Now It’s Up to the People to End Gerrymandering

The High Court decided to do nothing about a practice that, in the words of dissenting Justice Elena Kagan, “beats democracy,” writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

The Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to strike down partisan gerrymandering. This occurs when one party intentionally manipulates district boundaries to skew its voting power, notwithstanding the will of the voters. Although both parties engage in partisan gerrymandering, Republicans benefit from it far more than Democrats.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative 5-4 majority in Rucho v. Common Cause, admitted that excessive partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles” and “leads to results that reasonably seem unjust.” But, the High Court held, challenges to the practice “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

In her passionate dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan noted that extreme partisan gerrymanders “deprive citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights” — the rights of equal participation in the political process, “to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives.” Kagan wrote, “For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”

The Court consolidated two partisan gerrymandering cases for its decision in Rucho. The North Carolina case involved gerrymandering by Republicans. In the Maryland case, it was Democrats who engaged in gerrymandering.

North Carolina’s Republican legislative leadership drew a congressional map to entrench long-term Republican majorities. Although they won roughly 50 percent of the popular vote, Republicans picked up a majority of available seats in the 2018 Midterm elections by the extreme margin of 10-3.

In Maryland, Democrats used voters’ histories and party affiliations to move 70,000 Republican voters out of a district and 24,000 Democratic voters in.

Federal district courts in both North Carolina and Maryland struck down the partisan gerrymanders. The High Court reversed the district court decisions and concluded there are no standards for federal courts to use in gauging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymanders.

Federal Courts Have Formulas

But federal courts have actually devised formulas to strike them down. “The majority’s abdication comes just when courts across the country … have coalesced around manageable judicial standards to resolve partisan gerrymandering claims,” Kagan pointed out. These courts used “neutral and manageable — and eminently legal — standards.”

Kagan cited the three-part test the federal district courts in North Carolina and Maryland, and other courts around the country, used to decide vote dilution claims. The test examines intent, effects and causation. First, plaintiffs must show that the state officials’ “predominant purpose” in drawing district lines was to “entrench [their party] in power” by diluting the votes of the rival party. Second, plaintiffs must establish that the lines drawn “substantially” diluted their votes. Third, the burden shifts to the state to posit a “legitimate, non-partisan justification to save its map.”

Applying that test to the North Carolina and Maryland cases, Kagan determined that illegal partisan gerrymandering had occurred in both. “By substantially diluting the votes of citizens favoring their rivals, the politicians of one party had succeeded in entrenching themselves in office,” she wrote. “They had beat democracy.”

But the majority was willing to sacrifice democracy on the altar of partisanship. There is no case more impactful than this one, and it’s no accident that it was the right-wing Republicans who upheld partisan gerrymandering.

In a 2004 concurrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy signaled his openness to striking down extreme partisan gerrymanders, which amount to “rigging elections.” He wrote in Vieth v. Jubelirer, “It is not in our tradition to foreclose the judicial process from the attempt to define standards and remedies where it is alleged that a constitutional right is burdened or denied.”

Kennedy’s retirement and Mitch McConnell’s replacement of Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland with Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch all but foreclosed the possibility that the Court would review partisan gerrymandering.

Kagan ended her powerful dissent by warning that this is not the moment for the Court to back down. “Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” she wrote. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent.”

Looking Ahead

Partisan gerrymandering is “far more effective and durable” now than in the past, Kagan observed, because advances in technology provide mapmakers with “more granular data about party preference and voting behavior than ever before.” They can utilize it “with unprecedented efficiency and precision.”

The Rucho decision “is almost guaranteed to facilitate massive election rigging in the future,” Ari Melber, senior writer at Mother Jones, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!. We can no longer look to the federal courts, to which the disenfranchised have traditionally turned for relief, he said.

Now that the High Court has denied judicial review of partisan gerrymandering in federal courts, it is up to the people in the several states to remedy it.

Independent citizen-led commissions in states such as Michigan, Colorado, Utah and Missouri draw fair and representative district maps. But in most states, “the party that controls the legislature draws districts for both the U.S. House of Representatives and the state legislature,” Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “They inevitably do so in a way to maximize their political control.”

The Supreme Court has struck down racial gerrymandering as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. But after Rucho, claims of partisan gerrymandering will no longer be reviewed by federal courts.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by Eric Holder, attorney general in the Obama administration, plans to file racial gerrymandering claims in federal court and partisan gerrymandering claims in state courts. The organization is also considering support of constitutional amendments to establish independent redistricting commissions in Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Hampshire.

The House has passed H.R. 1 — the For the People Act — that would require states to draw congressional districts utilizing independent redistricting commissions. Members of these commissions would “represent diverse communities across the state, by establishing fair redistricting criteria, and by mandating greater transparency for the redistricting process,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) has introduced the Fair Maps Act, which would establish baseline criteria for map-drawing and provide a private legal cause of action for voters to challenge skewed maps in court.

But, as Kagan noted, “The politicians who benefit from partisan gerrymandering are unlikely to change partisan gerrymandering. And because those politicians maintain themselves in office through partisan gerrymandering, the chances for legislative reform are slight.”

The remedy for partisan gerrymandering lies with the people. “The Supreme Court’s decision has made one thing clear,” Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said. “The only way we’ll end partisan gerrymandering is by voting Republicans out of power in state legislatures.”

One-half of the states allow voter ballot initiatives. Voter advocates can organize campaigns to put measures on the ballot that require independent redistricting commissions rather than politicians to draw the maps. It is up to the people to make the voting system fair.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”

This article is from Truthoutand reprinted with permission.




The Trump Administration’s ‘Contrived’ Citizenship Question

Justices last week confronted the White House’s false justification for its illegal and racist motive in trying to add the question, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

In a surprise decision, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the four liberal members of the Supreme Court — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — halted the Trump administration’s plans, at least temporarily, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The High Court thought the stated motive for adding the question seemed “contrived,” and sent the case, Department of Commerce v. New York, back to the federal district court to review whether the government can come up with a legally acceptable rationale for adding the citizenship question.

After oral arguments in April, it appeared the justices were poised to allow the Trump administration to add this question to the census: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” That question would deter households with undocumented residents from responding to the census.

The Census Department estimated that 6.5 million people could be uncounted if the question was added. This is significant because the census is used to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, the number of Electoral College votes each state will have in the presidential elections starting in 2024, and how $900 billion in annual federal funds will be distributed to the states for health care, hospitals, schools and infrastructure for the next decade.
The plaintiffs in this case — a coalition of states, counties and cities — are claiming that the addition of the question is unconstitutional.

Evidence of Cover-up

On May 30, the high court received newly discovered evidence of a cover-up of an illegal racist motive for adding the citizenship question.

Thomas Hofeller was a Republican strategist and architect of the citizenship question strategy. After he died in 2018, Hofeller’s daughter found documents revealing that he urged the question be added to the census because it would “be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting.

Roberts and the four liberal justices found that the reason Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross gave for adding the question to the census “seems to have been contrived.” Ross testified before Congress that the sole reason he and the Department of Justice sought to add the question was to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

“[W]e share the District Court’s conviction that the decision to reinstate a citizenship question cannot be adequately explained in terms of DOJ’s request for improved citizenship data to better enforce the VRA,” Roberts wrote. “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision.”

Breyer noted in his concurrence, “[T]he consequences of mistakes in the census count, of even a few hundred thousand, are grave. Differences of a few thousand people, as between one State and another, can mean a loss or gain of a congressional seat—a matter of great consequence to a State…. And similar small differences can make a large difference to the allocation of federal funds among competing state programs.”

Trump called the Court’s decision “totally ridiculous,” tweeting that he asked his lawyers to “delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter.”

Although it is theoretically possible the question could still be added in time for the 2020 census, it is highly unlikely, given the July 1 printing deadline.

Last week, the Justice Department told the Court that the deadline could be extended to Oct. 31. But The New York Times quoted experts as saying, “the printing work is so vast — more than a billion pieces of paper — and such a logistical tangle that the bureau’s ability to put off its start is measured in weeks, not months.”

A former senior bureau official told the Times, “You’d really be putting the operational plan at great risk if this stretches into mid-August. You may not have a census at all in 2020.”

Different, Pending Case

Meanwhile, a different case pending before U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland could block the inclusion of the citizenship question in the census. On June 25, in light of the new Hofeller evidence, a panel of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sent a case back to Hazel to decide if there was discriminatory intent behind the citizenship question and thus a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. One of the panel judges suggested that Hazel issue an injunction to stop the question from being included in the census until the case was resolved. This is a different issue from the one in Department of Commerce v. New York.

The opinion by Roberts and the liberal justices is significant as it confronts the Trump administration’s false justification for adding the citizenship question. As Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Trump lied about his motivations, and five justices called him on it. His proposal to add a citizenship question to the census was nothing but a racist attempt to disenfranchise communities of color.”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”

This article is from Truthout and is reprinted with permission.




VIPS Memo to the President: Is Pompeo’s Iran Agenda the Same As Yours?

UPDATED: VIPS says its direct experience with Mike Pompeo leaves them with strong doubt regarding his trustworthiness on issues of consequence to the President and the nation.

DATE: June 21, 2019

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President. 

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Is Pompeo’s Iran Agenda the Same As Yours?

After the close call yesterday when you called off the planned military strike on Iran, we remain concerned that you are about to be mousetrapped into war with Iran. You have said you do not want such a war (no sane person would), and our comments below are based on that premise. There are troubling signs that Secretary Pompeo is not likely to jettison his more warlike approach, More importantly, we know from personal experience with Pompeo’s dismissive attitude to instructions from you that his agenda can deviate from yours on issues of major consequence. 

