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3:16 pm - 02/17/2017
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The Leakers Who Exposed Gen. Flynn’s Lie Committed Serious — and Wholly Justified — Felonies

President Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, was forced to resign on Monday night as a result of getting caught lying about whether he discussed sanctions in a December telephone call with a Russian diplomat. The only reason the public learned about Flynn’s lie is because someone inside the U.S. government violated the criminal law by leaking the contents of Flynn’s intercepted communications.

In the spectrum of crimes involving the leaking of classified information, publicly revealing the contents of SIGINT — signals intelligence — is one of the most serious felonies. Journalists (and all other nongovernmental citizens) can be prosecuted under federal law for disclosing classified information only under the narrowest circumstances; reflecting how serious SIGINT is considered to be, one of those circumstances includes leaking the contents of intercepted communications, as defined this way by 18 § 798 of the U.S. Code:

Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates … or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes … any classified information … obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

That Flynn lied about what he said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was first revealed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who has built his career on repeating what his CIA sources tell him. In his January 12 column, Ignatius wrote: “According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking.”

That “senior U.S. government official” committed a serious felony by leaking to Ignatius the communication activities of Flynn. Similar and even more extreme crimes were committed by what the Washington Post called “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls,” who told the paper for its February 9 article that “Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials.” The New York Times, also citing anonymous U.S. officials, provided even more details about the contents of Flynn’s telephone calls.

That all of these officials committed major crimes can hardly be disputed. In January, CNN reported that Flynn’s calls with the Russians “were captured by routine U.S. eavesdropping targeting the Russian diplomats.” That means that the contents of those calls were “obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of [a] foreign government,” which in turn means that anyone who discloses them — or reports them to the public — is guilty of a felony under the statute.

Yet very few people are calling for a criminal investigation or the prosecution of these leakers, nor demanding the leakers step forward and “face the music” — for very good reason: The officials leaking this information acted justifiably, despite the fact that they violated the law. That’s because the leaks revealed that a high government official, Gen. Flynn, blatantly lied to the public about a material matter — his conversations with Russian diplomats — and the public has the absolute right to know this.

This episode underscores a critical point: The mere fact that an act is illegal does not mean it is unjust or even deserving of punishment. Oftentimes, the most just acts are precisely the ones that the law prohibits.

That’s particularly true of whistleblowers — i.e., those who reveal information the law makes it a crime to reveal, when doing so is the only way to demonstrate to the public that powerful officials are acting wrongfully or deceitfully. In those cases, we should cheer those who do it even though they are undertaking exactly those actions that the criminal law prohibits.

This Flynn episode underscores another critical point: The motives of leakers are irrelevant. It’s very possible — indeed, likely — that the leakers here were not acting with benevolent motives. Nobody with a straight face can claim that lying to the public is regarded in official Washington as some sort of mortal sin; if anything, the contrary is true: It’s seen as a job requirement.

Moreover, Gen. Flynn has many enemies throughout the intelligence and defense community. The same is true, of course, of Donald Trump; recall that just a few weeks ago, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer warned Trump that he was being “really dumb” to criticize the intelligence community because “they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s very possible — I’d say likely — that the motive here was vindictive rather than noble. Whatever else is true, this is a case where the intelligence community, through strategic (and illegal) leaks, destroyed one of its primary adversaries in the Trump White House.

But no matter. What matters is not the motive of the leaker but the effects of the leak. Any leak that results in the exposure of high-level wrongdoing — as this one did — should be praised, not scorned and punished.

It is, of course, bizarre to watch this principle now so widely celebrated. Over the last eight years, President Obama implemented the most vindictive and aggressive war on whistleblowers in all of U.S. history. As Leonard Downie, one of the editors at the Washington Post during the Watergate investigation, put it in a special report: “The [Obama] administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.”

It’s hard to put into words how strange it is to watch the very same people — from both parties, across the ideological spectrum — who called for the heads of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Tom Drake, and so many other Obama-era leakers today heap praise on those who leaked the highly sensitive, classified SIGINT information that brought down Gen. Flynn.

It’s even more surreal to watch Democrats act as though lying to the public is some grave firing offense when President Obama’s top national security official, James Clapper, got caught red-handed not only lying to the public but also to Congress — about a domestic surveillance program that courts ruled was illegal. And despite the fact that lying to Congress is a felony, he kept his job until the very last day of the Obama presidency.

