Analysis: Mueller Indictments and Israeli Police Set Up Trump-Netanyahu Goodfellas Summit

Analysis: Mueller Indictments and Israeli Police Set Up Trump-Netanyahu Goodfellas Summit

When powerful and narcissistic leaders face similar troubles, each is convinced his pickle is bigger

Chemi Shalev | Haaretz

The upcoming meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump on March 5 at the White House should be extra-special. In addition to the common interests and shared views that have hitherto united them, Trump and Netanyahu will now sense mutual solidarity and a deep personal bond, unprecedented in the history of the relations between leaders of their countries.    

As usual, the two will lambast aggressive Iranians, dismiss disappointed Palestinians and pooh-pooh hypocritical Europe and the United Nations, but their diplomatic meeting of the minds will be buttressed by their personal and potentially criminal predicaments.

Both leaders feel they are being persecuted by police. Both accuse a leftist media-judicial cabal of orchestrating their ordeal. Both intend to fight their accusers to the bitter end, possibly through the concept of the rule of law. The intense experience of trying to evade the law together could turn their beautiful friendship into a torrid love affair, as if, excuse the comparison, they were Bonnie and Clyde.

Trump and Netanyahu have perfected a passive-aggressive system of whining and bullying. First, they fire off volleys against concocted persecutors and then they wail that the world is against them. Both portray themselves as heroes of the common people who are fighting the forces of darkness but also as hapless victims of malevolent investigators who are out to frame them. As in any meeting between two such powerful and essentially narcissistic personalities, each is convinced that his pickle is bigger. Both, one must admit, can produce new evidence to back up their boasting. Netanyahu can validly point to the police report that recommended his indictment on two counts of bribery, which theoretically puts him on a path that ends up in jail. Trump, on the other hand, isn’t even a suspect – so far.

Give it a rest, Netanyahu can tell him; we’re not in the same league. But Trump has a powerful rejoinder.

The indictments presented by special counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend against 13 Russians who engaged in direct sabotage of the last presidential election undermine the very legitimacy of Trump’s election and thus, of his tenure as president.

Netanyahu is suspected of accepting preposterous amounts of cigars and champagne as personal bribes, but Trump stands accused, at least by his more provocative critics, of stealing the entire kingdom. C’mon Bibi, Trump will tell him, you’re dealing in small change.

It’s true that Netanyahu invented “Arabs coming to the voting booths in droves” to help himself win the elections in 2015, but with the exception of devout conspiracy theorists who continue to insist that hundreds of thousands of Likud votes were mysteriously stuffed into ballot boxes at the last minute, no one contests the fact that, technically at least, Netanyahu won the elections fair and square. His majority was big enough – and astonishing enough – to silence the doubters.

Trump, on the other hand, got three million votes less than his rival Hillary Clinton. He won the elections by virtue of a mere 70,000 voters in three key states. When one reads the 37 pages of the indictments handed down by Mueller, which depict a well-oiled and generously financed Russian rogue operation that ran a massive con job on millions of unsuspecting Americans, one doesn’t need a feverish imagination to question whether Moscow did not hand Trump the presidency on a silver plate, with Clinton’s severed head on it.

Of course, Trump seized on the opportunity to proclaim his innocence, or as Netanyahu puts it, “there won’t be anything because there was nothing” in the first place. As with Netanyahu, the meager and partial facts that are already known unequivocally refute such protestations. Mueller’s new indictments have irrevocably debunked Trump’s previous denials of any Russian intervention in his election, but if you link the irrational number of Trump campaign advisers who maintained some contact with Russians together with the black PSY-OPS operation run from St. Petersburg and Trump’s ongoing refusal to confront the Russians in any way, shape or form – including the quagmire that now faces Israel in Syria – it’s hard to escape the conclusion that something was rotten in Trump’s election and in his administration’s efforts to cover it up.

It is clear to the man in the street that Russia sabotaged the U.S.A. elections but the president is too busy whining and feeling sorry for himself to do anything about it, now or in the future.

Note: Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Trump can rightfully show off his executive authorities, which are far more diverse and powerful than Netanyahu’s. The Israeli prime minister can only dream of firing investigators and attorneys who refuse to toe the line, as Trump did when he sacked former FBI Director James Comey and as he is rumored to be contemplating the removal of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the Mueller probe.

On the other hand, Mueller is not Roni Alsheich, the Israeli police chief who allowed his resentment of Netanyahu to get the better of him and shot off his mouth in a superfluous and damaging television interview. Mueller runs his investigation as a tight ship, with no leaks or interviews, which makes it hard for Trump to attack him frontally.