Pompeo’s behavior betrays a strong desire to resort to  military action — perhaps even without your approval — to Iranian provocations (real or imagined), with no discernible strategic goal other than to advance the interests of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He is a neophyte compared to his anti-Iran partner John Bolton, whose dilettante approach to interpreting intelligence, strong advocacy of the misbegotten war on Iraq (and continued pride in his role in promoting it), and fierce pursuit of his own aggressive agenda are a matter of a decades-long record. You may not be fully aware of our experience with Pompeo, who has now taken the lead on Iran.

That experience leaves us with strong doubt regarding his trustworthiness on issues of consequence to you and the country, including the contentious issue of alleged Russian hacking into the DNC. The sketchy “evidence” behind that story has now crumbled, thanks to some unusual candor from the Department of Justice. We refer to the extraordinary revelation in a recent Department of Justice court filing that former FBI Director James Comey never required a final forensic report from the DNC-hired cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike.

Comey, of course, has admitted to the fact that, amid accusations from the late Sen. John McCain and others that the Russians had committed “an act of war,” the FBI did not follow best practices and insist on direct access to the DNC computers, preferring to rely on CrowdStrike reporting. What was not known until the DOJ revelation is that CrowdStrike never gave Comey a final report on its forensic findings regarding alleged “Russian hacking.” Mainstream media have suppressed this story so far; we reported it several days ago.

The point here is that Pompeo could have exposed the lies about Russian hacking of the DNC, had he done what you asked him to do almost two years ago when he was director of the CIA.

In our Memorandum to you of July 24, 2017 entitled “Was the ‘Russian Hack’ an Inside Job?,” we suggested:

“You may wish to ask CIA Director Mike Pompeo what he knows about this.[“This” being the evidence-deprived allegation that “a shadowy entity with the moniker ‘Guccifer 2.0’ hacked the DNC on behalf of Russian intelligence and gave DNC emails to WikiLeaks.”] Our own lengthy intelligence community experience suggests that it is possible that neither former CIA Director John Brennan, nor the cyber-warriors who worked for him, have been completely candid with their new director regarding how this all went down.”

Three months later, Director Pompeo invited William Binney, one of VIPS’ two former NSA technical directors (and a co-author of our July 24, 2017 Memorandum), to CIA headquarters to discuss our findings. Pompeo began an hour-long meeting with Binney on October 24, 2017 by explaining the genesis of the unusual invitation: “You are here because the President told me that if I really wanted to know about Russian hacking I needed to talk to you.”

But Did Pompeo ‘Really Want to Know’?

Apparently not. Binney, a widely respected, plain-spoken scientist with more than three decades of experience at NSA, began by telling Pompeo that his (CIA) people were lying to him about Russian hacking and that he (Binney) could prove it. As we explained in our most recent Memorandum to you, Pompeo reacted with disbelief and — now get this — tried to put the burden on Binney to pursue the matter with the FBI and NSA.

As for Pompeo himself, there is no sign he followed up by pursuing Binney’s stark observation with anyone, including his own CIA cyber sleuths. Pompeo had been around intelligence long enough to realize the risks entailed in asking intrusive questions of intelligence officers—in this case, subordinates in the Directorate of Digital Innovation, which was created by CIA Director John Brennan in 2015. CIA malware and hacking tools are built by the Engineering Development Group, part of that relatively new Directorate. (It is a safe guess that offensive cybertool specialists from that Directorate were among those involved in the reported placing of “implants” or software code into the Russian grid, about which The New York Times claims you were not informed.)

If Pompeo failed to report back to you on the conversation you instructed him to have with Binney, you might ask him about it now (even though the flimsy evidence of Russia hacking the DNC has now evaporated, with Binney vindicated). There were two note-takers present at the October 24, 2017 meeting at CIA headquarters. There is also a good chance the session was also recorded. You might ask Pompeo about that. 

Whose Agenda?

The question is whose agenda Pompeo was pursuing — yours or his own. Binney had the impression Pompeo was simply going through the motions — and disingenuously, at that. If he “really wanted to know about Russian hacking,” he would have acquainted himself with the conclusions that VIPS, with Binney in the lead, had reached in mid-2017, and which apparently caught your eye.

Had he pursued the matter seriously with Binney, we might not have had to wait until the Justice Department itself put nails in the coffin of Russiagate, CrowdStrike, and Comey. In sum, Pompeo could have prevented two additional years of “everyone knows that the Russians hacked into the DNC.” Why did he not?

Pompeo is said to be a bright fellow — Bolton, too–with impeccable academic  credentials. The history of the past six decades, though, shows that an Ivy League pedigree can spell disaster in affairs of state. Think, for example, of President Lyndon Johnson’s national security adviser, former Harvard Dean McGeorge Bundy, for example, who sold the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to Congress to authorize the Vietnam war based on what he knew was a lie. Millions dead.

Bundy was to LBJ as John Bolton is to you, and it is a bit tiresome watching Bolton brandish his Yale senior ring at every podium. Think, too, of Princeton’s own Donald Rumsfeld concocting and pushing the fraud about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to “justify” war on Iraq, assuring us all the while that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Millions dead.

Rumsfeld’s dictum is anathema to William Binney, who has shown uncommon patience answering a thousand evidence-free “What if’s” over the past three years. Binney’s shtick? The principles of physics, applied mathematics, and the scientific method. He is widely recognized for his uncanny ability to use these to excellent advantage in separating the chaff from wheat. No Ivy pedigree wanted or needed.

Binney describes himself as a “country boy” from western Pennsylvania. He studied at Penn State and became a world renowned mathematician/cryptologist as well as a technical director at NSA. Binney’s accomplishments are featured in a documentary on YouTube, “A Good American.” You may wish to talk to him person-to-person.

Cooked Intelligence

Some of us served as long ago as the Vietnam War. We are painfully aware of how Gen. William Westmoreland and other top military officers lied about the “progress” the Army was making, and succeeded in forcing their superiors in Washington to suppress our conclusions as all-source analysts that the war was a fool’s errand and one we would inevitably lose. Millions dead.

Four decades later, on February 5, 2003, six weeks before the attack on Iraq, we warned President Bush that there was no reliable intelligence to justify war on Iraq. 

Five years later, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, releasing the bipartisan conclusions of the committee’s investigation, said this:

In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.  As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

Intelligence on the Middle East has still been spotty — and sometimes “fixed” for political purposes. Four years ago, a U.S. congressional report said Central Command painted too rosy a picture of the fight against Islamic State in 2014 and 2015 compared with the reality on the ground and grimmer assessments by other analysts.

Intelligence analysts at CENTCOM claimed their commanders imposed a “false narrative” on analysts, intentionally rewrote and suppressed intelligence products, and engaged in “delay tactics” to undermine intelligence provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency. In July 2015, fifty CENTCOM analysts signed a complaint to the Pentagon’s Inspector General that their intelligence reports were being manipulated by their superiors. The CENTCOM analysts were joined by intelligence analysts working for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

We offer this as a caution. As difficult as this is for us to say, the intelligence you get from CENTCOM should not be accepted reflexively as gospel truth, especially in periods of high tension. The experience of the Tonkin Gulf alone should give us caution. Unclear and misinterpreted intelligence can be as much a problem as politicization in key conflict areas.

Frequent problems with intelligence and Cheney-style hyperbole help explain why CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon in early 2007 blurted out that “an attack on Iran “ will not happen on my watch,” as Bush kept sending additional carrier groups into the Persian Gulf. Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs, warned at the time that some Bush advisers secretly wanted an excuse to attack Iran. “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” she told Newsweek. Deja vu. A National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 concluded unanimously that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and had not resumed such work.

We believe your final decision yesterday was the right one — given the so-called “fog of war” and against the background of a long list of intelligence mistakes, not to mention “cooking” shenanigans. We seldom quote media commentators, but we think Tucker Carlson had it right yesterday evening: “The very people — in some cases, literally the same people who lured us into the Iraq quagmire 16 years ago — are demanding a new war — this one with Iran. Carlson described you as “skeptical.” We believe ample skepticism is warranted.

We are at your disposal, should you wish to discuss any of this with us.

For the Steering Groups of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.) 

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer & former Division Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (ret.)

Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

James George Jatras, former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to Senate leadership (Associate VIPS) 

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

John Kiriakou, former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003

Clement J. Laniewski, LTC, U.S. Army (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East & CIA political analyst (ret.)

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Sarah Wilton, Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve (ret.) and Defense Intelligence Agency (ret.)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War




Cover-Ups and Truth Tellers

Lawrence Davidson finds a reversal of values — in who gets punished and who does not — when whistleblowers and publishers expose immoral behavior by governments.

By Lawrence Davidson 
Tothe PointAnalysis.com

In a May, 22, 2019 appearance in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump declared that “I don’t do cover-ups.” Various news outlets immediately started to enumerate a long list of bona fide cover-ups associated with the president.

What can one say about this bit of Trumpian nonsense? Can you accuse a person of lying who actually seems not to know the difference between truth and untruth? Trump’s inability in this regard is demonstrated daily, and The Washington Post fact checker puts the running count of presidential lies at 10,111, with no end in sight. When it comes to reality, the president appears to be a malignant version of Walter Mitty

Unfortunately, Trump’s behavior is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cover-ups. One can surmise that just by virtue of being the head of the U.S. government, the president — any president — must be directly or indirectly associated with hundreds of such evasions. That is because, it can be argued without much paranoia, that every major division of the government is hiding something —particularly when it comes to foreign activities.

Of course, being cover-ups by the government may make them appear acceptable, at least to a naive public. Many of them are rationalized as necessary for the sake of national “security.” And, of course, everyone wants to be “secure,” accepting the notion that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

The fact that much of this violence is done to other innocent people trying to get a peaceful night’s rest is “classified” information. So woe be it to the truth tellers who defy these rationalizations and sound off. For they shall be cast out of our democratic heaven into one of the pits of hell that pass for a U.S. prison—or, if they are fleet-footed, chased into exile.  

