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We Will Not Get Peace from the People Who Dismember Dissidents Alive

In the wake of Trump’s announcement that the US will withdraw from Syria and James Mattis’ subsequent resignation, Jeremy Scahill captured the ambivalence of the moment this way:

I agree with much of what Scahill says: I welcome withdrawing troops from overseas. We should never forget that Mattis earned his name, Mad Dog, nor that he got fired by Obama for being too belligerent. The panicked response of a bunch of warmongers is telling. Trump cannot be trusted.

But I think Scahill is too pat in saying “the chaos presents opportunity,” in part because (as he suggests) there doesn’t yet exist “an alternative vision for US foreign policy.”

And while I appreciate that Scahill really does capture this ambivalence, far too many others welcoming a potential troop withdrawal are not recognizing the complexity of the moment.

While we don’t yet fully understand the complex dynamics that led to it, Trump decided to withdraw from Syria during a phone call with a man who has spent two months embarrassing Trump, Trump’s son-in-law, and the corrupt Saudi prince whose crackdown Trump has enthusiastically backed by releasing details of how that prince lulled an American resident dissident to a third country so he could be chopped up with a bone saw while still breathing. And even while Erdogan was embarrassing Trump with those details about Khashoggi’s assassination, he was pressuring Trump to extend the same favor to him by extraditing Fethullah Gulen so he could be chopped up in some grisly fashion.

It is a mistake to think we will get peace from men who dismember dissidents alive.

All that said, Trump will do what he wants and unless the simmering revolt at DOD changes his mind, he will withdraw from Syria and drawdown in Afghanistan.

And if that happens those who would like peace had damn well be better prepared  for that “opportunity” than by simply hoping a future alternative US foreign policy arises. It will take immediate tactical actions to prevent any withdrawal from creating more chaos and misery both in the US and overseas. After all, Trump says he wants to bring troops home, but he has already come perilously close to violating posse comitatus by deploying troops domestically, and that was even with Mattis pushing back against that campaign stunt.

At a minimum, those who want peace need to answer some of the following questions immediately:

What person would both be willing to work for Trump and pursue a policy of peace?

I could not think of any person who could be confirmed by the Senate — even one where nutjobs like Marsha Blackburn have replaced people like Bob Corker — that would be willing to work for Donald Trump and might pursue some kind of alternative foreign policy.

In fact, the only person I could think of for the job (ruling out Erik Prince for a variety of reasons) would be Tom Cotton.

So job number one, for people who hope to use this as an opportunity, is to start coming up with names of people who could replace Mattis and anyone else who quits along with him.

How to prevent the refugee crisis from getting worse?

Multiple accounts of the events leading up to Trump’s decision make it clear that Erdogan would like to use US withdrawal to massacre the Kurds. It’s possible we’ll see similar massacres in Assad-held Syria and Afghanistan as those left try to consolidate their victory.

For all the years the refugee crisis has been mostly a political prop here in the US, it has posed a real threat to the European Union (indeed, I went to several meetings with EUP members in the weeks before Trump’s election where they said it was the greatest threat to the EU). So we need to start thinking seriously about how to prevent genocide and other massacres and the inevitable refugee crises that would result.

How to counter Trump’s fondness for fossil fuels and arms sales?

No withdrawal is going to lead to “peace” or even a retreat of the US empire so long as Trump exacerbates an already unforgivable US addiction to fossil fuels and reliance on arms sales. Particularly with Saudi Arabia but also with Turkey, Trump has excused his fondness for authoritarianism by pointing to arms sales.

And on these issues, Trump actually agrees with the “war party in DC,” which will make it far harder to counter them. Yes, many of the new Democrats entering Congress — most of all Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — don’t have these horrible habits. So what can you do to make sure her Green New Deal not only isn’t squelched by party leadership, but is seen as the alternative to Trump by centrists?

Nukes. How to prevent Trump from using them?

It’s not that Trump is opposed to violence. He’s opposed to engagement and complexity and long term engagement.

Which means, particularly as more and more so-called adults leave, the chance he’ll turn a tantrum into a nuclear strike skyrocket. Mattis won’t be there to stop him.

How to balance accountability for the mistakes that got us here with accountability for Trump?

The movement that brands itself as “The Resistance” has long made a grave mistake of embracing whatever warmed over anti-Trump centrist wanted to loudly denounce the President.

