|Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks|
|Year’s end unlikely to bring end to Russia probe in Congress | Washington|
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Republicans are hoping lawmakers will soon wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging almost daily, that seems unlikely.
Three congressional committees are investigating Russian interference and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in any way involved. The panels have obtained thousands of pages of documents from Trump’s campaign and other officials, and have done dozens of interviews.
The probes are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller can prosecute for criminal activity, while Congress can only lay out findings, publicize any perceived wrongdoing and pass legislation to try to keep problems from happening again. If any committee finds evidence of criminal activity, it must refer the matter to Mueller.
All three committees have focused on a June 2016 meeting that Trump campaign officials held in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and others. They are also looking into outreach by several other Russians to the campaign, including involvement of George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this month to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s probe. New threads continue to emerge, such as a recent revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was messaging with WikiLeaks, the website that leaked emails from top Democratic officials during the campaign.
A look at the committees that are investigating, and the status of their work when they return from their Thanksgiving break:
SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE
The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people, including most of those attending the Trump Tower meeting. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and the panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have said they plan to bring in Donald Trump Jr. The president’s son was one of several Trump campaign officials in the meeting.
The committee has looked broadly at the issue of interference, and called in executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, pushing them to take steps to prevent Russian election meddling on their platforms. Warner told The Associated Press the committee is still looking for more information from those companies, which were initially reluctant to cooperate.
Burr has said that he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring, when congressional primaries begin. While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia.
Warner said it’s plain there were “unprecedented contacts” as Russians reached out to the Trump campaign but what’s not established is collusion.
HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE
In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. Nunes stepped back from the Russia probe in April after criticism that he was too close to the White House, but remains chairman of the committee.
Some Republicans on the panel have grown restless with the probe, saying it has amounted to a fishing expedition and pushing for it to end. Still, the committee has continued to interview dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, among them several participants in the 2016 meeting. On Nov. 30, the panel will interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions behind closed doors. Lawmakers are interested in Sessions’ knowledge about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians, and also his own contacts.
The top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. He said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon.
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. But as in the House, the panel has proceeded anyway, conducting bipartisan, closed-door interviews with several people who were in the 2016 meeting.
The panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. The committee is the only one to have interviewed Trump Jr. And just before the Thanksgiving break, it sent Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a letter asking him to be more forthcoming with the committee.
Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. Along with the other committees, Judiciary is also looking into a dossier of allegations about Trump’s own connections to Russia.
It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
|Trumps Russian Schizophrenia – POLITICO Magazine|
The United States should send arms to Ukraine to help in its “self-defense” against Russian aggression. It should hold Russia accountable for its illegal “occupation” of territory there, and push for international peacekeepers. Russian President Vladimir Putin bears the blame for this conflict in Europe, and he will be the “decision maker” on whether to end it too.
At least, that’s according to Ambassador Kurt Volker, the Trump administration’s special envoy charged with ending the war in Ukraine. If this sounds like a perfectly reasonable American policy toward Russia, that’s because it is, and more or less one that either party would pursue. But of course, there’s just one big problem with this: It almost certainly does not fully reflect what the president of the United States actually thinks.
Story Continued Below
In a new interview for The Global Politico, his first extensive one with a U.S. publication since taking on the post this summer, Volker talked at length about just how troubled relations are with Russia these days despite Trump’s hoped-for reconciliation, how the several rounds of talks he’s held with a top Putin adviser have not yet made any progress, and what it’s like to be a special envoy for a secretary of state who’s vowed to get rid of them.
Overall, he said, prospects for peace are so dim he reckons it’s very likely that active fighting will continue a year from now in Ukraine, which has been embroiled in military conflict since 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula, the first such takeover since World War II in Europe, and fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine—leading to international condemnation and, ultimately, sanctions that Putin is desperate to lift.
“I’d say it’s at least 80 percent,” Volker told me. “There’s a chance that there won’t be, but the most likely scenario is that this continues,” he added grimly, noting that more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine have been killed since the fighting broke out.
To spend time with Volker is to confront the essential schizophrenia of the Trump administration’s Russia policy. His version is what just about any U.S. administration’s view of Russia and the Ukraine conflict would have been. And it’s pretty much consistent with that of others inside the Trump administration with whom I’ve spoken recently: deeply critical of Putin and certainly not swayed by him; concerned that little or no progress can be made on key issues and that the bottom in U.S.-Russia relations has not yet been reached after this past year’s election hacking, tit-for-tat spying accusations, diplomatic expulsions and consulate closure.
Volker said Trump himself is now on board with this version of his Russia policy, if only because Putin’s moves have been so confrontational. “Russia brings it on,” Volker said. “That’s what the president always says: We would like to get along with Russia. But what Russia is doing makes it really hard.”
But of course, this Russia policy is still not exactly Donald Trump’s Russia policy.
Reminders of that come just about every day. Just a few hours before my interview with Volker, in fact, Trump had made a point of calling Putin, and the official readout of their more than hour-long conversation portrayed it as a wide-ranging discussion of Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, ISIS, the Middle East and Central Asia. The decision to speak with Putin drew literal groans from some administration Russia hands, given that it came the day after Putin had been photographed physically embracing the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in Sochi, and Trump’s statement about the phone call made no mention of any criticism toward Putin’s backing of the Syrian regime or his recent decision to veto a U.N. investigation of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.
That did not seem accidental to anyone who has followed Trump’s dealings with the Russian leader. Despite the entreaties of his staff and their views – like Volker’s – that tend to be far more skeptical of the Kremlin strongman, Trump has never fully given up on his hopes of a friendly new era of Russian-American relations. On his recent trip to Asia, he even reignited the controversy over Putin’s 2016 intervention in the U.S. presidential election, suggesting he believed Putin’s denials – over the consistent findings of the U.S. intelligence community. (The White House later clarified, unconvincingly, that Trump hadn’t meant to suggest any such thing.)
All of which puts Kurt Volker right in the unlikely center of the most contentious foreign policy fight of the Trump presidency.
There’s no question that Volker, 52, is an unusual figure to have joined the Trump administration. His previous job was executive director of the institute started by Senator John McCain, perhaps Trump’s harshest foreign policy critic within his party and a Russia hawk of long standing who has been particularly pointed about Trump’s praise for Putin. And before that Volker served in a key role working with U.S. allies to counter Russian aggression as ambassador to NATO for President George W. Bush, whose foreign policy Trump spent much of the 2016 campaign bashing as expensive and inept.