Melodramatic, Except … Assange and Manning

Well, that sounds a bit melodramatic — unless you happen to be Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, or his notable informant, Chelsea Manning, or, taking one step back from the firing line, the Freedom of the Press Foundation. 

The Trump administration is now seeking, via the “Justice” Department, to destroy Assange and Manning. Both are truth tellers or, if you want, whistleblowers who, by revealing the truth about government behavior during the Iraq War, badly embarrassed Washington. The rush to punishment is being carried out with a maliciousness for which this president and his bureaucratic minions seem temperamentally well-suited. Always keep in mind that there are plenty of unethical professionals, in this case operating in the guise of government lawyers, available to serve the disreputable purposes of disreputable bosses. 

Julian Assange has been charged with an 18-count indictment alleging that he “unlawfully obtained and disclosed classified documents related to national defense.” It goes on to allege that Assange accomplished this when he “conspired with Manning and aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information … to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation.” Manning’s sentence for these “offenses” was subsequently commuted by President Barack Obama, but she is now in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange.

The attack on Assange and Manning has brought into question the viability of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the notion of a free press — seminally important matters. Here is how the Freedom of the Press Foundation describes the implications of the indictment against Julian Assange:

“Put simply, these unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century. The Trump administration is moving to explicitly criminalize national security journalism, and if this prosecution proceeds, dozens of reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere would also be in danger. The ability of the press to publish facts the government would prefer remain secret is both critical to an informed public and a fundamental right. … Anyone who cares about press freedom should immediately and wholeheartedly condemn these charges.” 

Given these circumstances, one might be surprised, and very disappointed as well, to know that a concerted opposition to this threat from the so-called Fourth Estate (the press and news media) has yet to materialize. 

Too Few Protecting Journalism 

The truth is that, beyond fact-checking the statements of a pathological president, too few journalists are willing to go out on a limb on the issue of a “free press,” or, if you will, for the integrity of their own profession. As it is, most of the American mass media more or less toes a government line and has done so for a very long time. They do this because their owners and editors are either in agreement with the government, see it as economically necessary to appear as traditionally loyal Americans to their readership, or have selectively hired reporters and other staff who are too passive to resist government pressure. Thus, episodes such as the 1972 reporting about the Nixon-inspired break-in at the Watergate and the revelation of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, along with the occasional local investigative expose, are exceptions rather than the rule of journalistic behavior. At best, if a newspaper or TV station wants to appear politically risqué they will confine the effort to a supposed “balanced” editorial page or segment. 

If the journalistic establishment appears hesitant, civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU readily agree with the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The ACLU Director, Ben Wisner, notes that “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information.” The key words here are “publisher” and “truthful information.” Wisner goes on to say that “It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets.” In other words, Trump and his minions are taking a step in the direction of dictatorial censorship. 

Two Opposing Issues

Wisner’s comment suggests that there is often a real tension between what the government wishes to keep secret and issues of public morality and common decency. Indeed, Manning’s stated motive in dealing with WikiLeakswas to “remove the fog of war and reveal the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.” Hence, in 2010, Manning, after being rebuffed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, sent WikiLeaks some 750,000 classified or otherwise “sensitive” military and diplomatic documents. Much of this material showed the U.S. waging a cruel and lawless operation in Iraq that any normal American should find troubling. This is probably part of the reason why this revelation was judged by Washington to be injurious to the U.S.

We have two issues here and they are in opposition.

First, there is the formal issue of the government (actually all governments) having made it illegal to acquire and make public, in an unauthorized fashion, classified information. However, it is clear that information is often classified not only because it might be militarily or diplomatically harmful but because it is likely to be found repulsive by a government’s own citizens. This proved to be the case with at least some of Manning’s revelations.

That brings us to the second issue — what are the proper behavioral standards to which we want to hold our government, our military, and our diplomatic corps? How are we to know if they are meeting those standards when they have the advantage of legally keeping official behavior secret? 

So it is a conundrum. As libertarians like to put it, “all that which is immoral for men acting individually is equally immoral for men acting in association.”

However, no one seems to have both the legal clout and the courage to demand moral standards for the government, at least not when it comes to foreign policy. Oddly enough, there are domestic laws that make it a criminal offense to withhold incriminating information from the police. But those laws have no application here, though they really should. So the entire situation is managed for the sake of one side of the dilemma — the government. On the other side, the casualties continue to pile up. 

Most of us are told that our government is the best, most progressive one in existence — a model for all the world. And, if you go along with the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. government takes a seat at the right hand of God.

However, what happens when truth tellers who notice starkly immoral U.S. government behavior reveal that fact to the public? With but rare exception, what happens is that you get a reversal of values. To name the operatives of the U.S. government as criminals, you often must reveal “classified” evidence. It is that revelation that instantly becomes the primary offense. What the revealed information might say about government wrongdoing recedes into the shadows, and it is the truth teller who becomes the primary criminal. 

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.




The Real Bob Mueller

Robert Mueller Wednesday implied he would have indicted Donald Trump if he could have, resurrecting his saint-like status among Democrats who will now likely go for impeachment. But who is the real Bob Mueller? Ex-FBI official Coleen Rowley explained on June 6, 2017.

By Coleen Rowley
Special to Consortium News
June 6, 2017

Mainstream commentators display amnesia when they describe former FBI Directors Robert Mueller and James Comey as stellar and credible law enforcement figures. Perhaps if they included J. Edgar Hoover, such fulsome praise could be put into proper perspective.

Although these Hoover successors, now occupying center stage in the investigation of President Trump, have been hailed for their impeccable character by much of Official Washington, the truth is, as top law enforcement officials of the George W. Bush Administration (Mueller as FBI Director and James Comey as Deputy Attorney General), both presided over post-9/11 cover-ups and secret abuses of the Constitution, enabled Bush-Cheney fabrications used to launch wrongful wars, and exhibited plain vanilla incompetence.

TIME Magazine would probably have not called my own disclosures abombshell memo to the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry in May 2002 if it had not been for Mueller’s having so misled everyone after 9/11. Although he bore no personal responsibility for intelligence failures before the attack, since he only became FBI Director a week before, Mueller denied or downplayed the significance of warnings that had poured in yet were all ignored or mishandled during the Spring and Summer of 2001.

Bush Administration officials had circled the wagons and refused to publicly own up to what the 9/11 Commission eventually concluded, “that the system had been blinking red.” Failures to read, share or act upon important intelligence, which a FBI agent witness termed criminal negligence” in later trial testimony, were therefore not fixed in a timely manner. (Some failures were never fixed at all.)

Worse, Bush and Cheney used that post 9/11 period of obfuscation to “roll out” their misbegotten “war on terror,” which only served to exponentially increase worldwide terrorism.

Unfulfilled Promise

I wanted to believe Director Mueller when he expressed some regret in our personal meeting the night before we both testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told me he was seeking improvements and that I should not hesitate to contact him if I ever witnessed a similar situation to what was behind the FBI’s pre 9/11 failures.

A few months later, when it appeared he was acceding to Bush-Cheney’s ginning up intelligence to launch the unjustified, counterproductive and illegal war on Iraq, I took Mueller up on his offer, emailing him my concerns in late February 2003. Mueller knew, for instance, that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims connecting 9/11 to Iraq were bogus yet he remained quiet. He also never responded to my email.

Beyond ignoring politicized intelligence, Mueller bent to other political pressures. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mueller directed the “post 9/11 round-up” of about 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place (the New York City area) at the wrong time. FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially P.R. purposes. Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI “progress” in fighting terrorism. Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists.

A History of Failure

Long before he became FBI Director, serious questions existed about Mueller’s role as Acting U.S. Attorney in Boston in effectively enabling decades of corruption and covering up of the FBI’s illicit deals with mobster Whitey Bulger and other “top echelon” informants who committed numerous murders and crimes. When the truth was finally uncovered through intrepid investigative reporting and persistent, honest judges, U.S. taxpayers footed a $100 million court award to the four men framed for murders committed by (the FBI-operated) Bulger gang.

Current media applause omits the fact that former FBI Director Mueller was the top official in charge of the Anthrax terror fiasco investigation into those 2001 murders, which targeted an innocent man (Steven Hatfill) whose lawsuit eventually forced the FBI to pay $5 million in compensation. Mueller’s FBI was also severely criticized by Department of Justice Inspector Generals finding the FBI overstepped the law improperly serving hundreds of thousands of “national security letters” to obtain private (and irrelevant) metadata on citizens, and for infiltrating nonviolent anti-war groups under the guise of investigating “terrorism.”

For his part, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, too, went along with the abuses of Bush and Cheney after 9/11 and signed off on a number of highly illegal programs including warrantless surveillance of Americans and torture of captives. Comey also defended the Bush Administration’s three-year-long detention of an American citizen without charges or right to counsel.

Up to the March 2004 night in Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, both Comey and Mueller were complicit with implementing a form of martial law, perpetrated via secret Office of Legal Counsel memos mainly written by John Yoo and predicated upon Yoo’s singular theories of absolute “imperial” or “war presidency” powers, and requiring Ashcroft every 90 days to renew certification of a “state of emergency.”

The Comey/Mueller Myth

What’s not well understood is that Comey’s and Mueller’s joint intervention to stop Bush’s men from forcing the sick Attorney General to sign the certification that night was a short-lived moment. A few days later, they all simply went back to the drawing board to draft new legal loopholes to continue the same (unconstitutional) surveillance of Americans.

The mythology of this episode, repeated endlessly throughout the press, is that Comey and Mueller did something significant and lasting in that hospital room. They didn’t. Only the legal rationale for their unconstitutional actions was tweaked.

