Russia, Russia, Russia

I’ve written a number of posts over the years decrying the malign behavior of Russia. They have interfered in elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, poisoned and killed Russian dissidents at home and abroad, jailed people on trumped up charges, invaded and taken land from Ukraine, used fossil fuels as a weapon, corruptly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while their population as a whole suffers, hacked into computer systems, and spread disinformation and dissension across the globe.

The US has placed sanctions against Russia in the past. There have also been charges filed against Russian operatives, including over a dozen resulting from the Mueller investigation. Russian personnel have been expelled.

The former administration was not very robust in carrying out sanctions against Russia that had passed through Congress, but the Biden administration did take action in the past week, sanctioning Russian individuals and companies, prohibiting US banks from trading in Russian bonds, expelling personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity. It’s also possible that other measures were taken that are not being announced publicly. This sometimes happen, especially in cyberspace.

Interestingly, the administration acknowledged something that had been suspected but never so clearly stated by the government. A Treasury Department statement on the sanctions states:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who was one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers in 2016. He gave internal campaign polling data to Kilimnik. This is the first time that there has been official acknowledgement from the government that that information was given to the Russian Intelligence Services. It’s already known that the Russians targeted certain groups and localities in their 2016 election interference operations. This data would increased their effectiveness, especially in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin but won the electoral college by winning in a few key districts in three states.

This is what most people would call “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Although I wish Russia and Kilimnick had been held to account more vigorously and much sooner, I’m grateful that more is now being done. I also hope that the American people will be more attentive to the veracity of what they see on social media and even what they hear from some politicians who have spouted some of the lies that Russia planted.

The Russians want to divide the people of the United States. We must not let them do that. President Biden is trying to help all Americans to come together after the upheaval of the pandemic, its economic impacts, centuries-old racial/ethnic/religious divides, and environmental degradation. He is the duly elected president. There was not widespread fraud in the election. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat that has killed over half a million Americans, but we can fight it with masks, distancing, vaccines, therapeutics, and other public health measures. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed quickly and decisively to contain the worst impacts.

Don’t let Russia tell you otherwise.

on both sides of the pond

This is a politically eventful week for both the US and the UK.

I just finished reading the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. I was a bit surprised that there are only two, given that there is also a body of evidence to support obstruction of justice regarding the 2016 election interference investigation and an emoluments case. The emoluments case is wending its way through the judicial system. The obstruction of justice cases could be brought under a different attorney general at any point within the five year statute of limitations. The thinking of the House Judiciary Committee majority seems to be to keep the articles narrowly focused to be able to present a more concentrated set of facts for the impeachment vote in the House, which is like an indictment, and for the trial in the Senate. The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress. Given that this is ongoing. blatant, and unprecedented in scope – and clearly a breach of Constitutional separation of powers – it is going to look as though senators who vote against that article are not taking their own Constitutional role as jurors seriously.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where I happen to be at the moment visiting family, the airwaves are filled with news of the UK Parliamentary election, which could well determine if and how the exit of the UK from the European Union happens. It is a mess, given that Russia also interfered in the Brexit vote, so it is not necessarily reflective of the will of the people. It is even more complicated in that the United Kingdom might itself break apart in the aftermath of leaving the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland, and even Wales, could well vote to succeed, leaving England on its own and no United Kingdom at all.

I know I keep saying “Yikes!” in my posts, but it bears repeating.

Yikes!

evidence

Since I wrote this post, more and more evidence has become public about how President Trump tried to enlist foreign leaders in discrediting rival politicians and then to restrict access to the reports and hide the evidence in a super-secret computer. In the coming weeks, it is likely that more information will be forthcoming as the House Intelligence Committee holds hearings and as more investigative reporting appears in national newspapers. Among the other people already implicated are Attorney General Barr, Secretary of State Pompeo, and the president’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani. Besides Ukraine, it appears contacts were made with Australia, Italy, and Great Britain in attempts to undermine the work of the US intelligence organizations. All of these actions are related in some way or another to Russia, who we know interfered in the US elections in 2016. It also appears that United States pressure has resulted in Ukraine agreeing to have elections in the eastern part of the country where insurgents backed by Russia have been fighting for several years. Ostensibly, this could lead to that region being given special status and would then officially ally itself with Russia, who would ask to have the international sanctions against them lifted, which is what they have been trying to do since Trump’s election.

