Thursday, January 19, 2017

For Ukraine, Jan. 20 is a scarier date than perhaps for any other country

Ukraine's Survival Strategy for the Trump Era


For Ukraine, Jan. 20 is a scarier date than perhaps for any other country: It may be about to lose the U.S. support that has allowed it to stay afloat in the face of Russian hostility and economic disaster. 
The Ukrainian elite is divided between two competing strategies in response. One is all but unmentionable in public: concessions to Russia and a return to the previous policy of trying to build ties both with Russia and with the West. The other favors looking for ways to approach the new U.S. administration or at least keeping the support of traditional Republicans in the Congress and Senate. At the weekend, Joe Biden paid his last visit to Kiev as U.S. vice president. Biden was the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine and intensely sympathetic to the current Ukrainian government's cause -- breaking free from Russian influence and joining Europe. He was instrumental in securing U.S. economic aid.
Biden has urged Ukraine to do more to fight corruption and to follow through on the Minks ceasefire agreement with Russia, which calls for elections to be held in eastern Ukraine, now held by Russian proxies. Poroshenko has done neither so far; and it's no surprise that his desire for more military aid, including lethal weapons, never materialized. During his last official Kiev stop, on his way to Davos, Biden could only express the hope that the incoming administration would also support Ukraine -- but also point out that "no one can do the hard work" for Ukrainians. 
It's unclear at this point whether the hope is justified. The sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine are important to Poroshenko as the most tangible sign of Western support against Russian depredations. But judging by Trump's recent statements, he sees them as possible bargaining chips in deals to be struck with President Vladimir Putin. Without U.S. political support -- which has been weak lately anyway -- disbursements from the International Monetary Fund have been hard to come by. Since adopting a four-year, $17.5 billion loan program for Ukraine in the spring of 2015, the IMF has released only three tranches of the package.
Ukrainskaya Pravda, the nation's most popular news website, recently published what it claimed were details of an IMF memorandum laying down the terms of further cooperation. The tough conditions include a long-delayed reform that would allow a free market in land, gradual increases in the retirement age and the phasing out of tax breaks, including one for small businesses that has sustained much of the country's burgeoning tech industry. If the leak is correct, the $5.5 billion Ukraine stands to receive this year may cost the Poroshenko administration more political capital than it has left after abolishing energy subsidies for households. Recent polls show Poroshenko's popularity hovering under the 12 percent mark. 
For a country whose economy shrank almost 10 percent in 2015 and grew about 1 percent in 2016, and whose government just nationalized the biggest bank without any guarantees that its former owners will pay back billions of dollars in related-party loans, Western support is critical. Russia has all but ceased trading with Ukraine. A resumption of economic relations would give the Ukrainian economy an immediate boost, but it's politically a non-starter while Kiev is playing up the Russian military threat as the biggest factor affecting the country's well-being.
Even in the context of the war in eastern Ukraine, the Kiev government's biggest fight is with itself. Last week, the Ukrainian defense ministry released astonishing statistics from what it calls the "anti-terrorist operation" against Russian proxies in the east. In 2016, 211 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action -- and 256 more died from other causes, such as suicide, murder, traffic accidents, drug overdoses and alcohol poisonings or accidental shootings. The Ukrainian military faces the same deep-rooted problems as the rest of society, and Ukraine hasn't gotten far in resolving them. That has resulted in a serious case of Ukraine fatigue among Kiev's U.S. and European supporters, making all sorts of aid and encouragement less likely.
Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine's richest men and biggest philanthropists, proposed a remedy in an article published in The Wall Street Journal in late December. Pinchuk suggested that Ukraine should temporarily give up on its stated goals of European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership, stop beating the drum about the Russian annexation of Crimea and allow elections in eastern Ukraine before Kiev re-establishes control over the area. The article caused a storm of indignation in Ukraine (Pinchuk even apologized, blaming heavy edits and a provocative headline). In an official response to the Pinchuk article, Poroshenko's deputy chief of staff, Kostyantin Yelisieiev, wrote:
Compromises on Russia’s terms are the wrong policy. As one of the new U.S. administration’s heavyweights once said: “history teaches that weakness arouses evil.” This has never led to sustainable peace nor saved lives. On the contrary, it has always fueled more aggression and human suffering.
Far from showing flexibility, Ukraine has just sued Russia in the International Court of Justice, claiming its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine amounted to terrorism. Poroshenko has publicly argued that if Trump wants to make a deal with Russia, Moscow's withdrawal from Ukraine should be part of that deal.
While "no compromise with Russia" remains the official line Kiev must look for allies in the U.S. who would support it on these terms. U.S. support is so important that the Poroshenko administration, facing huge budget constraints, agreed to a $50,000 monthly retainer for the services of the Republican-linked Washington lobbying firm BGR Government Affairs. It may face an uphill battle with the Trump administration, but it has a grateful audience among traditional Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio; they are already involved in a bipartisan effort to transform Obama's executive sanctions on Russia into law.
The Ukrainian leader's position is far from hopeless: His cause is a convenient vehicle for politicians seeking to bolster their credentials as champions of freedom and democracy. Poroshenko may also get more sympathy from European leaders riled at Trump's contempt for the EU.
Poroshenko's hope is that Putin will have little enough to offer to Trump that the deal-oriented approach will fail. Then these allies will help Ukraine recreate the special position it once held on a far friendlier U.S. administration's agenda. If, however, some sort of grand Russian-U.S. bargain is achieved, Pinchuk and those in Ukraine who silently agree with him will suddenly become far more relevant than they are today.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: FBI Agents Say Comey ‘Stood In The Way’ Of Clinton Email Investigation

EXCLUSIVE: FBI Agents Say Comey ‘Stood In The Way’ Of Clinton Email Investigation


4:22 PM 10/17/2016

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron∧

FBI agents say the bureau is alarmed over Director James Comey deciding not to suggest that the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton over her mishandling of classified information.