Mueller was even okay with the CIA conducting torture programs after his own agents warned against participation. Agents were simply instructed not to document such torture, and any “war crimes files” were made to disappear. Not only did “collect it all” surveillance and torture programs continue, but Mueller’s (and then Comey’s) FBI later worked to prosecute NSA and CIA whistleblowers who revealed these illegalities.

Neither Comey nor Mueller — who are reported to be joined at the hip” — deserve their current lionization among politicians and mainstream media. Instead of Jimmy Stewart-like “G-men” with reputations for principled integrity, the two close confidants and collaborators merely proved themselves, along with former CIA Director George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, reliably politicized sycophants, enmeshing themselves in a series of wrongful abuses of power along with official incompetence.

It seems clear that based on his history and close “partnership” with Comey, called “one of the closest working relationships the top ranks of the Justice Department have ever seen,” Mueller was chosen as Special Counsel not because he has integrity but because he will do what the powerful want him to do.

Mueller didn’t speak the truth about a war he knew to be unjustified. He didn’t speak out against torture. He didn’t speak out against unconstitutional surveillance. And he didn’t tell the truth about 9/11. He is just “their man.”

Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI special agent and division legal counsel whose May 2002 memo to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller exposed some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, was named one of TIME magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. Her 2003 letter to Robert Mueller in opposition to launching the Iraq War is archived in full text on the NYT and her 2013 op-ed entitled “Questions for the FBI Nominee” was published on the day of James Comey’s confirmation hearing. This piece will also be cross-posted on Rowley’s Huffington Post page.)

Relevant links:

http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20020603,00.html

http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Ch8.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/us/nationalspecial3/fbi-agent-testifies-superiors-didnt-pursue-moussaoui.html

http://www.truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/68973:the-iraq-effect-war-has-increased-terrorism-sevenfold-worldwide

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3322308/Number-people-killed-terrorists-worldwide-soars-80-just-year.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/05/politics/full-text-of-fbi-agents-letter-to-director-mueller.html

https://oig.justice.gov/special/0306/full.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/18/us/immigrants-suit-over-detention-after-9-11-is-revived.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/1970/01/19/one-lingering-question-for-fbi-director-robert-mueller/613uW0MR7czurRn7M4BG2J/story.html

http://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/21/comey-mueller-bungled-big-anthrax-case-together/

https://www.mintpressnews.com/anthrax-russiagate-muellers-special-counsel-appointment-raise-concern/228317/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/government_programs-jan-june07-patriotact_03-09/

http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/DOJ/story?id=4444329

https://www.aclu.org/news/fbi-counterterrorism-unit-spies-peaceful-faith-based-protest-group

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/opinion/questions-for-the-fbi-nominee.html

https://theintercept.com/2016/02/25/fbi-director-james-comey-who-signed-off-on-waterboarding-is-now-losing-sleep-over-an-iphone/

http://www.newsweek.com/ali-soufan-breaks-his-silence-77243

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/05/19/gregg-jarrett-why-robert-mueller-should-resign-as-special-counsel.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/10/want-a-special-prosecutor-to-replace-james-comey-history-might-change-your-mind/?utm_ter4091053795m

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/03/the-flawed-record-of-special-prosecutors-who-create-as-much-controversy-as-they-resolve/?utm_term=.29989d7a3635




Iran Tensions Are Reason to Revoke ‘9/11 AUMF’

A House committee voted Tuesday to end the emergency war powers that Congress gave the presidency after 9/11. Inder Comar says it’s urgent to complete that repeal process.     

By Inder Comar
Special to Consortium News

To any defender of democracy and the rule of law, the threat at hand is plainly existential. A U.S. war with Iran would destroy countless lives and likely constitute an international crime. And it would herald a new phase of America’s wars in which any pretense of peace is abandoned and a militarized economy, society and culture is the open and avowed goal of the state and its political system.

To prevent this, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, must be repealed or struck down, as soon as possible. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee voted for the repeal in a move led by Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF in 2001. 

War powers possess a heavy gravity: the more they are used, the more they tend to aggrandize power from other places. Using the 2001 AUMF as the basis for an attack on Iran is likely, as it would further the aims of the war bureaucracy to take such powers entirely out of the hands of Congress. Under the executive, the war powers can be further centralized, refined, and made permanent — the framework of an imperial system of governance where a Caesar is chosen every four years; not to maintain global peace, but to perpetually advance a forever war.

On Sept. 18, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the AUMF, which is terse, consisting of 60 words:

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

The authority to use force under the so-called 9/11 AUMF is unilateral and not subject to further review. Critically, the joint resolution by Congress provides the president with sole authority to use force as “he determines” — a sweeping grant of war-making that is unprecedented in constitutional law, without any demarcating boundary as to territory or time.

Constitution Subverted  

The Constitution vests Congress with the authority to start a war under Article I.  And it grants the executive the ability to prosecute that war under Article II, subject to the limits sent by Congress. The framers plainly intended this division of power. (See “The Federalist Papers No. 69,” by Alexander Hamilton.)

The 9/11 AUMF switched these default operating conditions. Now, under a sprawling “counter-terrorism” aegis the executive has sole discretion to commence a new war. War, not peace, is the default. Then the burden shifts to Congress to stop a new military action, with a two-thirds, veto proof majority. The war powers were re-written and switched. And for 18 years, no one has cared.

Yemen provides a crystal clear example of this in action. As recently as December 2018, the executive has cited “counter-terrorism” as giving it authority for involvement in Yemen (in addition to citing generic Article II authority).

In order to restrain the executive, Congress found itself in the awkward position of having to pass a resolution (S.J. 7) to forbid the executive from participation in a war zone that was never authorized. On April 16, President Donald Trump vetoed the resolution, and on May 2, Congress failed to override the veto with a two-thirds majority. Throughout the debate regarding Yemen, the entire political class seemed to blindly accept the absurdity that it was incumbent upon Congress to stop a military operation that had never been authorized with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority.

An attack on Iran premised on the 9/11 AUMF would be unconstitutional under domestic law, and an act of aggression under international law.

The 9/11 AUMF is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers. But even if it could be narrowly interpreted, there is no way that a military authorization designed to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, passed almost 18 years ago, provides any legitimate basis for an attack against Iran — a separate sovereign nation that has no connection to Al-Qaeda terrorists or the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin-Laden is long dead. How long will 9/11 be milked and exploited by corrupt leaders and enabling bureaucrats as an excuse for a forever war?

Crimes of Aggression

International law is also worth discussing. An attack on Iran without authorization from the United Nations Security Council, and not in self-defense, would constitute an act of aggression, in violation of the Nuremberg principles laid down in 1946 by the Nuremberg Tribunal. Iran poses no military threat to the United States, so self-defense is not a legal grounds for an attack. And the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to authorize U.S. military action against Iran.

Thus, as with the invasion of Iraq, a military attack against Iran could very well be a textbook case of the crime of aggression, the supreme crime under international law. Further aggression would cause regional and great powers to see America as dangerous — a rogue imperial power heavily armed with civilization-ending nuclear weapons. It would mark the end of the current international order and give birth to a volatile interregnum or even a new order of outright war between the major powers.

Wars lasting 30 or a hundred years were supposed to be artifacts of the Middle Ages. Yet America’s forever war has now lasted almost 20, and is already the longest war in American history. It is clear that elites enjoy the power they have been given to wage war as a default mechanism of international politics. This power must now end. The unconstitutionality of the 9/11 AUMF is glaringly obvious. Congress did not have the authority to hand over its war powers to the executive in 2001. Now, either Congress or the courts must recognize what has happened, and put a stop to a rabid Executive.

Americans must reject a war with Iran, end their forever war, and enact a foreign policy that is committed to international law and human rights. They should prosecute their leaders who have committed grave international offences, including for past torture and aggression in places like Iraq. The first step is to repeal or revoke the 9/11 AUMF.

Inder Comar is the executive director of Just Atonement Inc., a legal non-profit dedicated to defending democracy and building peace and sustainability. His public law expertise involves the crime of aggression, the legality of the Iraq War, and international human rights. He holds his JD from the New York University School of Law, and an MA and BAs from Stanford University. His Twitter handle is @InderComar.




‘Turnkey Tyranny’ on the Streets of Washington

We are at the point Edward Snowden described as “turnkey tyranny.”And on Wednesday night the key was turned a bit more dramatically. Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Gerry Condon, President of Veterans For Peace, was bloodied and “taken to ground,” on Wednesday night for trying to get food to people inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. The activists inside, some of whom have lived in the embassy for weeks with permission from the Venezuelan government, are protecting the premises from protestors who support the self-declared president Juan Guaido.  

With the acquiescence of Washington police and the Secret Service, the protestors have been able to block food from entering the embassy.  On Wednesday night electricity was cut to the building.  One activist tossing a loaf of bread to a window was arrested earlier this week for using a “missile.”  Now Condon has been manhandled and nabbed for throwing a cucumber.

We are at the point Edward Snowden described as “turnkey tyranny.” On Wednesday night the key was turned a bit more dramatically. Until now it has been an almost imperceptibly gradual process, like the proverbial frog in boiling water.

Photo and video of Condon’s arrest (story continues below):

Of course, this has happened before. I quoted these words in this article I wrote for Consortium News on December 27, 2007:

There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater. … Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later….”

The words are those of Sebastian Haffner (pen name for Raimund Pretzel), who as a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s experienced the Nazi takeover, and wrote a first-hand account. His children found the manuscript when he died in 1999 and published it the following year as “Geschichte eines Deutschen” (The Story of a German).

The book became an immediate bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages—in English as “Defying Hitler.”

I recently learned from his daughter Sarah, an artist in Berlin, that today is the 100th anniversary of Haffner’s birth. She had seen an earlier article in which I quoted her father and e-mailed to ask me to “write some more about the book and the comparison to Bush’s America. … This is almost unbelievable.”