If the current public information is corroborated with testimony, documents, and other evidence, it would be very grave. To make matters worse, the administration is continuing to say that its employees may not testify or turn over documents. This seems to also be obstructive behavior.

Now, the Inspector General of the State Department has asked for an urgent meeting with several Congressional committees on October 2nd, tomorrow as I write this. I am filled with trepidation, but grateful that the Inspector General is independent of the State Department and can’t be blocked from bringing information to Congress.

Stay tuned.

uncharted territory

I can’t even count how many times during the Trump campaign and presidency I have heard historians, policy experts, and commentators say that we are in “uncharted territory.” It’s bewildering as each new scandal breaks, only to be swallowed up by the next one.

The story that has been breaking over the last few days is that a whistleblower from the intelligence community went to the inspector general with an issue of concern. The inspector general found the issue credible and urgent and, as statute dictates, told the (acting) Secretary of Homeland Security who was supposed to send the information on to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who have oversight duties. Instead, he brought the concern to the executive branch, in this case to the White House and the Department of Justice. He is now refusing to pass the information on to the committees because the person under question is not part of the intelligence community, even though the  statute is clear that the information must be handed over regardless of who is the subject.

Partial information about the case has been sussed out by the press. Apparently, the whistleblower was alarmed by a pattern of behavior by the president toward Ukraine. Part of the problem seems to be that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son; Joe Biden is one of the top tier Democratic contenders vying to run against Trump for the presidency in 2020. Trump now admits discussing the matter with the president of Ukraine, although he says he didn’t “pressure” him. If, however, the allegation is true that DT did pressure the Ukrainian president, he could be investigated for extortion, campaign finance violations, and courting foreign influence in a US election. He could also be charged with obstruction for not turning over evidence in a Congressional investigation.

And this new issue is on top of the possible obstruction of justice acts described in the second half of the Mueller report.

And the emoluments case wending its way through the courts and under investigation by the House.

And keeping members of his cabinet and staff, present and former, from cooperating with document requests and testimony, which is also obstruction.

And he hasn’t turned over tax returns for himself and his businesses, despite valid Congressional requests and New York state court subpoenas.

This is not a complete list.

The level of corruption is staggering.

What is needed at this point is for Congressional Republicans to step up and hold the president accountable for his actions. It is their duty to uphold the laws of the United States. So far, almost no Republicans have supported Congressional investigation which could lead to impeachment and removal from office. You can be sure that if a Democratic president had engaged in any of the actions that Trump appears to have taken, the Republicans would have investigated and impeached him/her long ago. During the 2016 campaign, there were Republicans saying that they would file articles of impeachment immediately after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, although it isn’t clear what grounds they thought they had. That Congressional Republicans are failing to hold Trump accountable only because he is a Republican is unconscionable and un-American.

What happens next? Who knows?

We are in uncharted territory.

after the report

Nana is dozing in her recliner, so I thought I would try to do a quick post on my reactions so far to the redacted release of the Mueller report. With everything going on in my family life, I haven’t been able to read all 400+ pages, but have seen excerpts and analysis from lawyers and investigative/legal reporters, which I have found very helpful.

As longtime readers may recall, I was very concerned about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even before the voting took place, so volume one of the report, which details the Russian attacks, is chilling. It reveals how extensive the attack was, confirming that it reached millions of potential voters, some of whom were targeted with particular posts or ads because of where they lived, their race, and other personal factors. It also deals with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other campaign systems with release of materials to the public, as well as attempts to hack voting systems.

