A chill across the executive branch — and new rumblings from State Department

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Washington (CNN) Talk of a potential “Rexit” at Foggy Bottom, new tests for President Trump on immigration, tax reform and media relations and a big challenge for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization — it’s all part of our Inside Politics Forecast.

1) A chill across the executive branch — and new rumblings from State Department

There was a decided chill across the executive branch as last week came to a close after a tumultuous series of events that rattled worker bees and caught the attention of Cabinet secretaries.
A large part of that dynamic was the result of the White House staff shakeup — which saw President Trump overruling top advisers to hire Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, and the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer.
Bigger, though, were the continuing conversations about The New York Times interview in which Trump sharply criticized his attorney general and longtime supporter — Jeff Sessions — saying it was “unfair to the President” that Sessions recused himself from any decisions related to the Russia election meddling investigation.

Washington Post: Sessions discussed Trump campaign with Russian Ambassador Kislyak

Washington Post: Sessions discussed Trump campaign with Russian Ambassador Kislyak 01:16
Among those who viewed the President’s public rebuke of Sessions as unprofessional, according to several sources, is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon-Mobil CEO.
Tillerson has a growing list of differences with the White House, including a new debate over Iran policy and personnel. His frustration is hardly a secret and it has spilled out publicly at times. But friends sense a change of late.
For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat.
But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom sooner that that.
Both of these sources are familiar with Tillerson conversations with friends outside Washington. Both said there was a noticeable increase in the secretary’s frustration and his doubts that the tug-of-war with the White House would subside anytime soon. They also acknowledged it could have been venting after a tough week, a suggestion several DC-based sources made when asked if they saw evidence Tillerson was looking for an exit strategy.

2) Tax reform next? White House nervous as it eyes clock

Trump pushed again Saturday for GOP senators to resolve their differences and settle on an Obamacare repeal and replace package. The White House wants a win, and worries failure will further damage the President’s political standing.
Some top Trump aides are worried about the calendar — believing all this time spent on health care, without success, might have a domino effect on another top White House priority.
Julie Hirshfeld Davis of The New York Times detailed the anxiety over finding a path toward tax reform.
“What we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, from these meetings that have been going on behind the scenes with Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director and the top congressional leaders on the Republican side is that they’re sort of starting to think about potentially trimming their sales and not doing a big massive tax reform but instead a tax cut,” Davis said. “There is a lot of uncertainty about whether they’re even going to be able to get that this year.”

Why tax reform is so hard

Why tax reform is so hard 02:05

3) A reset — with the media?

New White House communications chief, Antony Scaramucci, is a feisty defender of President Trump
But even as he echoes the President in tossing around the “Fake News” label, he also says he is looking to rebalance the White House relationship with traditional or mainstream media outlets.
The timing, Michael Shear of The New York Times suggests, could at least present a genuine opportunity.
“There could be an opportunity for a press reboot over some of the issues that the press corps has been arguing with the White House for: access to the President, press conferences, on-camera briefings,” Shear said.
“There is a new White House Correspondents’ Association president who is coming in, as it happens, at exactly the same time that we have a new communications director and head of the communications shop.”
The moral of that story? It’ll be a wait-and-see moment for White House reporters.

Scaramucci: Trump unsure of Russia meddling

Scaramucci: Trump unsure of Russia meddling 01:34

4) DREAM Act push — lost cause or a chance for clarity?

Trump has sent mixed signals about policy toward so-called Dreamers — undocumented workers who came to the United States illegally but at an age when they were too young to be responsible for that decision.
During the campaign, he at times promised to reverse Obama administration protections extended to them. He has not done so as President, and he has on several occasions discussed how difficult it is for him to square his tougher views on immigration with understanding and compassion for a group that is otherwise law-abiding and did not make a decision to break the law.
A new push in Congress could offer a chance to bring some clarity to the Dreamer question. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball discussed the possibility of a revised version of the so-called DREAM Act, and its bipartisan sponsors: Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“It might seem like a strange time to be doing that. But this administration has sent very conflicting signals about DACA,” Ball said.
“There are some state attorneys general that have imposed a deadline on the administration to basically tell them whether this is going to go or stay. They have been issuing work permits. And so Lindsey Graham at the press conference introducing this said, you know, President Trump, you can really sort of act against type, you can solve this problem.”

5) NAACP meets this week — no presidential visit — but a Democratic parade

The nation’s oldest civil rights organization — the NAACP — holds its annual meeting this week amid a host of questions about how to navigate American politics and policy in the Trump years.
Trump declined an invitation to attend Several Democrats thinking about the 2020 presidential campaign are scheduled to speak. CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson shared her reporting on how this legacy organization is trying to modernize its approach.
“The question there, how does this very old, the oldest civil rights organization in the country, reboot and re-imagine themselves in the Trump era and the era of Black Lives Matter? And in the era of resistance? They invited Donald Trump. He said ‘no,’ he wasn’t going to come,” Henderson said.
“Eric Holder will be there. He’ll be talking about gerrymandering — something that’s very important to Democrats particularly. Also, it’s being looked at as something of a 2020 cattle call. Also in attendance, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders, of course, struggled a bit with getting African-American support when he ran last go around. So we’ll see what those folks have to offer.”

