Sunday, February 16, 2020

Last Call For Lowering The Barr, Con't

The calls are getting louder for Attorney General Bill Barr to resign, but it's all meaningless before the Trump regime's growing autocracy.

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General William P. Barr on Sunday to step down after he intervened last week to lower the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr.

They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress.

“Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” the former Justice Department lawyers, who came from across the political spectrum, wrote in an open letter on Sunday. Those actions, they said, “require Mr. Barr to resign.”

The sharp denunciation of Mr. Barr underlined the extent of the fallout over the case of Mr. Stone, capping a week that strained the attorney general’s relationship with his rank and file, and with the president himself.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

After prosecutors on Monday recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Mr. Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry, Mr. Trump lashed out at federal law enforcement. Senior officials at the department, including Mr. Barr, overrode the recommendation the next day with a more lenient one, immediately prompting accusations of political interference, and the four lawyers on the Stone case abruptly withdrew in protest.

The Justice Department said the case had not been discussed with anyone at the White House, but that Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Barr on his decision did little to dispel the perception of political influence. And as the president widened his attacks on law enforcement, Mr. Barr publicly reproached the president, saying that Mr. Trump’s statements undermined him, as well the department.

“I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” Mr. Barr said during a televised interview on Thursday with ABC News.

In the days after the interview, Mr. Trump has been relatively muted. He said on Twitter that he had not asked Mr. Barr to “do anything in a criminal case.” As president, he added, he had “the legal right to do so” but had “so far chosen not to!”

But lawyers across the Justice Department continue to worry about political interference from the president despite public pushback by Mr. Barr, long considered a close ally of Mr. Trump’s.

Protect Democracy, a nonprofit legal group, gathered the signatures from Justice Department alumni and said it would collect more.

In May, Protect Democracy gathered signatures for a letter that said the Mueller report presented enough evidence to charge Mr. Trump with obstruction of justice were that an option. At the close of his investigation, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III declined to indicate whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed justice, citing a decades-old department opinion that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. That letter was also critical of Mr. Barr.

Even as the lawyers condemned Mr. Barr on Sunday, they said they welcomed his rebuke of Mr. Trump and his assertions that law enforcement must be independent of politics.

But Mr. Barr’s “actions in doing the president’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words,” they said.

The letter comes days after some Democratic senators pressed for Mr. Barr to resign, and after the New York City Bar Association said that it had formally reported the attorney general’s behavior to the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Strikingly, the lawyers called upon current department employees to be on the lookout for future abuses and to be willing to bring oversight to the department.

“Be prepared to report future abuses to the inspector general, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress,” they wrote, and “to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office.”

In any other administration, Barr would not make it over the weekend.  In the Trump regime, the call by 1,100 former DoJ employees for current employees to report their corrupt boss's activities is simply more evidence of the "nefarious deep state" that has compromised Dear Leader's divine right to rule.

Sadly though, absolutely nothing will come of this.  Barr certainly won't resign, and Dems aren't about to open any new avenues of investigation anytime soon.

Sunday Long Read: There's Always A Back Door

The news has been full of accusations lately against Chinese cellular networking giant Huawei that the 5G networks their equipment is being used for has back door capabilities that will allow data to be gathered unencrypted by the Chinese government.  If use of a global company as a cover for intelligence gold mines seems odd to you, as Greg Miller explains in this week's Sunday Long Read, the CIA has literally been doing it since WW II.

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.

The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project.

The account identifies the CIA officers who ran the program and the company executives entrusted to execute it. It traces the origin of the venture as well as the internal conflicts that nearly derailed it. It describes how the United States and its allies exploited other nations’ gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets.

The operation, known first by the code name “Thesaurus” and later “Rubicon,” ranks among the most audacious in CIA history.

“It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report concludes. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”

From 1970 on, the CIA and its code-breaking sibling, the National Security Agency, controlled nearly every aspect of Crypto’s operations — presiding with their German partners over hiring decisions, designing its technology, sabotaging its algorithms and directing its sales targets.

Then, the U.S. and West German spies sat back and listened.

They monitored Iran’s mullahs during the 1979 hostage crisis, fed intelligence about Argentina’s military to Britain during the Falklands War, tracked the assassination campaigns of South American dictators and caught Libyan officials congratulating themselves on the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.

The program had limits. America’s main adversaries, including the Soviet Union and China, were never Crypto customers. Their well-founded suspicions of the company’s ties to the West shielded them from exposure, although the CIA history suggests that U.S. spies learned a great deal by monitoring other countries’ interactions with Moscow and Beijing.

