Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Syria and the great Michael Cohen raid

Allow me to offer a heretic's view of events in Syria.

I have always challenged the official wisdom that Assad bore responsibility for the original chemical attack on Ghouta. Yes, I've read the Human Rights Watch report; in previous posts, I have offered my reasons for dissent. Similarly, I doubt Assad's culpability in the case of the Idlib attack of April, 2017.

Regarding the current outrage: Although we don't yet have a full picture, this nation may regret the rush to judgment. Weren't Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles destroyed while Kerry was Secretary of State?

Other players in the war could have deployed chemical weapons -- the Russians, for example. Moreover, it would not be difficult to spoof the electronic intelligence which has convinced world leaders of Assad's responsibility. For what it is worth, Syrian Girl claims -- with some interesting video evidence -- that the victims were civilians from a pro-Assad town kidnapped and held hostage by an allegedly "moderate" Islamist force.

Our first and best question is always "Cui bono?" -- who benefits?

Assad has nothing to gain from staging an attack on civilians. How could he possibly benefit by filling television screens with images of dying children? With victory nearer than ever, why would he incur the wrath of the international community?

Russia, by contrast, has much to gain from staging a false flag attack. In order to insure that the Republicans do not lose control of the House later this year, Russia and Trump must stage a spectacle -- a bit of theater in which Trump seemingly confronts Putin and "wins." If Putin loses face, fine -- as long as a brief humiliation serves a greater end. A staged mano-y-mano showdown with Putin will raise Trump's poll numbers and damage the collusion narrative.

What of Russia's ally, Assad? He is expendable. In chess, one may be required to sacrifice a bishop to gain a checkmate.  From the Russian point of view, keeping Trump in power is more important than keeping Assad in power.

Assad's primary ally is Iran, which has done much of the heavy lifting in the civil war. The Trump administration has tied itself to Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran the Great Satan.

Unnoticed by most Americans -- and to be honest, unnoticed by me until yesterday -- Russia has recently decided to switch sides in the Iran/Saudi Arabia conflict.

King Salman visited Russia in October. He is, in fact, the very first ruler of that country to do so.
Moscow and Riyadh worked together to secure a deal between OPEC and other oil producers to cut output until the end of March 2018, helping support prices.

Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Saudi Arabia was “flexible” regarding Moscow’s suggestion to extend the pact until the end of next year.

The message of further joint Saudi-Russia action on output helped push up oil prices on Thursday.
Raising oil prices is key; the Saudi royal family cannot stay in power if oil remains cheap. They need Putin's help. Last month, the two nations reached a new deal.
Georgetown University Professor Angela Stent said it may be that Saudi Arabia believes Russia could help it with Iran, which it fears will develop nuclear weapons and is on the opposite side from Saudi in a proxy war in Yemen.
Croft said the United States has left a vacuum with its shifting Middle East policies. "I think our Iran policy, what happened in Syria, they did not think America was a stalwart. Then you have the Russians. They were willing to be more transactional with them," Croft said.

"Right now Russia and Saudi Arabia's relationship is becoming thicker than oil," Croft said. As for the Saudis, "I think they see themselves as trying to show the Russians they have a better friend in the Middle East (than Iran)."
Russia's new BFF is Saudi Arabia, which means that Putin now grooves with the goal of rolling back Iranian influence throughout the region. Assad's dismissal or death will serve Russia's larger purposes, especially if the world thinks that Trump engineered his downfall over Russian objections.

Putin doesn't like to look bad, but he also understands the larger picture. If he temporarily receives an egg facial, Trump will be able to secure power.

Needless to say, I have just outlined a scenario which both the right and the left will consider Thoughtcrime Most Foul. You know me: I cannot be a happy man until I've contrived to piss off everyone.

Did you see the war propaganda flooding MSNBC yesterday? Disgusting! Throughout the day, they promulgated a ridiculous version of the Syrian Civil War which ignored a key fact: If Assad had fallen, a combination of ISIS and Al Qaeda would have taken power. The "Free Syrian Army" was never anything more than a grand fiction constructed to please an American audience; only the jihadis possessed sufficient muscle to challenge Assad.

Must I once again state for the record something which should go without saying? Perhaps I must. Assad is no angel; we need not shed a single tear if he goes down. Nevertheless, the choice has been clear since 2013: This civil war was destined to end with a victory for either Assad or the jihadists. There never was a viable third option. I have long agreed with the Christians in Syria, who consider Assad the lesser of those two evils.