Muslim Woman Pens Essay About Her 8 Days Working For President Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

NEWS

Muslim Woman Pens Essay About Her 8 Days Working for President Trump

Feb. 24, 2017

‘I was the only hijabi in the West Wing’

A Muslim woman who spent eight days working in President Donald Trump’s White House penned a powerful essay about the experience.

Rumana Ahmed was hired right after college to work in the White House, eventually landing on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman — I was the only hijabi in the West Wing — and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included,” Ahmed wrote in The Atlantic. “It felt surreal — a 22-year-old American Muslim woman from Maryland who had been mocked and called names for covering my hair, working for the president of the United States.”

Though she said that Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims during the 2016 presidential election dismayed her, she decided to remain on the National Security Council so she could have a seat at the table. “Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump’s NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot,” she said.

But she ultimately came to regret that decision, saying that the diverse White House she worked for under President Obama became a “monochromatic and male bastion.” She decided to leave after President Trump signed an executive order that temporarily suspended the State Department’s Refugee Assistance Program and temporarily banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“I knew I could no longer stay and work for an administration that saw me and people like me not as fellow citizens, but as a threat,” she wrote.”

The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

WASHINGTON — When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.

His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.

The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.

Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.

Continue reading the main story

“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.

It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.

Like another famous American election scandal, it started with a break-in at the D.N.C. The first time, 44 years ago at the committee’s old offices in the Watergate complex, the burglars planted listening devices and jimmied a filing cabinet. This time, the burglary was conducted from afar, directed by the Kremlin, with spear-phishing emails and zeros and ones.

What is phishing?

Phishing uses an innocent-looking email to entice unwary recipients to click on a deceptive link, giving hackers access to their information or a network. In “spear-phishing,” the email is tailored to fool a specific person.

An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.

The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.

The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems. In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the D.N.C., including Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later.

Even Mr. Podesta, a savvy Washington insider who had written a 2014 report on cyberprivacy for President Obama, did not truly understand the gravity of the hacking.

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Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, incorrectly legitimized a phishing email sent to the personal account of John D. Podesta, the campaign chairman.

By last summer, Democrats watched in helpless fury as their private emails and confidential documents appeared online day after day — procured by Russian intelligence agents, posted on WikiLeaks and other websites, then eagerly reported on by the American media, including The Times. Mr. Trump gleefully cited many of the purloined emails on the campaign trail.

The fallout included the resignations of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the D.N.C., and most of her top party aides. Leading Democrats were sidelined at the height of the campaign, silenced by revelations of embarrassing emails or consumed by the scramble to deal with the hacking. Though little-noticed by the public, confidential documents taken by the Russian hackers from the D.N.C.’s sister organization, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, turned up in congressional races in a dozen states, tainting some of them with accusations of scandal.

In recent days, a skeptical president-elect, the nation’s intelligence agencies and the two major parties have become embroiled in an extraordinary public dispute over what evidence exists that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia moved beyond mere espionage to deliberately try to subvert American democracy and pick the winner of the presidential election.

Many of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides believe that the Russian assault had a profound impact on the election, while conceding that other factors — Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate; her private email server; the public statements of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, about her handling of classified information — were also important.

While there’s no way to be certain of the ultimate impact of the hack, this much is clear: A low-cost, high-impact weapon that Russia had test-fired in elections from Ukraine to Europe was trained on the United States, with devastating effectiveness. For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of all-out war, cyberpower proved the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.

GRAPHIC

Following the Links From Russian Hackers to the U.S. Election

The Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Russian government deployed computer hackers to help elect Donald J. Trump.

OPEN GRAPHIC

“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, said at a postelection conference. “This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily,” he said. “This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”

For the people whose emails were stolen, this new form of political sabotage has left a trail of shock and professional damage. Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a key Clinton supporter, recalls walking into the busy Clinton transition offices, humiliated to see her face on television screens as pundits discussed a leaked email in which she had called Mrs. Clinton’s instincts “suboptimal.”

“It was just a sucker punch to the gut every day,” Ms. Tanden said. “It was the worst professional experience of my life.”

The United States, too, has carried out cyberattacks, and in decades past the C.I.A. tried to subvert foreign elections. But the Russian attack is increasingly understood across the political spectrum as an ominous historic landmark — with one notable exception: Mr. Trump has rejected the findings of the intelligence agencies he will soon oversee as “ridiculous,” insisting that the hacker may be American, or Chinese, but that “they have no idea.”

Mr. Trump cited the reported disagreements between the agencies about whether Mr. Putin intended to help elect him. On Tuesday, a Russian government spokesman echoed Mr. Trump’s scorn.

“This tale of ‘hacks’ resembles a banal brawl between American security officials over spheres of influence,” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on Facebook.

