[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]ne gets the impression that US President Donald Trump could lead his nation and world at large to a new world without conflicts. However, if he misleads the world by his mischief as a usual US leader, then, like his predecessors have done before him, would betray the humanity beyond Mideast and the humanity would be the silent victim to war mongers and looters.
US President Donald Trump has met Pope Francis on May 24 morning at the Vatican for a short private audience on the third leg of his overseas trip before going to Europe to conclude his madden tour as the custodian of White House. Trump is now due to meet Italy’s president and prime minister. He will then fly to Brussels for a NATO summit.
The US President arrived for the meeting along with his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner after their visit to Israel. The meeting was keenly awaited as the two men have already clashed at a distance on issues including migration and climate change.
Trump and his entourage arrived at the Vatican n the morning just before 08:30 local time; the meeting was arranged last minute which resulted in the early start time. The US president was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the head of the papal household, and escorted by the Swiss Guard from the Vatican courtyard to the offices of Pope Francis. Journalists who covered the initial greeting said the pair were cordial with each other. Trump told the Pope “it is a great honour”. The two men spoke privately for about 20 minutes before returning to a public arena to exchange gifts.
Though this is their first meeting, they’ve already sparred. During the election the Pope on a visit to the Mexico-US border said that people who only think of building walls instead of bridges were not Christians. Donald Trump described those comments as disgraceful, and accused the pontiff of being a pawn of the Mexican government. But on Wednesday both men were seeking to find common ground.
It is hard to think of two more contrasting characters than Pope Francis and President Trump. On one hand, the Jesuit who has made his mission the championing of the poor and dispossessed; on the other the property developer who has championed getting rich, and surrounded himself with billionaires in his cabinet. Interestingly, Trump gave the Pope a boxed set of writings by the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King. The Pope gave Trump a signed copy of a message he delivered for World Peace Day, along with some of his writings about the need to protect the environment. “Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump told him.
Trump seemed subdued during their initial meeting, while Pope Francis was not as jovial as he sometimes is with world leaders. The two men appeared much more relaxed at the end of their 30-minute private meeting. He was granted a short private audience with the head of the Catholic Church on the latest leg of his overseas trip. The two men have in the past clashed on issues such as migration, climate change and a Mexico-US wall. On international affairs, their “exchange of views” covered the “promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue”, and highlighted the need to protect Christian communities in the Middle East.
The Vatican said later that they shared a commitment to “life, and freedom of worship and conscience” and expressed hope that they can collaborate “in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to migrants”.
Saudi Arabia and Iran
Trump vowed to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve durable peace, as he ended the Middle East leg of his tour. The US leader began his foreign trip with a two-day stop in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, urging Muslim countries to take the lead in combating radicalization.
Western powers make maximum benefits of the illogical Saudi-Iran rift.
After the first leg of his trip in Saudi Arabia, President Trump seems to hope that Sunni Arab countries might be part of any solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Without doubt the Saudis and the Israelis are talking, because Iran is their shared enemy. But the Saudis have had their own Arab peace plan on the table for the last 15 years, offering full peace and recognition of Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the entire territory of the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. That is something the current Israeli government is not prepared to concede.
Antipathy towards Iran is the one thing that Washington’s disparate allies in the region agree upon. So, bashing of Tehran has been a prominent theme for Trump both in Saudi Arabia and now in Israel. Hostility to Iran is the glue that binds what some would like to believe is an emerging coalition between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf States together. But how far it really promises to shake up the sterile politics of the region is unclear.
A common purpose to contain Iran is one thing but can it really extend to bringing a new diplomatic dawn to the region? For Trump, criticising Tehran performs multiple functions. It allows him to sound tough on the world stage. Tougher than his predecessor, Barack Obama, who, he believes, signed one of the worst deals in history in reaching the nuclear accord with Iran.
It enables him to reassure both the Gulf Arabs and Israel at one and the same time. And it underscores the narrative of a common front emerging in the region that – at least according to the Trump administration – holds the enticing promise of a new dynamic in the log-jammed struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. And, of course, it also sends a warning signal to Tehran about aspects of its policy in the region that Washington sees as contrary to US interests.
It is also not a policy of nuance or one that contends with complex reality. How does it look providing ringing endorsements to the Saudis and selling them a fortune of weaponry, when they are engaged in a brutal war in Yemen?
The Trump government’s almost brash belief in the possibilities of a wider Middle East peace seems to be at variance with most experts who know the region well. They argue neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are ready to make the hard compromises necessary to achieve a lasting peace.
Some have argued that rather than focusing on a comprehensive deal that would have to resolve the hard questions like Jerusalem and refugees, the goal should be less ambitious; an interim deal that might mark the re-starting of a longer term diplomatic process. But it is not clear yet if the new US administration has the patience for this kind of worthy diplomacy. And this brings us back to Iran. Just what is the Trump administration’s policy towards Tehran?
Indeed the re-election of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani may complicate matters further. He was perceived as the more moderate candidate after all, even if the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard still retain a key grip on foreign policy.