John Bolton will spend the next little while pretending to excoriate Putin. Don't be fooled: It's all playacting and pretense. The Russia/Saudi oil deal tells the real story, and all else is theater. After a brief period of faux conflict -- which will end in Trump scoring a much-needed foreign policy triumph (resulting in a Republican win in November) -- there will be complete harmony of purpose between Putin, Trump and the neocons.

Raid! Trump has often repulsed and  frightened me, but never moreso than yesterday, when he ranted about the FBI raid conducted against his attorney (and fixer) Michael Cohen. Absurdly, Trump blamed a Democratic plot, even though Democrats had nothing to do with this affair.

Mueller -- not a Democrat, although the right likes to pretend otherwise -- did not order the raid. The decision fell to the United States Attorney for Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, a Trump appointee and a Rudy Giuliani law partner.

Let me repeat that: He's a Trump appointee and a Rudy Giuliani law partner.

Berman was assigned this position temporarily. Until yesterday, he expected Trump to give him the job on a permanent basis. Thus, when Berman approved this raid, he did so knowing what he was sacrificing.

The obvious conclusion: The evidence which prompted this raid must have been explosive. Only a major threat to our democracy and/or the rule of law would have compelled Berman to make a move so injurious to his career.

Nota bene: This nearly-unprecedented raid also received approval from a judge. A raid on a lawyer is not a decision to be made lightly.

What prompted so extraordinary an action? Nobody knows. The Washington Post suggests bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and many people believe that these listed motives point to the Stormy Daniels affair. But...
Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, that person said.

In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump, according to both people.
Berman obviously did not go to such lengths just to please Michael Avenatti. So far, the contretemps between Stormy Daniels and Trump is a purely civil affair. How could a civil lawsuit give rise to all of this?
The Justice Department has extensive rules about seizing records of lawyers that could typically fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors are required to consult with the the Criminal Division at Main Justice, and to get the sign off of the U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation or the relevant assistant attorney general. It’s also recommended that a special team of attorneys who are walled off from the prosecutors overseeing the inquiry be set up to review the potentially privileged documents.

“It’s procedurally cumbersome, it’s sensitive, it raises the hackles of the bar,” Sam Buell, a former prosecutor who worked on the Enron investigation, told TPM. “It’s not done on a fishing expedition. It’s only done when you’re reasonably confident that you’re going to find evidence of criminality and you need to do it with a search warrant.”

Investigators’ willingness to go the route of a high-profile raid, instead of a less intrusive subpoena or even a voluntary request for documents, suggested to outside experts that there’s at least some concern that Cohen could be withholding evidence.
Question: How would they know that Cohen would hide or destroy evidence?

I smell a rat. That is: I think that someone formerly on Team Trump is functioning as an inside source. For what it's worth, Bill Palmer speculates that Giuliani is the rat.
Unless you think Giuliani was fully exonerated in the Trump-Russia scandal by Robert Mueller prior to January, which seems incredibly unlikely that early on in the overall investigation, the other explanation would be that Giuliani cut a plea deal prior to January. Back in February, Palmer Report pointed out that Giuliani sounded very wary of what the FBI can do a criminal target, suggesting he’d already been through the ringer by then.
I've given Palmer a fair amount of gas over the past few months -- his rah-rah optimism just annoys the living hell out of a natural-born cynic like yours truly -- but this particular theory may have merit.

Let's get back to Trump's reaction. His rant was beyond bizarre. He used the raid as an opportunity to excoriate Mueller, even though Mueller did not order the raid. He insisted that Mueller should have looked into Hillary Clinton's imaginary "crimes," even though Mueller was not tasked with investigating Hillary Clinton (despite the nonsense you hear from the crackpot legions following Q-anon).

Trump then both slammed and praised Rod Rosenstein. I'll deal with both the attack and the kudos.

The attack concerned Rosenstein's approval of a FISA warrant against Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump. In 2013, FBI eavesdroppers learned that the FSB intended to recruit Page. (The Steele dossier played no role in this matter.) In 2016, Page made the bizarre decision to absent himself from the Trump campaign in order to visit Russia and meet with an important official in Putin's government. Of course a FISA warrant was granted to eavesdrop on Page! Not approving that warrant would have been utterly irresponsible -- and I say that as someone who has devoted many a post to our right to privacy.

Trump's words of praise for Rosenstein were even more bizarre. The president gave Rosenstein a thumb's up for writing a report critical of James Comey. What Trump refuses to divulge is that this report chided Comey for being unfair to Hillary Clinton. What bothered Rosenstein was Comey's public discussion of the Weiner laptop mess, for that discussion handed the presidency to Trump. 

