Russia

Chevron agreed to pay $33 billion for Anadarko Petroleum on Friday, broadening its access to the largest oil region in the continental U.S. as President Trump pushes the country to produce enough fuel to meet its own energy needs.

The deal, which offers Anadarko investors $65 a share in cash and stock, expands Chevron’s oil production in the Permian Basin, the oil-rich swath of land in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico that’s 250 miles wide and about 300 miles long, as well as deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We intend to accelerate activity in Anadarko’s Permian acreage,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, who hopes to complete the deal by the end of this year, told investors on Friday. “Getting more out of the Permian sooner is an important value driver.”

For the San Ramon, Calif.-based company, which already controlled 2.2 million acres in the region and is adding 589,000 with the transaction, the driver isn’t “getting bigger in the Permian, it’s about getting better,” Wirth said. That includes the the area’s Delaware Basin, where Anadarko has operations.

Late last year, the U.S. Geological Survey identified an estimated 46 billion barrels of oil in two formations in the Delaware Basin, a development that left then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke confident “that American energy dominance is within our grasp.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest oil producer, outpacing both Russia and Saudi Arabia, thanks largely to technological advances that let producers extract oil from shale formations.

Achieving energy independence was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises in 2016, a commitment based on concern that U.S. reliance on oil imports left the country more vulnerable and cost American jobs.

“We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country,” Trump said when he signed an executive order prompting energy independence just two months after taking office. “We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil and shale energy.”

Anadarko climbed 33 percent to $62.20 after the sale was announced Friday. Chevron, which has a market value of $232.9 billion, has climbed 10 percent this year to $119.76.

Americans are in danger of ignoring casual lies by President Trump, making him a bigger threat in a sense than Russian actors trying to interfere in U.S. elections, according to former FBI Director James Comey.

“I’m sure Russia is engaged in efforts to undermine all manner of American institutions, but the president of the United States tweets lies about those institutions nearly every day,” Comey said Thursday at a Hewlett Foundation event near San Francisco. “He does it so often that we’ve become numb to it. And there’s danger in that numbness.”

Trump fired Comey in May 2017 over what he later said was an effort to shut down a probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. Since then, the president has regularly targeted Comey for criticism over Twitter.

“I wake up some mornings and the president’s tweeted I should be in jail. You know what I do? I laugh and I go, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ I don’t follow him on Twitter, so I only see it if one of you retweets it. But I laugh. And that laughing is dangerous.”

Comey also disputed Attorney General William Barr’s claim that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election.

“I don’t understand what the heck he’s talking about,” Comey said. “But when I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance. I have never thought of that as ‘spying.’”

Thousands of Twitter accounts known as “bots” targeted Bernie Sanders supporters to rally support for the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election after Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary.

Researchers at Clemson University collaborated with the Washington Post on a report that found tens of thousands of tweets sent from bot accounts controlled by Russian agents drew parallels between the populist, working-class messages of the Trump campaign and that of Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.

“#BlackMenForBernie Leader Switches to Trump! I will Never Vote for Hillary, Welcome aboard the Trump Train,” said one tweet sent by a Russian bot. The account described itself as a “Southern., Conservative Pro God, Anti Racism” Twitter user from Texas.

Another Russian bot, called “Red Louisiana News,” tweeted: “Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016.”

In an effort to have Sanders’ supporters defect from Clinton’s Democratic Party, the bots also highlighted questionable tactics Sanders’ supporters claimed took place in order to rig the Democratic nomination process for Clinton.

“I think there is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy. He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton,” said Darren Linvill, researcher and Clemson University associate professor of communications.

The analyzed tweets “give us a much clearer understanding of the tactics they were using. It was certainly a higher volume than people thought.”

Nearly 12% of voters who supported Sanders in the Democratic primary crossed party lines and voted for Trump in the general election, according to a post-election survey by NPR. The numbers are particularly stark in light of Trump’s upsets in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which clinched the election for him.

Last month, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary committees, briefing them of the “principal conclusions” in Mueller’s Russia investigation. The summary said the special counsel did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”

Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.

Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.

“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”

So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.

Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.