There were also security breaches that put Crypto under clouds of suspicion. Documents released in the 1970s showed extensive — and incriminating — correspondence between an NSA pioneer and Crypto’s founder. Foreign targets were tipped off by the careless statements of public officials including President Ronald Reagan. And the 1992 arrest of a Crypto salesman in Iran, who did not realize he was selling rigged equipment, triggered a devastating “storm of publicity,” according to the CIA history.

But the true extent of the company’s relationship with the CIA and its German counterpart was until now never revealed.

The story of Crypto AG is a good yarn, and it makes you remember that yeah, US intelligence has done some really terrible stuff.

And now Trump is in charge of all of it...

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Iowa Democrats have quickly elected a new state party chair after the resignation of Troy Price, who absolutely had to fall on his sword after the disastrous caucuses two weeks ago.  Hopefully Iowa Dems can get things together with state House minority leader Mark Smith.

Iowa Democrats have a new state party chair: State Rep. Mark Smith of Marshalltown.

The party’s state central committee members gathered today in Des Moines and over the phone to elect Smith as the interim chair following Troy Price’s resignation over the fallout from the reporting breakdowns in the Iowa Caucus. Price announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down as state party chair, effective today once the new chair was determined.
“I know how to work. I know how to recruit. I know how to fundraise. I know how to organize. I know how to win,” Smith said. “The steps are to travel across the state, to listen to everyday Iowans and to excite volunteers.”

Smith served as the minority leader for the House Democrats for five years. During that time, he led the party’s efforts on House races, hiring and managing a full staff, heading up fundraising for the caucus, and planning strategy for swing seats. Under his leadership, Democrats picked up a net gain of five House seats in 2018, though they came short of winning the majority.

“I will lead Democrats to victory,” Smith told the committee.

Smith won handily over Joe Henry, Bob Krause and Gabriel de la Cerda, the three other candidates. All of them got started a day or two later than Smith for the hurry-up election. Henry serves on the national board of LULAC and has headed up many Latino voter registration/engagement efforts in Iowa in recent years.

Krause, a former candidate for Senate in 2016 who served in the Legislature in the 1970s, had unsuccessfully run for the party chair position before. De la Cerda, who has also organized Latino voters, had run before for the 3rd Congressional District.

Smith is the fourth Iowa Democratic Party chair in as many years. Andy McGuire led the party for the 2016 Iowa Caucus; Derek Eadon was elected afterward but resigned for health reasons; Price took over in the summer of 2017.

The election of Smith, of Marshalltown, marks the first time Iowa Democrats have had a chair who lived outside of Polk, Linn or Johnson counties since the early 2000s. Smith had strong backing from the labor community, which won a large number of SCC seats in 2018.

While many of the party activists and SCC members were pleased with the state party up until the reporting mess, Smith now has the challenge of rebuilding trust in the IDP to donors and national Democrats.

They’ll also have to quickly transition past the caucus situation to begin focusing on the U.S. Senate race with Joni Ernst, which will be one of the top Senate races in the country, and the four competitive congressional districts and state legislative races. While the future of the Iowa Caucus and the state’s place in the nominating calendar will eventually get discussed within the DNC, that likely won’t play out fully until after 2020 election.

We'll see what happens with the Iowa caucuses, hopefully they will be finally buried along with all state caucus nonsense.  Smith is right however, at this point the top priority for Iowa Dems is taking down vulnerable GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who has dug herself even more deeply into the hole she's in with audio surfacing of her saying major cuts to "out of control" Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security will be needed.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa told donors at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. last March that federal spending on non-discretionary programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is "out of control" and will require "changes" in the future.

That's according to a 55-second audio clip published Wednesday by Iowa Starting Line. In the recording, Ernst is asked by an attendee whether she is on board with Sen. David Perdue's (R-Ga.) call for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

"I think we all are because we understand that our non-discretionary spending is growing like this," replied Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020. "Everyone focuses on discretionary spending because that is what we can control in Congress. The rest is on autopilot and is out of control. We have to figure out ways to honor the commitments that have been made, but make changes for the future. How we do that, I don't know."

Progressive advocacy group Social Security Works tweeted that "changes" is "code for massive cuts."

Ernst is already one of the least popular Senators in the US, and that was before this audio came out.

Iowa can be a great place for Midwest Dems to rebound against Trump and put him away in November, but getting rid of his enablers in the Senate is just as important.  Hopefully Mark Smith is the person to help Iowa Dems do just that.
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