As a result, the mistakes of many of those people — people like John Brennan and Jim Comey and David Frum and David Brooks — were ignored, even when those mistakes created the vacuum that Trump (and Vladimir Putin) have filled.

Trump would not be President if George Bush had not invaded Iraq, abetted by Frum’s nifty tagline, Axis of Evil. Trump would not be President if the banks that crashed the economy in 2008 had been accountable by people like former Bridgewater Associates executive and HSBC board member then FBI Director Jim Comey.

Again, this is about complexity. But so long as those who would keep Trump accountable ignore what made Trump possible, we will make no progress.

How to preserve democracy long enough to pursue a new foreign policy?

Finally, an increasingly real challenge. Trump sides with Putin and Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi not because it serves US interests (which is the excuse American politicians usually offer for tolerating Saudi and Egyptian authoritarianism). He does so because he genuinely loves their authoritarianism.

And as Republicans in the Senate begin to push back against Trump, Democrats in the House try to hold him accountable, and the so-called adults leave his Administration, it raises the chances that Trump will embrace increasingly desperate measures to implement his policies. We can’t just assume that Mueller and SDNY and NY State will prevent a Trump authoritarian power grab, particularly not as he continues to pack the courts.

While numerous State Attorneys General and NGOs are having reasonable success at constraining Trump, thus far, in the courts, eventually we’re going to need a bipartisan commitment in DC to constraining Trump. Eventually we’re going to need to convince a bunch of Republican Senators that Trump is doing permanent damage to this country. That’s going to take building, not severing, relationships with some Republicans, even while finding some means to persuade them that Trump can no longer benefit them.

To some degree, we have no choice but to find answers to these questions, one way or another. It is especially incumbent on those celebrating a withdrawal to acknowledge, and try to answer, them.

The Moving Parts: The Walls Come Down around Trump

The other day (I forget which day it was, to be honest) I wondered aloud whether, as it became clear the walls were collapsing around Trump, he’d make a rash move to pay off his debts, perhaps to salvage something for his post-Presidenting life.

I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet. But in recent days, a ton has happened it’s hard to make sense of.

This post doesn’t pretend to offer answers. I just want to write down everything I think is happening in one place — blogger’s prerogative, call it.

Mattis resigns, citing Trump’s fondness for authoritarians

The most alarming news is not that James Mattis resigned, but how he did so. In his resignation letter, he cited the importance of NATO, and China and Russia’s authoritarianism that leads them to promote their interest over that of their neighbors, America, and our allies, before he made it clear that Trump disagrees with Mattis in rejecting those authoritarian values.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America[,] and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. [my emphasis]

The precipitating event, though, was Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria.

Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.

One source says that Trump’s decision to close the Special Forces base in Syria is part of the problem.

The US is set to shut a special forces base in Syria that has been the subject of repeated Russian complaints, and that some US officials have cast as a key part of US efforts not just to defeat ISIS but to counter Iranian influence in the country.

Muhannad al-Talla, a rebel commander at al-Tanf, a US base near the Syrian border with Jordan, told BuzzFeed News that the base would see the withdrawal of the US troops who have trained and fought alongside rebels there.

I’m wondering if this base was involved in the shellacking of Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s mercenaries.

Another is Erdogan’s threat (or promise) to massacre our longstanding Kurdish allies.

Defense officials tell me Mattis went to the White House to discuss Syria & that he was livid after reading reports that Turkey’s Defense Minister threatened to kill US-backed Kurds & put them in ditches once the US withdrew. He was incensed at this notion of betrayal of an ally.

Effectively, it seems, Mattis told Trump, “it’s me or Vladimir Putin” … and Trump chose Putin.

Erdogan exercises leverage — or is he the messenger boy?

But it wasn’t exactly — or just — Putin that finally got Trump to deliver on the payback he started delivering 14 hours after polls closed in 2016. It was Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As I noted, Trump met with Erdogan in Argentina but not — after the Michael Cohen allocution made it clear Putin was enticing Trump with a Tower deal in 2016 — Putin.

Multiple reports say a call Trump had with Erdogan on Friday was the precipitating factor. Here’s a really alarming account of that call.

That leads me to wonder what leverage Turkey, specifically, has over Trump, such that he’d pull out of Syria in response to a threat to massacre the Kurds, which will make it easy for Turkey to massacre the Kurds.