“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”

So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”

The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”

This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.

“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”

The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.

So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”

But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.

After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”

This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.

In the end, the man who reportedly smeared feces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers was pulled from the Ecuadorian embassy looking every inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole. The only camera crew to record this pivotal event belonged to Ruptly, a Berlin-based streaming-online-video service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RT, the Russian government’s English-language news channel and the former distributor of Julian Assange’s short-lived chat show.

RT’s tagline is “Question more,” and indeed, one might inquire how it came to pass that the spin-off of a Kremlin propaganda organ and now registered foreign agent in the United States first arrived on the scene. Its camera recorded a team of London’s Metropolitan Police dragging Assange from his Knightsbridge cupboard as he burbled about resistance and toted a worn copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State.

Vidal had the American national-security establishment in mind when he wrote that polemic, although I doubt even he would have contrived to portray the CIA as being in league with a Latin American socialist named for the founder of the Bolshevik Party. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced Thursday that he had taken the singular decision to expel his country’s long-term foreign guest and revoke his asylum owing to Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”

According to Interior Minister María Paula Romo, this evidently exceeded redecorating the embassy with excrement—alas, we still don’t know whether it was Assange’s or someone else’s—refusing to bathe, and welcoming all manner of international riffraff to visit him. It also involved interfering in the “internal political matters in Ecuador,” as Romo told reporters in Quito. Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, Romo said, have maintained ties to two Russian hackers living in Ecuador who worked with one of the country’s former foreign ministers, Ricardo Patiño, to destabilize the Moreno administration.

We don’t yet know whether Romo’s allegation is true (Patiño denied it) or simply a pretext for booting a nuisance from state property. But Assange’s ties to Russian hackers and Russian intelligence organs are now beyond dispute.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 cyberoperatives for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate for the General Staff (GRU) suggests that Assange was, at best, an unwitting accomplice to the GRU’s campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and allegedly even solicited the stolen Democratic correspondence from Russia’s military intelligence agency, which was masquerading as Guccifer 2.0. Assange repeatedly and viciously trafficked, on Twitter and on Fox News, in the thoroughly debunked claim that the correspondence might have been passed to him by the DNC staffer Seth Rich, who, Assange darkly suggested, was subsequently murdered by the Clintonistas as revenge for the presumed betrayal.

Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and, as an official in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, an indirect beneficiary of Assange’s meddling in American democracy, went so far as to describe WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” For those likening the outfit to legitimate news organizations, I’d submit that this is a shade more severe a description, especially coming from America’s former spymaster, than anything Trump has ever grumbled about The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Russian diplomats had concocted a plot, as recently as late 2017, to exfiltrate Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, according to The Guardian. “Four separate sources said the Kremlin was willing to offer support for the plan—including the possibility of allowing Assange to travel to Russia and live there. One of them said that an unidentified Russian businessman served as an intermediary in these discussions.” The plan was scuttled only because it was deemed too dangerous.

In 2015, Focus Ecuador reported that Assange had aroused suspicion among Ecuador’s own intelligence service, SENAIN, which spied on him in the embassy in a years-long operation. “In some instances, [Assange] requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, even proposing the use of operators of Russian nationality,” the Ecuadorian journal noted, adding that SENAIN looked on such a proposal with something less than unmixed delight.

All of which is to say that Ecuador had ample reasons of its own to show Assange the door and was well within its sovereign rights to do so. He first sought refuge in the embassy after he jumped bail more than seven years ago to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges brought by two women. Swedish prosecutors suspended their investigation in 2017 because they’d spent five years trying but failing to gain access to their suspect to question him. (That might now change, and so the lawyers for the claimants have just filed to reopen the cases.) But the British charges remained on the books throughout.

The Times of London leader writer Oliver Kamm has noted that quite apart from being a “victim of a suspension of due process,” Assange is “is a fugitive from it.” Yet to hear many febrile commentators tell it, his extradition was simply a matter of one sinister prime minister cackling down the phone to another, with the CIA nodding approvingly in the background, as an international plot unfurled to silence a courageous speaker of truth to power. Worse than that, Assange and his ever-dwindling claque of apologists spent years in the pre-#MeToo era suggesting, without evidence, that the women who accused him of being a sex pest were actually American agents in disguise, and that Britain was simply doing its duty as a hireling of the American empire in staking out his diplomatic digs with a net.