More about Haffner below. Let’s set the stage first by recapping some of what has been going on here in the U.S. that may have resonance for readers familiar with the Nazi ascendancy, noting how “odd” it is that the frontal attack on our Constitutional rights is met with such “calm, superior indifference.”

After suppressing for two and a half years the explosive story of the Bush/Cheney surveillance of Americans in gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, top New York Times officials decided to let the rest of us in on the fact that the George W. Bush administration had been eavesdropping on American citizens without the court warrants required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Not to mention the U.S. Constitution.

The Times had learned of this well before the election in 2004 and acquiesced to White House entreaties to suppress the damaging information.

In late fall 2005 when Times correspondent James Risen’s book, “State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” revealing the warrantless eavesdropping was being printed, Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., recognized that he could procrastinate no longer.

It would simply be too embarrassing to have Risen’s book on the street, with Sulzberger and his associates pretending that this explosive eavesdropping story did not fit Adolph Ochs’s trademark criterion: All The News That’s Fit To Print.

(The Times’ own ombudsman, Public Editor Byron Calame, branded the newspaper’s explanation for the long delay in publishing this story “woefully inadequate.”)

When Sulzberger told his friends in the White House that he could no longer hold off on publishing in the newspaper, he was summoned to the Oval Office for a counseling session with the president on Dec. 5, 2005. Bush tried in vain to talk him out of putting the story in the Times.

The truth would out; part of it, at least.

Unnamed Program

What followed struck me as bizarre. The day after the Dec. 16 Times feature article exposing the Fourth-Amendment-trashing program, the president of the United States publicly admitted to a demonstrably impeachable offense.

Authorizing illegal electronic surveillance was a key provision of the second article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. On July 27, 1974, this and two other articles of impeachment were approved by bipartisan votes in the House Judiciary Committee.

Bush took a frontal approach, Far from expressing regret, he bragged about having authorized the surveillance “more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks,” and said he would continue to do so. The president also said:

Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it.”

On Dec. 19, 2005, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and then-NSA Director Michael Hayden held a press conference to answer questions about the as yet unnamed surveillance program.

Gonzales was asked why the White House decided to flout FISA rather than attempt to amend it, choosing instead a “backdoor approach.”  He answered:

We have had discussions with Congress…as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”

It Had to Do With Us

It was not difficult to infer that the surveillance program must have been of such scope and intrusiveness that, even amid highly stoked fear, it didn’t have a prayer for passage.

It turns out we didn’t know the half of it.

Bear in mind that when this illegal surveillance program began, it had nothing to do with terrorism, an issue that did not really appear on the new administration’s radar screen until a week before 9/11. … So this until-recently-unknown pre-9/11 facet of the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was not related to Osama bin Laden or to whomever he and his associates might be speaking. It had to do with us.

We know that the Democrats briefed on the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, (the one with the longest tenure on the House Intelligence Committee), Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, and former and current chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, D-FL, and Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, respectively.

May one interpret their lack of public comment on the news that the snooping began well before 9/11 as a sign they were co-opted and then sworn to secrecy?

It is an important question. Were the appropriate leaders in Congress informed that within days of George W. Bush’s first inauguration the NSA electronic vacuum cleaner began to suck up information on you and me, despite the FISA law and the Fourth Amendment?

Are they all complicit? And are Democratic leaders about to cave in and grant retroactive immunity to those telecommunications corporations—AT&T and Verizon—which made millions by winking at the law and the Constitution?

(Qwest, to its credit, heeded the advice of its general counsel who said that what NSA wanted done was clearly illegal.)

What’s going on here? [December 2007] Have congressional leaders no sense for what is at stake?

Lately the adjective “spineless” has come into vogue in describing congressional Democrats—no offense to invertebrates.

Nazis and Their Enablers

You don’t have to be a Nazi. You can just be, well, a sheep.

In his journal, Sebastian Haffner decries what he calls the “sheepish submissiveness” with which the German people reacted to a 9/11-like event, the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933.

Haffner finds it quite telling that none of his acquaintances “saw anything out of the ordinary in the fact that, from then on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

But it is for the cowardly politicians that Haffner reserves his most vehement condemnation. Do you see any contemporary parallels here?

In the elections of March 4, 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, the Nazi party garnered only 44 percent of the vote. Only the “cowardly treachery” of the Social Democrats and other parties to whom 56 percent of the German people had entrusted their votes made it possible for the Nazis to seize full power. Haffner adds:

It is in the final analysis only that betrayal that explains the almost inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight.”

The Social Democratic leaders betrayed their followers—“for the most part decent, unimportant individuals.” In May, the party leaders sang the Nazi anthem; in June the Social Democratic party was dissolved.

The middle-class Catholic party Zentrum folded in less than a month, and in the end supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that “legalized” Hitler’s dictatorship.

As for the right-wing conservatives and German nationalists: “Oh God,” writes Haffner, “what an infinitely dishonorable and cowardly spectacle their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterward. … They went along with everything: the terror, the persecution of Jews. … They were not even bothered when their own party was banned and their own members arrested.”

In sum: “There was not a single example of energetic defense, of courage or principle. There was only panic, flight, and desertion. In March 1933, millions were ready to fight the Nazis. Overnight they found themselves without leaders. … At the moment of truth, when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous breakdown. … The result is today the nightmare of the rest of the world.”

This is what can happen when virtually all are intimidated.

Our Founding Fathers were not oblivious to this; thus, James Madison wrote:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. … The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”

We cannot say we weren’t warned.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and presidential briefer and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.




Stefania Maurizi on How Julian Assange Changed Journalism

The Italian journalist and longtime media partner of WikiLeaks speaks with Dennis J. Bernstein and Randy Credico about the implications of Assange’s struggle against U.S. extradition. 

By Dennis J Bernstein and Randy Credico
KPFA Flashpoints 

Julian Assange was back in court twice last week, and will return to a high British court next month for the major legal battle of his life. It will determine whether the U.S. is allowed to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher to the U.S. for prosecution.

In the first of a series of extradition hearings on May 2, Assange appeared in court via video screen. He seemed composed and focused and ready to fight. He told the British High Court: “I do not wish to surrender for extradition. I’m a journalist winning many, many awards and protecting many people.” The next procedural hearing is scheduled for May 30 and another substantive hearing for early June.

Stefania Maurizi  is an investigative journalist for the Italian daily la Repubblica  and the author of two books; “Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani” and “Una Bomba, Dieci Storie.” She has for years worked closely with Assange on some of the most significant WikiLeaks releases including “Collateral Murder.” Maurizi also worked closely with Glenn Greenwald on the files about Italy of Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on National Security Agency surveillance. 

On May 2, right after Assange’s high court appearance, Maurizi told us that she fears for the health and welfare of Assange. She said she also fears for what it might mean to other journalists and whistleblowers if Assange is convicted in a U.S. court for his crucial work with whistleblowers, which has been used widely by news organizations.    

Dennis Bernstein: Stefania Maurizi, I’d like you to start by giving us your gut reaction to what we have seen so far in terms of the treatment of Julian in recent days.

Stefania MauriziFor me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years.  I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology.  It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was.  And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe.  I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.  If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice.  Now she is back in prison.  Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S.  Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything.  We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining.  Nothing happened.

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Dennis Bernstein:  You’ve worked very closely with Julian Assange in Italy.  You were in a sense a co-publisher in getting out crucial documentation.  Could you talk about why you consider Assange not only a publisher, but one of the most important publishers of our time?

Stefania MauriziI started working with WikiLeaks in 2009 when very few people knew about them.  They hadn’t yet published important documents like “Collateral Murder” or the “War Logs.”  I immediately saw that they were going to start a revolution. And that is what has happened: They have changed journalism. Their model of journalism spread and we see now leaks everywhere.  We see this model of collaborative media partnership used by many media, like the Panama Papers Consortium. In addition, you have to realize the importance of what they have revealed.  They have revealed the true face of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have revealed the inner working of U.S. diplomacy, for example, how they put pressure on Italian prosecutors who were trying to convict 23 Americans, almost all CIA agents, responsible for the extraordinary renditions here in Italy. Or they published revelations of how the U.S. forced the Italian government to purchase a Lockheed jet fighter.  This information is now available to everyone.  You can see how The Washington Post used emails to investigate the [Jamal] Khashoggi murder and they were able to do so because they had the courage to publish these files. Even in the case of the Panama Papers, only the journalists inside the partnership can access the original files.  WikiLeaks made these files fully accessible to everyone, so that every journalist, ever activist, every scholar, every citizen can be empowered by this information free of charge.  That is the revolution.

Dennis Bernstein:  Chelsea Manning is now in jail, refusing to cooperate with the grand jury.  This is someone who spent so much time in solitary confinement. One of the key collaborations had to do with the activities of the U.S. government in Central America, destabilizing, undermining governments.  Now they say they never get involved.  If you look at the documentation in the context of the current attempt by [U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela] Elliot Abrams to destabilize Venezuela, here comes WikiLeaks again.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  Whenever we have a scandal, we can go to the WikiLeaks website and search for any pertinent information.  The information they publish continues to inform the public. They are now paying a huge price. I myself feel guilty because I was able throughout the past 10 years to work on all these documents, to verify them and publish them without any risk.  Julian and WikiLeaks are paying a huge price and all the editors are silent.  People accuse me of acting as an activist.  I am not acting as an activist, I am speaking out because I feel uncomfortable when I see how professional journalists have all sorts of protection and are not facing imprisonment or extradition.

Randy Credico: The last time I saw you was in December of 2017.  I had seen Julian three months earlier and his health had declined noticeably in those few months.  Now that he is in jail, is he able to see doctors?  What is his physical health like at this point?