Democratic House Candidates Were Also Targets of Russian Hacking

Over the weekend, four prominent senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — joined forces to pledge an investigation while pointedly ignoring Mr. Trump’s skeptical claims.

“Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks,” said Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed.

“This cannot become a partisan issue,” they said. “The stakes are too high for our country.”

A Target for Break-Ins

Sitting in the basement of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, below a wall-size 2012 portrait of a smiling Barack Obama, is a 1960s-era filing cabinet missing the handle on the bottom drawer. Only a framed newspaper story hanging on the wall hints at the importance of this aged piece of office furniture.

“GOP Security Aide Among 5 Arrested in Bugging Affair,” reads the headline from the front page of The Washington Post on June 19, 1972, with the bylines of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Andrew Brown, 37, the technology director at the D.N.C., was born after that famous break-in. But as he began to plan for this year’s election cycle, he was well aware that the D.N.C. could become a break-in target again.

There were aspirations to ensure that the D.N.C. was well protected against cyberintruders — and then there was the reality, Mr. Brown and his bosses at the organization acknowledged: The D.N.C. was a nonprofit group, dependent on donations, with a fraction of the security budget that a corporation its size would have.

“There was never enough money to do everything we needed to do,” Mr. Brown said.

The D.N.C. had a standard email spam-filtering service, intended to block phishing attacks and malware created to resemble legitimate email. But when Russian hackers started in on the D.N.C., the committee did not have the most advanced systems in place to track suspicious traffic, internal D.N.C. memos show.

Mr. Tamene, who reports to Mr. Brown and fielded the call from the F.B.I. agent, was not a full-time D.N.C. employee; he works for a Chicago-based contracting firm called The MIS Department. He was left to figure out, largely on his own, how to respond — and even whether the man who had called in to the D.N.C. switchboard was really an F.B.I. agent.

“The F.B.I. thinks the D.N.C. has at least one compromised computer on its network and the F.B.I. wanted to know if the D.N.C. is aware, and if so, what the D.N.C. is doing about it,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo about his contacts with the F.B.I. He added that “the Special Agent told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed ‘Dukes’ by the U.S. intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles.”

Part of the problem was that Special Agent Hawkins did not show up in person at the D.N.C. Nor could he email anyone there, as that risked alerting the hackers that the F.B.I. knew they were in the system.

Photo

An internal memo by Yared Tamene, a tech-support contractor at the D.N.C., expressed uncertainty about the identity of Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the F.B.I., who called to inform him of the breach.

Mr. Tamene’s initial scan of the D.N.C. system — using his less-than-optimal tools and incomplete targeting information from the F.B.I. — found nothing. So when Special Agent Hawkins called repeatedly in October, leaving voice mail messages for Mr. Tamene, urging him to call back, “I did not return his calls, as I had nothing to report,” Mr. Tamene explained in his memo.

In November, Special Agent Hawkins called with more ominous news. A D.N.C. computer was “calling home, where home meant Russia,” Mr. Tamene’s memo says, referring to software sending information to Moscow. “SA Hawkins added that the F.B.I. thinks that this calling home behavior could be the result of a state-sponsored attack.”

Mr. Brown knew that Mr. Tamene, who declined to comment, was fielding calls from the F.B.I. But he was tied up on a different problem: evidence suggesting that the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s main Democratic opponent, had improperly gained access to her campaign data.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz, then the D.N.C.’s chairwoman, and Amy Dacey, then its chief executive, said in interviews that neither of them was notified about the early reports that the committee’s system had likely been compromised.

Shawn Henry, who once led the F.B.I.’s cyber division and is now president of CrowdStrike Services, the cybersecurity firm retained by the D.N.C. in April, said he was baffled that the F.B.I. did not call a more senior official at the D.N.C. or send an agent in person to the party headquarters to try to force a more vigorous response.

“We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana,” Mr. Henry said. “We are talking about an office that is half a mile from the F.B.I. office that is getting the notification.”

“This is not a mom-and-pop delicatessen or a local library. This is a critical piece of the U.S. infrastructure because it relates to our electoral process, our elected officials, our legislative process, our executive process,” he added. “To me it is a high-level, serious issue, and if after a couple of months you don’t see any results, somebody ought to raise that to a higher level.”

The F.B.I. declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the hack. “The F.B.I. takes very seriously any compromise of public and private sector systems,” it said in a statement, adding that agents “will continue to share information” to help targets “safeguard their systems against the actions of persistent cybercriminals.”

By March, Mr. Tamene and his team had met at least twice in person with the F.B.I. and concluded that Agent Hawkins was really a federal employee. But then the situation took a dire turn.

A second team of Russian-affiliated hackers began to target the D.N.C. and other players in the political world, particularly Democrats. Billy Rinehart, a former D.N.C. regional field director who was then working for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, got an odd email warning from Google.

“Someone just used your password to try to sign into your Google account,” the March 22 email said, adding that the sign-in attempt had occurred in Ukraine. “Google stopped this sign-in attempt. You should change your password immediately.”

