By Robert A. Vella
Here’s what you need to know about yesterday’s arrest of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange:
Ecuador withdrew its asylum protection for Assange this week and asked British police to arrest him. He is now in custody and faces a British charge of breaching bail that carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail if convicted. Assange will face a hearing over possible extradition to the U.S. related to the conspiracy charge on May 2.
The legal process to decide whether he is extradited to the U.S. could take months or years.
In the U.S., Assange is currently facing one count of computer intrusion conspiracy which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The charge relates not to his publication of classified information in 2010 which revealed the killing of civilians by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to his coordination with U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) to hack into the computer networks which stored that information.
The U.S. criminal charge has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation nor to Assange’s publication of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential election which were hacked by Russian operatives.
White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post.
Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months — once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump’s border wall.
The White House told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the plan was intended to alleviate a shortage of detention space but also served to send a message to Democrats. The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that “there are PR risks as well.”
After the White House pressed again in February, ICE’s legal department rejected the idea as inappropriate and rebuffed the administration.
The Pentagon’s new policy that places limits on the military service of transgender individuals goes into effect on Friday, nearly two years after President Donald Trump tweeted that he wanted to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.
The new policy largely requires service members and those wishing to join the military to adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex.
A string of lawsuits were filed after Trump called for the ban in July 2017. He has not tweeted about the issue since.
A federal judge lifted the final injunction of the ban last month, allowing the Pentagon to proceed with its implementation of the new policy. In the meantime, four outstanding lawsuits will proceed in courts across the country with the plaintiffs arguing the ban is unconstitutional.
Egypt quits coalition
Egypt has reportedly withdrawn from the Trump administration and Saudi-led effort to form an “Arab NATO” to push back against Iran’s regional influence.
Four unidentified sources familiar with the decision told Reuters for a report published Wednesday that Egypt had conveyed its decision to Washington and other members ahead of a Sunday summit in Riyadh. The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), which has been dubbed the “Arab NATO,” was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2017 and pushed forward by the U.S. under President Donald Trump.
An Arab source explained to the news agency that Egypt had expressed several reasons for withdrawing, including that it doubted the seriousness of the initiative and concerns that the organization would actually increase tensions with Iran. Egyptian leaders also were reportedly concerned that MESA would collapse or be dissolved if Trump were not reelected in 2020, leading Cairo to believe it may be pointless to participate.
Although Snyder said he was not aware of any other MESA members planning to withdraw, he pointed out that some of the countries are certainly less interested in taking a strong stance against Iran. “Qatar and Oman, given their proximity to Iran and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] policy towards Qatar, share a greater need to work more closely with Iran than do Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” he explained. “So their participation in any sort of grand regional coalition to contain Iran was always suspect at best.”
Qatar, which hosts the U.S. military’s Middle East headquarters known as CENTCOM, has been blockaded diplomatically and economically by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt since 2017. Pointing to this, as well as other tensions and disagreements between members, Synder said “there was no reasonable expectation that MESA would be able to form a strategy that would further U.S.’s primary goal of containing Iran.”
WASHINGTON – A U.S. judge on Friday sentenced Republican political consultant Samuel Patten to 36 months of probation, 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine in a case spun out of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Patten, 47, pleaded guilty in August to communicating with U.S. lawmakers and news media organizations on behalf of a Russia-aligned political party in Ukraine called the Opposition Bloc without disclosing that work to the Justice Department, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), among other offenses.
Patten is a former business partner of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national indicted by Mueller and accused of having ties to Russian intelligence. In Patten’s guilty plea he also admitted to arranging for a U.S. citizen to act as a straw purchaser to pay $50,000 for four tickets to the inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump on behalf of a Ukrainian oligarch, who reimbursed Patten through a Cypriot account.
After Bernie Sanders lost his primary campaign for president against Hillary Clinton in 2016, a Twitter account called Red Louisiana News reached out to his supporters to help sway the general election. “Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016,” the account tweeted.
The tweet was not actually from Louisiana, according to an analysis by Clemson University researchers. Instead, it was one of thousands of accounts identified as based in Russia, part of a cloaked effort to persuade supporters of the Vermont senator to elect Trump. “Bernie Sanders says his message resonates with Republicans,” said another Russian tweet.
While much attention has focused on the question of whether the Trump campaign encouraged or conspired with Russia, the effort to target Sanders supporters has been a lesser-noted part of the story. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, in a case filed last year against 13 Russians accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign, said workers at a St. Petersburg facility called the Internet Research Agency were instructed to write social media posts in opposition to Clinton but “to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”