Still, Volker pointedly did not sign the letter from a vast array of mainstream Republican national security types disavowing Trump during that campaign. A few of those who did sign it tell me they are glad he is on the case and running what appears to be his own version of a Ukraine policy they can live with; their only question is whether he, and the others who share his views within Trump’s administration, actually matter when it comes to making policy.
Volker also has the questionable distinction of being the only special envoy actually named to the job by Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has come to office vowing to reorganize the department and eliminate dozens of separate special envoy positions like the one he just created for Volker. And in fact, Volker told me he has only taken on the post in a temporary, volunteer capacity, and that it was necessary because of the “particularly difficult transition” that left the Trump State Department without any political appointee in place to deal with the Russians on Ukraine.
When we spoke, Volker had just returned the previous week from a face-to-face meeting in Belgrade with a top Putin adviser, Vladislav Surkov. The session was their third, but Volker was blunt about what it accomplished: nothing. The talks, he said, were a “step back,” with Surkov reverting to Russia’s initial proposal in September to deploy U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine along the line currently separating Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists. Surkov told reporters after the meeting that Volker had presented 29 separate paragraphs to the Russians and that Surkov had agreed with just three of them.
Either way, the meeting’s failure speaks not only to the difficulty of making peace in Ukraine but also to the troubled state of the current U.S.-Russian relationship.
Just before the latest Ukraine talks, in fact, a new irritant had arisen: the failed effort to get Trump and Putin together during Trump’s recent Asia trip. I had been told that the Russians were angry that Trump and Putin had not held a formal bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the recent summit meeting of world leaders in Asia and that the Trump White House had stumbled in both directions, first rejecting the idea of a meeting between the two leaders and then, when it was clear the Russians were unhappy about it, proposing at the last minute to add a Trump-Putin session only to have the peeved Russians reject it. In fact, the ill-timed Trump phone call with Putin right before my Volker interview had been in part a U.S. effort to smooth over those Russian concerns.
In the interview, Volker seemed to agree that could have been part of the reason for why Surkov had seemed so intransigent at their latest session. “Our third meeting, as you said, was a step back,” Volker told me. “They went back to their original proposal again. I don’t know what the next step after this is. It could be that that happened for completely other reasons having nothing to do with Ukraine, just where we are in our U.S.-Russian relationship. It could have had to do with the lack of a bilateral meeting between President Putin and President Trump.”
In general, I found Volker hardly puffing up the prospects of a grand peace settlement with Putin. He said he found Surkov a useful interlocutor, in that the Kremlin adviser clearly has the president’s ear and comes in his capacity as a “political operative” talking about a fundamentally political decision, not as some powerless functionary from the Russian Foreign Ministry. And he said there are “glimmers” of hope suggesting Putin might actually be ready to find a way out of the “impasse” in eastern Ukraine, given that fighting has more or less stalled and Putin faces tough U.S. and European sanctions because of the Ukraine incursion.
Volker insisted Putin could turn that around by cutting a deal now to end hostilities and bring in outside peacekeepers.
“By invading the country and taking part of the territory, they’ve produced a more nationalist, more Western-oriented, more unified Ukraine than ever existed before,” Volker argued. “That’s exactly the opposite of what they wanted to produce, so it gives them a reason to say, ‘Well, we’re not getting out of this what we wanted. It’s costing us a lot to do it, both in a very specific sense of a military operation and civilian administration,’ but it’s also costing in terms of sanctions, their reputation, their relationship with the European Union, their relationship with the United States. So they might have an interest in resolving this.”
Still, to hear Volker’s account is not exactly to listen to a conflict on the brink of resolution. Not only is Trump’s personal commitment to pushing Putin and forging peace in Ukraine highly suspect, but Putin himself would seem to have little reason to take such action now – especially with his own reelection looming in March of 2018, and the conflict with Ukraine inevitably something that needs to be portrayed as a Russian success.
Then there’s the equally complicated U.S. side of the equation.
Volker and others inside the administration are clearly having to sell their mission to Trump too and not just the Russians. Their case to Trump goes something like this: You say you want better relations with Moscow. Well, that’s not possible with the Russians still supporting a shooting war in Ukraine and subject to tough U.S. and European sanctions as a result. “If we are going to have any improvement in U.S.-Russia relations,” Volker said, “we don’t want to stay where we are. We’d like for this to be more constructive,” and for that to be the case “we’re going to have to see progress in Ukraine.”
Volker says Trump gets it. “I know, having heard from the president directly on this, he wants to do this. He wants to make peace; he wants to see this resolved; he wants to see Ukraine get its territory back. It’s crystal clear.”
The most pressing current issue that could well blow up Volker’s talks – and further erode Trump’s hopes of improved relations with Putin – are weapons sales to Ukraine. After months of internal debates, both the Pentagon and the State Department have reportedly recommended Trump approve a $47 million package of arms, including Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has heavily lobbied for. But Trump himself has not yet signed off and many Russia watchers believe he remains reluctant to do so; with the Russian presidential election looming and the fate of the Ukraine talks with Surkov still unclear, it’s possible the U.S. may not act on the recommendation anytime soon. “There isn’t any decision here,” Volker said.
Several sources have told me Volker has been a strong advocate for the arms sales, and he made clear in our interview that he supports the idea.
“There isn’t anything compelling that I can see as to why Ukraine should be a special case, why we wouldn’t do that, especially when they’re actively trying to defend their territory,” Volker said, before walking through “the arguments that people made in the past” and which “I don’t think hold a lot of water,” from the prospect that sending advanced U.S. arms to the Ukrainians could actually backfire and cause an escalation in the fighting to the idea that it would embolden Ukrainians to keep fighting and refuse to come to the negotiating table.
I asked one veteran Russia hand, a former senior State Department official, what to think about those arguments. Volker, the former official said, is on the right side. But Trump – as far as anyone can tell – is not.
And what does that do to Volker’s credibility with the Russians he’s supposed to be negotiating with?
You don’t have to be a veteran Kremlinologist to know the answer to that one.
Susan B. Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist. Her new podcast, The Global Politico, comes out Mondays. Subscribe here. Follow her on Twitter @sbg1.
|Гройсман прилетел в Грузию обсудить перспективы сотрудничества (фото)|
Гройсман начал официальный визит в Грузию / фото УНИАН
Грузия входит в топ-20 перспективных рынков для украинского экспорта, и страны планируют увеличить товарооборот до 1 млрд долл. в год.