Mr. Rinehart was in Hawaii at the time. He remembers checking his email at 4 a.m. for messages from East Coast associates. Without thinking much about the notification, he clicked on the “change password” button and half asleep, as best he can remember, he typed in a new password.

Recent Developments Surrounding The South China Sea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

BANGKOK — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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PHILIPPINES DOESN’T WANT TO BE USED FOR U.S. FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION MISSIONS

The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S., its longtime defense ally, saying it won’t be used as a springboard for U.S. ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for U.S. patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.

Lorenzana said U.S. ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana’s remarks as she hadn’t seen them, but added: “Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the U.S. Army’s I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the U.S. military was prepared to change next year’s joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.

“If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there,” he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines’ territorial defense.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines’ military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.

But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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US, CHINA REACT TO VIETNAM’S REPORTED ISLAND DREDGING

The United States has called on Vietnam and other claimants to refrain from reclamation and militarization activities in contested South China Sea waters following reports that Hanoi has carried out dredging on one of the features it occupies in the Spratlys.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters that the U.S. is aware of the reports.

“We have consistently warned that reclamation and militarization in contested areas of the South China Sea will risk driving a destabilizing and escalatory trend. We encourage all claimants to take steps to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences,” she said.

Vietnam’s government has not commented on satellite imagery purportedly showing dredging activities inside a channel on Ladd Reef, about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) west of Spratly Island where Hanoi recently began extending a runway and building hangers. It wasn’t clear if the latest activity was meant as repair or construction work.

Ladd Reef, which is submerged at high tide, has a lighthouse, which also serves as quarters for Vietnamese troops.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Vietnam to “respect China’s sovereignty and rights, stop illegal invasion and construction activities, and not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”

He repeated Friday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

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CHINA WARNS BRITAIN AGAINST SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

China has reacted angrily to Britain’s announcement that its four Typhoon fighter jets on a training visit to Japan will patrol the skies over the East and South China sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbors.

The British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, also said last week that his government plans to conduct freedom of navigation operations involving its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, when it becomes operational in 2020. He said that Britain “absolutely shares” the U.S. objective to protect freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters despite China’s claiming virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, in an opinion piece, said Darroch was perhaps trying to impress his Japanese colleague and that his remarks create the impression that London may soon deviate from “a largely aloof attitude” toward the South China Sea issue and start to meddle like the U.S. and Japan.

“Should a British warplane embark on a so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ mission in the South China Sea, it would only serve to further complicate the issue and weigh on thriving China-Britain ties,” Xinhua said.

It says China has never denied any legitimate passage of ships or planes in the area.

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CHINA ADDS SECOND CRUISE IN THE PARACELS

China is adding a second cruise ship to the Paracel Islands, a tropical paradise of pristine beaches and little else.

The new cruise ship called Nanhai Zhi Meng will start its maiden four-day voyage in late December from Sanya, a port on southern Hainan Island, to Yinyu, Quanfu and Yagong islands in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The first cruise was launched in April 2013 and so far has attracted 23,000 Chinese tourists.

The tours only serve islands with no military installations and are only open to Chinese nationals. Unlike the largest island in the Paracels, Woody Island, which is also an administrative center founded in 2012, the coral reefs on the cruise tour have no accommodation or any significant infrastructure.

Prices range from $580 to $1,450 per person.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Mr. Trump Sticks Up For One Of Our Allies And The Cowards Start Whining

 

In the U.S. Media all I had heard for at least the first 24 hours after the event was Mr. Trump being blasted for calling the President of Taiwan, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen. This afternoon it took me reading about the event in the Times of Israel News Paper that Mr. Trump hadn’t actually called the President of Taiwan, the truth is that she called him. Evidently Mr. Trump was supposed to act like Mr. Obama did and say, no thank you, China’s leaders wouldn’t like that. There are so many reasons that the politicians in Washington D.C. are perceived as being weak kneed and undependable by most Countries throughout the world. Our Allies throughout the world are and have been worried that the U.S. will not help them if they are attacked by a larger Nation. Here in the U.S. our politicians are always playing games with real life issues. Our politicians only seem interested in increasing their bank accounts and conning people out of their vote, not in handling the real world issues that we voted them in office to do. Putting it bluntly, we have a bunch of cowards in the Congress and the Senate as well as someone bought and paid for in the Oval Office. This is not an issue with just one of our ‘National’ parties, it is both.

 

Earlier today I read in the Shanghai Daily News and the Times of Israel how the “American Chamber Of Commerce” in Beijing was worried about China clamping down on American businesses that are in China because of their ‘displeasure’ of Mr. Trump taking that phone call from Taiwan’s President. Here in the U.S. our great and wonderful “State Department” whom we all know is always looking out for the best interest of the American people also was chastising Mr. Trump for taking the call. They were more concerned about how China would react to this (basically treason) of breaking protocol regarding the “One China Policy.” Our Media have been talking of late how Mr. Trump has been ‘flying by the seat of his pants’ in regard to his actions instead of relying on ‘the professionals.’ Today the ‘unnamed’ representative at the State Department said that Mr. Trump needed to consult with them as they are the ones that sets what is proper protocol. To this arrogance I have only one thing to say, well, actually two things. One, it is the President who sets what Protocol is and will be, not midlevel ‘managers’ at the State Department. Two, I hope that people like this person at the State Department have their U-Haul trucks reserved for late January because there are going to be a lot of folks moving out of D.C. soon.