The Trump team opportunistically used Rosenstein's report as "cover" for firing Comey.

Side note: At first, Trump's pal Roger Stone went with this cover story and decried Comey's unfairness to Clinton. Stone's actual tweet: "What Comey did to Hillary was disgraceful. I'm glad Trump fired him over it." Within a very short while, Trump himself blew this cover story during his interview with Lester Holt, on which occasion Trump admitted that he fired Comey in order to deep six the Russia investigation. On cue, Roger the Dodger derided Comey as a Clinton co-conspirator.

Thus, neither Trump's praise of Rosenstein nor his words of condemnation bore much resemblance to the world of fact.

Nevertheless, I predict that he will soon fire Rosenstein, probably using the FISA canard as his grand excuse.
The Russians have also been internationally certified to have destroyed all of their chemical weapons stockpiles. Even if you believe the government line on the Skripal thing, managing to secretly keep or manufacture assassination-quantities is an entirely different thing from having battlefield quantities.

Regarding Berman, maybe he sacrificed his career for democracy. Or maybe he's a Trump appointee and Giuliana partner. Which is to say, there's something else afoot. Supposed Mr Natural Born Cynic.

Trumptards see Robert Mueller as the Great White Dope's nemesis, they are too stupid to grasp the concept of criminal referrals. My understanding is only mob lawyers get raided, think there's something to that?
Can't speak to the gas attack but Assad like Trump thinks he's above the law and a gas attack would be a quick and dirty end to the war.
An image is today being imprinted on hundreds of millions if not billions of minds, by a US advertising, surveillance and intelligence company called Google.

Supposedly published to commemorate what would be the Arab actor Omar Sharif’s 86th birthday were he still alive (he died in 2015), the animated image shows the face of an Arab man, first lit normally and then with a very dark shadow crossing it in a way that makes him look, contrary to his initial appearance, evil. The story is that as the day goes on, the Arab man appears in his true colours; or, which is only slightly different, the Arab man, who is demonic, has the ability to make himself look well-meaning and pleasant.

If somebody made such an image of, say, Menachem Begin or Benyamin Netanyahu, or George Soros, or of any other Jew, it is a certainty that they would be called "anti-Semitic". When the company that owns one of the best-known brands in the world publishes this filthy racist war propaganda, demonising a generic Arab, practically nobody comments, let alone breathes the word "anti-Semitic". You will notice that the guy is not shown wearing the royal headgear of the Gulf, or with a fez or in desert robes. He's wearing a bow tie. This is not just an Arab guy; it's a guy from the Levant or Egypt, superficially Europeanised, welcome in top hotels, but underneath an inhuman devil. Readers may like to recall that the publication of propaganda to assist with the commission of crimes against humanity is what Julius Streicher was convicted of at Nuremburg. Watch out, Eric Schmidt.
Re. the main thesis of this post, what reason is there to think the US will win in the looming confrontation with Russia? Trump and the US military are about to get an almighty Russian kick up their coccyx.

I had read that Trump requested Rosenstein to write two letters to help him better understand the issues. One letter was to promote the argument that Comey should be fired. The other letter was to be a defense of Comey. Then Trump fired Comey and used the first letter as his justification, dumping the blame in Rosenstein's lap.

In the last several weeks I started seeing news articles stating that the Syrian war was almost wrapped up... a stunning victory for Assad and his allies. And then he decided to gas a civilian population? It simply makes no sense on face value.

Re the Google doodle of Omar Sharif. It is 6:30 p.m. EDT on April 10, and that image does not come up when I look at evil Google. Nonetheless, when I did a search for it, there were numerous stories about it, and one of them showed me the doodle. I have no idea why the shadow passes across it, but I don't get any evil vibes from it. Perhaps this has to do with my age and the pleasant memories I have of a very handsome and nice guy in my college dorm who was generally referred to by the women in the dorm as Omar for his resemblance to that very handsome actor. I wonder why Google appears to have taken it down.
Joseph, Often, I appreciate a contrarian position, but some things are just too much work and thus, may fall into the abyss of fake news.

What evidence is there that Assad's helicopters didn't drop Syrian chemical bombs in Ghouta? First, reports from witnesses say symptoms developed after helicopter attacks. Russians or others aren't using helicopters like Assad's troops. Assad has nothing to lose: there's documentation he's used chemical weapons in numerous attacks on his people. He has no love for people don't love him (just like Trump).