President Rouhani is already encouraging some European politicians to talk of the search for an opening to Tehran. That may not go down well in Washington. But then there is the very complexity of the region that Trump’s rhetoric often overlooks.
Interestingly, the Iraqi government is now one of Washington’s main allies against so-called Islamic State. But Iran too is a strong supporter of Baghdad and has deployed militia forces and advisers on the ground to aid the war effort.
President George W Bush sponsored a peace conference in Annapolis in 2007, which for a while was hailed, in vain, as a major step towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. President Bill Clinton presided over the moment in 1993 at the White House when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin exchanged a historic handshake and signed the Oslo peace agreement. At the end of his presidency in 2000, a make or break summit failed and was followed by years of violence and unrest. In recent times every American president also brings with him new hopes and fears for Israelis and Palestinians. In 2009 President Barack Obama trying to re-set relations with Arabs and Muslims. In the process he alienated Israelis and its leaders never forgave him. His first act as president was to appoint a Middle East envoy whose peace mission, in the end, failed.
Nobel foundations have played mischief by offering Obama the coveted Nobel Peace prize even before he could do nay thing meaningful in his presidency in the proper way. Nobel committee denied any chance for Middle East peace by almost imposing on him Peace Award that made him ineffective in solving the Mideast puzzle by establishing Palestine. Perhaps had he not got the Nobel Peace Award, Palestine would have become a sure reality as he supported the Palestine cause towards the end of tenure at White House. .
Now President Trump, who sees himself as the world’s best dealmaker, says he would like to pull off the world’s toughest deal. How quickly Trump would be able to get Israeli leadership on board to settle the world’s deadliest conflict in the name of Israel war on Palestine would determine the success of his efforts to end the blood bath in Palestine where Palestinians have been facing cruelty form Israel’s military.
The US leader began his foreign trip with a two-day stop in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, urging Muslim countries to take the lead in combating radicalization. In his final speech, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, President Trump also identified himself, his government and the USA four-square with Israel. He repeated, to lots of applause, that he would never let Iran have nuclear weapons. Israel has a substantial -illegally obtained from USA – and officially undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Trump became the first serving American president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest place where Jews can pray. That is being taken by Jews as his support for Israel. Trump became the first serving American president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest place where Jews can pray. That is being taken as support for Israel. The wall is in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after it was captured 50 years ago and which most of the world outside Israel regards as occupied land. Some will interpret the fact that the president declined the Israeli prime minister’s request to accompany him as a sign of support for the status quo view that it is occupied territory.
President Trump, in his speech, did not pick up the cue. After making many warm remarks about Israel, which earned him standing ovations, he said he believed that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, was serious about making peace.
One pointer to a potential difference with Israel’s hawkish PM Netanyahu came at the museum. In his opening remarks, Netanyahu said that if the bomber in Manchester was Palestinian, and his victims were Israelis, the Palestinian Authority would be paying a stipend to his family. He was referring to a Palestinian Martyrs’ fund. It pays pensions to people it regards as victims of the occupation, including the families of individuals who have been killed attacking Israelis. There is also a fund to support Palestinians who have been imprisoned by Israel. The Palestinians have compared the payments to the salaries Israel pays to soldiers.
Senior Israeli politicians and officials in the room disagree. Netanyahu said earlier this year that President Abbas lied to Donald Trump when they met in the White House. That is an important disagreement. If President Trump’s hopes ever become negotiations about substance he will find that there are many others. The two sides are far apart on the main issues, like the future of east Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
President Trump brought with him to Jerusalem most of his top advisers, dozens of vehicles and his own helicopters. The White House booked the entire King David Hotel for the president and his entourage. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities cleared the main roads of Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the movements of his armed and mighty motorcade.
President Donald Trump has arrived in Brussels ahead of a NATO summit where he will push the security alliance’s 28 members to meet their spending obligations and do more to combat terrorism. The fight against terrorism will be top of the agenda at the May 25 meeting in the Belgian capital, a stop on Trump’s first trip abroad since he took office in January.
It is believed that the bombing in Britain that killed 22 people has been engineered to further strengthen the NATO and its brand state terrorism encompassing Islamic world. The whole idea for all this is to brand Islam a terrorist religion and to force Islamic regimes to kill Muslims as terrorists in order to reduce Islamic populations and loot their resources, valuable assets. . . . .
This is Trump’s first visit to Europe since taking office in January. Security has been stepped up across Rome, with the areas around the Vatican City, the Italian presidential palace and the American ambassador’s residence, where Trump is staying, temporarily closed to traffic.
Trump called NATO “obsolete” during the US presidential campaign last year, saying it was not doing enough to fight terrorism. He has also chided some members for not following NATO guidelines on spending. This visit will be about damage limitation with the fervent hope of establishing some kind of transatlantic chemistry. The tone in Brussels has gone from off-the-record sneering when the erratic and unpredictable Trump first won the November elections, to outright concern now that the implications of his presidency have begun to sink in.