Unlike Israeli coalition chief and Likud lawmaker David Amsalem, who accused Alsheich of planning a putsch and called former Finance Minister Yair Lapid a snitch, because he was called in by police to testify, Trump’s attack dogs cannot bark away at the well-respected Mueller.

They are left with attacking FBI officers on completely unrelated matters – such as the bureau’s tragic failure to act on a warning that Nikolas Cruz was planning a mass shooting at a Florida school – but everyone knows where that activity is headed.

Netanyahu and Trump will go out of their way to broadcast business as usual at their upcoming White House meeting. They might even try to manufacture headlines that could theoretically divert attention from their shared predicament. With the exception of their media parrots in both countries who mindlessly repeat their messaging, however, no self-respecting journalist can afford to ignore the big, fat elephant that will be sitting with them in the Oval Office.

An unbelievable coincidence has put both leaders, each in his own way, with his own personality and in accordance to his country’s unique system of governance, in direct conflict with the rule of law and its representatives. Against the obvious benefits of having Israeli and American leaders who coordinate policy and see the Middle East similarly, one must pit the potential PR damage, if not disaster, of them huddling together in the White House in what will inevitably be portrayed as two bunko artists trying to escape the law. Their meeting might be called the Goodfellas Summit, but as we all know, it won’t be meant as compliment.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On February 21, 2018 at 12:23 am

    Whining and Feeling Sorry for Themselves …? – Sounds Like the NRA Should Join Them:

  • Clyde Duncan  On February 21, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Indictment Makes Trump’s Hoax Claim Harder to Sell

    Mark Landler and Michael D. Shear | The New York Times

    WASHINGTON — He brushed it off as a hoax. He mused that it might be China, or a guy from New Jersey, or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds.” He said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had assured him it wasn’t true. And, he added, “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

    President Trump has never stopped belittling the charge that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. But on Friday, with the indictment of 13 Russians for orchestrating a vast, well-funded operation to interfere in the election, those denials collided with a mountain of evidence arrayed by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

    For Mr. Trump, who has tried to discredit Mr. Mueller’s investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt, it was a direct assault on the version of reality that he has sought tirelessly to create.

    By laying out a meticulous case for how Russia tipped the electoral scales toward Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Mueller has made it much harder for the president to dismiss the investigation as mere politics. He may also have made it harder for Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller himself, since, as some Democratic lawmakers argued, that would look like an attempt to help Russia further undermine American democracy.

    Before the charges were announced, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, briefed Mr. Trump and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, and handed over a copy of the indictment, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Mueller was not present at the briefing.

    On Friday afternoon, after Mr. Trump left Washington for his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, the White House issued a defiant statement claiming that the investigation had uncovered no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    “It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions,” the president said in a statement.

    In a tweet, Mr. Trump played up Mr. Mueller’s assertion that the Russian operation had begun in 2014, well before he declared his candidacy. “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” he wrote.

    Far from being rattled, Mr. Trump was elated, according to his advisers, because he viewed it as evidence that Mr. Mueller now knows who the malefactors are — and they do not include him or members of his team. The indictment refers to campaign officials who met or communicated with Russians, but says they were “unwitting.”

    Yet Mr. Trump sidestepped the fact that he has stubbornly denied Russia’s interference, even after two assessments by the nation’s intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had meddled. Last November, during a trip to Asia, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Putin had told him that Russia did not meddle, and that he was inclined to believe him.

    “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Mr. Trump said. “I think he is very insulted by it,” he added, “which is not a good thing for our country.”

    Mr. Trump went so far as to suggest that the heads of the intelligence agencies at the time of the 2016 election — John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director; James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence; and James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director — were less trustworthy than Mr. Putin.

    “I mean, give me a break — they’re political hacks,” he told reporters. “You have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey’s proven now to be a liar, and he’s proven to be a leaker, so you look at that.”

    PolitiFact called Mr. Trump’s denial of Russian meddling, its 2017 “Lie of the Year.”

    “The Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system,” the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, said. “It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself.”

    The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the indictment was “further proof that Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to interfere with our elections, with the goal of tipping the outcome.” He called on Mr. Trump to immediately impose sanctions against Russia that were recently passed by Congress.

    Mr. Trump’s strategy for dealing with charges of Russian meddling has not varied much since the campaign: deny, obfuscate, play down and, since Election Day, blame it on Democrats bitter after Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

    In May, Mr. Trump told Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor, “This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

    Since taking office, Mr. Trump has often expressed concern that the charges undermine the legitimacy of his presidency. He has told associates that if he accepts the premise of Russian meddling, it will call into question the idea that he won the election on his own merits.

