Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Last Call For From Harare To Eternity

A possible coup in Zimbabwe is going down.

Soldiers deployed across the Zimbabwe capital Harare and seized the state broadcaster on Wednesday after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup. 
Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armored personnel carriers on main roads around the capital.

Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness. “Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one barked at Reuters on Harare Drive.

Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.

Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the center of the southern African nation’s capital, Reuters witnesses said.

Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare, there was no word from the military as to the fate of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader of the last 37 years and the self-styled ‘Grand Old Man’ of African politics.

In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.

In the only official word from the government, Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to neighboring South Africa, earlier dismissed talk of a coup, saying the government was “intact” and blaming social media for spreading false information.

“There’s nothing really happening. They are just social media claims,” Moyo told Reuters.

The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile”, was favorite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.

Remember the five A's of proper coup execution have to be in hand:

  • Armed forces
  • Airwaves
  • Airports
  • Allies
  • and the Asshole in charge you're trying to overthrow.

It looks like, unlike the completely failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016, Chiwenga and his forces now have at least three and by some reports possibly all five of the A's in his possession.  We'll see how things shake out over the next 24 hours, but at this point remember that Mugabe is 93 years old.

We'll see what the sun brings.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

So, turns out planning to commit illegal campaign collusion by receiving stolen data is a bad thing, especially when you're Julian Assange and WikiLeaks working with Donald Trump Jr. to get the goods you know they have because the goddamn Russians told you.

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”

The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.
“Over the last several months, we have worked cooperatively with each of the committees and have voluntarily turned over thousands of documents in response to their requests,” said Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr. “Putting aside the question as to why or by whom such documents, provided to Congress under promises of confidentiality, have been selectively leaked, we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum.” WikiLeaks did not respond to requests for comment.

The messages were turned over to Congress as part of that body’s various ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. American intelligence services have accused the Kremlin of engaging in a deliberate effort to boost President Donald Trump’s chances while bringing down his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. That effort—and the president’s response to it—has spawned multiple congressional investigations, and a special counsel inquiry that has led to the indictment of Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, for financial crimes.

Though Trump Jr. mostly ignored the frequent messages from WikiLeaks, he at times appears to have acted on its requests. When WikiLeaks first reached out to Trump Jr. about putintrump.org, for instance, Trump Jr. followed up on his promise to “ask around.” According to a source familiar with the congressional investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, on the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior officials with the Trump campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign communications staffer Hope Hicks. At no point during the 10-month correspondence does Trump Jr. rebuff WikiLeaks, which had published stolen documents and was already observed to be releasing information that benefited Russian interests.

WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign. In July 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee's servers that spring. The emails showed DNC officials denigrating Bernie Sanders, renewing tensions on the eve of Clinton’s acceptance of the nomination. On October 7, less than an hour after the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released emails that hackers had pilfered from the personal email account of Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta.

The timing of the Podesta emails, specifically designed to drown the Trump Access Hollywood tape, has to me always been the surest sign that WikiLeaks was directly working to help Trump win. Now we know what Assange wanted in return: Ambassadorship to Australia.

And we know Trump Jr. was listening.

In the winter and spring, WikiLeaks went largely silent, only occasionally sending Trump Jr. links. But on July 11, 2017, three days after The New York Times broke the story about Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with connections to Russia’s powerful prosecutor general, WikiLeaks got in touch again.

“Hi Don. Sorry to hear about your problems,” WikiLeaks wrote. “We have an idea that may help a little. We are VERY interested in confidentially obtaining and publishing a copy of the email(s) cited in the New York Times today,” citing a reference in the paper to emails Trump Jr had exchanged with Rob Goldstone, a publicist who had helped set up the meeting. “We think this is strongly in your interest,” WikiLeaks went on. It then reprised many of the same arguments it made in trying to convince Trump Jr. to turn over his father’s tax returns, including the argument that Trump’s enemies in the press were using the emails to spin an unfavorable narrative of the meeting. “Us publishing not only deprives them of this ability but is beautifully confounding.”

The message was sent at 9:29 am on July 11. Trump Jr. did not respond, but just hours later, he posted the emails himself, on his own Twitter feed.

The Russians have been using WikiLeaks and Assange for quite some time now.   We know Donald Trump Jr. is neck deep in this mess too.  And we know Mueller is waiting to pounce. Remember, this is all part of a larger operation by the Russians to compromise the Trump regime.

A series of meetings between Russians and three Trump campaign advisers in a six-week span last year provide the strongest evidence yet that the Kremlin had mounted an intelligence operation aimed at infiltrating the campaign, according to former intelligence officials and experts. 
The recent acknowledgments by advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos that they talked with Russians and Russian officials around the same time that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin advocate indicates a coordinated effort to recruit Trump associates, possibly for eliciting information and conveying messages, intelligence experts told BuzzFeed News. 
“I don’t think there can be any doubt now that the Russians were targeting the Trump campaign, and there were members of the Trump campaign who were receptive to those approaches,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent in New York who now lectures at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. 
The failure of both Trump Jr. and Papadopoulos to inform US authorities that their Russian contacts said they had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton would have emboldened Russian intelligence to continue reaching out to Trump associates, the experts told BuzzFeed News. 
“Their overtures weren't rejected, and there was presumably no reporting of the [Trump Jr.] meeting by the Trump side to the appropriate authorities. They would have felt confident they weren't dealing with a reluctant partner,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who was a CIA intelligence officer for 23 years and director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the US Energy Department. 
The contacts illustrate the overlooked role in the 2016 election of Russian intelligence, which has flourished under Putin, a former spy. While President Donald Trump continues to say he's skeptical that Russia interfered in the election and denies that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian authorities, outside experts say they believe there can now be little doubt that the Russian government was trying to penetrate the campaign.