Об этом сообщила пресс-служба правительства со ссылкой на слова премьер-министра Владимира Гройсмана во время встречи с главой правительства Грузии Георгием Квирикашвили.
Он отметил, что если в прошлом году товарооборот между государствами составил почти 500 млн долл, то за 7 месяцев текущего года превысил 345 млн долл.
«Сейчас мы ставим задачу довести товарооборот до 1 млрд долл, – сказал Гройсман. – Среди перспективных направлений сотрудничества – агросектор, туризм, энергетика”.
Гройсман также отметил, что одним из наиболее перспективных направлений работы является развитие транзитного потенциала двух государств. Он подчеркнул, что сочетание географических и транспортных возможностей Киева и Тбилиси может и должно стать важной составляющей международной инициативы «Новый шелковый путь».
Глава правительства Грузии поддержал украинского премьера.
“Новый шелковый путь невозможен без Украины. У вас есть выход в Европейский Союз, у нас – в Китай, с которым действует режим беспошлинной торговли”, – сказал Квирикашвили.
В этом контексте Гройсман напомнил, что в сентябре текущего года в Одессе подписан Меморандум о сотрудничестве между «Укрзализныцей», «Грузинской железной дорогой» и «Азербайджанской железной дорогой», который будет способствовать развитию железнодорожных маршрутов через Кавказ в направлении Украины и Евросоюза и в обратном направлении.
«У нас есть предварительные договоренности о создании совместных транспортных структур, тарифной политике. Надо ускорять этот процесс. Уверен, что наши переговоры дадут дополнительный импульс этому процессу», – отметил Гройсман.
Он также предложил грузинской стороне продумать возможности привлечения украинских компаний к реализации инфраструктурных проектов в рамках проекта «Нового шелкового пути».
Как сообщал УНИАН, премьер-министр Украины Владимир Гройсман 27 ноября начал официальный двухдневный визит в Грузию. Глава правительства проведет переговоры с Президентом Грузии Георгием Маргвелашвили, премьер-министром Грузии Георгием Квирикашвили, председателем парламента Грузии Иракли Кобахидзе, примет участие в экономическом форуме «Один пояс – один путь».
|Merkel’s CDU agrees to pursue grand coalition in Germany|
BERLIN (Reuters) – Leaders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party agreed on Sunday to pursue a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD) to break the political deadlock in Europe’s biggest economy.
|4:52 PM 11/26/2017 fbi criticism Google Search|
Mike Novas Shared NewsLinks Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks fbi criticism – Google Search Rutherford Institute – Wikipedia Rutherford Institute – Google Search Jared Kushners Vast Duties, and Visibility in White House, Shrink ‘Better than the Game of Thrones’: Ex-CIA officer Phil Mudd fascinated by timing of Mike Flynn revelations – Raw Story Top firearms cops … Continue reading“4:52 PM 11/26/2017 – fbi criticism – Google Search”
|fbi criticism – Google Search|
The Guardian–3 hours ago
The FBI has faced continuing criticism over its handling of Fancy Bear. … The FBI failed to notify scores of US officials that Russian hackers …
CNN–Nov 15, 2017
Washington (CNN) A watchdog review of how the FBI handled its investigation into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is on track for …
Chambersburg Public Opinion–25 minutes ago
Larsh alleged that many current and former FBI agents have told him they … to include more intelligence-gathering following criticism after 9/11.
New York Times–Nov 3, 2017
He spent Friday berating the Justice Department and F.B.I. for not investigating his political opponents. He then turned to the military justice …
Trump Subtly Wonders If the FBI Would Please Jail His Enemies
Vanity Fair–Nov 3, 2017
|Rutherford Institute – Wikipedia|
The Rutherford Institute is a non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia, US dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights. The organization was founded in 1982 by John W. Whitehead, who continued to be its president as of 2015. The Rutherford Institute offers free legal services to those who have had their rights threatened or violated. The Rutherford Institute has a network of affiliate attorneys across the United States and funds its efforts through donations. In addition to its offer of legal services, the organization offers free educational materials for those interested in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Rutherford Institute also publishes a weekly commentary by Whitehead which is published in hundreds of newspapers and web publications, including The Huffington Post and LewRockwell.com.
|Rutherford Institute – Google Search|
NBC 29 News–Nov 22, 2017
The Rutherford Institute is getting involved in a 2013 case out of Albemarle County that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers …
The Daily Progress–8 hours ago
John W. Whitehead is president and founder of the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties organization, and author of …
<a href=”http://WND.com” rel=”nofollow”>WND.com</a>–Nov 23, 2017
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American …
The Charlottesville Newsplex–Aug 15, 2017
The Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead said he doesn’t regret taking the case and notes that it’s about defending the First Amendment …
|Jared Kushners Vast Duties, and Visibility in White House, Shrink|
Mr. Kelly disputed that in an interview on Friday. “There was honestly never a time when I contemplated getting rid of Jared and Ivanka,” Mr. Kelly said. He also said the Office of American Innovation, run by Mr. Kushner, had demonstrated its value, noting that he had recently sent some members of its team to Puerto Rico to report back on conditions on the hurricane-ravaged island.
And in an email forwarded by the White House, the president said on Friday that he still relied on Mr. Kushner. “Jared is working very hard on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the last thing I would ever do is get in the way of that possibility,” Mr. Trump said. “Jared has been very effective since the earliest days of the campaign and the same is true today. He understood the movement then and has been helpful implementing the agenda the American people voted for since.”
Determining anyone’s place in Mr. Trump’s orbit, of course, is a hazardous exercise. The president’s affections are fickle, and he tends to keep relationships open even if they are strained. At one point, Mr. Trump is said to depend less on Mr. Kushner, and the next he checks in with his son-in-law about the Roy Moore Senate race in Alabama to gauge his own potential reactions, according to one person familiar with the conversations.
But even Mr. Kushner’s supporters acknowledged that his role had evolved. In their view, that reflected his success, not failure. By helping to push out Mr. Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and acerbic nationalist infighter, they said, Mr. Kushner helped stabilize the White House, allowing him to focus on his own projects rather than feeling compelled to weigh in on so many different issues.
In the first months of the administration, Mr. Kushner typically would spend five or six hours a day with the president in what his advocates described as playing defense, making sure others were not gaming the system by persuading Mr. Trump to make decisions without consulting others who had interest in the issues. Now under a less freewheeling system, Mr. Kushner and other aides are expected to stay in their own lanes.