 

Taiwan is one of our Allies in Southeast Asia, China is just going to have to get over that fact. China has been trying to scare the life out of every Nation in the region of the South China Sea for at least the past two years minimum. I have no problem with the people of China at all. China could be a great friend to every Nation in the region if they chose to, the issue is their Government. Communism is and has always been an enemy of all people who simply want to have some freedom in their lives. In a lot of ways I think well of their current President Mr. Xi Jinping but he has a blade at his throat if he decided to step out of line with the Ruling Communist Party Leadership. I have one thing to tell Mr. Trump that I hope he will tell the Leadership in Beijing and that is that we agree about the ‘One China Policy’.  The issue is that the Country of Taiwan is not China, there is China and there is the Country of Taiwan, one China, one Taiwan, not two China’s. Communist Leaders only respect one thing in other Leaders and that is strength. If a leader of a Country is weak, China or Russia or North Korea will dominate you and take away all of your freedoms.

 

People of Nations that are supposed to be America’s Allies have been very scared for at least the past 8 years minimum that the U.S. would not come to their aid if they are attacked. Our current President is far more likely to issue sanctions against a Nation attacking one of our Allies than to actually physically assist them at getting the knife away from their throat. In the real world of blood, sweat and fears, both responses must be able to be counted on for people to feel any sense of safety. America’s leaders have spent at least the last 8 years cowering down to Russia and to China and the world is a much more dangerous place because of these actions. We have been trying to destroy relationships with our real Allies like Israel while showing indecision and weakness as well as ignorance in Middle East foreign policies in places like Libya and Syria. I did not vote for Mr. Trump nor did I vote for Hillary but I am old enough and wise enough to know that if the U.S. doesn’t quit acting like cowards toward Russia and China and start acting like we have a backbone and some basic intelligence, very soon, we are not going to have any Allies.

China Not Happy With Donald Trump For His Phone Call To Taiwan’s President

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

Donald Trump Speaks To Taiwan’s President, Reversing Decades Of U.S. Policy

China, the U.S. and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory, not an independent nation.

12/02/2016 06:02 pm ET

President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone Friday with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. The call was the first in more than 30 years between an American president-elect and a leader of the semi-autonomous island.

According to a readout of the call from the Trump transition team, Tsai congratulated Trump on his victory, and the two discussed “the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States.”

But the Trump team’s description of the call belies the fact that the conversation has the potential to upset three decades of relations between the United States and its most important global trading partner.

China, the United States and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory. But Taiwan, with its own elected government, constitution and military, considers itself an independent nation.

In recognition of China’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, the U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979. Trump’s call will likely enrage Beijing, and stands to damage U.S. relations with Chine before Trump even takes office.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,”  Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times, which first reported the call Friday afternoon.

“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations,” Medeiros said.

The call with Tsai is the latest in a string of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders that have left foreign policy experts and career diplomats shocked and concerned.

Earlier this week, Trump spoke with Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif and said he looked forward to visiting the country as president ― something President Barack Obama has deliberately avoided doing because of the complex, and sometimes duplicitous, security and intelligence relationship between the two countries. Trump also spoke with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a despot and international pariah who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1989.

On Friday, Trump also spoke to Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged the extra-judicial murder of hundreds of people accused of dealing drugs, and he has suggested that journalists deserve to be assassinated.

In response to the alarm raised by Trump’s phone calls, White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday delicately urged Trump to seek out advice from career diplomats at the State Department. “President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” he told reporters at the daily press briefing.

“I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas. Hopefully he’ll take it.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) was more direct with his criticism. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start,” Murphy tweeted on Friday. “And if they aren’t pivots – just radical temporary deviations – allies will walk if they have no clue what we stand for. Just as bad. It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon.”

New ISIS ‘Minister Of War’ Was Trained In U.S. Military Intelligence Procedures!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

MOSCOW — In a propaganda video released last year, an Islamic State militant wearing a black bandanna and cradling a sniper rifle made the usual grim threats against the United States. Now, there may be a new twist to his warnings.

The militant, Gulmurod Khalimov, a former police commander from Tajikistan, boasted of his extensive American military training — truthfully, it turns out. But some news accounts say he was subsequently promoted to military commander of the Islamic State.

“I was in America three times,” Mr. Khalimov said in the video, which appeared online last year. “God willing, I will come with this weapon to your cities, to your homes, and we will kill you.”

That prospect remains highly unlikely. But there is no doubt that as he rose in the ranks of a special police force in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, Mr. Khalimov received extensive taxpayer-funded military training from the United States to help counter drug-running and extremism along the border with Afghanistan.