    That fear drove many of Mr. Trump’s most incendiary tweets and statements throughout his first year in office, especially about the size and breadth of his electoral victory. The day after his inauguration, Mr. Trump ordered his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to insist that his inaugural crowd was the largest in history, which it demonstrably was not.

    In news conferences, on Twitter and at rallies, he has called the Russia investigation “fake news” and repeatedly predicted that Mr. Mueller’s investigation will end without finding much.

    Mr. Mueller’s indictment does not settle the overarching question of whether Mr. Trump or any of his campaign associates colluded with Russia. For now, the president has seized on that as evidence of his innocence.

    But as Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, put it, “The indictment leaves open the vital question of whether Americans, including any associated with the Trump campaign, knowingly played a role in Russia’s active-measures campaign.”

    That seemed a likely avenue of inquiry for an investigation that is casting a lengthening shadow on Mr. Trump’s presidency.

    Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting

  • Clyde Duncan  On February 21, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Collusion Does NOT Have to be Criminal to be an Ongoing Threat

    Alex Finley, Asha Rangappa and John Sipher | Just Security

    During the hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, some members of the House Judiciary Committee did not try to conceal their attempt to discredit and derail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

    The way that the Russia investigation has been framed has made it easy for them to do that: Its legitimacy appears to rest on finding a smoking gun of criminality – a simple yes or no on whether any of the cast of characters in this saga committed a serious federal offence.

    But making this merely about the bright line between illegality (criminality) and legality means that most Americans are missing what is right under our noses.

    To wit, there is no question that Russia made multiple, unprecedented attempts to penetrate a U.S.A. presidential campaign, that its approaches were not rebuffed, and that its contacts were sensitive enough that everyone – to a person – has concealed them.

    These facts might never be adjudicated inside a courtroom – they may not even be illegal – but they present a clear and present national security threat that we cannot ignore.

    We write here to broaden the public understanding of that security threat, and to underscore why the principal part of Mueller’s investigation — which is a counterintelligence probe not a criminal one — is performing a vital role for our country.

    Is Collusion a Crime?

    Most of the things intelligence officers and assets do — particularly during the process of recruiting someone — aren’t necessarily illegal.

    In the context of the Russia investigation, First Amendment concerns and the powers afforded to the office of the President make it especially difficult to pin down a crime.

    For instance, frequently meeting a known intelligence officer, while certainly unwise, is not itself a crime. Neither is it clear that listening to what information a foreigner may have to offer a campaign crosses the tripwire of campaign finance laws. And given the president’s almost unfettered discretion in the area of foreign affairs, disputing his decision to remove or not enforce sanctions wanders into a constitutional thicket.

    This isn’t to say that Mueller won’t find evidence of criminal acts in his investigation. Based on the indictments and plea deals we’ve seen so far, it’s clear that at least some of the people associated with the Trump campaign have committed crimes. But the U.S.A. criminal code is narrow:

    It encompasses specific activities like computer hacking, or money laundering, or lying to federal agents. Mueller will also proceed cautiously, only bringing charges where both the law and evidence are extraordinarily clear. What becomes public through the criminal justice system, then, will only be a sliver of what actually took place between Russia and the Trump campaign behind the scenes.

    The only crime that might reveal a larger effort is CONSPIRACY, which is an agreement among two or more people to commit a crime. But it’s unlikely that there would be evidence of an explicit quid pro quo in the intelligence world.

    This is because intelligence operations are “compartmentalized” — that is, each asset only knows their own role, but not necessarily to what extent others might be involved – so no one asset would understand or know the full breadth of an entire operation. And since the recruitment process typically happens with a wink and a nod, rather with a brute insistence on favors, the trail of evidence needed to prove conspiracy as well as an underlying crime may be sparse.

    Assets: Tools In A Toolbox

    Russia’s intelligence services, like any intelligence service worth its salt, aims to recruit a variety of assets (a.k.a. sources). Assets are a spy’s version of a “toolbox”.

    Different intelligence operations require different tools, so spies target a wide range of potential assets who vary according to their skills, access, and how they can be utilized. How witting they are of their role and how much control the foreign intelligence service (FIS) has over them will often depend on how far the asset will have to go to serve the FIS’s purpose.

    It’s useful to think of recruitment – the process of getting an asset to work on behalf of an intelligence service – in dating terms.