And I have to believe Turkey’s ploy with the Jamal Khashoggi execution is part of it. Erdogan never gave a shit that the Saudis lured a dissident to their soil to dismember alive. Erdogan himself pursues such repression, even if he conducts it with a bit more cover.

Indeed, whatever Erdogan has over Trump also has him considering extraditing Fethullah Gulen to Turkey for what would certainly be similar treatment — the payoff Turkey was requesting back in December 2016 when Trump’s chosen National Security Advisor was still hiding that he had been an unregistered agent for Turkey.

Perhaps Turkey has proof not just implicating Mohammed bin Salman in the execution, but Jared Kushner in green-lighting it, or possibly even Trump?

Mueller’s moves toward endgame

It’s hard — particularly given comments from people like Nancy Pelosi — to separate all this from what feels like an approaching Mueller (attempted) endgame. The lead-up to Flynn’s aborted sentencing featured the following:

  • Flynn makes an ill-considered attack on the legitimacy of the Mueller probe
  • Emmet Sullivan orders the release of the documents with which Flynn was attempting to undercut Mueller
  • Sullivan orders the far more damning Flynn 302 that, among other things, reveals that Turkey and Russia both had compromising information on Trump and Flynn
  • DOJ indicts Flynn’s business partners for hiding how Turkey angled to force DOJ to extradite Gulen
  • At Flynn’s sentencing hearing, Sullivan emphasizes that Flynn had been an agent of Turkey while ostensibly working for Trump and mentions the word treason

Plus there’s evidence that Jared Kushner — who has been the boy plaything for all these ruthless players — probably tried to attack Flynn even while he was having a grocery store tabloid pimp the Saudis.

And it was revealed that the Mystery Appellant refusing to provide information to Mueller is a foreign-owned corporation, probably a Russian or Middle Eastern bank or sovereign wealth fund funneling money to Trump or Jared. The company appears to have asked for an en banc review today.

Mueller also asked for and got the House Intelligence Committee to release its transcript of Roger Stone’s testimony. The timing of this is the interesting thing: Mueller chose to do this when Republicans had to (and did) vote to expose Trump’s top political advisor to indictment. He could have waited, but didn’t. That suggests either he wanted Republican buy-in, or he needs the transcripts now, to finalize his case against Stone before Democrats take over in a few weeks.

The day after SSCI released materials on James Wolfe, he was indicted.

So things are moving to a head in the Mueller probe, and in a way that both Russia and Turkey may be implicated.

Matt Whitaker performs a headfake before taking the corrupt step he was hired to take

Then there was the news today on big dick toilet salesman Matt Whitaker. This morning, multiple outlets reported that DOJ had told Whitaker he didn’t have to recuse from the Mueller probe. After that became the headline, however, multiple outlets revealed that the truth was the opposite: an ethics advisor had told Whitaker he should recuse, and having heard that, Whitaker consulted a hand-picked committee that predictably told him not to.

Within days of the president’s announcement in early November that he had put Whitaker in the role on a temporary basis, Whitaker tapped a veteran U.S. attorney to become part of a four-person team of advisers on his new job, according to a senior Justice Department official. Their guidance included the question of whether Whitaker should recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation because of his past statements regarding that probe and because of his friendship with one of its witnesses, the official said.

Whitaker never asked Justice Department ethics officials for a formal recommendation, nor did he receive one, this official said.

However, after Whitaker met repeatedly with Justice Department ethics officials to discuss the facts and the issues under consideration, a senior ethics official told the group of advisers on Tuesday that it was a “close call” but that Whitaker should recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the official said. Whitaker was not present at that meeting, they said.

Those four advisers, however, disagreed with the ethics determination and recommended to Whitaker the next day not to recuse, saying there was no precedent for that, and doing so now could create a bad precedent for future attorneys general.

That big dick toilet salesman Whitaker did this is not surprising.

That he chose to roll out this admission today is worth noting. One outlet reported that, up until today, Whitaker had not been briefed on the Mueller probe. Apparently, in the wake of a judge raising treason concerns after having reviewed Mike Flynn’s behavior, Whitaker has made the move to become Trump’s mole on the Mueller probe.

Update: BuzzFeed got a hold of the DOJ letter here. It makes it very clear Whitaker ignored advice to recuse.