Critics take a less generous view. Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist, said the “magical powers” ascribed to Mr. Kushner early on seemed to have faded. “As long as Jared was seen and not heard, he was able to play the role of wonder boy,” he said. “But now he is no longer seen, and we are only left to wonder about the boy whose father-in-law placed the hope of unraveling the world’s most intractable public policy puzzles from peace in the Middle East to reinventing government” in him.
Speculation about Mr. Kushner’s role comes as the long shadow of the special counsel’s investigation darkens the White House. Investigators have asked witnesses about Mr. Kushner’s foreign policy role during the campaign and the presidential transition, including his involvement in a debate over a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, as The Wall Street Journal has reported.
One person familiar with the questioning, who asked not to be identified discussing the investigation, said the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, appeared to be exploring Mr. Kushner’s role as part of his examination of Michael T. Flynn, who went on to become Mr. Trump’s national security adviser before being forced out after 24 days for not being forthcoming about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
Mr. Kushner has yet to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s team. Worried that his conversations might have been picked up on a government-authorized wiretap or perhaps by Russia or China, Mr. Kushner has become increasingly cautious about how he communicates, even with friends.
The scrutiny by Mr. Mueller upended Mr. Kushner’s initial hopes, according to some colleagues. Mr. Kushner expressed relief over Mr. Mueller’s appointment in May, assuming that the prosecutor’s inquiry would effectively freeze congressional investigations and therefore free up the White House to pursue its legislative agenda.
To some, that suggested he did not get it, that he did not fully grasp how the special counsel would scrutinize every single thing he had done in business, during the transition and during the campaign. And the emergence of Mr. Mueller has not halted the House or Senate inquiries; Mr. Kushner has since been interviewed by congressional investigators.
Some friends said Mr. Kushner and his wife were at times so discouraged by their brief White House careers — and their shrinking social circle — that they would leap at a chance to gracefully return to New York. At one point this fall, a scenario circulated in which Ms. Trump could replace Nikki R. Haley as ambassador to the United Nations if Ms. Haley replaced Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. (Aides to Mr. Trump said they never heard that discussed internally, and the latest betting now has Ms. Haley staying put.)
Others in the couple’s orbit, however, said that whatever their frustrations, they have found more satisfaction in recent months now that Mr. Bannon is no longer inside the West Wing fighting them, and that they are likelier to stay for the foreseeable future. Mr. Kushner’s father, Charles, has urged his son to hang on, arguing that otherwise he will become the fall guy for White House mistakes, according to someone in Jared Kushner’s circle.
“Jared’s role working for President Trump is just as important as it was Day 1, only now he doesn’t have to worry about babysitting others,” said Jason Miller, a campaign adviser who remains close to the White House. “His focus was always supposed to be the president’s big-picture, long-term projects, and now Jared can work on those uninterrupted.”
New York is not exactly a trouble-free zone for Mr. Kushner either. He would presumably resume running his family’s real estate empire, now struggling to save its crown jewel, a Manhattan skyscraper. The building at 666 Fifth Avenue is awash in $1.2 billion in debt, and a key business partner recently declared that a redevelopment plan created by Mr. Kushner before he joined the government is unfeasible.
Mr. Kushner arrived in the White House with an expansive portfolio. In addition to Middle East peace, he served as the president’s intermediary with Mexico, China and the Arab world. He traveled to Iraqwearing a flak vest over his blue blazer and button-down shirt. His high profile generated magazine covers and late-night comic riffs. Even some inside the West Wing began referring to him as “the secretary of state.”
In the early months, Mr. Kushner brokered a tense telephone call between Mr. Trump and Mexico’s president and arranged a summit meeting with President Xi Jinping of China that transformed his father-in-law’s approach toward Beijing. He organized Mr. Trump’s first overseas trip with an opening stop in Saudi Arabia, where the president aligned himself with Sunni Arabs confronting Iran.
Mr. Kushner has since stepped back from the China relationship. He joined Mr. Trump in Beijing this month but did not accompany the president on his entire Asia trip. He remains the point person with Saudi Arabia, where he recently visited and talked late into the night with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is also working with the team renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and developing a plan to overhaul re-entry into American society for prisoners.
But Mr. Kushner, new to government, has found it confounding at times. And Mr. Priebus’s early question about the mandate of Mr. Kushner’s innovation office was never fully resolved. Sometimes called “Jared’s island” by White House aides, it has remained a jumble of seemingly random projects, ranging from addressing the nation’s opioid crisis and infrastructure needs to trying to modernize the government’s antiquated computer systems.
Corporate leaders were recruited to give input at round-table discussions organized by Mr. Kushner. But by last summer, some executives were fed up with talk-a-thons. They complained to Gary D. Cohn, the president’s national economic adviser, who in turn told Mr. Kushner’s aides not to convene another listening session unless it had a compelling purpose and produced results.
Two White House councils of business leaders were disbanded in August after an exodus of members upset with the president’s failure to more forcefully condemn violence at a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.
Other initiatives backed by Mr. Kushner have proved more fruitful. Congress appears to be on the verge of creating a $500 million fund to help agencies modernize outdated information technology systems, some of which are at least 40 years old.
With Mr. Kushner’s support, the Department of Veterans Affairs also developed a plan to erase a longstanding electronic gap between the medical records of service members and veterans that has hurt patient care for years.
But Mr. Kushner’s push for technological advances is hobbled by a lack of permanent officials to carry out policy changes at the agency level. The White House has failed to name chief information officers for nine major agencies, including Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security. Even the federal chief information officer is only an acting official, and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is largely a ghost town.
The innovation office is providing political cover and “a push from the top,” said Max Stier, the president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the effectiveness of the government. “But at the end of the day, what the White House does doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get implemented at the agencies where the real action takes place.”
|‘Better than the Game of Thrones’: Ex-CIA officer Phil Mudd fascinated by timing of Mike Flynn revelations – Raw Story|
|Top firearms cops suspended in crime and misconduct probe – Scottish Daily Record|
|FBI didn’t tell US targets as Russian hackers hunted emails – Washington Post|
|It is yet unclear whether Putin to run for re-election Peskov Johnson’s Russia List|
MOSCOW. Nov 17 (Interfax) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election, his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
“It is not yet unclear whether Putin will run for the re-election. As you know, he did not say anything about it,” Peskov told reporters, replying to a question as to whether the possibility of involving Alexei Kudrin in writing the economic section of the president’s electoral program was discussed at Putin’s meeting with him.