Despite the heavy police presence, about 100 anti-Trump protesters held a rally in one of Rome’s squares on Tuesday evening. Significant protests are also expected in Brussels where he will meet EU and NATO officials.
Trump is now in Brussels for talks with NATO and EU officials. He will also hold meetings with Belgium’s King Philippe and Prime Minister Charles Michel. Later on Wednesday, Trump flew to Brussels, where significant protests are expected. For the EU and for NATO, this visit is about damage limitation with the fervent hope of establishing some kind of transatlantic chemistry, the BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler says. She adds that the tone in Brussels has gone from off-the-record sneering when the erratic and unpredictable Trump first won the November elections, to outright concern now that the implications of his presidency have begun to sink in.
After his visit to Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, and to Israel, this is the final leg of the tour of three of the world’s major religions. President Trump’s commitment to fighting extremism and intolerance will win approval from the Pope, as will his determination to bring peace to the Middle East. And the president thinks there’s another reason why they will get on. Back in 2013 he tweeted: “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me.”
Trump was joined not only by his wife, daughter and son-in-law but also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser HR McMaster. Both Melania and Ivanka Trump were dressed in black with their heads partially covered, in keeping with a traditional Vatican protocol that is no longer expected to be rigorously observed. Melania, a Catholic, asked the Pope to bless her rosary beads.
Following his visit to the Vatican, Trump was moving on for talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in what is his first visit to Europe since taking office in January. Security has been stepped up across Rome, with the areas around the Vatican City, the Italian presidential palace and the American ambassador’s residence, where Trump is staying, temporarily closed to traffic. Despite the heavy police presence, about 100 anti-Trump protesters held a rally in one of Rome’s squares.
After the meeting between President Trump and the Pope, the Vatican said there had been an “exchange of views” on international issues, while Trump said they had had a “fantastic meeting”. Trump also tweeted: “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.” He arrived in Europe from Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he vowed to try to achieve peace in the region.
Today the world is at a cross roads. Palestinians and Kashmiris like other oppressed nations, brutally occupied colonist and imperialist regimes, continue to be strangled to death by democracy militaries aided by high precision terror equipment. President Trump has given a new hope for the survival of occupied masses with some dignity. . Whether or not he could be trusted remains a trillion dollar question.
Enemies of Islam have succeeded creating a solid wedge between Saudi Arabia and Iran and through that a vertical split in Islamic world. That trend may not end any soon because Saudi led Sunni Arab states view Iran as their worst foe- even worse than Israel and all anti-Islamic rogue states operating in coalition to destroy Islam. Interestingly, a few Muslim regimes also led support to the destructive format of anti-Islamic forces globally.
Absolute foolishness and fatal ignorance are not a part of Islamic faith. Nor reluctance to mold the mindset of Arab leaders could be an excuse to let the enemies of Islam invade energy rich Arab world.
Donald Trump deserves global appreciation as he has said he is “more determined than ever” to pursue peace in the world after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The main problem is Israel does not want to resolve the conflict. Trump is right on one point. This is a conflict that badly needs settling. If that is not possible, there needs to be political progress. History shows that bloodshed tends to fill the void left by the absence of hope.
Well, for all the rhetoric the practical reality of Trump’s foreign policy is more guarded. So beyond a raft of trade deals in Saudi Arabia what have we really learnt so far. All the indications are, for example, that the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem has been put on hold.
US Presidents have never talked about Israeli nukes and their danger posed to the humanity. Trump also never questioned the validity of Isabel possessing nukes illegally. For all of the president’s repeated condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal, is he really capable of walking away from it?
A Trump foreign policy is still very much a work in progress. Much of Trump’s world view is now coming into a jarring contact with reality. This current trip is in large part ceremonial, it is very early in his presidency to be putting a toe into Middle Eastern waters.
In all the speeches President Trump made during the trip there was no detail about how he might succeed when so many others have failed. So signs and symbols and implicit messages are being pored over for meaning.
This is President Donald Trump’s first foray to the Middle East and of course it will not be his last. He has already got one thing clear. Adversity really does make strange bedfellows.
Trump will end his tour on the Italian island of Sicily at the G7 summit on Friday.
USA at odds with Europe and not only with Europe
The recent statement made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the effect that his country has failed to prevent the implementation of the Nord Stream – 2 gas pipeline project provides glaring proof of the ultimatum-type methods used by President Donald Trump’s administration to thwart unwelcome projects, deals or agreements and simultaneously impose their own products, goods and services on partners – from more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) to passenger and military aircraf,t and weapons systems. However, such efforts rarely hit success, exacerbating US relations even with its closest allies in Europe and NATO.
Addressing the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on April 10th, Mike Pompeo said Washington had done everything it could to talk European partners out of building Nord Stream 2 but these efforts suffered a fiasco. According to the head of the State Department, Berlin is set on pursuing the project and all attempts to dissuade the Europeans from building the gas pipeline have yielded no results. “It looks like Germany aims to continue the construction of the pipeline. We are working to find a way to supply some of the gas through Ukraine,” – Pompeo said: “We did our utmost to persuade the Europeans, and first of all Germany, not to build the Nord Stream 2 but to no avail.”