Update: Marty Lederman notes that this letter fails to conduct a key part of the recusal analysis: why he would make a more appropriate supervisor for Mueller than Rod Rosenstein.

Trump prepares to shut down government

All this is happening as Trump prepares to shut down the government because Fox News laughed at him for getting pantsed by Nancy Pelosi.

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said the Democrats had won the showdown, and Trump had lost.

He launched into a tirade saying the president “loses, and the Democrats will win everything” based on his apparent decision to compromise with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Doocy said Trump’s defeat would not only risk his campaign commitment to build the wall, but also bring into question his electoral promises to curb the rest of the government’s spending.

In response, over the course of today, Trump told Republicans he’d veto any continuing resolution that didn’t include $5 billion for his steel slat wall, making it much more likely we’ll have a shutdown as Trump skedaddles to Mar-a-Lago to take calls from his authoritarian buddies.

This may be entirely unrelated. After all, Fox and Friends is Trump’s bubble, that’s the only place where he considers losses to matter, and after the truth that Pelosi had bested him started to seep through, the narcissist-in-chief had no choice but to make a rash demand that Republican politicians sacrifice their careers in deference to his tantrum.

Which is to say that this behavior is precisely what we should expect when a narcissist’s mirror tells his he has been bested by someone he must demean.

Or maybe it is related?

Putin — or someone else — is calling in receipts

As I’m thinking about these things, I keep thinking back to an argument I made in August. I argued that Putin had compromised Trump not with a pee tape, but by ensuring his people kept receipts every time Trump got sucked deeper and deeper into a deal with Russia.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

It has since become clear that not just Russia, but at least also Turkey and whatever bank is fighting a demand from Mueller that it turn over evidence of Trump’s graft, also have receipts.

Nevertheless, at the moment where it has become increasingly clear that Mueller knows much of whatever blackmail these partners have over Trump, Trump has chosen, instead, to alienate the Senators who might keep him from being impeached by evacuating from Syria and, later reports make clear, Afghanistan.

Trump is, on a dime and without warning to our closest allies, rolling up the American Empire. And he’s doing it not because he’s a peacenik — as far too many self-described progressives are trying to claim — but because ruthless, committed authoritarians have convinced him he needs their continued approval more than he needs the approval of even the Republican hawks in the Senate.

Update: I forgot to mention that the stock market is crashing. It started in response to Trump’s trade wars and bullying of the Fed, but accelerated given his threats to shut down the government.

Why It Mattered (and Still Matters) that Flynn Continued to Hide His True Relationship with Turkey

The guy who managed the first steps of the process that led to Trump announcing a withdrawal of troops from Syria yesterday was hiding secret ties to both Russia and Turkey when that process started. That’s one of the reasons why it matters that Mike Flynn lied about his relationship with Turkey for so long. It means that both Russia and Turkey have always known Flynn and Trump were vulnerable because they were hiding lies about their ties with those countries.

In this post, I noted that while the work Flynn did as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey reportedly ended not long after election day (though WSJ reported that he and his spawn met with representatives of Turkey in mid-December to speak further about Fethullah Gulen), that relationship with Turkey would remain unregistered — that is, Flynn would continue to lie about the true nature of it — all the way through his guilty plea on December 1, 2017. For some reason, virtually everyone reporting on Flynn is getting this wrong, claiming that his March 7, 2017 registration — the one he has pled guilty to lying on — constitutes full disclosure about his ties to Turkey. It did not, because it hid that he was working, knowingly, for Turkey.

That’s important because, as I described in a post on what the redactions in the published version of the 302 (“302” is what the FBI calls their interview reports) memorializing Flynn’s January 24, 2017 interview with the FBI hide, he explained away the conversations by claiming that he and Sergei Kislyak discussed the Trump Administration’s plans on working with Russia and Turkey.

The redactions in Flynn’s 302 included two passages on Flynn’s December 29, 2016 phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak. In the first, Flynn offered up that he and Kislyak had discussed two things: a phone call with Vladimir Putin that would take place on January 28, and whether the US would send an observer to Syrian peace talks Turkey and Russia were holding in Kazakhstan the next month.