As it happens, a rather lengthy series of U.K. court cases and Assange appeals, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, determined Assange’s status in Britain.

The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, expended quite a lot of energy back in 2012 swatting down every unfounded assertion and conspiracy theory for why Assange could not stand before his accusers in Scandinavia without being instantly rendered to Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, as Green noted, going to Stockholm would make it harder for Assange to be sent on to Washington because “any extradition from Sweden … would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom” instead of just the latter country. Nevertheless, Assange ran and hid and self-pityingly professed himself a “political prisoner.”

Everything about this Bakunin of bullshit and his self-constructed plight has belonged to the theater of the absurd. I suppose it’s only fair that absurdity dominates the discussion now about a newly unsealed U.S. indictment of Assange. According to Britain’s Home Office, the Metropolitan Police arrested Assange for skipping bail, and then, when he arrived at the police station, he was further arrested “in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”

The operative word here is provisional, because that request has yet to be wrung through the same domestic legal protocols as Sweden’s. Assange will have all the same rights he was accorded when he tried to beat his first extradition rap in 2010. At Assange’s hearing, the judge dismissed his claims of persecution by calling him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.” Neither can his supporters.

A “dark moment for press freedom,” tweeted the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from his security in press-friendly Moscow. “It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency,” intoned The Intercept’s founding editor Glenn Greenwald who, like Assange, has had that rare historical distinction of having once corresponded with the GRU for an exclusive.

These people make it seem as if Assange is being sought by the Eastern District of Virginia for publishing American state secrets rather than for allegedly conniving to steal them.

The indictment makes intelligible why a grand jury has charged him. Beginning in January 2010, Chelsea Manning began passing to WikiLeaks (and Assange personally) classified documents obtained from U.S. government servers. These included files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. State Department cables. But Manning ran into difficulties getting more documents, owing to the limitations of her modest security clearance.

At this point, Assange allegedly morphed from being a recipient and publisher of classified documents into an agent of their illicit retrieval. “On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist [Chelsea] Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Networks, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications,” according to the indictment.

Assange allegedly attempted to help Manning do this using a username that was not hers in an effort to cover her virtual tracks. In other words, the U.S. accuses him of instructing her to hack the Pentagon, and offering to help. This is not an undertaking any working journalist should attempt without knowing that the immediate consequence will be the loss of his job, his reputation, and his freedom at the hands of the FBI.

I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqués that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published.)

James Ball, a former staffer at WikiLeaks—who argues against Assange’s indictment in these pages—has also remarked on Assange’s curious relationship with a notorious Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir:

Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers—myself included—when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.

Shamir soon turned up in Moscow where, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, he was offering to write articles based on these cables for $10,000 a pop. Then he traveled to Minsk, where he reportedly handed over a cache of unredacted cables on Belarus to functionaries for Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, whose dissident-torturing secret police is still conveniently known as the KGB.

Fish and guests might begin to stink after three days, but Assange has reeked from long before he stepped foot in his hideaway cubby across from Harrods. He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.

Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign hopes to raise $1 billion dollars toward his second-term race, senior campaign adviser Lara Trump said Friday.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were two-and-a-half years ago,” Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” where she participated in an interview along with her husband, Eric Trump. “I would like to say we were very grassroots in the 2016 campaign, meaning none of us had any idea of what we were doing.”

But for the 2020 campaign, “we’re very streamlined,” said Trump. “In reality, we’ll let the Democrats battle it out, see who their candidate is. We’re not worried about [anyone] we’ve seen get in the race.”

She said currently, the campaign directly has raised “about $60 million, but combined with the RNC we’re close to $200 million.”

Meanwhile, the couple discussed comments made earlier by Attorney General William Barr, when he said spying on Trump’s 2016 campaign did occur.

“It did occur, right?” Eric Trump said. “The problem with these guys, they go so deep they found themselves.”