Earlier, the US Secretary of State pointed out that the United States “must continue to exert pressure in order to scrap Nord Stream 2.”
While Washington’s attempts to use political pressure to promote its own energy projects intensify differences between the United States and the European Union, and specifically Germany, similar efforts in the area of defense and military technology jeopardize the integrity and unity of the North Atlantic alliance. US Vice President Mike Pence has de facto presented an ultimatum to Turkey, one of the closest American allies in the Middle East. He warned Ankara against purchasing Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, calling on the Turkish leadership to choose between partnership with NATO and the deal. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has made it clear that his country will do everything in its power to persuade Turkey to buy the American Patriot system instead of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.
However, the United States could face a fiasco here. The first ultimatum declared by Turkey for the cancellation of the decision on the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missiles ran out on February 15th . By February 15th US officials had sent a request to their Turkish partners in NATO to provide a clear answer to the American ultimatum which ran as follows: if Ankara does not terminate a contract with Russia on the purchase of S-400 systems, Washington will recall its offer on the sale of 3.5 billion dollars worth Patriot anti-aicraft missiles. In addition, the United States announced that a deal on the purchase by Turkey of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters was under threat and that Turkey could face sanctions.
Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership chose to stick to its own position on this matter. The next day after the end of the American ultimatum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would not give up on its intention to buy S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia: “We struck a deal with Russia on the S-400, so there can be no turning back. That’s all”. According to the Turkish leader, Turkey will be ready to purchase Patriot systems provided such a deal meets Turkey’s interests. However, he added that some issues have yet to be settled with Washington. “The US administration favors early deliveries, but says nothing about joint production or a loan. We continue to work proceeding from the promise of supplying the S-400 in July,” – Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
On April 10, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Ankara could acquire the second batch of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems if the United States refused to sell its Patriot anti-missile systems to Ankara. He also said Turkey will search for an alternative to American F-35 fighters if the United States does not resume their deliveries to Turkey.
Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on the supply of four S-400 divisions to the total value of $ 2.5 billion in December 2017. Under the deal, Turkey will be supplied with technology that will enable it to develop its own anti-missile systems. Initially, the supplies were scheduled for July this year, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave it to understand that the systems could be delivered earlier.
Addressing a press conference following the Russian-Turkish high-level talks held on April 8 in the Kremlin, the Turkish president spoke at length on his vision of the US attempts to thwart the implementation of agreements with Russia: “We have already laid the road map for S-400, have made all the necessary steps in this direction, it is over. And after that, someone comes forward with suggestions and recommendations: reject this, turn down that, ignoring our opinion? If we have already agreed, signed a contract, naturally, we will continue to pursue it. This is our sovereign right. This is our decision. No one can demand that we change our mind. ”
“For Turkey, it is vital to buy S-400 missiles from Russia,” – the Turkish Aydinlik Gazetesi newspaper states. “S-400 guarantees a reliable shield not only in the face of pressure coming from NATO and the Atlantic, but it also meets a specific need,” since “S-300/400 missiles produced by the Russian Almaz-Antey Defense Technology Company are the best missile systems in the world”, – the newspaper says.
Civil aircraft building is yet another area of mounting confrontation between the United States and its closest allies, including France. A few days ago, French Minister of Economics and Finance Bruno Le Maire found it necessary to personally comment on Washington’s increasingly aggressive attempts to “push” American “Boeings” onto the world markets by ousting the French Airbuses. “The European Union and the United States cannot afford a conflict in aeronautics and must come to a settlement agreement following Washington’s threats to impose tax on Airbus,” – he said at a news conference at the French Ministry of Economics.
This statement came in response to earlier reports by US trade representatives that Washington is considering slapping new custom duties on imports from the European Union, which, in particular, may touch on civilian helicopters and airplanes. According to The Wall Street Journal, the total value of the goods to which the new duties may extend will be 11 billion dollars.
A new turn in the “trade war” between the United States and Europe could quickly destabilize the relations on both sides of the Atlantic and affect the general situation in the global financial and trade markets – even compared to the long-standing trade and economic confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
The US trade representatives have already warned that they will impose additional taxes on commodities imported into the United States from Europe if the European Union continues to subsidize Airbus, one of the world’s largest aviation corporations, and a Boeing competitor. The list of goods that will fall under the restrictions include aviation products, Airbus aircraft, as well as some products that are not directly related to aviation, including kitchen knives and bicycles.
In 2018, the United States introduced a number of duties on products from Europe, including steel and aluminum supplies.
It is no accident that it is now that Washington is tightening pressure on Europe in the area of aircraft manufacturing and is threatening Europeans with multibillion-dollar sanctions, despite the fact that the conflict over EU subsidies to its own aircraft manufacturers began as far back as in 2004. The current aggravation of relations between the United States and the European Union is the result of serious difficulties that the American company Boeing faced after a series of crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. A number of air companies and some countries, including the United States, has introduced a ban on the use of this model and has forbidden it to fly over their air space.