Peskov described this question as inappropriate in this regard.
Interfax: Putin has not yet decided whether he will run for president in 2018 – PeskovJanuary 29, 2016In “Politics, Government, Protests, Elections”
Issue of Putin’s nomination as candidate in 2018 presidential elections not yet on Kremlin agenda – PeskovJuly 6, 2017In “Politics, Government, Protests, Elections”
Denying Putin Wedding, Peskov Says Leave the President AloneSeptember 26, 2013In “Politics, Government, Protests, Elections”
|How to Identify the Kremlin Ruling Elite and its Agents|
November 13, 2017
Flowers were laid at the site where Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated in Moscow on February 27, 2015. Nemtsov was a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (steven_n_maher, Flickr)
On August 2, 2017, US President Donald J. Trump
into law. Section 241 of the Act calls on “the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of State” to submit to Congress a detailed report—with the option of making part of it classified—including “identification of the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.” Section 241 mandates that the report address the relation of these persons with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and identify their corruption, estimated net worth, and known sources of income. The section also poses similar questions about Russian parastatal entities of diffuse ownership but serving the state. The Kremlin Report, as it might be termed, is due on or around February 1, 2018.
Section 241 has generated intense interest, even anxiety, within Moscow’s political and business classes, more so than any other section of H.R. 3364. It is clear why.
about who among political figures, oligarchs, and others may be listed, and what that might mean for them, for Russia’s ruling political and business elite in general, and for Russia’s already beleaguered standing in the West.
These anxieties suggest that the Kremlin Report can serve US, Western, and genuine Russian interests in two ways:
First, it can signal to the current Russian political and business classes that, as individuals, their interests would best be served by maintaining a distance from the Putin regime. It also may indicate that these groups would be better off if the Russian leadership refrained from starting new aggressive wars or attacking the political system of the United States and other democratic countries, as it did during the 2016 US presidential campaign and subsequent elections throughout Europe.
Second, the Kremlin Report’s identification of corrupt individuals close to the Putin regime may expose them to increased scrutiny and potential action by those US government institutions enforcing US laws and regulations beyond sanctions, such as measures against money laundering and other financial malfeasance, e.g., Treasury’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), among others. That process could in turn lead to future actions to freeze the assets of corrupt individuals and, at the right point, legal processes to return ill-gotten assets to the Russian people.
Metrics for Identifying Senior Political Figures, Oligarchs, and Parastatal Entities Close to the Kremlin
Senior political figures, oligarchs, and parastatal entities constitute what we may call members of the Russian ruling elite. Section 241 stipulates several metrics to be used in the identification of them. We note two:
We, therefore, suggest that in compiling the report, the US administration apply the following three criteria:
Russians who have pursued the American (indeed, universal) dream of personal enrichment through outstanding entrepreneurship should be appreciated, not penalized. Further, formal rank is not dispositive. As the Panama Papers have revealed, often the big crooks are little known and have no official rank.
It is critical that persons are named in the Kremlin Report only on the basis of reliable information. Fortunately, the Kremlin political class, Putin, his friends, and their businesses have been extensively studied by credible researchers. The sources are many and the possibilities to cross check them for quality are ample. Plenty of disinformation exists, but with sufficient knowledge of how to assess sources, disinformation can be disregarded.
What Categories Should the Kremlin Report Include?
Applying the criteria discussed above, the senior political figures, oligarchs, and parastatal entities in the Russian Federation linked to the Kremlin—those people intended to be listed in the Kremlin Report—are best grouped into seven categories:
1. Senior political figures, parastatal entities, or business people responsible for aggressive, corrupt, or criminal operations within and outside the Russian Federation as noted above.
2. Putin’s close circle of contemporary friends from St. Petersburg, with whom he has done business since the early 1990s. They are commonly called his cronies and are well identified. The US government and European Union (EU) have already designated a number of them in the Ukraine-related sanctions;
3. Golden children. To a considerable extent, cronies have transferred their wealth to their children, who in some cases have become top executives. These people appear to have become full-fledged cronies in their own right;
4. Personal friends of Putin who hold considerable wealth for him. Some have been revealed by the Panama Papers and Russian
5. The popularly-acclaimed “oligarchs,” who are big businessmen profiting greatly from direct business with the Kremlin. Some of these individuals are co-owners of companies with cronies. Others have operated as fronts for Kremlin leaders.
6. Corrupt state enterprise managers who owe their positions to their close personal relations with Putin and utilize their positions for gross larceny; and
7. The relevant parastatal entities that are companies owned by the people noted in category six.
Preparation of the Kremlin Report will be a labor-intensive project. It is worth the effort because, among other things, it would demonstrate that whatever speculation exists to the contrary, the Trump administration, like previous US administrations, will respond with determination to counter Russian aggression against the United States, our European allies, and Russia’s neighbors—Ukraine and Georgia. Thus far, the administration appears to be taking Russia sanctions seriously, judging by the guidance for CAATSA implementation, which it recently issued. It is our hope, and expectation, that the administration will show the requisite commitment to preparation of a strong, credible report as called for by CAATSA’s Section 241.
Anders Åslund is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center. He is a leading specialist on economic policy in Russia, Ukraine, and East Europe. He has served as an economic adviser to several governments, notably the government of Russia (1991-94), and he has published fourteen books, including three about Russia’s economic reforms.
|NEWSWATCH: Putin in the Boot; New sanctions are about to bite, and Russias elite are http://russialist.org/newswatch-putin-in-the-boot-new-sanctions-are-about-to-bite-and-russias-elite-are-spooked-the-personal-sanctions-against-regime-cronies-are-especially-tough-the-economist/ pic.twitter.com/wfdbXX4H7s|
NEWSWATCH: “Putin in the Boot; New sanctions are about to bite, and Russia’s elite are…http://russialist.org/newswatch-putin-in-the-boot-new-sanctions-are-about-to-bite-and-russias-elite-are-spooked-the-personal-sanctions-against-regime-cronies-are-especially-tough-the-economist/ … pic.twitter.com/wfdbXX4H7s
|Bridging the Scholarship-Policy Divide Johnson’s Russia List|
(PONARS Eurasia – ponarseurasia.org – Regina Smyth, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Law, Indiana University – November 16, 2017)
How can scholars make significant contributions to policy making? Reflecting on a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York to strengthen regional studies training at U.S. universities, Indiana University’s Russian Studies Workshop organized a roundtable at last week’s ASEEES conference in Chicago that featured four outstanding scholar/practitioners. Panel chairperson, Michael Kimmage, professor of history at Catholic University and a former member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning for Russia and Eurasia, prompted participants to identify how scholarly and think tank expertise has proven valuable in policy formation, and to highlight critical gaps in regional studies knowledge.