But with Barr, “you have a grown up in the room, who calls out this nonsense because, you know, my father went around during the campaign, talked about the deep state,” he added. “The deep state, guys, does exist. By the way it still exists, but it does exist and did exist.”

He also ridiculed Democratic lawmakers for shifting their focus away from Russia and to healthcare.

“You’ve been talking about Russia for the last three years, all day, every day,” he said. “All of sudden it comes out the whole thing was a hoax…this is why they’re going to lose in 2020.”

Source: NewsMax

Russia targeted supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., following his primary loss in 2016, hoping to push them towards voting for President Donald Trump instead of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, The Washington Post reports.

Shortly after Sanders ended his primary campaign, a Twitter account called Red Louisiana News began focusing on the senator’s supporters. “Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016,” read one tweet from the account, according to the Post.

Clemson University researchers found that this Twitter account was not based in Louisiana, as it claimed, but from Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller found in his investigation that Russians at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg were directed to use social media accounts to oppose Clinton and “to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”

Researchers found that although it’s impossible to tell for sure how many social media posts were made targeting Sanders supporters, at least 9,000 of these Russian tweets included the word “Bernie.”

“I think there is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy. He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton,” said Darren Linvill, an associate professor of communications at Clemson and one of the researchers.

He added that the tweets they examined “give us a much clearer understanding of the tactics they were using. It was certainly a higher volume than people thought.”

Source: NewsMax

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Bill Priestap, left, with Michael Horowitz, DoJ inspector general.

By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
April 12, 2019

Attorney General William Barr shocked official Washington Wednesday by saying what previously couldn’t be said: That the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 involved “spying.”

The spying, which Barr vowed to investigate, is not the only significant possible violation of investigative rules and ethics committed by agents, lawyers, managers, and officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice. A catalogue of those abuses can be found in recently released testimony that Edward William Priestap provided to Congress in a closed-door interview last summer. From the end of 2015 to the end of 2018 Bill Priestap was assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which meant he oversaw the FBI’s global counterintelligence efforts.

In that role, he managed both of the bureau’s most politically sensitive investigations: the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information and the probe into whether Donald Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. His testimony provides rare insight into the attitudes and thoughts of officials who launched the Russia probe and the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose final report is expected to be released very soon.

More important, his testimony contains extensive indications of wrongdoing, including that the FBI and DoJ targeted Trump and did so with information it made no effort to verify. It paints a portrait of the Obama-era bureau as one that was unconcerned with political interference in investigations and was willing to enlist the help of close foreign allies to bring down its target. And, perhaps presaging a defense to Barr’s claim that American officials had spied on the Trump campaign, it showcases the euphemisms that can be used to disguise “spying.”

Filling In the Blanks

Priestap’s testimony took place on June 5, 2018, in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The questioning, by congressmen and House committee staff, focused on whether the FBI had applied the same rigor to the Clinton investigation that it had to the Trump probe.

The transcript the public can read today contains not only those questions and Priestap’s responses, but also the tell-tale redactions of anxious bureaucrats. One thing that is very clear is that the Sharpie brigades at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice really, really didn’t want anyone to know where Bill Priestap was a week into May 2016.

Rep. Jim Jordan: Where in the world was Bill Priestap?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Not long into the questioning that Tuesday morning last summer, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Do you ever travel oversees?”

“Yes,” said Priestap.

 “How often?”

 “As little as possible.”

The seeming comedy routine notwithstanding, Jordan later asked how many times in his 2½ years running the counter-intelligence shop Priestap had traveled abroad.

 “I want to say three times,” he said.

 “And can you tell me where you went?” Jordan asked.

“The ones I’m remembering are the [REDACTED].”

Jordan drilled in: “All three times to [REDACTED]?

Priestap said the trips he remembered “off the top of my head were all [REDACTED].”

Jordan asked whether Priestap remembered when he went to this place. Priestap said “No.”

Jordan was back at it in later rounds of questioning, asking whether Priestap had traveled to a given location at a given time in 2016. Over and again, censors from the FBI and DoJ have redacted the location and the time.

What could this exotic destination be?  How is the timing of Priestap’s trip there a matter of national security? What secrets were the redactors trying to protect?