Later in Flynn’s FBI interview, as Agents were quoting bits of the transcript back to Flynn, he again denied he and Kislyak had discussed expulsions of Russia’s diplomats. He appears to have, again, claimed they talked about sending representatives to Astana.

For some reason, the government considers the specific description Flynn used with the FBI to remain too sensitive to publicly release, either because they don’t want co-conspirators to know precisely what Flynn said, and/or they don’t want the Russians and Turks to know.

The claim that those Kislyak phone calls discussed a later call with Putin and the Astana conference is the same one the Transition would offer to the WaPo the day after David Ignatius made clear that the FBI had recordings of the call. Mueller’s reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo describes that Flynn asked a subordinate to feed this information to the WaPo.

The defendant asked a subordinate member of the Presidential Transition Team to contact the Post on the morning of January 13 and convey false information about the defendant’s communications with the Russian ambassador. The “UPDATE” included at the end of the Post story later reported that two members of the Presidential Transition Team stated that the defendant “didn’t cover” sanctions in his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

As Mueller laid out, after Flynn told this cover story about his calls publicly, he continued to double down on it, such that by the time the FBI came to his office on January 24, he had to stick to that story.

Over the next two weeks, the defendant repeated the same false statements to multiple members of the Presidential Transition Team, including Vice President-Elect Michael Pence, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Those officials then repeated the defendant’s false statements on national television. See, e.g., Face the Nation transcript January 15, 2017: Pence, Manchin, Gingrich, CBS NEWS (Jan. 15, 2017) (Vice President Pence recounting that defendant told him he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador); Meet The Press 01/15/17, NBC NEWS (Jan. 15, 2017) (Priebus recounting that he had talked to the defendant and “[t]he subject matter of Case 1:17-cr-00232-EGS Document 56 Filed 12/14/18 Page 2 of 7 -3- sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama [sic] did not come up in the conversation [with the Russian ambassador.]”); White House Briefing by Sean Spicer – Full Transcript, Jan. 23, 2017, CBS NEWS (Jan. 24, 2017) (Spicer recounting that he had spoken with the defendant the day before, who again stated that he (the defendant) had not spoken to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions). Thus, by the time of the FBI interview, the defendant was committed to his false story.

Flynn’s lies to cover the discussion about sanctions and expulsions were not entirely invented; he’s a better liar than that. The Transition really was struggling over its decision of whether to join in a Syrian peace plan that would follow Russia (and Turkey’s lead) rather than the path the Obama Administration had pursued in the previous year. As he noted to the FBI, the Trump Administration had only decided not to send a senior delegation to Astana earlier that week. It was announced on January 21.

These lies compromised Flynn in two ways. As Sally Yates noted when she described the problem with Flynn’s lies to Don McGahn two days after his interview, because Flynn was saying something publicly that Russia knew to be false, Russia could hold that over him (and the Administration).

But by staking his lies on the Astana conference — and the Trump Administration’s willingness to join a Syrian effort that deviated from existing US policy — Flynn also raised the stakes of his past paid relationship with Turkey. It became far more damaging that Flynn had still been on the Turkish government payroll through the early transition, when Trump directed him to conduct early outreach on Syria. So even while DOJ was repeatedly telling Flynn he had to come clean on his Turkish lobbying ties, he lied about that, thereby hiding that the early days of Trump Administration outreach had been conducted by a guy still working for Turkey.

Since that time, both Flynn and Trump were stuck, because they had told lies to the US government that Russia and Turkey knew were lies.

Indeed, Trump may have started telling his own lies right away. Three days after Flynn’s FBI interview, in a conversation with Jim Comey after he had already learned of Sally Yates’ conversation with Don McGahn telling him of DOJ’s concerns about the FBI interview, Trump offered what was probably a bullshit cover story about Flynn’s communications with Russia, possibly bullshit invented to hide what Trump knew about ongoing discussions with Russia. [Here’s version of this story fed to the NYT.]

He then want on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Vladimir Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she ad been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment of after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [president] of a country like [Russia].

Since his first days as President, Trump (and Mike Flynn, until he pled guilty) has been trying to hide the true substance of the relationship he had with both Russia and Turkey.

As it happens, it appears that Turkey was the country that ultimately exploited that leverage. While Trump did little more than greet Putin at the G20 in Argentina as more details of his negotiations with Russia over a Trump Tower have become clear, he did meet with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And he spoke with Erdogan by phone yesterday last Friday before he unexpectedly announced that American troops were withdrawing from Syria.