According to an interview transcript given to The Daily Caller, provided by an intermediary who spoke to two federal agents with the bureau last Friday, agents are frustrated by Comey’s leadership.

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The agent was also surprised that the bureau did not bother to search Clinton’s house during the investigation.

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“We didn’t search their house. We always search the house. The search should not just have been for private electronics, which contained classified material, but even for printouts of such material,” he said.

“There should have been a complete search of their residence,” the agent pointed out. “That the FBI did not seize devices is unbelievable. The FBI even seizes devices that have been set on fire.”

Another special agent for the bureau that worked counter-terrorism and criminal cases said he is offended by Comey’s saying: “we” and “I’ve been an investigator.”

After graduating from law school, Comey became a law clerk to a U.S. District Judge in Manhattan and later became an associate in a law firm in the city. After becoming a U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Comey’s career moved through the U.S. Attorney’s Office until he became Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration.

After Bush left office, Comey entered the private sector and became general counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, among other private sector posts. President Barack Obama appointed him to FBI director in 2013 replacing out going-director Robert Mueller.

“Comey was never an investigator or special agent. The special agents are trained investigators and they are insulted that Comey included them in ‘collective we’ statements in his testimony to imply that the SAs agreed that there was nothing there to prosecute,” the second agent said. “All the trained investigators agree that there is a lot to prosecuted but he stood in the way.”

He added, “The idea that [the Clinton/e-mail case] didn’t go to a grand jury is ridiculous.”

According to Washington D.C. attorney Joe DiGenova, more FBI agents will be talking about the problems at bureau and specifically the handling of the Clinton case by Comey when Congress comes back into session and decides to force them to testify by subpoena.

DiGenova told WMAL radio’s Drive at Five last week, “People are starting to talk. They’re calling their former friends outside the bureau asking for help. We were asked to day to provide legal representation to people inside the bureau and agreed to do so and to former agents who want to come forward and talk. Comey thought this was going to go away.”

He explained, “It’s not. People inside the bureau are furious. They are embarrassed. They feel like they are being led by a hack but more than that that they think he’s a crook. They think he’s fundamentally dishonest. They have no confidence in him. The bureau inside right now is a mess.”

He added, “The most important thing of all is that the agents have decided that they are going to talk.”

Read more:

5 explosive Clinton campaign emails just released by WikiLeaks that you must read [TWEETS] BRAD HOFF

5 explosive Clinton campaign emails just released by WikiLeaks that you must read [TWEETS]

5 explosive Clinton campaign emails just released by WikiLeaks that you must read [TWEETS]
Revealing emails about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the US have driven a number of global headlines since their public release on 7 October. Here are just five of them that you really ought to read.

Background on the email leak

According to WikiLeaks, a mere 1% of the Hillary Clinton campaign files (known as the Podesta emails) had been released at the time of this article’s publication. These emails were hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private Gmail account, and their release came immediately on the heels of the emergence of an embarrassing video of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump making harassing and sleazy sexual comments about women (which added to his already poor record).
The Podesta emails provide a candid glimpse into the ways in which the Clinton campaign crafts public perception on issues ranging from Syria to the environment, to free trade, to Republican rivals, or to her likeability among common voters.
Most commentary so far has focused on never-before-seen excerpts from her paid private speeches. In one of these speeches, she said:
You need to have a public position and a private position on policy.
The downloadable 80 pages of paid speech excerpts and other emails contain glaring contradictions between her private and public positions. A number of these have direct bearing on key global events and crises.
Highlighted below are five shocking revelations which come from the first ‘Podesta’ email dump:

1) Clinton has repeatedly called for a ‘No Fly Zone’ over Syria for the express purpose of ‘protecting civilians’ from the Assad government, yet she admitted in a private 2013 speech that this would actuallykill more civilians:

2) Clinton smeared US environmental activists as “phony” stooges who were “being funded by the Russians”:

3) The Clinton camp tried to “elevate” unsavoury “extreme” right-wing candidates into the media spotlight as her potential presidential rivals, presumably to rig the election in her favour:

Note: HRC = Hillary Rodham Clinton, DNC = Democratic National Committee

4) Hillary affirmed that a country she considers a close ally, Saudi Arabia, has spread extremism across the globe over the past 30 years – and even now openly supports terror organisations in Syria by “indiscriminately” supplying weapons:

5) Clinton’s staff was given extensive instructions on how to plant stories in the media with “friendly journalists” who have “teed up” stories for the Clinton campaign in the past:

The second batch of the Podesta emails has been released and is viewable here.
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