Panelists approached the questions by identifying Russian regional studies as a community of specialists that spans universities and colleges, government, think tanks, NGOs, the private sector, and foundations. Each speaker stressed the crucial role for networks, skills, and practices that can transcend the boundaries that divide the community and enable broad discussion aimed at more effective, fact-based policy decisions. Panelists unanimously agreed that academics’ greatest contribution to policy relevance lies in their core missions as university and college faculty: deep, original research and training of the next generation of regional specialists.
Dr. Celeste Wallander, president and CEO of the U.S. Russia Foundation and former special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia/Eurasia on the National Security Council, argued that university-based scholars make a profound contribution by preparing the next generation of informed and engaged students at all levels. At the same time, Dr. Wallander emphasized the need for universities to do a better job training students. The urgent demands of global events means that strong prior preparation is essential for effective decision-making as there is little time to stop and consider new research. She stressed that policymakers must have the skills to assess causality with fact-based analysis, and to communicate clearly in sharply argued, brief texts. While each panelist underlined this call for effective writing, Dr. Kimmage added that precision is also essential for oral communication, noting that fifteen-minutes constitutes a long presentation in the government context.
Dr. Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director and senior fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former adviser on U.S.-Russian relations at the U.S. Department of State, reiterated the critical role of university-based training and research in accumulating expertise. He argued that academics can do more to bridge the gap between the scholarly and policy communities. In general, he said, academic work often lacks influence because it is not accessible. He echoed the panel’s call for clearly articulated ideas, stressing that academic work permeates the policy community when it is closely tied to real world puzzles and challenges.
Dr. Mankoff argued that think tanks play an important role in forging networks of D.C-based scholars that inform the international policy community and shift decision-making frames. Echoing Dr. Wallander’s emphasis on the importance of university-based research, he argued that think tanks are distinct from universities in two ways. First, the boundaries between think tanks and government are porous. Ideas generated in think tanks filter into public discussions through personal networks, reports, media appearances, and participation in seminars and conferences. Yet, similar to the dynamics in government, research in think tanks is driven by the urgency of responding to real world problems and demonstrating clear influence in the policy process. The scholarly community works on a different logic, creating lasting knowledge that becomes relevant as real-world challenges shift. With effective communication and deep networks, these are complementary paths to improve policy decisions, inform foreign audiences, and increase popular understanding of Russia beyond the headlines.
Dr. John Slocum, visiting scholar at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, added the perspective of a long-time program director at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For nearly a century, foundations worked to develop regional studies expertise. Initially, they funded policy-relevant research without creating direct linkages across the policy-university divide. This model shifted with the demise of the Soviet Union. Under David Hamburg, former president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, foundations increasingly brought scholarly attention to critical global problems with the goal of identifying informed policy solutions. They also became more pro-active in constructing platforms for information exchange, interaction, and networks linking specialists in government and academia.
Dr. Slocum emphasized that foundations’ conceptions of policy influence is not limited to U.S. audiences. Foundations endeavor to increase global understanding of U.S. foreign policy goals and policy processes. Foundations also build global policy expertise by providing technical assistance, awarding individual grants, establishing graduate training programs and think tanks, supporting scholarly networks, and promoting outlets, such as journals, to showcase debates.
Dr. Kimmage brought the discussion back to substantive concerns. He identified three critical areas of research that are under-represented in the scholarly community: Russian military affairs and public support for the military, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in national policy and society, and the complexities of Russian regional politics. Dr. Mankoff added that lack of understanding of U.S. foreign policy beyond the Beltway has emerged as a national security problem that needs to be addressed by a partnership across the regional studies community to educate U.S. citizens how to navigate the complexity of the globalized, international community.
Discussion among these scholars with experience across different regional studies community stressed the importance of continuing to increase the expert influence to produce more effective, fact-based policy decisions. The discussion highlighted steps to meet this challenge:
Article also appeared at ponarseurasia.org/article/tips-experts-bridging-scholarship-policy-divide with link to “Permissions & Citation Guidelines” at ponarseurasia.org/permissions-citation-guidelines bearing the following notice:
Content by PONARS Eurasia may be re-distributed for Fair Use (non-commercial) purposes with credit provided to PONARS Eurasia and the author(s) and with a hyperlink/URL pointing to the original content page on this website.
[featured image is file photo]
Study: U.S. Sanctions Hurting Russians’ Support for U.S., not KremlinNovember 15, 2017In “Economy, Business, Investment, Trade”
EVENT REMINDER: War, State, and Society in Ukraine – Monday, May 18 in Washington, D.C.May 15, 2015In “Events”
|US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscows Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets Johnson’s Russia List|
(Voice of America – VOA’s Daniel Schearf contributed to this report – WASHINGTON – November 20, 2017)
[Video and article also appeared at voanews.com/a/us-ambassador-to-russia-attacks-on-us-funded-agencies/4125489.html]
The U.S. ambassador to Russia has attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.
Ambassador Jon Huntsman said during a visit Friday to the Moscow bureau of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.
WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman
He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.
Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.
Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.
The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.
In response to a question from VOA, Huntsman said “It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA – it’s a reach beyond. And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”
The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”
VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”
RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”
Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.
“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.
Serious blow to freedom
The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.
However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.
The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.
RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.
VOA’s Daniel Schearf contributed to this report.
[featured image is file photo from another occasion]
What You Need to Know About RT’s Pending Foreign Agent Registration; A law dating back to the 1930s could send U.S.-Russia relations spiralingNovember 10, 2017In “Media, Internet, Social Media, Television”
Russian Duma Approves Restrictions On Foreign MediaNovember 16, 2017In “Foreign Policy, Security, Visas”
Russia’s New Law Against Foreign Media ‘Won’t Even Work’; New amendments targeting U.S. media could implicate news organizations from other countries tooNovember 16, 2017In “Media, Internet, Social Media, Television”
|Russian President Signs ‘Foreign Agents’ Media Legislation|
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation that empowers the government to designate media outlets receiving funding from abroad as “foreign agents” and impose sanctions against them.