Given the situation, the Donald Trump administration has opted to assume the lead in a number of areas which are key to the US trade and economic interests – energy, military supplies and civil aircraft manufacturing. The US administration counts on traditionally aggressive lobbying – which, under the 45th president, has clearly hit a new level – with the simultaneous use of political rhetoric in terms of spinning Euro-Atlantic solidarity and the “Russian” and “Chinese” threats.
Nevertheless, the attempts to use ultimatum to exert pressure in several areas at once may well result in a closer consolidation of Europeans as they unite to defend their own interests, in a further strengthening the economic ties between Russia and China, as well as in a more pronounced and independent policy by Turkey – and not only in defense and military technology. These recent moves on the part of the United States are tying the knot of conflict throughout an increasingly wider spectrum of geopolitical space. And for now, it is not clear where all this could lead to.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Highlights from the Mueller Report
Following are the passages that I consider to be the chief and most important allegations that are in the opening 11% (that’s up through page 49 of the of the 448-page document) of the “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election”. That’s Robert Mueller’s March 2019 report, which had been commissioned by the U.S. Congress to find grounds to charge U.S. President Donald Trump with being an agent of the Russian Government and to replace him with Vice President Mike Pence for that reason.
Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election
The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out the earliest Russian interference operations identified by the investigation — a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and received funding from Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin and companies he controlled. Prighozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. …
The IRA later used social media accounts and interest groups to sow discord in the U.S. political system through what it termed “information warfare.” The campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the U.S. electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.
The IRA’ s operation also included the purchase of political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities, as well as the staging of political rallies inside the United States. To organize those rallies, IRA employees posed as U.S. grassroots entities and persons and made contact with Trump supporters and Trump Campaign officials in the United States. The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons conspired or coordinated with the IRA. …
At the same time that the IRA operation began to focus on supporting candidate Trump in early 2016, the Russian government employed a second form of interference: cyber intrusions (hacking) and releases of hacked materials damaging to the Clinton Campaign. The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out these operations.
In March 2016, the GRU began hacking the email accounts of Clinton Campaign volunteers and employees, including campaign chairman John Podesta. In April 2016, the GRU hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks. Around the time that the DNC announced in mid-June 2016 the Russian government’s role in hacking its network, the GRU began disseminating stolen materials through the fictitious online personas “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.” The GRU later released additional materials through the organization WikiLeaks. …
While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation. Further, the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. …
The Office investigated several other events that have been publicly reported to involve potential Russia-related contacts. For example, the investigation established that interactions between Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Trump Campaign officials both at the candidate’s April 2016 foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C., and during the week of the Republican National Convention were brief, public, and non-substantive. And the investigation did not establish that one Campaign official’s efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia. The investigation also did not establish that a meeting between Kislyak and Sessions in September 2016 at Sessions’s Senate office included any more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign. …
Throughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. For example, on May 31, 2016, the operational account “Matt Skiber” began to privately message dozens of pro-Trump Facebook groups asking them to help plan a “pro-Trump rally near Trump Tower.”55
To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.56
During the U.S. presidential campaign, many IRA-purchased advertisements explicitly supported or opposed a presidential candidate or promoted U.S. rallies organized by the IRA (discussed below). As early as March 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements that overtly opposed the Clinton Campaign. For example, on March 18, 2016, the IRA purchased an advertisement depicting candidate Clinton and a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”57
Similarly, on April 6, 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements for its account “Black Matters” calling for a “flashmob” of U.S. persons to “take a photo with #HillaryClintonForPrison2016 or #nohillary2016.”58 IRA-purchased advertisements featuring Clinton were, with very few exceptions, negative.59
IRA-purchased advertisements referencing candidate Trump largely supported his campaign. The first known IRA advertisement explicitly endorsing the Trump Campaign was purchased on April 19, 2016. The IRA bought an advertisement for its Instagram account “Tea Party News” asking U.S. persons to help them “make a patriotic team of young Trump supporters” by uploading photos with the hashtag “#KIDS4TRUMP.”60 In subsequent months, the IRA purchased dozens of advertisements supporting the Trump Campaign, predominantly through the Facebook groups “Being Patriotic,” “Stop All Invaders,” and “Secured Borders.” …
The IRA operated individualized Twitter accounts similar to the operation of its Facebook accounts, by continuously posting original content to the accounts while also communicating with U.S. Twitter users directly (through public tweeting or Twitter’s private messaging).