I am very concerned that Congress has not done enough to help the FBI and the states and localities identify potential weaknesses, especially in technology systems, and rectify them for the 2020 race, which has already started with many candidates declaring their intent to run in the party primaries. We need to be prepared for both similar attacks and for different kinds of attacks from Russia and from other countries. This should not be a partisan issue at all; people across the political spectrum should all be committed to protecting our national security and our freedoms.

The second part of the report is about possible obstruction of justice by the President. It makes it clear that no charges were filed because it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Mueller also made it clear that he could not gather all the evidence needed, as the President and several other key figures were not able to be interviewed by the investigators. However, the report lays out details of possible counts of obstruction, which could be taken up by Congress as part of their investigations (which could lead to the filing of impeachment charges) or which could be charged by the courts after Trump leaves office. The statute of limitations for most of the actions taken by the president is five years, so if he leaves office during his first term or fails to win a second term, court charges could be brought for obstruction of justice.

The question of whether the House of Representatives will move toward impeachment is open. It’s complicated by the fact that the Mueller investigation was focused on Russian interference, but there are investigations on-going in other areas, among them illegal campaign contributions, emoluments, and financial crimes. Trump is trying to block them by ignoring subpoenas, not providing records, and not allowing even former staff to testify to Congress. It’s plausible that this could cause additional impeachment charges of obstruction for not cooperating with a Congressional investigation.

Additionally, people have to be aware that the standards for impeachment are different than they are for court trials. For example, one of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was lying to the American people. There isn’t a specific law against this, but it is considered a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the Constitutional impeachment criteria.

Some people say that Congress should just wait until the 2020 election, but I disagree. I’m afraid if these things aren’t investigated, with impeachment charges filed if found appropriate, it will look as though anyone who is elected president can get away with breaking laws and ethical codes for four years without consequence.

That is a terrible message to send. We, the People of the United States, deserve better.

Remind me which way is forward?

The whirlwind that was October has blown into November. At the moment, it has brought some messy mixed precipitation with wet snow starting to accumulate on the grass and the cars, but “messy and mixed” describes a lot of the situations I find myself in of late.

We have been continuing to try to settle Nana and Paco into new routines with Nana in the Health Canter and Paco in his apartment, but things tend to shift day to day. I have been trying to untangle all the required paperwork and meetings, but some things are still in process.

Meanwhile, even though I haven’t been able to follow the news as closely as I usually do, I feel the weight and disquiet of the terrible events around the United States with shootings, pipe bombs, fires, and vitriol swirling around us. I had hoped the election would settle things down a bit. While I am grateful not to be inundated with political ads, the level of uncertainty, especially in national politics, is daunting. Mueller’s team went quiet for several weeks before the election due to Justice Department protocol, but now there is a wide-spread expectation that new charges may be announced, although with Attorney General Sessions having been fired, it is hard to know what will happen next and when/if a final report will be made public.

It seems we are in for more “mixed and messy” times…

unsettled

This month has been a demanding one personally; hence, I have managed only a few posts this month.

I will spare you the bureaucratic details that have been occupying so much of my time and headspace, but the situation is made all the more difficult by the public unraveling going on around us.

Although I have cut back on the amount of news that I see, the continuing revelations of foreign entanglements with United States elections and governance have been truly disturbing, as has evidence that the Russians have been detected infiltrating computer systems involved with the upcoming midterm elections in November. The Manafort trial, more books and articles being published about the administration and the investigation, DT’s tweets, and interviews with members of the administration and the president’s lawyers add to the unsettling mix.

The past week has also seen a lot of coverage of the grand jury report on sexual crimes by Catholic clergy and coverup by church officials in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The behavior described in the report is appalling, sinful, and criminal and my heart breaks for the victims and their families, but, unlike many people, I did not find the report shocking or surprising. We have heard similar stories from other US dioceses and from other countries for years now.