But this is how political power and the addled partisan brain in D.C. functions. Those in power always regard leaks as a heinous crime, while those out of power regard them as a noble act. They seamlessly shift sides as their position in D.C. changes.

Indeed, while Democrats have suddenly re-discovered the virtues of illegal leaking, Trump-supporting Republicans are insisting that the only thing that matters is rooting out the criminal leakers. Fox News host Steve Doocey and right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham today both demanded to know why the leakers weren’t being hunted, while congressional Republicans are vowing investigations to find the leakers. And Trump himself today — echoing Obama-era Democrats — said that “the real story” isn’t the lies told by his national security adviser but rather the fact that someone leaked information exposing them:

But this is just the tawdry, craven game of Washington. People with no actual beliefs shamelessly take diametrically opposite views on fundamental political questions based exclusively on whether it helps or hurts their leaders. Thus, the very same Democrats who just three months ago viewed illegal leaking as a grave sin today view it as an act of heroic #Resistance.

What matters far more than this lowly and empty game-playing is the principle that is so vividly apparent here. Given the extreme secrecy powers that have arisen under the war on terror, one of the very few ways that the public has left for learning about what its government officials do is illegal leaking. As Trevor Timm notes, numerous leaks have already achieved great good in the three short weeks that Trump has been president.

Leaks are illegal and hated by those in power (and their followers) precisely because political officials want to hide evidence of their own wrongdoing, and want to be able to lie to the public with impunity and without detection. That’s the same reason the rest of us should celebrate such illegal leaks and protect those who undertake them, often at great risk to their own interests, so that we can be informed about the real actions of those who wield the greatest power. That principle does not change based upon which political party controls the White House.

* * * * *

From the creation of The Intercept during the Obama presidency through to today under Trump, a central principle of The Intercept — a key reason it was created — was to enable whistleblowing and report on leaks in the public interest. As our pinned article on our front page says: “If You See Something, Leak Something,” with instructions on how to do that as safely as possible.

The Leakers Who Exposed Gen. Flynn’s Lie Committed Serious — and Wholly Justified — Felonies

The Left Needs to Assess the Implications of the Flynn Scandal

Many so-called progressives are stoked that Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned charges surrounding his discussions with a Russian ambassador while Trump was president-elect.

Congressional Democrats want to use this to go after Trump. Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “After Flynn resignation, FBI must accelerate its investigation of the Trump Administration’s Russian connection.”

Even before Flynn’s resignation, Rep. Maxine Waters did a segment on “Democracy Now:” “Trump Should Be Impeached If He Colluded with Russians Ahead of Election.”

There are certainly reasons to want to see Flynn go — he recently put Iran “on notice” while the White House tried to gin up the case against Iran.

And there are obvious reasons to try to impeach Trump that don’t require congress people to qualify them with an “if” — his violations of the “emoluments clauses.”

But it’s perhaps easier, more “nationalistic” and ultimately horrifying for “progressives” and others with an alleged interest in peace to be harping on the Russian angle.

The Clinton campaign repeated that time and again during the campaign — with disastrous results. Clinton talked about Russia and Trump talked about jobs in the rust belt. Guess who won the presidency?

Many so-called progressives are in effect making an alliance with the most war-mongering parts of the U.S. establishment. They are in effect buttressing incredibly dubious notions of U.S. victimology and demonizing official enemies that increase U.S. militarism and the likelihood for confrontation with the other nation on the planet that could destroy the planet a hundred times over.

Trump had just reportedly turned down Elliott Abrams‘ bid to be number two at the State Department. That was a good thing. Elliott Abrams was part of the Iran-Contra scandal and needed a Christmas Eve pardon from George H.W. Bush. He backed death squads in Central America. He then did a stint in the George W. Bush administration in charge of “democracy promotion” and was almost certainly behind still unaccountable horrors by Israel and in Iraq and elsewhere.

But he somehow gets depicted as “reasonable” by many. In fact, just as the major media were closing in on Flynn, Elliott Abrams appeared on CNN, saying he thought Steve Bannon was behind him not getting the job. Damn that crazy Bannon for apparently blocking a certifiable war criminal.

Trump won the presidency in large part because he was a Republican who could with minimal credibility talk about being against the “establishment.” I didn’t buy it, but lots of people did. He won an election that I doubt many in the vast Republican field could have. Trump talked about non-intervention, he talked about preserving Social Security and Medicare.