The IRA used many of these accounts to attempt to influence U.S. audiences on the election. Individualized accounts used to influence the U.S. presidential election included @TEN_ GOP ( described above); @jenn _ abrams ( claiming to be a Virginian Trump supporter with 70,000 followers); @Pamela_Moore13 (claiming to be a Texan Trump supporter with 70,000 followers); and @America:__Ist_ (an anti-immigration persona with 24,000 followers).67 In May 2016, the IRA created the Twitter account @march_for_trump, which promoted IRA-organized rallies in support of the Trump Campaign (described below).68 …
The IRA organized and promoted political rallies inside the United States while posing as U.S. grassroots activists. First, the IRA used one of its preexisting social media personas (Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, for example) to announce and promote the event. The IRA then sent a large number of direct messages to followers of its social media account asking them to attend the event. From those who responded with interest in attending, the IRA then sought a U.S. person to serve as the event’s coordinator. In most cases, the IRA account operator would tell the U.S. person that they personally could not attend the event due to some preexisting conflict or because they were somewhere else in the United States.82 The IRA then further promoted the event by contacting U.S. media about the event and directing them to speak with the coordinator.83
After the event, the IRA posted videos and photographs of the event to the IRA’s social media accounts. 84
The Office identified dozens of U.S. rallies organized by the IRA. The earliest evidence of a rally was a “confederate rally” in November 2015. 85 The IRA continued to organize rallies even after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The attendance at rallies varied. Some rallies appear to have drawn few (if any) participants while others drew hundreds. …
From June 2016 until the end of the presidential campaign, almost all of the U.S. rallies organized by the IRA focused on the U.S. election, often promoting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. Pro-Trump rallies included three in New York; a series of pro-Trump rallies in Florida in August 2016; and a series of pro-Trump rallies in October 2016 in Pennsylvania. The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account (as discussed below).86 …
Starting in June 2016, the IRA contacted different U.S. persons affiliated with the Trump Campaign in an effort to coordinate pro-Trump IRA-organized rallies inside the United States. In all cases, the IRA contacted the Campaign while claiming to be U.S. political activists working on behalf of a conservative grassroots organization. The IRA’s contacts included requests for signs and other materials to use at rallies, 107 as well as requests to promote the rallies and help coordinate Iogistics.108 While certain campaign volunteers agreed to provide the requested support (for example, agreeing to set aside a number of signs), the investigation has not identified evidence that any Trump Campaign official understood the requests were coming from foreign nationals. …
III. RUSSIAN HACKING AND DUMPING OPERATIONS
Beginning in March 2016, units of the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton Campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta. Starting in April 2016, the GRU hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The GRU targeted hundreds of email accounts used by Clinton Campaign employees, advisors, and volunteers. In total, the GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks. 109 The GRU later released stolen Clinton Campaign and DNC documents through online personas, “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” and later through the organization WikiLeaks. The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign. …
By no later than April 12, 2016, the GRU had gained access to the DCCC computer network using the credentials stolen from a DCCC employee who had been successfully spearphished the week before. Over the ensuing weeks, the GRU traversed the network, identifying different computers connected to the DCCC network. By stealing network access credentials along the way (including those of IT administrators with unrestricted access to the system), the GRU compromised approximately 29 different computers on the DCCC network. 119
Approximately six days after first hacking into the DCCC network, on April 18, 2016, GRU officers gained access to the DNC network via a virtual private network (VPN) connection120 between the DCCC and DNC networks.121 Between April 18, 2016 and June 8, 2016, Unit 26165 compromised more than 30 computers on the DNC network, including the DNC mail server and shared file server.122
b. Implantation of Ma/ware on DCCC and DNC Networks
Unit 26165 implanted on the DCCC and DNC networks two types of customized malware, 123 known as “X-Agent” and “X-Tunnel”; Mimikatz, a credential-harvesting tool; and rar.exe, a tool used in these intrusions to compile and compress materials for exfiltration. X-Agent was a multi-function hacking tool that allowed Unit 26165 to log keystrokes, take screenshots, and gather other data about the infected computers (e.g., file directories, operating systems).124 XTunnel was a hacking tool that created an encrypted connection between the victim DCCC/DNC computers and GRU-controlled computers outside the DCCC and DNC networks that was capable of large-scale data transfers. 125 GRU officers then used X-Tunnel to exfiltrate stolen data from the victim computers. …
c. Theft of Documents from DNC and DCCC Networks
Officers from Unit 26165 stole thousands of documents from the DCCC and DNCnetworks, including significant amounts of data pertaining to the 2016 U.S. federal elections.
Stolen documents included internal strategy documents, fundraising data, opposition research, and emails from the work inboxes of DNC employees.
The GRU began stealing DCCC data shortly after it gained access to the network. On April 14, 2016 (approximately three days after the initial intrusion) GRU officers downloaded rar.exe onto the DCCC’s document server. The following day, the GRU searched one compromised DCCC computer for files containing search terms that included “Hillary,” “DNC,” “Cruz,” and “Trump.”131 On April 25, 2016, the GRU collected and compressed PDF and Microsoft documents from folders on the DCCC’s shared file server that pertained to the 2016 election.132 The GRU appears to have compressed and exfiltrated over 70 gigabytes of data from this file server.133
The GRU also stole documents from the DNC network shortly after gaining access. On April 22, 2016, the GRU copied files from the DNC network to GRU-controlled computers. Stolen documents included the DNC’ s opposition research into candidate Trump.134 Between approximately May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, GRU officers accessed the DNC’s mail server from a GRU-controlled computer leased inside the United States.135 During these connections, Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by WikiLeaks in July 2016.136
B. Dissemination of the Hacked Materials
The GRU began planning the releases at least as early as April 19, 2016, when Unit 26165 registered the domain dcleaks.com through a service that anonymized the registrant.137 Unit 26165 paid for the registration using a pool of bitcoin that it had mined. 138 The dcleaks.com landing page pointed to different tranches of stolen documents, arranged by victim or subject matter. Other dcleaks.com pages contained indexes of the stolen emails that were being released (bearing the sender, recipient, and date of the email). To control access and the timing of releases, pages were sometimes password-protected for a period of time and later made unrestricted to the public.