Stefania MauriziI am not sure whether he is able to see visitors.  It is a very strict regime, there are very strict rules for suspected terrorists.  He spends most of his time completely alone.  This comes after spending the last seven years at the embassy almost entirely alone, apart from occasional visits.  So you can imagine how his forced isolation is affecting his health.

Randy Credico: I look at the sentence that judge Deborah Taylor handed down: a year in jail for allegedly skipping bail.  Can you go into the bogus charges that were never filed against Julian, and how they were perpetuated with the assistance of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Stefania MaurizioThree years had passed since the Swedish case was closed.  No journalistic organization had ever tried to access these documents.  Thousands of journalists had covered the case but no one had the facts clear.  At that point I realized that it was important from a journalistic point of view to try to access the documentation.  These documents allow us to establish important facts, such as that it was the U.K. that advised the Swedish prosecutors against questioning Assange in London.  The whole case began with this refusal by the Swedish prosecutor.  Now we know that behind this decision there was the Crown Prosecution Service.  Let’s not forget that this agency is the very same agency which is in charge of deciding whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. now. The Crown Prosecution Service entered the case at the very beginning and they advised the Swedish prosecutor against questioning Assange in London.  Julian Assange never refused to be questioned, he refused to be extradited because he was convinced that the extradition to Sweden could pave the way for his extradition to the U.S. 

Now we see that he was right. 

And it was the Crown Prosecution Service which advised the Swedish prosecutor against dropping the case in 2013.  At that time the Swedish prosecutor considered to drop the case but the Crown Prosecution Service was against this possibility.

Finally, it was the Crown Prosecution Service who destroyed crucial emails about the case, even though the case is still ongoing.  I am still fighting in the U.K. tribunal because I want to access these documents and fill in the gaps.  Now the Swedish prosecutor is evaluating whether to open this case once again.  The statute of limitations is in August 2020.  There is a massive campaign about Julian being a rapist.  After one or two years of this campaign, who will care about Julian Assange being extradited to the U.S.?  That is a possible scenario.

Dennis Bernstein:  Again, Julian had his first hearing today [May 2, 2019] regarding extradition to the United States.  He looked okay but he is definitely in danger. Stefania, what responsibility do we have as journalists to stand up?  According to Daniel Ellsberg, if they go after Julian and Chelsea the way they want to in the United States, it is the end of journalism.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  This case is about whether the press is allowed to publish documents like the video “Collateral Murder,” which records war crimes and whether the press is allowed to publish documents about the NSA spying on world leaders, whether the press is allowed to publish documents on Guantanamo Bay.  We saw what happened after 9/11: habeas corpus came to an end with Guantanamo, the Fourth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] was trampled by the NSA.  Now they want to destroy the First Amendment and they will do it using Julian Assange. They will not go after The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Dennis Bernstein:  Wouldn’t you say that part of the genius of WikiLeaks was the ability to guarantee anonymity?  The reason why Assange has been successful and all these major journalistic organizations were willing to work with him is because of this process he created to guarantee anonymity.

Stefania Maurizi: Julian Assange understands technology and he understands the nature of power.  Most geeks know very little about power, about empire.  Thanks to his knowledge in the technology field, we have this platform. But let’s not forget that WikiLeaks is in trouble now not because they have this platform, but because they have the courage to publish.  It is not enough to get the documents.  Most newsrooms hide such documents.  One of the journalists at The Washington Post had the video “Collateral Murder” and he didn’t publish it.  WikiLeaks did.  It is not enough to have the platform: you have to have the integrity and the courage to publish.  The New York Times didn’t publish the important story that the NSA was intercepting the communications of U.S. citizens for more than a year.   For years The New York Times didn’t want to use the word “torture,” preferring instead “enhanced interrogation.”  The reason the U.S. authorities are hostile toward WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is because they publish what the U.S. media and many other media don’t want to publish.

Dennis Bernstein: Would you like to do a shout-out from one courageous woman there in Italy to a woman who became a woman in solitary confinement and was arrested again on International Women’s Day?

Stefania Maurizi: I feel a huge debt of gratitude because I have worked on Chelsea Manning’s documents for years.  I supported her defense fund, I wrote to her in prison.  I have tried to explain to my readers why she is tremendously courageous. I really would like to see her go free because I cannot accept that one of the most important journalistic sources of all time is again in prison.

Dennis Bernstein: Both Randy and I are extremely grateful for your work, Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist for la Repubblica and author of “Dossier WikiLeaks,”  which describes the power of a courageous publisher like Julian Assange, who has worked with extraordinary sources to get information out which we would otherwise never have heard.

Listen to the interview on KPFA.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.” You can access the audio archives at Flashpoint.  You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

Randy Credico is an American perennial political candidate, comedian, radio host, activist and the former director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.

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Consortium News’ Record on Russiagate—How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 7: ‘Russiagate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra’

Many comparisons have been made between Russiagate and the earlier scandals of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but the similarities are at best superficial, explained Robert Parry on June 28, 2017.

On CNN last week Carl Bernstein astonishingly said that the Mueller report uncovered a scandal bigger than Watergate. No one died in either Watergate or Russiagate. But they did in Iran-Contra, when the Reagan White House skirted Congress’ decision to cut off funding for the Contras, which led to many more deaths in Nicaragua. It was a scandal uncovered by CN’s founder Bob Parry for the Associated Press. Parry, who was ahead of the pack in debunking Russiagate, filed this report for CN on June 28, 2017.

Russiagate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

Russia-gate, the sprawling investigation into whether Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election, is often compared to the two big political scandals of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Watergate and Iran-Contra. Sometimes you even hear that Russia-gate is “bigger than Watergate.”

Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about those two Twentieth Century scandals is how little Official Washington really understands them – and how these earlier scandals significantly contrast, rather than compare, with what is unfolding now.

Although the historical record is still incomplete on Watergate and Iran-Contra, the available evidence indicates that both scandals originated in schemes by Republicans to draw foreign leaders into plots to undermine sitting Democratic presidents and thus pave the way for the elections of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

As for Russia-gate, even if you accept that the Russian government hacked into Democratic emails and publicized them via WikiLeaks, there is still no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to do so. By contrast, in the origins of Watergate and Iran-Contra, it appears the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, respectively, were the instigators of schemes to enlist foreign governments in blocking a Vietnam peace deal in 1968 and negotiations to free 52 American hostages in Iran in 1980.

Though Watergate is associated directly with the 1972 campaign – when Nixon’s team of burglars was caught inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building – Nixon’s formation of that team, known as the Plumbers, was driven by his fear that he could be exposed for sabotaging President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to secure the White House that year.

After Nixon’s narrow victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Nixon that Johnson had a secret file, complete with wiretapped phone calls, detailing the Nixon campaign’s backchannel messages to South Vietnamese officials convincing them to boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. Later, Nixon learned that this incriminating file had disappeared from the White House.

So, in 1971, after the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which recounted the lies that had been used to justify the Vietnam War through 1967, Nixon fretted that the missing file about his peace-talk gambit in 1968 might surface, too, and would destroy him politically. Thus, he organized the Plumbers to find the file, even contemplating fire-bombing the Brookings Institution to enable a search of its safe where some aides thought the missing file might be found.

In other words, Watergate wasn’t simply a break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, in pursuit of useful political intelligence and Nixon’s ensuing cover-up; the scandal had its origins in a far worse scandal, the derailing of peace talks that could have ended the Vietnam War years earlier and saved the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and possibly more than 1 million Vietnamese.

Iran-Contra Parallels

Similarly, the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in 1986 with revelations that President Reagan had authorized secret arms sales to Iran with some of the profits going to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, but the evidence now indicates that the connections between Reagan’s team and Iran’s revolutionary regime traced back to 1980 when emissaries from Reagan’s campaign worked to stymie President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

According to multiple witnesses, including former Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Nicholas Veliotes, the pre-election contacts led to the opening of a weapons pipeline to Iran (via Israel), after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, which was the precise moment when Iran finally released the American hostages after 444 days.

Some key players in the 1980 Reagan-Iran contacts reappeared four years later at the start of direct (again secret) U.S. arms shipments to Iran in 1985, which also involved Israeli middlemen. These key players included Iranian CIA operative Cyrus Hashemi, former CIA clandestine services chief Theodore Shackley, Reagan’s campaign chief and then-CIA Director William Casey, and former CIA Director and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

In other words, the Iran-Contra weapons shipments of 1985-86 appear to have been an outgrowth of the earlier shipments dating back to 1980 and continuing under Israeli auspices until the supply line was taken over more directly by the Reagan administration in 1985-86.

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Thus, both the Watergate scandal in 1972 and the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986 could be viewed as “sequels” to the earlier machinations driven by Republican hunger to seize the enormous powers of the U.S. presidency. However, for decades, Official Washington has been hostile to these underlying explanations of how Watergate and Iran-Contra began.

For instance, The New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record,” treated the accumulation of evidence regarding Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit as nothing more than a “rumor” until earlier this year when a scholar, John A. Farrell, uncovered cryptic notes taken by Nixon’s aide H.R. Haldeman, which added another piece to the mosaic and left the Times little choice but to pronounce the historical reality finally real.

Grasping the Watergate Narrative

Still, the Times and other major news outlets have failed to factor this belated admission into the larger Watergate narrative. If you understand that Nixon did sabotage President Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks and that Nixon was aware that Johnson’s file on what LBJ called Nixon’s “treason” had disappeared from the White House, the early “Watergate tapes” from 1971 suddenly make sense.

Nixon ordered White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to locate the missing file but their search came up empty. Yet, some Nixon aides thought the file might be hidden at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington. So, in his desperate pursuit of the file, Nixon called for a break-in at Brookings, possibly even fire-bombing the building as a cover for his team of burglars to slip in amid the confusion and rifle the safe.