Peter Strzok: “Bill” was in London. 

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Turns out the Sharpie brigades weren’t nearly as thorough as they thought. A long-available transcript of text messages between FBI agent Strzok and lawyer Page – the paramours who worked on both the Clinton and Trump investigations – provide the answer. It’s right there on the page detailing texts between Strzok and Page on May 4, 2016. At around 9:31 that Wednesday evening, Strzok writes to say he is worried about getting a memo into shape that is expected that night or the next morning. He feels pressured even though “I don’t know that Bill will read it before he gets back from London next week.” Go to a text from the next Monday morning, May 9, and Strzok is wondering who will be receiving the daily report on the Clinton investigation, what “with Bill out.”

So there we have it. Bill Priestap was in London on or around May 9. Which strongly suggests that all three of the international trips taken by him during his tenure as FBI counterintelligence chief were to London.

Still, there is a reason the censors had out their Sharpies. It has to do with another question Jordan asked Priestap: “Okay. So what were you doing in [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED] of 2016?”

“So,” Priestap replied, “I went to meet with a foreign partner, foreign government partner.” In other words, almost certainly British intelligence. Not exposing our British partners has been the Justice Department’s justification for locking up secrets about the beginnings of the Trump investigation. The redactions try and fail to hide that Priestap met repeatedly with his British counterparts in 2016.

Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was also in London. So was the FBI, around the same time.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

Students of the Russia-collusion saga will recall that some of the earliest and most significant events cited as leading to the FBI’s investigation of Team Trump took place in a certain REDACTED country during a REDACTED season in 2016. It was over breakfast on April 26 in London that the mysterious Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, told young Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Five days later, on May 1, Papadopoulos had drinks with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar where he shared this piece of gossip/intel. And, of course, London is home to the author of the anti-Trump “dossier,” Christopher Steele.

According to the official story laid out in the New York Times, Australian officials did not pass on this new information for two months. And while Steele was retained by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the spring to dig up dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign, the official story is that he did not start working with U.S. officials until the summer.

And so it is more than passingly curious that Priestap kept going to London when these significant events were occurring. Jordan asked Priestap about his second trip there: “What did it have to do with?”

Priestap demurred: “I’m not at liberty to discuss that today.”

After some dodging and weaving, Jordan came back to the question, but this time with an uncomfortable specificity: “Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation?” he asked.

“Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip.”

Priestap could have answered “no” without perjuring himself, he could have quickly put this matter to bed.  His “I’m not at liberty” answers strongly suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was exactly what his second trip to London was about.

Spying, Redefined

Attorney General Barr’s statement that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign makes another part of Priestap’s testimony – about why an FBI asset in London named Stefan Halper reached out to Papadopoulos and to another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page — even more significant.

Stefan Halper: also in London.

Voanews.com/Wikimedia

Weeks before Priestap’s testimony was taken last summer, the efforts of Halper, an American scholar who works in Britain, had been exposed. Republicans had been spluttering with outrage that the FBI would deploy a spy against an American presidential campaign. Democrats had been countering that while the bureau used informants, only the ignorant and uninitiated would call them spies.

Democratic staff counsel Valerie Shen tried to use her questioning of Priestap to put the spying issue to bed. “Does the FBI use spies?” she asked the assistant director for counterintelligence (who would be in a position to know).

“What do you mean?” Priestap responded. “I guess, what is your definition of a spy?”

“Good question,” said Shen. “What is your definition of a spy?”

Before Priestap answered, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, intervened. “Just one second,” he said. Then Ettinger – who was one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandal – conferred with his client.

Back on the record, Priestap presented what smacks of pre-approved testimony: “I’ve not heard of nor have I referred to FBI personnel or the people we engage with as – meaning who are working in assistance to us – as spies. We do evidence and intelligence collection in furtherance of our investigations.”

Shen was happy with the answer, and so she asked Priestap to confirm it: “So in your experience the FBI doesn’t use the term ‘spy’ in any of its investigative techniques?” Priestap assured her the word is never spoken by law-enforcement professionals – except, he said (wandering dangerously off-script), when referring to “foreign spies.”