    Let’s say a guy spots a girl he’d be interested in dating. The first thing he does is assess if she might be interested in dating him, too. To save himself potential embarrassment, he might send a friend over to the girl first, to see how she feels.

    If she shows interest, then the guy will officially ask her out. Of course, he doesn’t propose marriage on the first date: there is a period of courtship. It might be slow, it might be fast, but if all goes well and it is a good match, the marriage proposal is the ultimate step. When it happens, it probably won’t come as a surprise; in fact, in the spy context, it might not have to be stated out loud at all.

    In the world of espionage, the “dating” ritual might look something like this:

    An intelligence officer (IO) spots a target of interest, likely based on their access to information or resources of value. To assess that person’s willingness to cooperate, the IO gives the target a task to test their reaction. Usually this will be something easy, but slightly unethical – like, say, asking a political candidate’s team to meet with people who offer (potentially stolen) dirt on the opposing candidate.

    As protection, the IO might send someone else on his behalf, known as a “cutout”, to set up this type of meeting – this ensures plausible deniability in the event that the meeting goes south. But if the target performs the task as desired, they have shown a willingness to “cross the line”, even if they haven’t done so yet. And even if nothing of value is handed over in that initial meeting.

    From there, the IO has a “hook” to meet with the target again, and then again.

    Each time, the IO will slowly ask for more, ratcheting up the risk each time – but always offering enough of an incentive to make it worthwhile for the target to accept. As the tasks requested of the target become dicier, the IO will begin taking the relationship underground. By the time the IO asks the target to do something clearly illegal, not only has the relationship become clandestine, but the IO has collected a whole string of compromising actions the target has performed along the way but probably shouldn’t have – and now the IO has leverage over the target.

    In short, the key to recruitment is time and subtlety. An intelligence officer doesn’t make a target compromise himself in one fell swoop. Rather, it happens incrementally with each small act that “crosses the line” giving the intelligence officer a bit more control. Before the target knows it, the IO has made the target into an asset.

    A Russian Courtship

    From an intelligence standpoint, the numerous Russian approaches to the Trump campaign look like a textbook recruitment effort. Campaign officials were an attractive target for Russian intelligence, of course. They provided a chance to catapult Russian influence into the Oval Office, and to obtain the Holy Grail:

    To manipulate a sitting presidential administration to act in a way that is favorable to Russia. And even if their candidate did not make it into the White House, they would have a grip on him and some of his most powerful associates for years to come.

    But this ambitious goal would not have been foreseeable at the beginning of Russia’s operation. After all, Trump and many of his associates were already on Russia’s radar screen well before he was running for president. This isn’t because Russian intelligence services are geniuses who maneuvered a grand scheme into place. Rather, it is because Russia’s intelligence services, like all intelligence services, are always on the lookout for new assets to add to their toolbox that could be useful in the future.

    An obvious target would be a wealthy business person interested in working on projects in Russia, or places like Ukraine, or benefiting from Russian investments. By the time a pie-in-the-sky opportunity like a presidential election came along, much of the groundwork for further outreach would have already been in place.

    The sheer number of Russia’s attempted contacts with the highest level of a U.S.A. presidential campaign and then transition team is mind-boggling.

    They employed Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to engage members of Trump’s team, like Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, and Jared Kushner. They put the head of a Kremlin-linked bank under U.S.A. sanctions in front of Kushner.

    They used Trump business partners to arrange a meeting between a Russian lawyer and others – including with ties to Russian intelligence – with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Kushner.

    They used the National Rifle Association to get another Russian banker close to Putin, Alexander Torshin, in front of Trump Jr. They approached George Papadopolous through a Russian professor in an effort to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and who also gave information that the Kremlin had dirt on Clinton.

    They got Carter Page to provide one of their intelligence officers with industry documents and invited him to Moscow and elsewhere for meetings. They used Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to keep pressure on Manafort, who was already being paid by Russian intelligence. They partnered with WikiLeaks which contacted Trump Jr. They feted Mike Flynn at a gala for Russia Today and paid him.

    But the truth is that “collusion” with the Kremlin doesn’t have to be criminal to be dangerous. If the Trump campaign received offers of assistance from Russia, and they did nothing to discourage that help or even encouraged it, they are indebted to a foreign adversary whose national interests are opposed to those of the United States of America.

    You can be sure that at some point, Putin will come to collect, if he has not done so already – and when it comes to protecting our democracy the administration will be a puppet of a foreign adversary – not our country’s first line of defense.

    While the potential criminal aspects of this case need to be investigated, we need to take a good look at what we already know. The national security threat is staring us right in the face.

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