The old explanation that Nixon simply wanted to find some file related to Johnson’s 1968 pre-election Vietnam bombing halt never made sense given the extreme steps that Nixon was prepared to take.

The relevant portions of Nixon’s White House tapes include an entry on June 17, 1971, coincidentally one year to the day before the Watergate burglars were caught. Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger to the Oval Office and pleaded with them again to locate the file.

“Do we have it?” Nixon asked Haldeman. “I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.”

Haldeman: “We can’t find it.”

Kissinger: “We have nothing here, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Well, damn-it, I asked for that because I need it.”

Kissinger: “But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.”

Haldeman: “We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.”

Nixon: “Where?”

Haldeman: “[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God that there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings.”

Nixon: “Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.”

Kissinger: “Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.”

Nixon: “I want it implemented. Goddamn-it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Haldeman: “They may very well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to “

Kissinger: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.”

Haldeman: “My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.”

But Johnson did know that the file was no longer at the White House because he had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to remove it in the final days of Johnson’s presidency.

Forming the Burglars

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

“You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place (nor did the fire-bombing), but Nixon’s desperation to locate Johnson’s peace-talk file was an important link in the chain of events that led to the creation of Nixon’s burglary unit under Hunt’s supervision. Hunt later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972.

While it’s possible that Nixon was still searching for the file about his Vietnam-peace sabotage when the ill-fated Watergate break-ins occurred a year later, it’s generally believed that the burglary was more broadly focused, seeking any information that might have an impact on Nixon’s re-election, either defensively or offensively.

However, if you think back on 1971 when the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart and massive antiwar demonstrations were descending on Washington, Nixon’s desperation to locate the missing file suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crazy. There would have been hell to pay if the public learned that Nixon had kept the war going to gain a political advantage in 1968.

Through 1972 – and the early days of the Watergate scandal – former President Johnson had stayed silent about Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks. But the ex-President became livid when – after Nixon’s reelection in 1972 – Nixon’s men sought to pressure Johnson into helping them shut down the Watergate investigation, in part, by noting that Johnson, too, had deployed wiretaps against Nixon’s 1968 campaign to obtain evidence about the peace-talk sabotage.

While it’s not clear whether Johnson would have finally spoken out, that threat to Nixon ended two days after Nixon’s second inaugural when on Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack. However, unbeknownst to Nixon, Johnson had left the missing file, called “The X-Envelope,” in the care of Rostow, who – after Johnson’s death – gave the file to the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas, with instructions that it be kept under wraps for at least 50 years. (Rostow’s instructions were overturned in the 1990s, and I found the now largely declassified file at the library in 2012.)

So, with the “The X-Envelope” squirreled away for more than two decades at the LBJ library and with the big newspapers treating the early sketchy reports of Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage as only “rumors,” Watergate remained a scandal limited to the 1972 campaign.

Still, Nixon’s cover-up of his campaign’s role in the Watergate break-in produced enough clear-cut evidence of obstruction of justice and other offenses that Nixon was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

A Failed Investigation

The 1979-81 hostage confrontation with Iran was not nearly as devastating a crisis as the Vietnam War but America’s humiliation during the 444-day-long ordeal became a focus of the 1980 election, too, with the first anniversary of Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran coincidentally falling on Election Day 1980.

President Carter’s failure to gain freedom for the 52 embassy personnel turned what had been a close race into a landslide for Ronald Reagan, with Republicans also gaining control of the U.S. Senate and ousting some of the most influential Democratic senators.

In 1984, Reagan won reelection in another landslide, but two years later ran afoul of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s secret arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to the Contras “broke” in November 1986 but focused only on Reagan’s 1985-1986 arms sales and the diversion. Still, the scandal’s crimes included violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the so-called Boland Act’s prohibitions on arming the Contras as well as perjury and obstruction of justice. So there was the prospect of Reagan’s impeachment.

But – from the start of Iran-Contra – there was a strong pushback from Republicans who didn’t want to see another GOP president driven from office. There was also resistance to the scandal from many mainstream media executives who personally liked Reagan and feared a public backlash if the press played an aggressive role similar to Watergate.

And, moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana who co-chaired the congressional investigation, sought to tamp down the Iran-Contra fires and set up firebreaks to prevent the investigation from spreading to related crimes such as the Reagan administration’s protection of Contra cocaine traffickers.

“Ask about the cocaine,” pleaded one protester who was dragged from the Iran-Contra hearing room, as the congressional investigators averted their eyes from such unseemly matters, focusing instead on stilted lectures about the Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.

It was not until 1990-91 that it became clear that secret U.S.-approved arms shipments to Iran did not start in 1985 as the Iran-Contra narrative claimed but traced back to 1981 with Reagan’s approval of arms sales to Iran through Israel.

Reagan’s politically risky move of secretly arming Iran immediately after his inauguration and the hostage release was nearly exposed when one of the Israeli flights strayed into Soviet airspace on July 18, 1981, and crashed or was shot down.

In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials.

“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said.

In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election. “It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”

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However, in 1981, Veliotes said, the State Department issued misleading press guidance to cover the administration’s tracks and the Washington media failed to follow up. Thus, the U.S.-Israeli arms pipeline to Iran stayed secret from the American people until November 1986 when — despite Reagan’s long-running insistence that he would never trade arms with a terrorist state like Iran — the operation was exposed.

When I re-interviewed Veliotes in 2012, he said he couldn’t recall who the “people on high” were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments of U.S.-manufactured weapons, but he indicated that “the new players” were the young neoconservatives who were working on the Reagan campaign, many of whom later joined the administration as senior political appointees.

Documents that I discovered at the Reagan presidential library revealed that Reagan’s neocons at the State Department, particularly Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz, initiated a policy review in 1981 to allow Israel to undertake secret military shipments to Iran.

McFarlane and Wolfowitz also maneuvered to put McFarlane in charge of U.S. relations toward Iran and to establish a clandestine U.S. back-channel to the Israeli government outside the knowledge of even senior U.S. government officials.

Another Failed Investigation

In 1991, faced with the accumulating evidence of a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, Congress grudgingly agreed to take a look at these so-called “October Surprise” allegations. But Republicans, then led by President George H.W. Bush and his White House team, mounted an aggressive cover-up to “spike” the story.

And, with the congressional inquiry largely in the hands again of Rep. Hamilton, the Democrats timidly folded their tent despite a growing body of evidence that the Reagan team was indeed guilty.

Much of that evidence flowed into the House Task Force in December 1992 when President George H.W. Bush had already been defeated for reelection and the Democrats were looking forward to their renewed control of Washington. So, instead of giving a careful review to the new evidence, the House Task Force ignored, disparaged or buried it.

The late-arriving material included sworn testimony on Dec. 18, 1992, from David Andelman, the biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, describing how deMarenches had confided that he had helped arrange the Republican-Iranian contacts. Andelman, an ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, said that while he was working on deMarenches’s autobiography, the arch-conservative spymaster admitted arranging meetings between Republicans and Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting held in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches ordered that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoirs because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Andelman’s testimony corroborated longstanding claims from a variety of international intelligence operatives about a Paris meeting involving Casey and Bush. But the Task Force report brushed this testimony aside, paradoxically terming it “credible” but then claiming it was “insufficiently probative.”

The Task Force’s report argued that Andelman could not “rule out the possibility that deMarenches had told him he was aware of and involved in the Casey meetings because he, deMarenches, could not risk telling his biographer he had no knowledge of these allegations.”

In the last weeks of the investigation, the House investigators also received a letter from former Iranian President Bani-Sadr detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House investigators dismissed Bani-Sadr’s first-hand account as hearsay and thus also lacking “probative value.”

I later unearthed some of the evidence in unpublished Task Force files. However, in the meantime, Official Washington had dismissed the “October Surprise” and other Iran-Contra-connected scandals, like Contra drug trafficking, as conspiracy theories.

The Russian Report

Ironically, another piece of late-arriving evidence was a January 1993 report from a national security committee of the Russian parliament about the Kremlin’s intelligence data confirming that key Republicans, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, had met with Iranian officials in Europe regarding the hostages during the 1980 campaign.

Hamilton had requested the Russian assistance before the U.S. election in 1992, but the report was not sent until there were only two weeks left in George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Lawrence Barcella, who served as the Task Force chief counsel, later told me that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked Hamilton to extend the inquiry for three months but that Hamilton said no (although Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of denying Barcella’s request).

The other fatal flaw of the House investigation was that it left much of the actual investigating up to President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office and the State Department, although Bush was one of the chief suspects and, in 1991-92, was running for re-election, a campaign that would have been derailed if the 1980 October Surprise allegations were confirmed.

The naivete of this decision was underscored years later when I located a memo at Bush’s presidential library stating that the State Department had informed the White House counsel’s office that Casey had traveled to Madrid in 1980, corroborating a key October Surprise allegation.

The confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the October Surprise inquiry was taking shape, according to Beach’s “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, 1991, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, arranged an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

In 2013, when I interviewed Hamilton about the Beach memo, he lamented that the Madrid information had not been shared with his investigation, saying “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [George H.W. Bush] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the Task Force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

Not Moving the Needle

However, the Madrid trip revelation and other post-investigation disclosures failed to move the needle on Official Washington’s disdain for the October Surprise story.

The later disclosures included a 1993 interview in Tel Aviv in which former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he had read the 1991 book, October Surprise, by Carter’s former National Security Council aide Gary Sick, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter’s reelection.

With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”

“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”

And, there were other corroborating statements as well. In 1996, for instance, while former President Carter was meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Arafat in Gaza City, Arafat tried to confess his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter in the presence of historian Douglas Brinkley. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election,” Arafat said, according to Brinkley’s article in the fall 1996 issue of Diplomatic Quarterly.