One upshot of the Flynn resignation is that Vice President Mike Pence, a white “Christian” nationalist, who is also is a darling of both Wall Street and the “neo con” interventionists comes out smelling like roses. Trump is a twisted narcissist who is a political opportunist. But Pence is likely what a lot of people claim Trump is.

Flynn was compelled to resign in large part because what is euphemistically called the “intelligence community” apparently had recording of his dealings with Russian representatives that he allegedly mischaracterized.

This implies that people will be held accountable for their falsehoods if — and only if — their stance upsets the CIA, NSA, et al.

It’s worth keeping in mind that when Trump seem to challenge this part of the permanent government in January, leading Democrat Chuck Schumer said Trump was “really dumb” for attacking the intelligence agencies. Said Schumer: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

And what else did we just see happening as Flynn was resigning? Steven Mnuchin, from the good folks at Goldman Sachs was confirmed as Treasury Secretary. The case against Mnuchin is so massive and his Wall Street / Goldman Sachs / Soros / foreclosure king / Skull and Bones pedigree is so not “populist” that it’s quite remarkable that he was able to get through.

Virtually all the Democrats in the Senate did not vote against Mnuchin. But they all knew that that wouldn’t stop him. Schumer got to put out some populist rhetoric, conveniently ignoring his own deep ties to Wall Street.

Four of Schumer’s top funders through his political career are in insurance and finance: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Credit Suisse Group. Heck, he even took money from Mnuchin himself.

Wall Street and other corporate interests are quite firmly in control of the Democrats in Congress and Trump has put them in power in his cabinet. Part of the twisted dynamic is that the populist / nationalist wing of the Trump administration would disappear were he to disappear as Flynn has.

Trump is an obvious con artist and is not to be trusted. I’d bet his attempts at a detente with Russia have to do with profiteering — or worse, with trying to go after China or such. But the crit to date bares more resemblance to the Republican obsession with Benghazi than with an attempt to meaningfully try to change U.S. agressions around the world.

But any meaningful critique of Trump can’t possibly be one that demonizes the other major nuclear power, especially given the litany of U.S. illegal aggression around the world, including it’s provocations against Russia — such as violating promises and expanding NATO to Russia’s boarder. Besides, Putin makes U.S. allies like israel and Saudi Arabia look like idyllic democratic wonderlands.

If only all these liberals scrutinized presidents when they want to go to war like they do Trump when he wants to make peace with Putin.

The Left Needs to Assess the Implications of the Flynn Scandal

A Dangerous Hysteria on Russia

A grave danger from the U.S.-Russian hostilities bubbling in Official Washington is that both sides have narratives asserting their complete innocence rather than seeing the two sides of the story, observes James W Carden.

The hysteria that has, for many months now, gripped our media and governing elites, as well as the Democratic Party’s chattering class, over Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election, has also begun to affect the Republic of Letters. Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review featured a review of a new novel that begins with the declaration that “Russia once again poses a threat to American democracy.”

This gives us a sense of the environment that the new and struggling Trump administration must confront as it attempts to fashion its policy toward Russia, a daunting task, made even more so by the poisonous – or even what might accurately be described as a McCarthyite – atmosphere that currently envelops Washington.

So, where to begin? I think that in order to help point the direction in which the Trump administration should go, we ought to begin by performing a kind of autopsy on the Obama administration’s Russia policy to see what lessons we might draw from the mistakes that were made over the past eight years.

This, unavoidably, entails a discussion of the Obama “Reset” policy, and the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, which oversaw the implementation of that policy at the inter-governmental working level. After what could fairly be described as a brief period of tangible achievements in 2009-2010 – during which time the U.S. and Russia signed the NEW START treaty and together formed 21 working groups focusing on issues as diverse as Space, Agriculture, Education, and Military Cooperation – things quickly foundered.

I would submit that one of the primary reasons things unraveled so quickly is that President Obama made a miscalculation by over-personalizing the relationship with his counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and placed unrealistic hopes in someone who was essentially a placeholder president.

While it was obvious to many that that was exactly what Medvedev was, the Obama administration clung to the unrealistic (and in retrospect, baffling) hope that the U.S. could somehow convince then-Prime Minister Putin to stand aside and not run for election in 2012. Indeed, Vice President Biden went so far as to make the point explicit during an appearance at Moscow State University in 2011.

But to be fair, Obama was not the first U.S. president to substitute personality for policy: we can recall Bill Clinton’s courtship of Boris Yeltsin – and we recall how well that turned out. But in the context of the Obama years, it was particularly damaging because once you stripped away the personal chemistry between Obama and Medvedev, and as well-intentioned as the Reset policy was, it was largely small ball. Sponsoring “people to people” programs like high school sports exchanges are great and should be encouraged, but they don’t add enough ballast to balance and stabilize a great power relationship when things go off track.