Starting in June 2016, the GRU posted stolen documents onto the website dcleaks.com, including documents stolen from a number of individuals associated with the Clinton Campaign.
These documents appeared to have originated from personal email accounts (in particular, Google and Microsoft accounts), rather than the DNC and DCCC computer networks. DCLeaks victims included an advisor to the Clinton Campaign, a former DNC employee and Clinton Campaign employee, and four other campaign volunteers. 139 The GRU released through dcleaks.com thousands of documents, including personal identifying and financial information, internal correspondence related to the Clinton Campaign and prior political jobs, and fundraising files and information.140 …
2. Guccifer 2.0
On June 14, 2016, the DNC and its cyber-response team announced the breach of the DNC network and suspected theft of DNC documents. In the statements, the cyber-response team alleged that Russian state-sponsored actors (which they referred to as “Fancy Bear”) were responsible for the breach. 145 Apparently in response to that announcement, on June 15, 2016, GRU officers using the persona Guccifer 2.0 created a WordPress blog. In the hours leading up to the launch of that WordPress blog, GRU officers logged into a Moscow-based server used and managed by Unit 74455 and searched for a number of specific words and phrases in English, including “some hundred sheets,” “illuminati,” and “worldwide known.” Approximately two hours after the last of those searches, Guccifer 2.0 published its first post, attributing the DNC server hack to a lone Romanian hacker and using several of the unique English words and phrases that the GRU officers had searched for that day. 146 …
3. Use of WikiLeaks
In order to expand its interference in the 20 I 6 U.S. presidential election, the GRU units transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton Campaign to WikiLeaks. GRU officers used both the DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 personas to
communicate with WikiLeaks through Twitter private messaging and through encrypted channels, including possibly through WikiLeaks’s private communication system. …
c. The GRU’s Transfer of Stolen Materials to WikiLeaks
Both the GRU and WikiLeaks sought to hide their communications, which has limited the Office’s ability to collect all of the communications between them. Thus, although it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks, [REDACTED] …
An analysis of the metadata collected from the WikiLeaks site revealed that the stolen Podesta emails show a creation date of September 19, 2016.171 Based on information about Assange’s computer and its possible operating system, this date may be when the GRU staged the stolen Podesta emails for transfer to WikiLeaks (as the GRU had previously done in July 2016 for the DNC emails). 172 The WikiLeaks site also released PDFs and other documents taken from Podesta that were attachments to emails in his account; these documents had a creation date of October 2, 2016, which appears to be the date the attachments were separately staged by WikiLeaks on its site. 173
Beginning on September 20, 2016, WikiLeaks and DCLeaks resumed communications in a brief exchange. On September 22, 2016, a DCLeaks email account firstname.lastname@example.org sent an email to a WikiLeaks account with the subject “Submission” and the message “Hi from DCLeaks.” The email contained a PGP-encrypted with the filename “wiki_mail.txt.gpg.” 174 …
d. WikiLeaks Statements Dissembling About the Source of Stolen Materials
As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing. The file-transfer evidence described above and other information uncovered during the investigation discredit WikiLeaks’s claims about the source of material that it posted.
Beginning in the summer of 2016, Assange and WikiLeaks made a number of statements about Seth Rich, a former DNC staff member who was killed in July 2016. The statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails. On August 9, 2016, the @WikiLeaks Twitter account posted: “ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder ofDNC staffer Seth Rich.” 180
Likewise, on August 25, 2016, Assange was asked in an interview, “Why are you so interested in Seth Rich’s killer?” and responded, “We’re very interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged Wikileaks sources.” The interviewer responded to Assange’s statement by commenting, “I know you don’t want to reveal your source, but it certainly sounds like you’re suggesting a man who leaked information to WikiLeaks was then murdered.” Assange replied, “If there’s someone who’s potentially connected to our publication, and that person has been murdered in suspicious circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are connected. But it is a very serious matter … that type of allegation is very serious, as it’s taken very seriously by us.”181
After the U.S. intelligence community publicly announced its assessment that Russia was behind the hacking operation, Assange continued to deny that the Clinton materials released by WikiLeaks had come from Russian hacking. According to media reports, Assange told a U.S. congressman that the DNC hack was an “inside job,” and purported to have “physical proof” that Russians did not give materials to Assange. 182
Those are highlights from the opening 11% of the report, which is up through page 49 in the 448-page document. These are a prosecutor’s allegations; they are not necessarily true. Robert Mueller has a lengthy history of publicly alleging things that subsequently have come to be widely recognized to have been false. Furthermore, there are very serious reasons to doubt some of the most basic aspects of the Mueller report’s accounts of how information came to Wikileaks from Hillary Clinton’s and her campaign’s computers. Mueller even has been condemned by the FISA court for having violated the law and deceived that court. But these are his main allegations in Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report.