“But in terms of one of its own techniques,” Shen said, determined to get Priestap back on track, “the FBI does not refer to one of its own techniques as spying?”

“That is correct, yes.”

“With that definition in mind, would the FBI internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens?”

“No.”

So there we have it with all the decisive logic of a Socratic dialogue: The FBI could not possibly have spied on the Trump campaign because bureau lingo includes neither the noun “spy” nor the verb “to spy.” Whatever informants may have been employed, whatever tools of surveillance may have been utilized, the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign – didn’t spy by definition, as the bureau doesn’t use the term (except, of course, to describe the very same activities when undertaken by foreigners).

What’s telling about this line of questioning is that it inadvertently confirms Republican suspicions — and Attorney General Barr’s assertion. If House Democrats believed there had been no spying on the Trump campaign, they could have asked Priestap whether the FBI ever spies on Americans, given the common meaning of the verb “to spy.” They could have flat-out asked whether the FBI had spied on Trump World. Instead, Democratic counsel asked whether, given the FBI’s definition of spying, the bureau would “internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens.” It would seem that Democrats were every bit as convinced as Republicans that the FBI spied on Trump’s people.

Interpreting ‘Political Interference’

Democratic lawyer Shen also seemed to be engaged in damage control when she asked Priestap whether “political interference in the Department of Justice or FBI investigation [is] ever proper?”

Surprisingly, Priestap said it was: “In my opinion, I can imagine situations where it would be proper.” He explained that the political appointees in an administration might determine “that the national security interests of the country outweigh the law enforcement/prosecutive interest of the FBI and Department of Justice.”

Shen then appeared to push him to clean up his answer, suggesting that what Priestap was describing wasn’t “a political determination” but “a policy interpretation balancing national security and law enforcement.”

“Yeah. I guess,” Priestap said. “And maybe I misunderstood your question.” Then what does he do but repeat his belief that political appointees — and “by political, I could imagine, for example, the National Security Council” — might act on the notion that national security outweighs other considerations.”

“Right. Yeah. Right,” Shen said. “Let me rephrase.” She explained she wasn’t asking about decisions political officials make, but rather, decisions officials make for political reasons. Then came the rephrased question: “Is interference in a Department of Justice or FBI investigation ever proper when motivated by purely political considerations?” [Emphasis added]

“Not in my opinion,” responded Priestap.

What Shen was laboring to establish was that the only sort of investigative behavior that could be called political interference was when someone at DoJ or FBI acted out of “purely political considerations.” That’s a standard that leaves plenty of room for politics.

Targeting Trump?

But does it leave room enough for the “dossier”? The political abuse foremost in Republican minds was, and remains, that collection of howlers and hearsay allegedly compiled by Christopher Steele, who was sold to the public as a high-minded former British spy instead of a man being paid by the Clinton campaign to dirty up Trump.  Steele’s efforts were lapped up by the FBI and DoJ even though the lawmen knew Steele was peddling political work-product — opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Carter Page: Was he the real quarry, or was Donald Trump?

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

In particular, Republicans have charged that Steele’s dossier was presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without full disclosure of its partisan origins, thus perpetrating a fraud on the FISA court. The accusation was formalized in May 2018, when Republicans demanded the appointment of a second special counsel because, they claimed, “the FBI and DOJ used politically biased, unverified sources to obtain warrants issued by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISA Court) that aided in the surveillance of U.S. citizens, including Carter Page.”

Shen, the House Oversight Committee minority counsel, brushed that accusation aside with what appeared to be an unambiguous and definitive question: “Mr. Priestap,” she asked, “are you aware of any instances of the FBI and DOJ ever using politically biased, unverified sources in order to obtain a FISA warrant?”

Priestap gave the most unambiguous and definitive of answers: “No.” One might be tempted to think that was an endorsement of the dossier, a confirmation that the FISA warrant applications were largely based on information that was neither politically biased nor unverified. But that would be taking the question and the answer on face value, when something rather less straightforward was going on.