And that campaign by the Russians has sloppy, gloppy fingerprints all over it.

On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.” 
That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election. 
The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin.

We're rapidly approaching the point where Trump's hand will be forced, and with it, the GOP.  Stay tuned.

The Revenge Sessions

We've come to a nexus point on three things so far in the era of Trump, and they have produced one of the all-time bad decisions on the part of Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

First, the Mueller investigation is closing in on the Trump regime in general and specifically, Jeff Sessions himself.  He's been linked to the now-infamous March 2016 meeting of Trump's foreign policy team where George Papadopoulos floated arranging a meeting with Putin, while Sessions himself has stated multiple times under oath that he knew nothing of such attempts to arrange meetings with Russian nationals. He faces testimony today in front of the House Judiciary, at a time when a regular oversight meeting such as this is bound to be very bad for him.

Second, Republican patience with Sessions after his recusal from all things involving the 2016 campaign investigation has evaporated. Trump has been angry at Sessions for months for not protecting him from Mueller by firing him, and he's floated getting rid of Sessions several times. Refusal to prosecute Hillary Clinton has been a particular sticking point, we all remember the chants of "lock her up!" at Trump rallies both before and after the inauguration.

Third, the opportunity for Trump to rid himself of Sessions has now revealed itself through the disastrous mess that is Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama's special election.  Multiple Senate Republicans have dropped their endorsements of Moore as now five women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual assault when the victims were at the time ranging from ages 14 to 18.  The option of a write-in has come up, and while current placeholder Sen. Luther Strange is mentioned as the champion of that strategy since Alabama law precludes removing Moore from the ballot, or as the beneficiary of a move where Moore wins and then is pressured to resign and GOP Gov. Kay Ivey names a replacement (again), this used to be Jeff Sessions's Senate seat.  Ivey could name Sessions as the replacement and suddenly the post of AG is vacant.

It's a complicated and complex mess to be sure, but all three of these factors have combined to force Sessions to play his hand, and last night he did just that.

He's going after Clinton after all.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized his Justice Department for not aggressively probing a variety of conservative concerns. He said recently that officials there “should be looking at the Democrats” and that it was “very discouraging” they were not “going after Hillary Clinton.” On the campaign trail, Trump’s supporters frequently chanted “Lock her up!” at the mention of Clinton’s name.
“Hopefully they are doing something, and at some point, maybe we are going to all have it out,” Trump said recently.

So in order to save his own ass, Sessions is destroying the last shred of his credibility to raise the possibility of prosecuting Trump's political enemies.  Frankly, I expected this earlier, but it seems that Sessions is now painfully aware of how precarious his position is.  For him to even consider this as he is, the hammer must be close to falling on him.  Whether that hammer is wielded by Trump or by Mueller, take your pick.

The larger problem is of course the end of the era of rule of law in the executive branch of the US federal government.  Should a second special counsel be appointed by somebody as compromised as Sessions is now, then the impartiality of the Justice Department will be forever ruined. We're deep in authoritarian regime territory on this one, folks.  Trump has only been in office ten months and we're facing the very real possibility of not making it out of this one as even a cursory democracy.

The notion that there's anything to investigate regarding the Clintons is ridiculous.  The Uranium One story is fully fabricated by the right and is a distraction, period.  No wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation has also been found, it's ethically lousy but legal.  To raise a special counsel over these issues is complete nonsense, and Sessions knows it.  This is an outright witch hunt, like Benghazi.

Still, at this stage I fully expect now for Robert Mueller to be fired.  The rest is timing.  If Sessions and the GOP are going this far, there's no reason for them not to dismiss Mueller and end his investigation into them. The indictments have got them terrified, and at this point it's all over but the justification.  There's still a chance that Mueller will be allowed to finish his investigation, but that probability just took a massive dip in the last 24 hours.  The one thing going in our favor right now is that the Mueller probe is robust enough to be self-sustaining if it's reached the "indictments and cooperating with the Feds" phase.  There's still much that will come out even if Mueller is dismissed.

Even with that information in hand as a hedge against lawlessness by Trump, this is still all kinds of bad, folks.  And I don't see a way out that doesn't involve extreme peril for the country.  America has certainly seen worse moments, but not in the last couple of generations. I don't honestly know how this ends, and anyone who tells you that they do is lying.  If Sessions does follow through with this (and if this is a bluff, it's a revolting one) all bets are off.

Stay tuned.


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