Continue reading the main story

Now, Mr. Khalimov appears to have become the second senior commander of the Islamic State, the terrorist group he defected to last year, to have benefited from American military training provided to former Soviet states.

Mr. Khalimov’s precise rank is unclear; he could be the group’s so-called minister of war, or military commander-in-chief. In any case, the State Department, which oversaw his training, thinks he is important enough that on Aug. 30, it offered a $3 million reward for information on his whereabouts. The Islamic State’s previous military commander was killed in an airstrike earlier this year.

The State Department has been publicizing the reward in Tajikistan, where relatives or acquaintances might have salient information.

Kurt R. Rice, the department’s acting assistant director for threat investigations, told Tajik journalists in September that Mr. Khalimov’s American training made him a particular danger, but he did not elaborate on Mr. Khalimov’s role in the terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“He can use this knowledge to create difficulties for our countries,” Mr. Rice said. “He’s a person who can create difficulties.” Mr. Rice’s office declined a request to interview him about Mr. Khalimov’s training, citing his travel schedule.

After the State Department announced the reward, an Iraqi news agency, Alsumaria, reported that Mr. Khalimov had been promoted to military commander for the Islamic State, replacing Omar al-Shishani, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia who was killed in the airstrike. Russian news outlets have also said Mr. Khalimov was promoted, but neither those accounts nor the Iraqi report could be independently verified.

“The U.S. putting a bounty on his head is significant,” Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, in London, said in a telephone interview. “But it’s not possible to know if he’s the strategist of military operations.”

Further muddying the picture, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist propaganda, has found no formal Islamic State announcement of Mr. Khalimov’s position, according to Adam Raisman, an analyst who studies the group’s postings.

If Mr. Khalimov was, in fact, promoted, he would be the second Islamic State commander-in-chief to have been trained in American military aid programs in the former Soviet Union. Mr. Shishani, whose real name was Tarkhan Batirashvili, had served in the Georgian Army, which is equipped and funded by the United States as a bulwark against Russian expansion.

American military aid to Tajikistan is more narrowly focused on fighting terrorism and narcotics, because the country is a close ally of Russia. The aid has flowed even though Tajikistan is ruled by an eccentric and authoritarian president, Emomali Rakhmonov, whose police forces are often accused of abuses.

Along with jailing dissidents and using excessive force — in one case, killing 20 civilians in a paramilitary action — Mr. Rakhmonov’s police forces have been accused of more unusual human rights abuses. A provincial governor recently said that he had forcibly shaved the beards of 13,000 men suspected of sympathizing with fundamentalist Islamists.

Muhiddin Kabiri, the exiled leader of Tajikistan’s main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Khalimov “was always against the moderate opposition” and that his police unit was known for abuses, but that the United States had turned a blind eye.

The State Department provided five training courses for Mr. Khalimov, three of them in the United States, including at least one run by the company once known as Blackwater in Baton Rouge, La. A spokesman has said the department vetted Mr. Khalimov and did not violate the Leahy Law, which prohibits the government from providing military training to foreign military units that violate human rights.

With American training programs on his résumé, Mr. Khalimov became commander of a paramilitary police force in 2013, raising alarm among human rights groups about the training even before he defected to the Islamic State.

“The U.S. military has been providing a lot of expertise and training to abusive and repressive governments in Central Asia,” Steve Swerdlow, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview.

“Military cooperation has to be contingent on human rights,” Mr. Swerdlow said. “Tajikistan got a free pass despite the atrocious situation with human rights.”

American military training programs are generally carried out by the Defense Department but overseen by the State Department, an arrangement that broke down in Tajikistan, according to a 2015 report by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General that looked into the American response to the Tajik police operation that killed 20 civilians in 2012.

Mr. Khalimov, then a deputy commander of the special police unit, took part in that operation but still continued his American military training until 2013.

The report found that the Office of Military Cooperation, the Pentagon group that arranged training for the suspect police units, had also conducted the investigation into the killings — effectively determining that Mr. Khalimov’s training was legal — rather than the political section of the United States Embassy in Tajikistan, which should have overseen the military education programs.

The report concluded that the lack of oversight undermined “confidence that the embassy provides a full and reliable picture of local developments.”

While it is unclear exactly what training Mr. Khalimov received, a 2008 diplomatic cable from the embassy released by WikiLeaks explained what the paramilitary police and other units requested.

The groups wanted training in “mission analysis and the military decision-making process, intelligence preparation of the battlefield, direct action, raids and ambushes, special reconnaissance, close quarters combat and battle, sniper and observe operations, military operations in urban terrain.”

FBI Investigators Are So Much Better Than Those At The State Department; Really?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

In this July 7, 2016, file photo, FBI Director James B. Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton. In a letter from Comey released on Nov. 6, he tells Congress review of additional Clinton emails does not change conclusion she should not face charges. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this July 7, 2016, file photo, FBI Director James B. Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency’s recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton. In a letter from Comey released on … more >
– The Washington Times – Monday, November 7, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Last year, the State Department said it would need about one year to comb through and release Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 emails, or the 55,000 work-related pages she handed over in March 2015. Yet, we’re to believe the FBI can evaluate roughly 650,000 emails in just eight days.