In the wake of yesterday’s decision, Nancy Pelosi (who as a Gang of Eight member, may know non-public information about all this) tied Trump’s announcement to the Flynn sentencing hearing and his work for Turkey; she suggested Trump had made the decision to serve his own personal or political objectives.

It is premature for the President to declare a sweeping victory against ISIS when, just a few weeks ago, our military led more than 250 coalition-conducted airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict.

[snip]

“When we take the gavel, our Democratic Majority will uphold the Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibilities to ensure that the President’s decisions advance our national security interests, not his personal or political objectives.

I don’t know whether Pelosi is correct (and I actually hope that we do get out of Syria, though perhaps congressional oversight can force Trump to do this in a way that doesn’t result in genocide for our longtime Kurdish allies).

But I know that when Trump ordered a guy who was still on Turkey’s payroll to initiate the negotiations that resulted in yesterday’s announcement, then tried to sustain lies those negotiations, he effectively ceded a lot of control over how negotiations would proceed to the countries that shared his and Flynn’s secrets.

And, of course, Trump’s Treasury Department also announced yesterday that it was reversing sanctions on Oleg Deripaska’s company (though not Deripaska himself, and restrictions on his ownership are quite significant).

Update: Corrected date of call with Erdogan. See this story for significance of that call.

Timeline

November 8, 2016: “Flynn’s” Fethullah Gulen op-ed

November 18: Elijah Cummings writes Mike Pence with concerns about conflicts in Flynn’s lobbying business

November 30: NSD contacts Flynn about registering under FARA

December 1: Flynn ends contract with Inovo

Mid-December: Reported meeting at 21 Club in NYC to discuss rendering Fethullah Gulen

December 29: Flynn discusses attending Syrian peace talks hosted by Turkey and Russia with Sergei Kislyak

January 10: Flynn asks Susan Rice to hold off on assault on Raqqa

January 11, 2017: Flynn tells DOJ he’ll “probably” be registering under FARA

January 12: David Ignatius column makes it clear FBI had intercepted Sergei Kislyak conversation discussing peace process

January 13: Based in part on White House cover story for Flynn-Kislyak call, WaPo reports discussions about participation in Astana conference

After inauguration: Flynn tells Trump Administration he will definitely register

January 21: State Department announces US Ambassador to Kazakhstan, not Flynn, will attend Russian-Turkish peace talks

January 23: Astana conference starts

January 24: Flynn interviews with FBI, and explains away the December 29 call, in part, by saying they discussed an observer to Astana

January 27: Trump tells Comey he questions Flynn’s judgment because he took six days to return a call to Vladimir Putin (he references a Putin call, the first call of congratulations from a foreign leader, but it’s not clear whether it came on January 22, 23, or 24)

January 28: Conference call with Vladimir Putin allegedly discussed on December 29

March 7: Flynn submits FARA filing that still hides true relationship with government of Turkey

December 1: Flynn pleads guilty, in part, to lying in that FARA filing

December 18, 2018: Flynn sentencing hearing

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

DOJ Unveils Indictment against Mike Flynn’s Business Partner on Eve of His Sentencing

In its brief arguing that Mike Flynn’s lies were significant and willful on Friday, the government reminded that Flynn lied not just about discussing sanctions with Sergei Kislyak, but also about his FARA registration.

Moreover, as the defendant has admitted, weeks after the January 24 interview, he made materially false statements in filings he provided to another branch of the Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”). See Statement of Offense at ¶ 5, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017) (Doc. 4). The defendant made those false statements while represented by counsel and after receiving an explicit warning that providing false information was a federal offense. See, e.g., FARA Registration No. 6406, Flynn Intel Group (March 7, 2017), available at https://efile.fara.gov/docs/6406-Registration-Statement-20170307-1.pdf. The defendant was equally responsible for telling the truth to both Department of Justice entities, and under both circumstances he chose to make false statements.

It just unveiled the indictment (which was actually filed on December 12) that probably came of his substantial cooperation in a separate criminal investigation, against his business partner Bijan Kian. Kian got charged — along with Kamil Emil Alptekin — not just with FARA violations but with 18 USC 951, serving as an agent of a foreign government.