Conspiracy theories are like sniffing glue: they kill brain cells. There was no way for chemical experts to determine if Syria destroyed all toxic weapon materials at the end of the remediation process. Experts determined there were multiple indications that Syria kept "reasonable" amounts of various chemical weapon materials (e.g. ricin) and submitted false reports. Only some types of materials were appropriate for destruction on U.S. navy ships.

Chemical bombs made from chlorine, a common water treatment material also used in many cleaning and manufacturing compounds, are not be classified as a chemical weapon. Chlorine is a commonly available and readily made.

Finally, Assad would use chemical bombs in Ghouta as a tipping point. This achieved his objective to clear out the population of the last major city held by the Syrian resistance. With the population displaced, the city is in Assad's control. He's already seen as a monster – a ruler of ghosts -- after causing nearly 500k deaths and untold more injuries and displacements – of his own people.

Here's why experts believe all Syrian chemical weapons weren't destroyed: https://globalsecurityreview.com/u-s-officials-verify-trump-dossier-claims-with-intel-from-allies/

dataflo, even US Intelligence refused to confirm that Assad was behind the Ghouta attack despite pressure from the White House to say so (1 2). They'd had word from UK Intelligence that sarin samples from Ghouta were not from known Assad stockpiles and they were not going to be used for propaganda purposes as they were in the lead up to the Iraq invasion.

The rebels did it: 1 2 3 4 5 6
The Omar Sharif image that Google used as a "doodle" is here. If you'd seen the image without Omar Sharif being mentioned, would you have recognised him?
Trump has now tweeted:

"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

He followed this (or an assistant did) by tweeting

"Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"

Who is Trump actually talking to when he says "there is no reason" for the deterioration in relations between the US and Russia, a happenstance that could in the near future blow millions of us to fuck?

The Russian government, with a sane and competent leader at the helm, whose personal brand is managed highly effectively, has declared its red lines and the US government is now about to start WW3. The US president is pouting as he promises to throw missiles regardless where he's been told not to. This is more serious than smearing shit on the carpet.

Trump must be removed without delay, and by any means necessary. Next week may be too late. I do not care whether evidence against him is faked or the method used is an assassination or a military coup. Sadly I think the reason for the increase in his troubles is not that a faction of influential figures in the US think the same way, but that certain interests are keeping him on a knife edge they way they did Bill Clinton.

There is talk of sustained artillery fire near Donetsk.
In this this radio interview, Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria

* calls the Douma chemical attack "staged"
* focuses on the CIA and jihadist sources of the so-called "evidence"
* points out there is no reason why Assad would have done it
* in effect supports the Russian diplomatic position in favour of a proper investigation of the alleged chemical attack
* excoriates the BBC for its warmongering
From Digby;

"ABC News has learned that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is recused from the Michael Cohen investigation.

Two sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News Berman was not involved in the decision to raid Cohen's office because of the recusal.

The recusal was approved by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The raid of Cohen's handled by others in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and approved by a federal judge."
republican House Speaker Eddie Munster not running for congress. Getting out of Washington before the Russian nukes land?
Or before Mueller's indictments handed down?
Not the most reliable of news sources, however they are quoting a UN official and it certain jibes with what we know about the previous chemical attack blamed on Assad (that also was the rebels):

The current cry for action against Syria coming from our media talking heads and the usual neocon suspects occurs in a remarkable historical vacuum. It's as if all of the debunking of previous Western lies about Syria -- the White Helmets, Obama's "failure" to support his red line on CW, the Deir Ezzor attack by US forces, Madaya and Zabadani, the "extermination" factory, the 2013 sarin attacks at Ghouta -- all debunked -- are now accepted as having been self-evidently true all along. All the critics and lengthy articles exposing these lies may as well have never existed.

The pampered Western talking heads can never face up to being wrong (about Syria, Ukraine, Iran -- everything) so they just join the throng of those lustily marching to WW3. Who needs facts when moral outrage is so handy and plentiful. Truly, we are being lead by morons. Wars can be kept overseas. Brown people don't feel it when they die. My expensive suit and media adulation protects me from harm. The current public debate on Syria is unhinged.
Hot tip Fred. When you post Russian/GOP talking points (aka bald faced lies) try not to use sources that have Koch Bros/Mercer Creeps written all over them
Nice verdict Anon@1.30. But where's your arguments and evidence? I'm open for persuasion.
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