “I’m sure that now you’ve discussed it, everything will be fine.”

Trump-Putin showdown

Much of the attention at the G20 has been on a bilateral meeting between Trump and Putin. The two leaders met officially for the first time on Friday but gave little away about the nature of their discussions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only American official in the room apart from Trump, told reporters that the President had raised the issue of Russia’s alleged interference with the 2016 US election, in what he described as “robust and lengthy exchange.”
Russia set out its version of events, saying that Trump accepted Putin’s statements that the Russian government did not interfere in the election. This account is at odds with Tillerson’s.
Putin is expected to speak again on Saturday, and reporters and leaders will be listening carefully to his remarks to establish any shifts in the US-Russia dynamic.
Trump met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday and said he expected the two nations to ink a “powerful” trade deal soon. The UK is not able to sign such a deal until it finishes talks with the European Union to pull out of the regional bloc, talks that are likely to end in 2019.
Trump also began meeting with Asian leaders, and will sit down with Chinese president Xi Jinping, where he will no doubt discuss North Korea’s uptick in missile testing activity and the role Beijing could play in calming the rogue state.
The G20 summit has been marked by violent protests against capitalism, globalization, climate change and the concentration of power among the 20 nations.
The Hamburg Police press office said that more than 200 police officers have so far been injured and that 114 people have been arrested. Another 89 have been taken into temporary custody. It was not clear how many protesters were injured. Around 1,000 police officers have arrived in Hamburg to support security forces.

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

Montenegro officially joins NATO
© Getty Images

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO after a process that saw a failed coup attempt believed to be supported by Russia, and U.S. senators hurling invective’s.

The tiny Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea officially joined the alliance in a ceremony Monday at the State Department, where officials hailed the strength of the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a strong message of strength to the region and makes clear to our allies that the United States remains as committed as ever to the principal of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State, said at the ceremony.

The growth of NATO comes as President Trump’s commitment to the alliance continues to be called into question.

During his first alliance meeting, Trump chastised allies for not paying enough for their defense. He also did not explicitly endorse Article 5, the mutual defense clause, despite such an affirmation reportedly being part  of his written speech.Administration officials have since said Trump is committed to Article 5, but Trump has yet to say so himself.

Trump also caused a stir when he appeared to push aside the prime minister of Montenegro so that he could be in the front of a photo of NATO leaders.

In March, the Senate approved Montenegro’s bid to join the alliance in a 97-2 vote.

Despite the strong support, the vote caused some turmoil in the chamber. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had earlier blocked a vote on the treaty, arguing that allowing the country into the alliance would add to America’s military burden.

Paul’s move prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to lament that his colleague “is now working for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

Monday’s ceremony is the culmination of seven years of work for Montenegro.

The process endured a coup attempt in October 2016 that Montenegrin and U.S. officials have said was sponsored by Russia.

In Monday’s ceremony, Shannon commended Montenegro for joining the alliance in the face of “concerted foreign pressure.”

He also highlighted Montenegro’s commitment to spending, saying it will spend 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and envisions spending 2 percent by 2024.

Montenegro has also contributed to the wars in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Shannon added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was at the ceremony, said Montenegro’s accession sends a message to other countries hoping to join the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a signal to other states that seek membership,” he said, “that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthens the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance.”

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Duško Marković thanked the United States for its “staunch and continuous support” for his country’s NATO membership and pledged that his country will be a “strong advocate and partner” for NATO’s efforts in the region.

“I firmly believe that this is a historic day for NATO,” he said at the ceremony. “Facing the new and grave challenges, the alliance’s admitting the 29th member show increasingly that the open-door policy is alive and that it works well as a beacon of hope to all of those who want to share its values and standards.”

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 27 2017, 6:53 AM ET

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

The Russian banker Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with in December is viewed by U.S. intelligence as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies who was often tasked with sensitive financial operations by Putin, according to multiple U.S. officials and documents viewed by NBC News.

Sergey Gorkov, 48, graduated from the FSB Academy, which was chartered in 1994 to educate Russian Intelligence personnel. He has long served Russian President Vladimir Putin in critical economic roles. Most recently, Putin chose him to head of the state-owned VneshEconomBank (VEB). As the Russian state national development bank, VEB has played a critical role in blunting the impact of U.S. sanctions against Russia by finding other sources of foreign capital.