In 2013, after the movie “Argo” appeared regarding an early facet of the Iran-hostage crisis, former Iranian President Bani-Sadr elaborated on his account of Republican overtures to Iran in 1980 and how that secret initiative prevented release of the hostages.

In a Christian Science Monitor commentary, Bani-Sadr wrote, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation which prevented the attempts by myself and then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 U.S. presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

Then, Bani-Sadr added a new detail, that “two of my advisors, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by Khomeini’s regime because they had become aware of this secret relationship between Khomeini, his son Ahmad, … and the Reagan administration.” [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Compare and Contrast

So how do Watergate and Iran-Contra compare and contrast with Russia-gate? One key difference is that in Watergate in 1972-73 and Iran-Contra in 1985-86, you had clear-cut crimes (even if you don’t want to believe the two “prequels” from 1968 and 1980, respectively).

In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power.

In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.” And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution.

There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence.

By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)

The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.

Railroading Flynn

In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration.

The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in.

But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.

Yates also concocted a bizarre argument that the discrepancies between Flynn’s account of the call and the transcript left him open to Russian blackmail although how that would work – since the Russians surely assumed that Kislyak’s calls would be monitored by U.S. intelligence and thus offered them no leverage with Flynn – was never explained.

Still, Flynn’s failure to recount the phone call precisely and the controversy stirred up around it became the basis for an obstruction of justice investigation of Flynn and led to President Trump’s firing Flynn on Feb. 13.

Trump may have thought that tossing Flynn overboard to the circling sharks would calm down the sharks but the blood in the water only excited them more. According to then-FBI Director James Comey, Trump talked to him one-on-one the next day, Feb. 14, and said, “‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Trump’s “hope” and the fact that he later fired Comey have reportedly led special prosecutor Mueller to look at a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump. In other words, Trump could be accused of obstructing what appears to have been a trumped-up case against Flynn.

Of course, there remains the possibility that evidence might surface of Trump or his campaign colluding with the Russians, but such evidence has so far not been presented. Or Mueller’s investigation might turn over some rock and reveal some unrelated crime, possibly financial wrongdoing by Trump or an associate.

(Something similar happened in the Republican investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, a largely fruitless inquiry except that it revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent and received official emails over a private server, which Comey decried during last year’s campaign as “extremely careless” but not criminal.)

Curb the Enthusiasm

Another contrast between the earlier scandals (Watergate and Iran-Contra) and Russia-gate is the degree of enthusiasm and excitement that the U.S. mainstream media and congressional Democrats have shown today as opposed to 1972 and 1986.

Though The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein aggressively pursued the Watergate scandal, there was much less interest elsewhere in major news outlets until Nixon’s criminality became obvious in 1973. Many national Democrats, including DNC Chairman Bob Strauss, were extremely hesitant to pursue the scandal if not outright against it.

Similarly, although Brian Barger and I at The Associated Press were pursuing aspects of Iran-Contra since early 1985, the big newspapers and networks consistently gave the Reagan administration the benefit of the doubt – at least before the scandal finally burst into view in fall 1986 (when a Contra-supply plane crashed inside Nicaragua and a Lebanese newspaper revealed U.S. arms shipments to Iran).

For several months, there was a flurry of attention to the complex Iran-Contra scandal, but the big media still ignored evidence of a White House cover-up and soon lost interest in the difficult work of unraveling the convoluted networks for arms smuggling, money laundering and cocaine trafficking.

Congressional Democrats also shied away from a constitutional confrontation with the popular Reagan and his well-connected Vice President George H.W. Bush.

After moving from AP to Newsweek in early 1987, I learned that the senior executives at Newsweek, then part of The Washington Post Company, didn’t want “another Watergate”; they felt another such scandal was not “good for the country” and wanted Iran-Contra to go away as soon as possible. I was even told not to read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it was published in October 1987 (although I ignored that order and kept trying to keep my own investigation going in defiance of the wishes of the Newsweek brass until those repeated clashes led to my departure in June 1990).

So, perhaps the biggest similarity between Russia-gate and Watergate is that Richard Nixon and Donald Trump were both highly unpopular with the Washington establishment and thus had few influential defenders, while an important contrast with Iran-Contra was that Reagan and Bush were very well liked, especially among news executives such as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham who, by all accounts, did not care for the uncouth Nixon. Today, the senior executives of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have made no secret of their disdain for the buffoonish Trump and their hostility toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In other words, what is driving Russia-gate – for both the mainstream news media and the Democrats – appears to be a political agenda, i.e., the desire to remove Trump from office while also ratcheting up a New Cold War with Russia, a priority for Washington’s neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks.

If this political drama were playing out in some other country, we would be talking about a “soft coup” in which the “oligarchy” or some other “deep state” force was using semi-constitutional means to engineer a disfavored leader’s removal.

Of course, since the ongoing campaign to remove Trump is happening in the United States, it must be presented as a principled pursuit of truth and a righteous application of the rule of law. But the comparisons to Watergate and Iran-Contra are a stretch.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founder of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. 




Gravel Declares Presidential Bid to Highlight Anti-Interventionism and Direct Democracy

The former U.S. senator, 89, who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record, and ran for president in 2008, says he’s not entering to win but to inject crucial issues into Democratic primary debates.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel formally declared his bid on Monday for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination for president in an effort to introduce into the primary debates critical discussion of U.S. interventionism abroad and a system for direct democracy at home.

Gravel, who is 89 years old, says he’s not in it to win but to spur debate on what he sees as the two most vital issues facing the United States:  ending militarism and expanding democracy beyond representative government.

Serving as a U.S. senator from Alaska between 1969 and 1981, Gravel became best known for having read the highly-classified Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record at a Senate subcommittee meeting that he chaired on June 29, 1971. Several other senators had turned down copies of it from whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Gravel had immunity to reveal classified information in the midst of a legislative act as laid out in Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the so-called speech or debate clause. It is rarely invoked by members of Congress to make public secret evidence of governmental criminality or abuse.  The Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department study of the Vietnam War, made clear that U.S. administrations had kept the war going while lying to the American people about the chances of victory in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the next day, on June 30, 1971, that the Nixon Justice Department had violated the First Amendment of the Constitution by exercising “prior restraint,” that is, ordering a news organization in advance not to publish.  The court’s decision was a victory for The New York Times and The Washington Post and for press freedom.  But while the court said the government could not tell a newspaper not to publish classified information, the majority also ruled that after publication the state could prosecute a media outlet for having done so.  

Gravel begins reading the Papers at the 7 minute mark:

While Gravel only faced possible censure or expulsion from the Senate (neither happened), he became liable for prosecution when he later had the Papers published in four volumes by Beacon Press in Boston. The FBI investigated the publisher.  

While Nixon chose not to go after Gravel, a grand jury was empaneled in Boston to indict two New York Times reporters who had worked on the Papers’ story. The case collapsed before reaching an indictment when Ellsberg’s trial for stealing the documents ended in a mistrial in part because of warrantless wiretapping against him. The Times reporters asked the prosecutors whether they had also been spied on and received no reply, Ellsberg said in a recent interview.

The attempt by Nixon to prosecute two journalists for possessing and disseminating classified information has gained new relevance with the case of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and publisher.

Assange is facing prosecution in the U.S. on what is believed to be similar charges of possession and dissemination under the Espionage Act. He is also being spied on in Ecuador’s London embassy, where he has had asylum since 2102.

2008 Comeback

Gravel reemerged from a long absence in politics to challenge for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.  He entered several debates and shared the stage with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden among other candidates and mixed it up with them:

It is in the debates that Gravel hopes again to shine a light on what he believes are the most important issues of the day. 

But the Democratic Party has this year changed the rules for gaining entry to the 12 scheduled debates, the first of which will be on June 26 in Miami. Candidates must garner donations from at least 65,000 individuals. And there must be contributions from a minimum of 200 different donors in at least 20 states.

Gravel has a steep obstacle to overcome in less than three months. He is not alone. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has not yet reached the 65,000 donor threshold. 

Gravel said that despite his run he’s supporting Gabbard. “She’s the only one prepared to take on the military industrial complex,” Gravel said in a telephone interview. “She wants to close bases around the world and that’s music to my ears.” 

Begun By Students 

The idea for a Gravel run in 2020 was hatched by two first-year university students, David Oks and Henry Williams. Gravel gave them control of his Twitter feed after he saw how well they understood his thinking. “That’s what really sold me [on running],” Gravel said.

Gravel’s website lays out his platform with this introduction:  

“Sen. Gravel is committed to ending America’s imperial policies (especially in Venezuela and Iran), rescheduling cannabis, fundamentally reforming our politics through direct democracy, abolishing mass surveillance on American citizens, prioritizing climate change, dismantling America’s carceral state, and building a foreign policy free of undue influence by Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

He also called for Assange to be given amnesty, the National Security Agency to be abolished, the U.S. to withdraw from the “Five Eyes” intelligence network, police to be held account for brutalizing citizens, a formal investigation into U.S. government involvement in human rights abuses around the world, and an end to foreign wars.

“There are two things that are destroying us,” Gravel said. “One, on the long arc of history, will be climate change—will this planet survive—and two, is the nuclear threat, which is stronger than ever and could eclipse us overnight.” 

Gravel’s core issue, which he’s been working on for 25 years, is to establish the procedures to create a Legislature of the People in which citizens can use the initiative system, now present in 26 U.S. states, to make federal laws. Power resides with the people who give it away in elections to representatives who then use it for their own interests, Gravel said.

“The people will become the senior partners and representative government will shape up,” said Gravel. 

He announced with this video on Monday:

https://twitter.com/MikeGravel/status/1115298261215014912

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He is the co-author with Mike Gravel of “A Political Odyssey,” published by Seven Stories Press.  Joe can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

Mike Gravel is a member of Consortium News’ advisory board.

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