Either the FBI is incredibly efficient or — more likely — partisan politics has corrupted two departments in our executive branch.

In May 2015, the State Department said it would need until January 2016 to release all of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, which were stored on her private email server while she served as secretary of state. They proposed a date of Jan. 15, 2016, to go over all of the classifications, but were shot down by a U.S. District Court judge which suggested a rolling release.

The State Department did its best to slow-roll the process. When Jan. 15, 2016, came around, it asked for a one-month extension to release the emails because of “inclement weather.” The delay would ensure the releases were after the presidential primary.

An FBI probe into how the State Department dealt with Mrs. Clinton’s email review revealed how it had a “shadow government” working within State, specifically tasked with handling — and perhaps obstructing — the release of Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

“There was a powerful group of very high-ranking STATE officials that some referred to as ‘The 7th Floor Group’ or ‘The Shadow Government.’” the FBI’s interview summary said. “This group met every Wednesday afternoon to discuss the FOIA process, Congressional records, and everything CLINTON related to FOIA/Congressional inquiries.”

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In February, a federal judge expressed dismay with State and determined that the delays in releasing the remaining of Mrs. Clinton’s emails were unreasonable. On Feb. 29, all of Mrs. Clinton’s emails were released — almost a year after they were received.

But that doesn’t count emails from Mrs. Clinton’s aides, which were also requested. The State Department said it would take 75 years to go through those roughly 450,000 emails. Seventy-five years!

“Given the Department’s current FOIA workload and the complexity of these documents, it can process about 500 pages a month, meaning it would take approximately 16-and-⅔ years to complete the review of the [Cheryl] Mills documents, 33-and-⅓ years to finish the review of the [Jake] Sullivan documents, and 25 years to wrap up the review of the [Patrick] Kennedy documents — or 75 years in total,” the State Department argued in a filing this June.

Yet the FBI can get through 650,000 emails in eight days.

They can’t. It, too, is all political — and corrupt.

Eleven days before the election, FBI Director James Comey came under intense political fire after he decided to send a letter to Congress to inform them his agency was reopening Mrs. Clinton’s email case in light of new information.

The bombshell sent shock waves throughout the presidential campaign, and sent Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers crashing.

A McClatchy-Marist Poll released Nov. 4 found a majority of voters believed Mrs. Clinton did something illegal, with 83 percent believing she did something wrong. Thirty-two percent said she did something unethical but not illegal and just 14 percent believed she’d done nothing wrong.

Mr. Comey was blasted by Mrs. Clinton’s team — and multiple members of the mainstream media — for trying to sway the presidential election. There were reports that FBI agents forced his hand, threatening open rebellion if he didn’t do it.

President Obama said in multiple interviews although Mr. Comey is a “good man,” he may have acted improperly in alerting the public he was reopening the case.

“I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo, we don’t operate on incomplete information, we don’t operate on leaks,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Now This News. “We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”

So, Mr. Comey fell.

On Sunday — 48 hours before voters hit the voting booth — he said the FBI had reviewed the emails, and criminal charges wouldn’t be pursued.

There’s no wonder why Americans are skeptical of their federal institutions — they should be. It all needs to be burned down in order to be rebuilt.

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Bill And Hillary, Mr. And Mrs. Skanky Who Will Lie To Anyone, For A Dollar!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Illustration on Podesta email revelations about Hillary Clinton by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times
Illustration on Podesta email revelations about Hillary Clinton by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times 

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hillary Clinton can’t bring change to Washington, D.C., and her closest advisers know it.

“She [Clinton] makes decisions based on polls, not principles and is beholden to the special interests in Washington,” a Democratic field-tested survey in the 2008 presidential race said. “If she is elected we will have the same kind of polarized politics that we have had for the past 15 years.”

The sentiment in the memo, which was released in a batch of John Podesta’s emails hacked by WikiLeaks, was the inspiration of one of Barack Obama’s most famous lines that primary season.

“She’ll say anything and change nothing. It’s time to turn the page,” Mr. Obama’s attack-ad said.

Mr. Podesta, who went on to become a counselor to Mr. Obama’s White House, along with Neera Tanden, who served as Mr. Obama’s domestic policy director after he won the nomination that year, still appear to believe this.

After Mrs. Clinton’s email server story broke in March 2015, Mr. Podesta and Ms. Tanden immediately knew who to place the blame on — Mrs. Clinton and her incredibly secretive posse of closest advisers.

“Speaking of transparency, our friends Kendall, Cheryl and Phillipe sure weren’t forthcoming on the facts here,” Mr. Podesta wrote in a March 2015 email, referring to Mrs. Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall and former State Department staffers and Clinton confidants Cheryl Mills and Philippe Reines on her email server set-up.