The new law was published on Russia’s official legal information Internet portal on Saturday.
The measure passed the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, Wednesday in a unanimous 154-0 vote, with one abstention.
And it was unanimously approved in the third and final reading in the lower house, the State Duma, on November 15. Within hours, the Justice Ministry sent warnings to several Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) news services.
The letters did not specify what potential restrictions they could face, but lawmakers have said designated media could be subjected to detailed financial-reporting requirements and required to label published material as coming from a foreign agent.
RFE/RL was among several media outlets that Russian officials warned could be labeled a foreign agent, a list that also included the Voice of America (VOA), CNN, and Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
In response to news that Putin signed the law, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said, “We cannot speculate at this time on the effect of the new law, since no news organization has yet been specifically named as a ‘foreign agent’ and the restrictions to be imposed on such ‘agents’ have not been announced.”
“We remain committed to continuing our journalistic work, in the interests of providing accurate and objective news to our Russian-speaking audiences,” he added.
John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees VOA and RFE/RL, said in a statement Saturday, “RFE/RL, VOA, and the other networks of U.S. international media will remain committed to our mission, stipulated by U.S. law, to provide accurate, objective, and comprehensive journalism and other content to our global audiences, including in the Russian Federation.
“We will study carefully all communications we may receive from Russian authorities concerning our operations. While we will not speculate as to the effect that any new steps by the Russian government will have on our journalistic work, any characterization of such steps as reciprocity for U.S. actions severely distorts reality,” Lansing said.
The international rights organization Amnesty International has said the legislation would deal a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia, although Russian officials have said it would not apply to domestic media.
Russian officials have called the new legislation a “symmetrical response” to what they describe as U.S. pressure on Russian media. On November 13, the Russian state-funded television channel RT registered in the United States under a decades-old law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Lansing, however, denied Moscow’s actions were “symmetrical.” “Russian media, including RT and Sputnik, are free to operate in the United States and can be, and are, carried by U.S. cable television outlets and FM radio stations. However, U.S international media, including VOA and RFE/RL, are banned from television and radio in Russia,” he said in a statement released Saturday.
The U.S. Justice Department required RT to register in the wake of a January finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that RT and Russia’s Sputnik news agency spread disinformation as part of a Russian-government effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In a November 15 statement, RFE/RL said the “situation regarding Russian media in the U.S. and U.S. media in Russia remains vastly unequal.”
“RT and Sputnik distribute freely in the U.S., whereas RFE/RL has lost its broadcast affiliates in Russia due to administrative pressures, and has no access to cable,” it said. “RFE/RL reporters are subject to harassment and even physical attack in Russia.”
Visiting the Moscow bureau of RFE/RL and VOA on November 17, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said that the Russian legislation was a “big concern” for the United States and that “the principles of free media in any free society and democracy are absolutely critical for strength and well-being.”
|Beware the Russian Elephant – Google Search|
|Beware the Russian Elephant – The American Interest|
Framing the Debate
Beware the Russian ElephantPeter Pomerantsev
As the West considers how to respond to the Kremlin’s use of bots, trolls, fake news, and hacks as tools of foreign policy, the way we describe things will define whether we prevail.
The most insidious element of Moscow’s information war could be the very idea of information war itself. In “Don’t Think of an Elephant” the cognitive linguist George Lakoff defines winning and losing in politics as being about framing issues in a way conducive to your aims. Defining the argument means winning it. If you tell someone not to think of an elephant they will end up thinking of an elephant. “When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame…when you are arguing against the other side, do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame—and it won’t…
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Published on: November 20, 2017
|Trump moves to put his own stamp on Voice of America|
Recent actions have raised fears that Voice of America could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for President Donald Trump. | Getty
The president dispatches two aides to the broadcasting agency that came under fire over the weekend for its Trump coverage.
By TARA PALMERI
President Donald Trump on Monday dispatched two aides to scope out the studios of Voice of America, heightening concerns among some longtime staffers that Trump may quickly put his stamp on the broadcasting arm that has long pushed U.S. democratic ideals across the world.
The arrival of the two aides – both political operatives from Trump’s campaign – comes after Voice of America received blowback over the weekend for sending out a series of tweets about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claims about inauguration crowd size that looked to some like an endorsement of his false statements. The news outlet later deleted one of the tweets.
Story Continued Below
The concern among some staffers is especially acute because Trump’s administration is getting control over the broadcasting agency just weeks after Congress moved to eliminate the board of directors that had served as an integrity check on the organization, instead consolidating power with a CEO position appointed by the president.
As POLITICO reported last month, that change – along with a prior shift that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience — had stoked fears among some agency officials that Voice of America could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for the former reality TV star.
On the first Monday of his administration, Trump, who has flirted with the idea of launching his own TV network, deployed two “transition officials” who will evaluate the managers and studios of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which has an annual budget of $800 million and includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.
Trump campaign New Hampshire state director Matthew Ciepielowski and Wisconsin communications director Matthew Schuck will be “temporarily assigned” to the CEO suite at the BBG where they will work with senior management “to ensure an open, transparent and seamless transition of the BBG to the Trump Administration,” according to an email by CEO John F. Lansing to staff obtained by POLITICO.
In a statement to POLITICO on Tuesday, Lansing emphasized the agency’s independence.
“The BBG, including Voice of America and our other four networks, is an independent federal agency that is legally mandated to produce objective, professional and independent journalism designed to engage, inform and connect with people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” Lansing said. “As is routine for many federal agencies during any presidential transition, yesterday we welcomed the two-person landing team from the Trump administration. We look forward to working with them as we continue to fulfill our mission, and support the independence of our journalists around the world.”
The timing of the Trump aides’ arrival is not necessarily unusual – the Obama administration also sent transition officials to the BBG during his transition in 2009.
But some senior staffers have already expressed reservations about the backgrounds of Trump’s political operatives. Schuck, a 2012 graduate from Montgomery College, was a staff writer for the right-wing website the Daily Surge until April 2015.
“There’s concern among the journalists about what these guys are going to be doing,” said the senior VOA staffer. “People are hanging tight, seeing what will happen.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Public scrutiny of the broadcasting agency’s articles has already started.
Voice of America director Amanda Bennett explained that she pulled a tweet on VOA’s official account that featured Spicer’s erroneous statement that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period — both in person and around the globe,” following blowback from the account’s 905,000 followers, some of whom argued the agency shouldn’t be promoting his comments without a fact check.