And go off track they did: by mid-2011and early-2012 decisions made at the very top ensured the premature death of the Obama Reset: Obama’s nomination of democracy promotion/regime change theorist Michael McFaul as U.S. Ambassador, Putin’s decision to return to the Kremlin in 2012, the passage of the Magnitsky Act and the Russia’s retaliatory Dima Yakovlev Act foreshadowed even bigger conflicts to come: such as those in Ukraine and Syria.

A Better Reset

One should note that the approach Obama took in fashioning a Reset was not exactly new. What animated the “Reset” policy – which, according to one its primary architects, was based on the old Reagan-Shultz policy of what was then called “de-linkage” that is, the U.S. would not explicitly link progress on areas like human rights to progress on issues like nuclear non-proliferation.

Obama’s rationale was similar to Reagan’s: Where we are in conflict with Russia, we will speak up – but where we find there are areas of cooperation – then we will move forward on those. In other words: progress in one area is not necessarily contingent on progress in other areas. As it turns out, this approach – which worked rather well 30 years ago toward the end of the Cold War – worked rather less well under President Obama.

Part of the problem is that the world – and Russia in particular – had changed during the intervening three decades – and so a simple updating of the Reagan-Shultz formula proved to be inadequate to the challenges we face today. Another part of the problem is that during the intervening years between the end of the Cold War and the election of President Obama, successive U.S. governments began to distain pragmatism in favor of a pursuit of global liberal hegemony, by which I mean, the promotion of American-style democratic norms and social values came at the expense of the pragmatic engagement characteristic of the late-Reagan/George H.W. Bush era.

To put it plainly then: since the early 1990s, the mission to spread our values has come at the expense of our interests, at home and abroad. Consider the expansion of NATO, a project begun in the early-mid 1990s under the Clinton administration, where the U.S. mistook membership in – and the expansion of – a military alliance for the advancement of liberal ideals. In creating an exclusionary rather than inclusionary European security architecture, we were inviting problems down the road, such as those that have bedeviled U.S.-Russian relations in recent years.

All of this is to say that we cannot simply address the problem of Russia in 2017 in isolation from the wider, expansionist and hegemonic trends of U.S. foreign policy of the last quarter century. Today, we too often begin the by now well-established narrative of Russian malfeasance and “revanchism” with its 2008 “invasion” of Georgia — or — in recent years, its “annexation” of Crimea and “invasion” of eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Yet the problem with the American version of the story is that it mistakes the middle of the story for the beginning. If we look carefully, and if we are honest with ourselves, the problems with Russia began in the 1990s with the Clinton policy of NATO expansion – problems which were further exacerbated by subsequent American interventions in Serbia and Kosovo, in Iraq, in Libya, and in Syria.

This is not to say Russia has not compounded the current tensions with provocations and missteps of its own. But worryingly, as during the first Cold War, we are in a situation where, as the Christian socialist theologian Reinhold Niebuhr observed in 1952, the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a struggle and – in his words – “are particularly innocent according to their own official myth and collective memory.” Propelled by best of intentions – the situation that obtains on the Continent is perhaps the most dangerous since the Berlin crisis of 1961.

A Troubled Détente 2.0

What does this background mean for prospects for U.S.-Russia policy under President Trump? I would submit that the prospects for a kind of Detente 2.0 are really not very good. To begin with, we would have to address the underlying causes behind the seemingly never-ending problems in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

It seems to me that all (or most) of the problems stem from what are essentially irreconcilable approaches to international affairs; in an odd twist of history, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s foreign policy has become essentially Westphalian, while it is we Americans who have become the Trotskyite revolutionaries – in thrall to the ideal of waging a permanent “democratic” revolution on the rest of the world. As Americans, we should find this turn of events distressing.

Trump will also have to avoid the mistake of substituting personality for policy – as he seems to be doing with Putin. He will also have to make a definitive break with past thinking – he will have to follow through on his promise to pursue a policy which puts American interests first and in so doing face down Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Ben Cardin and other Russia-paranoiacs (to say nothing of Kiev’s vast number of apologists in the Congress, media and think tanks) in order to break the war fever in Washington.