I’ll comment more on the substance of the indictment in a follow-up post. But I’m as interested in the timing, for two reasons.

First, in a comment in the addendum describing Flynn’s cooperation, the government had said,

While this addendum seeks to provide a comprehensive description of the benefit the government has thus far obtained from the defendant’s substantial assistance, some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing.

I took that to be a comment about indictments. Some districts premise a 5K letter like Flynn received on providing enough testimony to indictment someone else. The government was just a week short of indicting Kian when they submitted that filing.

The unsealing of this indictment (Kian’s arraignment was actually scheduled on the 14th) comes even as Turkey is claiming that Trump told Erdogan at the G-20 that his Administration is working on extraditing Gulen, the topic on which Kian was secretly acting in Turkey’s interest.

In an interview at the Doha Forum on Sunday, Cavusoglu asserted that US President Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 summit in Argentina this month that the US was “working on” the extradition of [Fethullah] Gulen.

The exiled cleric, 77, has been living in a gated compound in eastern Pennsylvania after leaving Turkey in 1999. Erdogan has held Gulen responsible for the deadly attempted coup against him in 2016 — a charge Gulen has denied.

However, there’s no sign from Washington that the US is moving towards extraditing Gulen. Last month, the State Department said the US had received multiple requests from the Turkish government and continued to evaluate materials presented.

Cavusoglu also claimed the FBI had evidence that Gulen’s organization, known as FETO, “had been violating US laws, including tax fraud, visa fraud and also some other illegal activities.”

The circumstances of Trump’s meeting with Erdogan got some attention, as the White House canceled a formal meeting with the Turkish president, but did have a less formal, 50 minute meeting.  This indictment will presumably make it harder for Trump to fulfill that promise, if indeed he made it.

In any case, by unsealing this indictment today, it will make it a lot harder for Flynn’s lawyers to argue in his sentencing hearing tomorrow that his lies weren’t serious. By flipping, Flynn avoided being charged as a Foreign Agent.

Fifteen Years Fighting the War on Terror Would Have Inured Mike Flynn to Kidnapping

As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, in December 2016, Mike Flynn had a second meeting with representatives of Turkey to discuss a plan to help them kidnap Fethullah Gulen.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.

The report has led to some gleeful hand-wringing (and, as always, baby cannon eruptions) from interesting quarters.

For those of us who have opposed the US practice of extraordinary rendition, sure, the notion that Flynn would work with a foreign country to assist in the illegal kidnapping of someone that country considered a terrorist does seem outrageous. But for those who, not so long ago, worried that counterterrorism success might lead us to eschew things like extraordinary rendition, I’m not sure I understand the hand-wringing.

Yet the more effectively we conduct counterterrorism, the more plausible disbelief becomes and the more uncomfortable we grow with policies like noncriminal detention, aggressive interrogation, and extraordinary rendition. The more we convince ourselves that the Devil doesn’t really exist, the less willing we are to use those tools, and we begin reining them in or eschewing them entirely. And we let the Devil walk out of the room.

Especially not when you consider Mike Flynn’s service to the country. For fourteen years, Flynn played a key role in counterterrorism policy, serving in an intelligence role in Afghanistan when we were paying Pakistan bounties just to have enough Arabs to fill Gitmo, serving as Director of Intelligence for JSOC for some of the bloodiest years of the Iraq War, then serving in another intelligence role in Afghanistan during a period when the US was handing prisoners off to Afghanistan to be tortured.

That’s what two presidents, one a Nobel Prize winner, and another increasingly rehabilitated, asked Mike Flynn to do. And in that role, I have no doubt, he was privy to — if not directly in the chain of command — a whole lot of legally dubious kidnapping, including from countries with respectable institutions of law. (In related news, see this report on MI6 and CIA cooperation with Gaddafi, including kidnapping, after 9/11.)

So having spent 14 years kidnapping for the United States, why is it so odd that Flynn would consider it acceptable to help one of our allies in turn, to help them kidnap the kinds of clerics we ourselves have targeted as terrorists.

There is, of course, something different here: the suggestion that Flynn and his son might profit mightily off the arrangement, to the tune of $15 million.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

But even the notion of bribery to facilitate human rights abuses is not something the US forgoes. One of the biggest disclosures from the SSCI Torture Report, for example, is how the Bush Administration worked to bribe other countries to let us build torture facilities in their countries.