Trump’s coming trade war “deal” is a dud
In typically bullish style, Donald Trump has told the world he expects a resolution to his trade war with China within four weeks. The U.S. President claims the deal “has a very good chance of happening,” and, when it does, it will be “the Grand Daddy of them all.” But key concerns linger: China has made several concessions to the U.S. over the endless rounds of talks, but there is little sign of Beijing reining in its support for industries such as steel and aluminium – one of the key reasons for the stand-off in the first place. If the Chinese delegation refuses to give way, and to stop dumping cheap products on global markets, even Trump’s staunchest supporters might wonder whether the whole dispute has been worth it.
While the trade war cost the U.S. economy an estimated $7.8 billion in lost GDP last year, the toll has been far greater on China, whose economic growth among other reasons was drastically hit by the steep American tariff walls. Growth has already slowed to its lowest level since 1990, and industrial production has hit a 10-year nadir. Despite Beijing’s best efforts, latest employment figures show a spike in the number of people out of work, pressuring Xi’s government to arrest the slide.
The IMF did at least provide some good news, revising up its 2019 growth forecast for the Chinese economy. However it also warned that, if the trade war escalates and both sides impose 25% tariffs on all each other’s goods, China’s losses will be bigger. U.S. GDP would fall by up to 0.6% in such a scenario, while China’s could plunge by more than double that figure. Around 1% of the U.S. workforce in sectors such as agriculture and transportation could lose their jobs – a major blow to those rural communities Trump has pledged to revive. In China’s manufacturing sectors, around 5% of people could find themselves suddenly out of work.
Signs of progress
This stark reality explains the raft of climbdowns brokered by Xi’s negotiators, which have gone some way to repairing the damage in some of the worst-hit U.S. sectors. China has proposed buying an extra $30 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products a year, including soybeans, as a concession to U.S. farmers facing soaring stockpiles. On top of that, Beijing has cut tariffs on U.S. cars, news which will have been welcomed by the beleaguered American automobile industry.
But what about China’s trade policies, which have long been central to the U.S. grievance, particularly unfair industrial subsidies? On that it’s hard to see what China has really offered. Xi’s team has made a general commitment to stop subsidizing domestic industries and drowning global markets, but it’s been making these promises for the last 10 years without much action on it, so analysts would be forgiven for being cynical. Observers describe the latest pledges as light on detail, particularly as China offers little information about how it would go about implementing subsidy cuts.
All the indications suggest that China will continue pumping out aluminium and steel, two of America’s – and the EU’s – keenest focus areas. Even after Trump slapped huge tariffs on the two metals last year, Chinese manufacturers continued to ramp up production. For example, in the first two months of 2019 unwrought aluminium and aluminium product exports reached multi-year highs as producers responded to slack domestic demand by dumping their product overseas.
The effect this will have on the international market will continue to be serious, particularly in the aluminium sector already decimated by years of Chinese over-production. The resultant price slump has effectively wiped out entire industries in countries such as the U.K. and the Netherlands. Worse, the tide shows little sign of turning, with aluminium prices on the London Metal Exchange hovering near multi-year lows. With experts suggesting that around 40% of the world’s smelters are now losing money, the ripple effect from China’s subsidies extends far beyond the U.S deep into Europe’s industrial heartland.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Trump will necessarily force China to stop dumping in the global, or even national, interest. Considering his desire for simple, easy-to-sell results, he will likely accept a deal if China simply agrees to buy more U.S. goods. In that case, he would likely skirt round the fundamental issues about market distortion – a serious risk that is becoming ever more acute as Trump’s image as a cunning dealmaker is showing cracks in the wake of the failed nuclear summit with North Korea, increasing his desperation to prove himself.
As most recent reports suggest, Washington’s will to hold out for the sake of a “great” trade deal is indeed weakening. Although the thorniest issue, insider sources say U.S. negotiators are backpedalling on the demand that China cut subsidies in a move to push a trade agreement in the next month. This is in line with former White House advisor Gary Cohn’s claim that Trump is mostly interested in closing a deal to boost stock markets and give himself the ideal fillip for his re-election campaign.
Yet, for the long-term health of the global community, Trump must press China on this issue. A quick-fix deal will doubtless cheer the global economy subjected to serious collateral damage from the trans-Pacific spat. But it risks stoking further conflict in the future, and ultimately a renewal of the stand-off. China may have been hurting to secure an agreement, but now it may about to be handed one with terms more beneficial than Beijing had imagined from the outset.
Rather than giving in with the end in sight, Trump needs to go all out for total victory, one that justifies the turmoil his trade war has caused. If he doesn’t, his deal may only be a ceasefire.
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