Before that, Gorkov was the deputy chairman of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, also state-owned, and also under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

Related: Jared Kushner Under Scrutiny in Russia Probe, Say Officials

NBC News reported Thursday that Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials. Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to the Russia probe, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.

It is not known what has drawn FBI scrutiny, but congressional aides have said they would like to question Kushner about a meeting Kushner had with Gorkov in December 2016. At the time, Kushner was an adviser to President-elect Trump and Gorkov was chairman of VEB.

Play
Sources: Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation 1:04

Both the White House and VEB confirm that Kushner and Gorkov met at a banking “road show” but haven’t disclosed either the location for the meeting or the specific date in December. Details of what they discussed have not been released, although Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner is prepared to cooperate with congressional investigators or the FBI if asked.

The White House subsequently characterized the meeting as part of Kushner’s role as a transition adviser and conduit for the State Department. But Gorkov in a written statement to Reuters, said it was a business meeting. According to Reuters, Gorkov met “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the U.S., including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

Related: Flynn, Manafort Are Key Figures in Russia Probe Mueller Will Lead

Gorkov is close to Putin, “a Putin crony,” as one official put it. Gorkov has also been awarded the “Certificate of Honor of the Government of the Russian Federation” and the “Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland,” both presented by Putin.

Putin has long called on former Soviet and Russian intelligence operatives to play critical roles in Russian political and economic life.

Image: Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, with her husband Jared Kushner, talk to Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during the inaugural luncheon in honor of President Donald Trump, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

“It is the talent pool [Putin] draws from,” said one U.S. official. “Because Gorkov is former FSB doesn’t mean that he still is, but Putin uses the security state — the FSB and military intelligence — as an extension of his rule.”

Sberbank and VEB, Gorkov’s two banks, have been critical to the Russian economy, but have also engaged in high-profile bailouts of Russian companies, including those owned by favored oligarchs. They have also played a major role in attempts to mitigate the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

VEB was sanctioned in July 2014, Sberbank two months later. The U.S. cited the banks’ record of securing medium- and long-term U.S. sources of financing. Sanctions severely limited their ability to raise funds in the U.S. The European Union later joined in the sanctions. The banks have responded by seeking funds from other sources, including China.

The U.S. did not cite any particular transactions when it sanctioned the bank, but said instead that Russia’s failure to meet “basic standards of international conduct” warranted onerous sanctions.

Gorkov was not sanctioned personally.

Image: Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017.
Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, is shown in this handout photo sitting on a commercial flight, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017. Reuters

Putin authorized a $22 billion of state financing for VEB to cover bad debts built up since the imposition of sanctions.

VEB was also implicated in an espionage case that began before Gorkov took over 2016 but continued after he took over.

One of its New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested on espionage charges in January 2015. According to court records reviewed by NBC News, Buryakov used his position to spy on unnamed U.S. companies, and sought information on high-frequency trading. Prosecutors said his internet searches included “NYC Homeland Security” and “New York City critical infrastructure.”

Buryakov claimed he had diplomatic immunity in his defense, which was paid by VEB, but after a court ruled he didn’t qualify, he pleaded guilty in March 2016. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. He returned to Russia last month after being released.

Is Jeff Sessions Just Another one of many Russian Crony’s On The Trump/Putin Payroll?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Jeff Sessions just added even more smoke to the Trump-Russia story

Story highlights

  • Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form.
  • If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to properly disclose his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a security clearance application, CNN reported on Wednesday night.

Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form. The FBI employee told Sessions he didn’t need to note every interaction — especially passing ones — with foreign officials. So, Sessions didn’t.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Phil Mudd, who spent time at the CIA and the FBI and now works as a counter-terrorism analyst for CNN, acknowledged Thursday morning on “New Day” that he, too, didn’t list every foreign official he came into contact with on his security clearance forms — comparing it to going 62 in an area where the speed limit is 55.
Fair enough.
The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.
And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.
You get the idea. There’s just a massive amount of smoke here. Is it possible that the smoke isn’t being produced by a fire, as Trump insists? Sure. But the growing amount of smoke belies Trump’s repeated insistence that the investigation is simply “fake news” or a “witch hunt.”
The public disagrees with Trump on this, too. In a new Fox News national poll, more than six in ten (61%) of people said they were concerned with reports of “Russian meddling in U.S. affairs,” as opposed to just 38% who said they weren’t concerned. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) approved of the appointment of a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with elements of the Trump campaign. People were split on whether they thought evidence would be found proving the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians; 43 percent said they expected that to happen while 45 percent said they didn’t.
If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation. Because Mueller is the only person at this point who can clear away all the smoke and show that there is no fire. (Not even Trump can do that at this point — even if he wanted to. The story has gotten totally beyond his control.)
And yet, Trump continues to work to undermine Mueller and his findings. Which means that every development like this latest one with Sessions will just add more smoke to the story. At this point, there’s so much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia, it’s getting very hard to see.

Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation

Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow , is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.

The Washington Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high-stakes investigation, though it did not name Kushner.

FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.

The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Target is a word that generally refers to someone who is the main suspect of investigators’ attention, though prosecutors can and do bring charges against people who are not marked with that distinction.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” said Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys.

In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence or non-existence of investigations or subjects of investigations.” The FBI declined to comment.

At the time of the December meetings, Trump already had won the election. Contacts between people on the transition team and foreign governments can be routine, but the meetings and phone calls with the Russians were not made public at the time.

In early December, Kushner met in New York with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak again. Flynn was also present at the early December meeting, and later that month, Flynn held a call with Kislyak to discuss U.S.-imposed sanctions against Russia. Flynn initially mischaracterized the conversation even to the vice president — which ultimately prompted his ouster from the White House.

Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating back to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak — along with close Trump adviser and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions — were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.

The New York Times reported that Kushner omitted from security clearance forms his December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov, though his lawyer said that was mere error and he told the FBI soon after that he would amend the forms. The White House said that his meetings were normal and inconsequential.

Kushner has agreed to discuss his Russian contacts with the Senate Intelligence Committee — which is conducting one of several investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In many ways, Kushner is a unique figure inside the White House. He is arguably the president’s most trusted adviser, and he is also a close member of the president’s family. His list of policy responsibilities is vast— his foreign policy portfolio alone includes Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East — yet he rarely speaks publicly about any of them.

Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is now leading the probe into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and he has set up shop in the Patrick Henry Building in downtown D.C. Even before he was picked by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to take over the case, investigators had been stepping up their efforts — issuing subpoenas and looking to conduct interviews, people familiar with the matter said.

A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing.

It is unclear exactly how Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe. This week, Justice Department ethics experts cleared him to take over the case even though lawyers at his former firm, WilmerHale, represent several people who could be caught up in the matter, including Kushner, Manafort and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is married to Kushner.

Mueller resigned from the firm to take over the investigation.

Investigators are continuing to look aggressively into the dealings of Flynn, and a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoenas for records related to Flynn’s businesses and finances, according to people familiar with the matter.

Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey’s current president believes was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.

Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.

Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

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

Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

For four decades Tehranis have heard so many weird slogans chanted in their streets that almost nothing comes as a surprise to them. And, yet, last week many Tehranis were surprised to hear a group of youths, all adorned with suitable beards, shouting: “Russian Embassy is a Nest of Spies!”

“Nest of Spies” was first launched in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini as a label for the US Embassy which had been raided and which diplomats were held hostage by the so-called “Students Following the Lead of Imam”. The operation that provoked a 444-day long stand-off between Tehran and Washington had been quietly encouraged by KGB elements in Tehran working through the Tudeh (Communist) Party and its smaller left-wing affiliates as a means of driving the US out of Iran.

At the time no one could imagine that one-day it would be the Russian Embassy’s turn to be thus labelled. True, Iran already has a history of raiding the Russian Embassy. In 1829, a mob, led by mullahs, attacked the Tsarist Embassy ostensibly to release two Georgian slave girls who had sought refuge there. Alexander Griboidev, the Embassy’s ambassador was seized, sentenced to death with a fatwa and beheaded. (Griboidev was more than a diplomat and had made a name as a poet and playwright.)