Shen followed with another broad, all-encompassing question about the propriety of the FBI and DoJ’s behavior: “Are you aware,” she asked Priestap, “of any instances where the FBI or DOJ did not present what constituted credible and sufficient evidence to justify a FISA warrant?”

Priestap’s response is a textbook case of circular logic: “If it’s not justified, the court doesn’t approve it. So, like, if we’re not meeting the standard required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the requests are turned down.”

“So, in other words,” said the Democratic counsel, “by definition, if you presented information and a FISA court approved it, that would constitute credible sufficient information?”

“In my opinion,” said Priestap, “yes.”

Sit back and savor that exchange for a moment. One of the most senior officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation – an organization that regularly refers for prosecution people who don’t tell the full truth – champions this peculiar standard of credibility: If you can snooker a FISA court judge, the information used to traduce the court is rendered by definition “credible sufficient information.” What is the condition of the FBI if its leaders think whatever you can get past a judge is good enough?

This strange concept of legal alchemy aside, the question remains whether the dossier was used merely as a vehicle to get information on Carter Page, or whether the real quarry was Donald Trump himself. As before, Shen was unintentionally helpful at winkling inadvertent truths out of her cooperative witness. It started with the softest of softballs: “Are you aware of any FBI investigations motivated by political bias?”

“I am not.”

“Are you aware of any Justice Department investigations motivated by political bias?”

“No.”

 And a little later: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to damage the Trump campaign at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”

“No.”

And there Shen might have left it, having elicited basic denials that the FBI and Justice had abused their power. But then she pushed her luck, asking a question that wasn’t worded quite carefully enough: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to personally target Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”

Priestap must have pulled quite the face because Shen immediately declared, “I’ll rephrase.” Here’s how she tried it the second time: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”

Before Priestap can answer, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, interjected: “I think you need to rephrase your question.”

At which point Shen’s Democratic colleague Janet Kim jumped in to help: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI for the purpose of politically undercutting him?”

At last, Priestap was able to say, “No.”

That long road to “no” strong suggests that the highest levels of Justice and the FBI personally targeted Trump and took action against him. The only caveat is that Priestap believes none of that targeted action was done to undercut Trump politically. That may be so (however much the savvy observer may think otherwise). But it doesn’t blunt the main takeaway — that the bureau and DoJ targeted Trump.

In Summary…

So what did we learn from Bill Priestap’s compendious and revealing testimony?

  • We learned that the FBI and Justice targeted and took action against Trump.
  • We learned that the FBI, according to Priestap, is incapable of securing a FISA warrant with information that isn’t credible, although the judge’s approval of the warrant means by definition that the information is credible.
  • We learned that the FBI believes political interference in an investigation can be proper as long as the bureau isn’t acting purely politically.
  • We learned that the FBI did send at least one asset to do to the Trump campaign an activity that even the bureau would call “spying” — if it were done by foreign operatives.
  • We learned that the origins of the Trump-Russia tale will never be fully understood until the part played by British intelligence is made clear.

That’s an awful lot to take away from one largely neglected transcript. But it suggests just how much remains unknown about the Trump-Russia investigation while providing a glimpse at the people that want to keep it that way.

Related Articles

Source: Real Clear Politics

President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, in an exclusive interview with the Washington Examiner, said Julian Assange could expose a “plot” involving Ukraine to falsely accuse Trump of colluding with Russia.

The WikiLeaks publisher was arrested Thursday in London and urged resistance to the “Trump administration” as he was dragged out of Ecuador’s embassy to face extradition.

Assange helped elect Trump with 2016 dumps of damaging Democratic emails allegedly hacked by Russia. He was charged with a single count of computer-hacking conspiracy relating to Chelsea Manning’s 2010 leaks of military and diplomatic secrets.

Trump distanced himself from the case, but Giuliani said Assange’s apprehension — after nearly seven years in the embassy — could benefit the president, who was recently exonerated of criminal collusion with Russia by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Maybe it will shed light on the plot to create an investigation of President Trump based on a false charge of conspiracy with the Russians to affect the 2016 elections. Keep your eye on Ukraine,” Giuliani said. “It’s possible with all his sources he might know or have information of how it all started.”