Yet – so far anyway – the administration has simply echoed the Obama administration’s talking points on Russia. Consider: Ambassador Nikki Haley’s maiden speech to the United Nations condemned Russia in terms no different in their ferocity from what we all had come to expect from Samantha Power, while, at his confirmation hearing to be Defense Secretary, General Jim Mattis claimed that Russia was a principal adversary of the United States.

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan collection of senators has just introduced legislation to sanction Russia over its alleged interference in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, the Trump team’s obsession with Iran – threatens not only to derail any detente with Russia but may embroil us in yet another war in the greater Middle East.

The final reason I do not see cause for optimism is that frankly, it seems to be amateur hour at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Consider the Muslim immigration ban. Leave aside the grotesque motives behind it as well as the unconstitutional and dangerously counterproductive nature of the thing and, instead, simply consider its roll-out:

The very agencies which were tasked with carrying it out were left in the dark – no guidance was given – and a situation at the airports developed where customs officials were conducting ad hoc loyalty tests on green-card holders; children and elderly travelers where held in detention; and people who had valid visas were cruelly turned away and boarded on to flights out of the United States against their will. Whether Trump even read the text, widely assumed to be the handiwork of a hard-right advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, is something we still don’t know.

And so to conclude: It seems clear to me that the Trump administration is flying blind, and its national security team seems to be firmly in the grip of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus of the last 25 years. And while it is still very early on – I would submit that Trump’s first three weeks in office should be cause for grave concern, and that hopes for a detente with Russia are quite overblown.

A Dangerous Hysteria on Russia

We Must Know the Truth

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there MUST be an investigation by an independent, bipartisan commission of Russia’s ties to Donald Trump and his associates and that nation’s interference in our elections. Emphasize independent and bipartisan. That commission must have full subpoena power to call witnesses and make them testify under oath or risk prosecution. Hearings must be held out in the open, and televised live for the nation and the world to see. That’s what a democracy is all about.

The resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn and Tuesday night’s news of repeated contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence make such an inquiry even more imperative. On Friday, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago on Air Force One, Trump told the press he knew nothing about the previous night’s Washington Post report that Flynn had secretly discussed lifting sanctions against Russia with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. But on Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump had known about Flynn’s phone calls — and his lies about it — weeks ago.

Why was nothing done until the media broke the story? And why did Trump lie? As the National Lampoon joked back during the Watergate era, rephrasing the crucial questions aimed at Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he STOP knowing it?”

Is it possible Trump and Flynn had been talking all along and keeping it to themselves? Who authorized Flynn to speak with the Russian ambassador on Trump’s behalf in the first place? The president himself or chief strategist Steve Bannon? Or someone else? Was Flynn a lone gun? Who can tell with all the lies?

And another thing: if the White House has known what was going on for weeks, why was Flynn still attending intelligence briefings as late as Monday? That’s what White House resident spin doctor Kellyanne Conway told the Today’s show Matt Lauer on Tuesday. Otherwise, Conway — who shortly before his resignation told the press that Flynn still had Trump’s confidence — was her usual duplicitous self. Why the media keep turning to her for answers no one can trust is yet another indignity inflicted on the American public in this unfolding saga.

And where are the Republican patriots willing to come forward and place country and democracy over party and a venal lust for power? Other than John McCain, they’ve been largely mum or simply said ta-ta and thanked Flynn for his service. Late Tuesday, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s “highly likely” the Senate intelligence committee will investigate Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, but does anyone really think a Republican-dominated inquiry, with strings pulled back stage by McConnell, will dig for the truth and let the facts fall where they will?

Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, says he won’t investigate the Flynn affair — “I think that situation has taken care of itself.” How about that for respecting the public’s need to know? And Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York, the man with the dubious distinction of being the first member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday morning, “I think it’s just time to move on.” When asked why so many of his GOP colleagues were silent he suggested, “Well, [it’s] Valentine’s Day, and I guess they’re having breakfasts with their wives.”

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

There is nothing as dangerous to democracy — with its need for checks and balances of power to protect the integrity of our system — as one-party rule. Unless there are responsible Republicans who will break ranks and join the Democrats in calling for an independent and bipartisan joint commission to investigate these astonishing developments in a fair and impartial way — with televised hearings — one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, assaults on democracy in our 240-year history will go unpunished except for a few culprits like Flynn.

Americans must know whether the candidate of one party worked with a foreign power to influence the election against his opponent.

We repeat: This noxious scandal requires an open, independent, bipartisan investigation with public hearings. Now. No patriot can settle for anything less.

We Must Know the Truth
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