Some Catholics feel that the Church is being attacked or singled out for criticism, but I don’t feel that way at all. I see the root of the problem as abuse of power. Sexual violence is one form of abuse of power, but there are many others, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, financial and employment discrimination, racism, and sexism among them. All of this has led some priests into a culture of clericalism, which, in turn, led to the coverup of crimes by “brother priests” and the silencing or ignoring of victims, who are usually lay people, although sometimes also members of religious orders, other priests, or seminarians.

For many people, the Pennsylvania report highlights the lack of accountability among bishops. While this issue has been on my mind for years, it is gaining new prominence in the Catholic and general press now and is being more openly discussed among lay people, theologians, and ethicists.

Pope Francis, when he visited Chile, made the mistake of dismissing sexual abuse survivors and supporting a bishop who mishandled credible allegations against priests. After public outcry, Francis appointed an investigator. Upon receiving the report, Francis changed course, met with Chilean survivors, and called all the bishops to Rome. All thirty-four bishops offered their resignations; at this point, Francis has accepted five of them.

There are now calls for the United States’ bishops to also offer their resignations, which the Pope could accept or not on a case-by-case basis. This is occurring in the aftermath of the resignation of retired archbishop of Washington, DC Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, after reports of abuse of both minors and adult seminarians. He has been ordered into seclusion; it’s not clear if he will be laicized if he is found guilty at a canonical trial, as has happened with priests.

Of course, for most bishops, the issue will be if they covered up crimes of priests in their dioceses or moved priests to other locations where they abused still more minors or vulnerable adults.

For me, there is also a larger crisis of leadership. If a bishop fails to protect children and teens from such terrible crimes, how can he credibly claim to be leading and caring for all the Catholics in his jurisdiction? For a variety of reasons, I have been avoiding dealing with the bishops in my diocese, concentrating instead on parish-level ministry and the Church as the people of God, not as a hierarchical institution.

Still, I can’t help but think that personal complications would be easier to bear if the government and the church were functioning with stability and rectitude.

Coming home to Comey news

Because I was out yesterday evening at Bruce Borton’s retirement party, I was blissfully unaware of the news about the firing of FBI Director Comey for several hours until I returned home to hours of breaking news coverage.

In the United States, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is appointed and confirmed for a ten year term in order to insulate the FBI from political pressures. While one past director was removed after a lengthy review process for violating policy, this is the first time that an FBI director has been summarily fired with no notice.

The stated reason is that Director Comey violated policy by revealing information last July and subsequently about the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. You can read the letter from the Deputy Attorney General here. I am not disputing that this was wrong. The irony is that Donald Trump touted Comey’s revelations on the campaign trail and paid him compliments on his bravery, all while his crowds were chanting, “Lock her up!” Are we really supposed to believe that the President fired Director Comey for behavior that he lauded for months?

Certainly, the timing and suddenness of the firing are suspicious. The administration did not even have the courage to fire Comey to his face. He literally saw the news on television before he was told.

My fear, which is shared by millions of Americans, is that Comey was fired in an attempt to derail the FBI investigation into Russian interference in US electoral process and governance. I have been alarmed about this for months now, and the alarm bells are ringing more loudly all the time.

I hope that there will be an independent commission to fully investigate this issue. The Congressional inquiries are hobbled by political divisions. The Attorney General has had to recuse himself, although he was also supposed to be recused about the Clinton email investigation but somehow was in on Comey’s firing over it. The future of the FBI investigation is now uncertain.

We deserve to know the truth about who was involved with Russian hacking and interference, either wittingly or unwittingly. Our national sovereignty and the integrity of our government are at stake.

Update on May 12, 2017:  The President said in an interview yesterday that he had already decided to fire Director Comey before meeting with the Justice Department officials, so the idea that he was being fired because of the Clinton investigation is bogus. Also, he said in the interview that the Russia investigation was connected to the Comey decision.

One-Liner Wednesday: Ignorance

“Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.”
– Albert Einstein

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday. Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/04/15/one-liner-wednesday-end-of-story/