Giuliani specified that he was talking about Assange exposing the origins of the federal investigation of possible Trump collusion with Russia and was not raising the possibility of Assange disproving that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Giuliani said he believed Assange may be able to “show who invented [the] false story that [Trump] colluded with Russians.”

Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney and New York City mayor, said he was “not sure yet” if Assange helping exonerate Trump would lighten his possible criminal penalties.

In a report submitted March 22, Mueller found no evidence of Trump criminally colluding with Russia, according to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings. Barr said Tuesday that he expected to release a redacted version of Mueller’s report within a week.

Assange is accused of conspiring to hack a U.S. government computer system. He allegedly communicated with Manning about cracking a password, though charging documents did not make clear if any records were accessed as a result. The charge carries up to five years in prison.

Following Assange’s arrest, experts raised the possibility that Assange would seek to “graymail” the Trump administration into dropping charges, meaning threaten to expose secrets — whether true or not — in an effort to nix the prosecution.

There are some unresolved Russia-related claims that could damage Trump, including former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s claim he overheard a July 2016 phone call in which adviser Roger Stone told Trump that he spoke with Assange, who intended to release hacked emails. Mueller’s team also focused on author Jerome Corsi, finding it implausible that he “predicted” in July 2016 that Assange had Podesta’s emails and would release them in October.

Giuliani answered with a firm “no” when asked if Assange’s arrest could put Trump in new legal jeopardy in relation to the 2016 email releases.

Although candidate Trump routinely reveled in WikiLeaks’s disclosures about Hillary Clinton, Trump as president has consistently professed ignorance about Assange and efforts to broker a pardon on his behalf. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., tried in vain to speak with Trump about a pardon for Assange, and on Thursday Trump claimed he knew “nothing” about either Assange or the WikiLeaks organization.

Vladimir Putin is a dedicated enemy of the United States and the U.S.-led international order. But while the proof of Putin’s enmity towards America is abundant and clear, Putin is an excellent PR man when he wants to be.

Note, for example, his performance at the International Arctic Forum in his home city of St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

First, Putin played the tough guy. As thousands in the audience watched and the cameras rolled, Putin saw that his economic development minister, Maxim Oreshkin, was using his phone while Putin was speaking. Big mistake. Putin asked Oreshkin how much Russia had invested in import substitution in 2018. Oreskhin didn’t know the answer. Putin then publicly humiliated him. This is was the red meat for state TV: the macho man offering decidedly Russian black humor.

But Putin had a very different message for the foreign news media.

This alternate strategy was encapsulated when Putin was asked whether he wants President Trump to be reelected. Putin took a moment to consider his answer and then responded. U.S. policy towards Russia is often negative, Putin explained, but there are areas of compromise even on issues of disagreement such as Syria. Then Putin cleverly shifted the conversation to an area where international opinion is most unfavorable to the U.S.: President Trump’s refusal to support the Paris climate accord. Putin presented himself as the earnest intermediary here. “The U.S. emits a lot of greenhouse gases we have to understand that so we have to find a solution. We have to somehow engage with the U.S. in a dialogue.”

The diplomatic nice talk offered, Putin then returned to the original election question. It wasn’t for Russia to decide, he said. “This is not the sphere where such categories as ‘I want,’ ‘I don’t want’ apply. We respect the choice of the American people and whoever is elected we will work with him or her.”

The crowd clapped enthusiastically.

Of course, Putin’s warm earnestness is actually deliberate deception. As in 2016, Putin will interfere with the 2020 election to support the candidate whose victory he believes is most in Russia’s interest.

Yet the diplomatic lying is very clever. It’s not just that it sounds good, it’s that it subtly plays to the belief that Putin is misrepresented in international media. That he isn’t, in fact, the leader who blitzes some Syrian towns and covers up chemical weapons attacks in others. That he isn’t the leader who suffocates innocents in English country villages and kills journalists. That he isn’t the man who wants to dominate eastern Europe and, if undeterred, would do so by force.

Clever indeed. Putin’s words in St. Petersburg were classic KGB “deza” or disinformation operations. He said things that a lot of people want to believe. And thus Putin cleverly frames himself as the good guy.


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