“Why didn’t they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? So crazy,” Ms. Tanden replied. Then answering her own question, wrote: “I guess I know the answer. They wanted to get away with it.”

Ms. Tanden is the president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think-tank that Mr. Podesta helped found and lead before he stepped down in 2011. Ms. Tanden represents the progressive wing of the party and has a close relationship with Mr. Podesta, as they’re both veterans of the Obama and Clinton worlds.

It’s in Ms. Tanden’s emails where the most devastating character blows hit Mrs. Clinton.

“Her [Clinton‘s] instincts are terrible,” Ms. Tanden writes in one exchange. In another, complaining to Mr. Podesta about why Mrs. Clinton said at a rally she was a moderate Democrat rather than a progressive, she wrote: ‘[Clinton] doesn’t seem to know what planet we are all living in at the moment.’”

Indeed.

The only change Mrs. Clinton is promising in her campaign is to move more to the left. In the process of winning the Democratic nomination she adopted many of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders’ more progressive positions, like the $15 minimum-wage, her stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and subsidizing the cost of college education.

Yet, in the leaked emails, some of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides demonstrate contempt for the more left-wing of the party, calling them “puritanical,” “radical,” “dumb,” and “freaks” who need to “get a life.”

She praises Wall Street and bankers in her paid speeches to them, and has collected more than $1 billion from special interests in this election cycle alone.

Doesn’t sound like Mrs. Clinton is too keen on changing after all.

In terms of cleaning up Washington corruption, well, Ms. Tanden admitted that was “dicey territory” for Mrs. Clinton to even comment on.

“This is a jump ball,” Ms. Tanden said, when asked if Mrs. Clinton should make a public statement on political corruption and government reform. “She may be so tainted she’s really vulnerable — if so, maybe a message of I’ve seen how this sausage is made, it needs to stop, I’m going to stop it will actually work. So maybe it requires harder charging.”

Even Colin Powell, who said he was going to vote for Mrs. Clinton this week (not a surprise given he didn’t support previous Republican nominees John McCain or Mitt Romney), thinks she’s anything but a change agent.

“A 70-year person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still d—king bimbos at home (according to the NYPD),” wrote Mr. Powell, describing Mrs. Clinton, and a July 26, 2014 email to Democratic donor Jeffrey Leeds.

“Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris,” Mr. Powell added, according to his emails obtained by the Website DC Leaks.

“Unbridled ambition.” “Tainted.” “Instincts terrible.” “Doesn’t seem to know what planet we are all living in.” “Not transformational.”

With friends like these, who needs enemies? In private, they understand Mrs. Clinton is the very embodiment of the status quo. In public, however, they’re trying to sell the American public a different bag of goods.

Good luck.

Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

Hillary Caught Lying About Emails To/From Director Of CIA And Secretary Of Defense!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW)

FBI Files Show a Whopping Number of Clinton-Petraeus Emails Missing From Records Hillary Sent to State Department (HILLARY FOR FEDERAL PRISON IN 2016! SHE IS NOT ONLY THE QUEEN OF HABITUAL LIARS AND A TOTAL FRAUD, SHE IS GUILTY OF MASS TREASON WHICH HAS CAUSED THE DEATHS OF MANY AMERICANS AND OUR ALLIES. YET, THESE FACTS DO NOT MATTER TO THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF THE AMERICAN MEDIA OUTLETS!) (TRS)

petraeus/hillary

Getty – Riccardo Savi, Ramin Talaie

According to newly released FBI investigative files, more than 1,000 emails between Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus were not among the 30,000 emails provided by the Clinton camp to the State Department at the department’s request in 2014.

moreover, as reported by Fox News Chief Intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, Clinton directed Petraeus to correspond with her via her personal email address — the same address she used for government business during her tenure as Secretary of State.

As reported by Fox News Politics, a State Department employee discussed with the FBI how emails between Clinton and Petraeus were not among those provided to the bureau.

“CENTCOM records shows approximately 1,000 work-related emails between Clinton’s personal email and General David PETRAEUS, former Commander of CENTCOM and former Director of the CIA,” said the employee, whose name is redacted, according to the summary.

“Most of those 1,000 emails were not believed to be included in the 30,000 emails that IPS was reviewing. Out of the 30,000 emails, IPS only had a few emails from or related to PETRAEUS as well as a few related to Leon PANETTA, former Secretary of Defense.”

Clinton has claimed that she turned over all work-related emails to the State Department.

August 2015, Clinton declares “under penalty of perjury” that she turned over all work-related emails. .https://twitter.com/freddoso/status/779873999945805825 

That declaration has proved to be patently false on numerous occasions.

Image Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Image Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Petraeus pleaded guilty to mishandling classified material in April, 2015 and was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine as part of a plea agreement.

The former CIA director and highly decorated four-star general admitted to sharing classified information with his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell. He avoided jail time because the information was never published nor released to the public.

Speaking of “released to the public,” emails recovered by the FBI and released last week appear to contradict Clinton’s recent sworn testimony about her private server.

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