It is, of course, unlikely that the regime would allow anyone today to raid the Russian Embassy and seize its diplomats as hostages. Nevertheless, the anger expressed by the small bunch of demonstrators is real.

But why has the Russian Embassy become a target for militant anger some four decades later?

The question is all the more pertinent as the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has launched what he calls a “Looking East” strategy based on an alliance between Tehran and Moscow. That strategy is in direct violation of Khomeini’s famous: “Neither East nor West” slogan (Na sharqi, na gharbi!) Khomeini insisted that unless Russia converted to Islam it should not expect to be treated any differently than other “Infidel” powers. (The ayatollah sent a formal letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev inviting him to embrace Shiism.)

However, two years ago, in a four-hour long summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Khamenei agreed that his Islamic Republic would take no position on major international issues without “coordinating” with Moscow. That historic accord was quickly put into effect in Syria where Putin provided air cover for an alliance of forces assembled by Iran around the beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin played a key role in exempting Iran from cuts in its oil production under an agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers to stabilize prices.

Putin also lifted the ban on sale of advanced surface-to-air missile systems that Iran says it needs to face any US air attack. At the same time, Moscow has done quite a lot to shield the Islamic Republic against further concessions on the thorny issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Putin went even further by tacitly acknowledging Iran’s lead in shaping policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan.

Working in favor of strategic alliance with Moscow are several elements within the Islamic regime. These include the remnants of the Tudeh, the People Fedayeen Militia and assorted groups of anti-West activists. However, the proposed alliance also enjoys support from powerful clerics who believe they need Russian support to face any future clash with the US.

“By courageously defending the Syrian government, Russia has proved it is a true friend,” says Ayatollah Muhammadi Golpayegani who heads Khamenei’s personal cabinet.

However, to sweeten the bitter pill of alliance with Russia, a power which has a 200-year long history of enmity and war with Iran, the mullahs also claim they could seize the opportunity to spread their brand of Islam in the Russian Federation where Shi’ite account for less than three per cent of the estimated 30 million Muslims. (The only place where Shi’ites are in a majority is Darband in Dagestan.)

In his typically sly way, Putin has encouraged such illusions. He has promised to let Qom set up seminaries in both Darband and Moscow to train Russian Shi’ite mullahs. Putin has also set up something called Strategic Committee for the Spread of Islam led by Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minikhanov.(Tatarstan is the largest Muslim majority republic in the Russian federation.)

Having allegedly tried to influence the latest presidential election in the US and the current presidential election in France, Putin is also accused of trying to do the same in Iran. Last week he sent a 60-man delegation, led by Minikhanov, to Mash’had, Iran’s largest “holy” city to meet Ayatollah Ibrahim Raisi, the man regarded as one of the two candidates most likely to win the presidency. Minikhanov was accompanied by Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti Kamil Sami Gulen who told reporters that Putin wants Iran and Russia to work together to “present the true face of Islam to young people” and “counter propaganda by terrorist circles.”

Kremlin-controlled satellite TV channels have played up the meetings, casting Raisi as a statesman of international standing.

However, to hedge his bets, Putin had already received the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani during a hastily arrange visit to Moscow last month. However, some observers claim that Putin regards Rouhani and his faction as “too close to the Americans.”

Some senior members of Rouhani’s administration who are rumored to be US citizens or holders of “Green Cards”, may cast doubt on their sincerity to embrace a strategic alliance with Moscow.

There are signs that not everyone in the regime is happy about tying Iran’s future to that of the Putin regime. The slogan “Russian Embassy is Nest of Spies” is just one small example of that unhappiness. Other examples include a series of features published by the official media, including IRNA, about Russian historic aggression against in Iran.

One curious feature published by IRNA even claimed that US President Harry S Truman helped Iran recover two of its provinces occupied by Russian despot Stalin in 1946. Another feature, published by a news agency close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard narrates the “shameful” history of pro-Russian factions in Iran from the 19th century onwards.

An old Persian saying claims Russia is a big bear to admire from afar; if he embraces you he will crush you.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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