“Irony is that VOA’s reason for existing was to provide truth to those who lived where the government controlled the press,” tweeted Stuart Stevens, a former advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, in response to the tweet.
Other Twitter followers called the network “pure propaganda” and “embarrassing,” and urged the network to have “self-respect” for tweeting out Spicer’s words, without additional fact-checking.
Bennett also said she temporarily pulled a story about an ethics complaint lodged against the Trump administration because it didn’t have a response from a Trump representative. The story was reposted later with a comment from Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillon.
Bennett said she was not ordered by the Trump administration to pull the story or the tweet.
“Ever since I arrived here in April I have been extremely firm that we need to follow absolutely the best journalistic practices – which include a diligent focus on facts and objectivity,” Bennett told POLITICO in an e-mail. “For the last nine months, we have been routinely pulling stories that do not meet those standards and asking that they be redone, or that additional reporting be done.”
In a phone conversation later on Monday, Bennett added, “I know that everyone is looking to say that we’re being manipulated by the Trump administration, we’re absolutely not.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is the largest public diplomacy program by the U.S. government, reaching an audience of 278 million by broadcasting in 100 countries and 61 languages. Voice of America was created in 1942 during World War II to send pro-democracy news across Europe, as it aimed to counter Nazi and Japanese propaganda. The agency has since evolved into a more traditional news operation, while still pushing out the virtues of democracy worldwide.
Early last month, a provision buried into the National Defense Authorization Act called for disbanding the bipartisan board of the BBG, pleasing critics who said the part-time board was ineffective but alarming others who feared an accountability layer was being swept away.
Story Continued Below
A former board member said on Monday that the editorial team may have not received marching orders from the new administration but that they’re aware of the new power of Trump’s team to take over the organization without the firewall of a bipartisan board.
“They’re clearly just trying to stay in stead with their new bosses to keep their jobs,” said the former BBG board member. “If they’re starting to turn this into Pravda before they are even told to.”
The status of the board is in limbo, however, since Obama added a signing statement to the NDAA, saying it was unconstitutional to get rid of the board because it violates his constitutional right of appointment. Another uncertainty is that Lansing can be replaced at any time for a CEO appointed by the president.
At the editorial level, there’s been caution against posting stories that don’t have a response from the Trump administration, according to a senior VOA staffer. “I think there’s going to be more of a focus on making sure that we’re balanced,” the staffer said.
Bennett said she met on Monday with Trump’s representatives, Schuck and Ciepielowski, who she said will not be involved in news decisions.
“I met with them, we gave them a briefing. We’re going to be showing them around,” she said. “If people are concerned, a lot of people have been through transitions before and this is standard procedure. We gave them the briefing book.”
When asked if she had any concerns about their prior jobs, she said, “They are who they are. They are filling a function that is exactly the same as it would be in any administration.”
And Bennett said Voice of America is not changing course under the new administration. “We are trying to do the best journalism we can, and follow the highest journalistic standards is the only way we’re going to operate,” she said.
|BBG CEO and Director John F. Lansing – Google Search|
PR Newswire (press release)–11 hours ago
… from Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing … under this law, even more restrictions may be placed on the BBG’s …
Voice of America–Sep 14, 2017
US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) director John F. Lansing … with objective news, Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing told a Senate panel. … Lansing detailed BBG efforts to counter Russian disinformation by reaching … WATCH: Lansing on countering Russian propaganda.
Politico–Jan 23, 2017
Trump campaign New Hampshire state director Matthew Ciepielowski … according to an email by CEO John F. Lansing to staff obtained by POLITICO. … “The BBG, including Voice of America and our other four networks, is an …
RT–May 24, 2017
… and uncensored news and information,” BBG CEO John F. Lansing … In January this year, former Director of National Intelligence James …
|Russia law on media not based on reciprocity|
The agency that coordinates the US media believes that the new Russian law with respect to classifying foreign-funded media as “foreign agents” is not reciprocity for Washington’s limiting the Russian media—including RT and Sputnik—activities in the US.
US Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing noted about the aforesaid in a statement, reported RIA Novosti news agency of Russia.
“While we will not speculate as to the effect that any new steps by the Russian government will have on our journalistic work, any characterization of such steps as reciprocity for U.S. actions severely distorts reality,” the statement reads, in particular.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed a law, under which media receiving funding from abroad can be classified as “foreign agents.”
|John F. Lansing – BBG|
John F. Lansing joined the BBG as CEO and Director in September 2015. Lansing’s previous experience includes nine years as President of Scripps Networks, where he is credited with guiding the company to become a leading developer of unique content across various media platforms including television, digital, mobile and publishing.
Most recently, Lansing was President and Chief Executive Officer of Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), a marketing association comprised of 90 of the top U.S. and Canadian cable companies and television programmers. There, Lansing oversaw the development of business strategies and marketing initiatives that position cable television companies for continued growth as they compete with emerging digital content platforms.
Lansing also brings a deep understanding of journalism from roles as an award-winning Photojournalist and Field Producer, Assignment Manager, Managing Editor, and News Director at several television stations earlier in his career.
Last modified: September 12, 2017
|Statement from Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing Regarding the Russian|
RFE/RL, VOA, and the other networks of U.S. international media will remain committed to our mission, stipulated by U.S. law, to provide accurate, objective, and comprehensive journalism and other content to our global audiences, including in the Russian Federation.
We will study carefully all communications we may receive from Russian authorities concerning our operations. While we will not speculate as to the effect that any new steps by the Russian government will have on our journalistic work, any characterization of such steps as reciprocity for U.S. actions severely distorts reality. Russian media, including RT and Sputnik, are free to operate in the United States and can be, and are, carried by U.S. cable television outlets and FM radio stations. However, U.S international media, including VOA and RFE/RL, are banned from television and radio in Russia.
In addition, our journalists on assignment are harassed by Russian authorities and face extensive restrictions on their work. RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena recently was sentenced by a Russian court for an article he wrote, and contributor Stanislav Asayev is being held by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine. RFE/RL journalists were knocked down and kicked while on assignment in Russia’s southern region of Krasnodar in March, and VOA correspondent Daniel Schearf has been denied a visa to re-enter Russia.
The BBG would be pleased if the current focus on reciprocity between Russian and American media ends by giving U.S. outlets – including U.S. international media such as VOA and RFE/RL – the same rights and opportunities in Russia that Russian networks have in the United States.
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SOURCE Broadcasting Board of Governors