The buddies of those now scolding such arrangements were part of that bribery operation.

The big question with Flynn is whether the similar bribe for this kidnapping operation would have been different from those under the table bribes we paid for our torture facilities. Did they go into the countries’ populace, or did they get pocketed by the national security officials doing the dirty deeds?

I actually don’t mean it to be a gotcha — though I would sure appreciate a little less hypocritical squeamishness from those who elsewhere view such irregular operations as the cost of keeping the country safe (as Erdogan claims to believe to be the case here).

Rather, I raise it to suggest that Mike Flynn knows where the bodies are buried every bit as much as David Petraeus did, when he was facing a criminal prosecution to which the best response was graymail. Flynn surely could demand records of any number of kidnapping operations the United States carried out, and he might well be able to point to bribes paid to make them happen, if Robert Mueller were to charge him for this stuff. It’s different, absolutely, that it happened on US soil. It may (or may not be) different that an individual decided to enrich himself for this stuff.

But this is the kind of thing — Mike Flynn knows well — that the US does do, and that certain hawks have in the past believed to be acceptable.

The Flynn-Turkey Deal Raises the Obstruction Stakes for the Preet Bharara Firing

Twitter is abuzz this morning with the WSJ story (this is the NBC version of it; here’s a paywall free link) that Mike Flynn and his spawn hoped to make up to $15 million for kidnapping Fethullah Gulen and delivering him to Turkey.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Mueller’s investigation into Flynn’s potential deal with Turkey was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

The story has already been told; what’s new about this iteration of it is the eye-popping pay-off, as well as more details about the timing and location of a second meeting.

The meeting allegedly took place at the upscale 21 Club restaurant in New York, just blocks always from Trump Tower where Flynn was serving on the presidential transition team. Flynn was offered upwards of $15 million, to be paid directly or indirectly, if he could complete the deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

As noted, SDNY is prosecuting Zarrab for laundering Turkish gold into Iranian coffers. Rudy Giuliani and Michael Mukasey are representing Zarrab, with Giuliani going so far as brokering a deal that would trade foreign policy cooperation for Zarrab’s release even while defying pressure from DOJ about explaining his role in it. Because the case implicates Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally, the impending trial has led to increasing diplomatic tensions with Turkey.

By November 30, Trump assured Preet, as he did Comey, that he would stay on in the Trump Administration. But that changed when, in March, Trump unexpectedly asked for the resignation of almost all US Attorneys. Preet forced the issue and made Trump fire him; early reports suggested Marc Mukasey might replace Preet. Since then, Jeff Sessions has struggled to explain his own role in the firing, which could be an important element to proving the reasons behind it. In the same hearing, it came out that Trump has personally interviewed potential successors for Preet.

In the wake of the Preet firing, those watching closely honed in on the connection between increasing scrutiny on Flynn’s ties with Turkey and the firing.

There’s another reason we should all be alarmed by the unceremonious firing of Preet Bharara, outgoing U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bharara is presently involved in a case against Reza Zarrab, a dual Iranian-Turkish national accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Investigators initially focused on Zarrab’s sanctions evasion. They then discovered that Zarrab was in close contact with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who used Illicit funds to provide weapons, financing and logistics for jihadi groups in Syria including ISIS.

Bharara has a reputation as a non-partisan professional. He is known for independence and resisting direction, which led to tensions with the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of State.

As it happens, Bharara’s dismissal occurred the same day [actually Flynn filed his FARA registration on March 7] former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn admitted to obscuring ties with Turkish interests in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Bharara’s dismissal also occurred in the wake of recent contact between Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, and Jared Kushner.

What this story provides is — like the Comey firing and not coincidentally also tied to Mike Flynn’s actions — important timing. In November, Trump promised to keep Preet. In December, Flynn continued his discussions with the Turks. In March, just after DOJ started forcing Flynn to reveal details about his work for Turkey, Trump reneged on his promise to Preet and — in the guise of firing everyone — fired Preet.

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

The one other important detail of this story, which follows on stories from yesterday, is that Mueller has implicated Flynn Jr in this deal. That reportedly is already making Flynn Sr consider pleading, to protect his son.

But if he does that, he may be forced to disclose how closely Trump was involved in these discussions to sell US policy to Turkey to enrich a staffer.