By Robert A. Vella
Well, well, well. Now we know why former Special Counsel Robert Mueller failed to completely investigate collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. As suspected by many, including myself, he was ordered to limit his investigation by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the inquiry in 2017. Mueller could have challenged the order, refused to proceed under those restrictions, or exposed the political interference of his assignment; but, like a good little soldier, Mueller obeyed. We can now put a belated end to the “hero” myth repeated over and over on mainstream news media about Mr. Mueller. He never was the right person for the job, nor was he capable of meeting the challenge of defending the United States against a foreign and domestic conspiracy. As for Rosenstein, he was what skeptics thought he was all along – a Trump enabler disguised as a respected law enforcement officer. Unfortunately for America, those skeptics didn’t include many former DOJ officials who worked as media pundits during Mueller’s investigation. I would relish the opportunity to interview them today in light of what we know now.
Emboldened by Donald Trump and other authoritarian leaders who have been systematically destroying democracy over the last few years, a wide array of fascists and racists are crawling out of the shadows and asserting their violent agendas across the globe and especially so in the U.S. and Europe. Vigilantism is turning the city streets of America into deadly battlegrounds, and neo-Nazis are directly confronting the duly-elected government of Germany in a conspicuous display reminiscent of a frightening historical event. The crackdown on dissent continues in beleaguered Belarus, and a split election result in the Balkans threatens to further weaken the European Union.
In the U.S., President Trump is pushing hard to eliminate all social restrictions designed to control the still-spreading coronavirus pandemic in another desperate attempt to salvage his damaged reelection hopes; and, two new opinion polls show how much public sentiment has changed since 2016.
Rosenstein kneecapped Mueller in 2017
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2017 narrowed the scope of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, cutting short a probe into President Trump’s business ties to Moscow, The New York Times reported.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein limited the investigation to exclude those ties without telling the FBI, according to the Times. Andrew McCabe, who served as deputy FBI director at the time, told the newspaper that Rosenstein did not tell him that he was limiting the probe, leading McCabe to believe special counsel Robert Mueller would investigate the president’s business connections. McCabe added that he would have tasked the FBI with that aspect of the probe had he known Mueller would not investigate it.
“We opened this case in May 2017 because we had information that indicated a national security threat might exist, specifically a counterintelligence threat involving the president and Russia,” McCabe told the Times. “I expected that issue and issues related to it would be fully examined by the special counsel team. If a decision was made not to investigate those issues, I am surprised and disappointed. I was not aware of that.”
When he installed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017, Rosenstein gave him the mandate of probing “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government” and the Trump campaign.
In private, however, Rosenstein directed Mueller to limit his investigation to any lawbreaking in connection with Russian election interference, the Times reported, citing former law enforcement officials.
Journalist Jeffrey Toobin, who first reported the conversation for a book, wrote that Rosenstein warned Mueller against a “fishing expedition” similar to Ken Starr’s investigation into President Clinton.
“This is a criminal investigation. Do your job, and then shut it down,” Toobin quotes Rosenstein as saying.
As a result, Mueller built a team that predominantly investigated crimes rather than national security threats, McCabe told the Times, even though it was “first and foremost a counterintelligence case.”
Fascism rising in U.S. and Europe
Driven by a patchwork of ideologies and enflamed by the Trump administration’s often misleading messaging on far-left agitators, analysts say, the groups are fueling concern among law enforcement and hate group watchers that they could be the cause of more violence. Legal experts are also warning that the militias, with their embrace of high-powered weapons and lack of police training, are on shaky constitutional ground.
Since April, according to researchers who track hate groups, more decentralized and organic outgrowths of the movement have increased in visibility, first at “reopen” rallies that challenged coronavirus shutdowns, and later at the site of racial justice demonstrations, where they say their patrols meant to deter criminal behavior have led to varying degrees of confrontation.
One survey, by social justice think tanks Political Research Associates and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, documented 187 appearances of paramilitary and other far-right actors at rallies nationwide from late May to early July.
Shared among the variety of groups, which are mainly comprised of White men, is often a disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement and a misplaced emphasis on its ties to radical left-wing violence, though some have more explicit, extreme and at times racist ideologies, said Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism who monitors the groups’ activity online.
Many are also inspired by disinformation they read online about violence and organized looting campaigns tied into the Black Lives Matter movement. President Donald Trump and the leaders of the Justice Department have regularly aggrandized the role of the anarchist group Antifa in the summer’s unrest without providing much evidence.
“There’s this disconnect between what is real on the ground and what people are reading on the internet, where everyone is sharing messages about George Soros paying for buses to go out into the towns and all these types of things that are totally not true,” Friedfeld said, referring to the billionaire philanthropist at the center of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The Oath Keepers, which draws its members from the ranks of the military and law enforcement, and adherents to the Three Percenter militia movement organize to confront conspiracies about an overreaching federal government.
Members of the Boogaloo movement range in ideology from anarchists to White supremacists, but have proved to be some of the most violent extremists this summer. The FBI has arrested several this summer, including a pair charged in connection to the murder of a federal security guard at an Oakland, California, courthouse in May amid protests in the city. They have pleaded not guilty.
(Bloomberg) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman condemned as “shameful” chaotic protests over the weekend in Berlin, when far-right demonstrators breached a security barrier to mount the front steps of parliament.
“The result was the shameful scenes at the Reichstag, which cannot be accepted — opponents of democracy causing trouble on the steps of our democratic parliament,” Steffen Seibert told reporters on Monday. He joined a chorus of leading politicians decrying the incident, that took place during protests against coronavirus restrictions.
“We saw an example at the weekend of how the right to protest freely was abused by some people,” Seibert said at a regular news conference. “Our friends abroad know very well that Germany is a strong and resilient democracy.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the scenes, during which demonstrators waving black-white-and-red flags of the pre-World War II German Reich, an “intolerable attack on the heart of our democracy.” The Reichstag houses Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.
Historical analogy from: Reichstag fire
The Reichstag fire (German: Reichstagsbrand, listen (help·info)) was an arson attack on the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament in Berlin, on Monday 27 February 1933, precisely four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Hitler’s government stated that Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch council communist, was the culprit, and it attributed the fire to communist agitators. A German court decided later that year that Van der Lubbe had acted alone, as he had claimed. The day after the fire, the Reichstag Fire Decree was passed. The Nazi Party used the fire as a pretext to claim that communists were plotting against the German government, which made the fire pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany.
The first report of the fire came shortly after 21:00, when a Berlin fire station received an alarm call.:26–28 By the time that police and firefighters arrived, the main Chamber of Deputies was engulfed in flames. The police conducted a thorough search inside the building and accused Van der Lubbe. He was arrested, as were four communist leaders soon after. Hitler urged President Paul von Hindenburg to issue an emergency decree to suspend civil liberties and pursue a “ruthless confrontation” with the Communist Party of Germany. After the decree was issued, the government instituted mass arrests of communists, including all of the Communist Party’s parliamentary delegates. With their bitter rival communists gone and their seats empty, the Nazi Party went from having a plurality to a majority, thus enabling Hitler to consolidate his power.
In February 1933, Bulgarians Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Tanev, and Blagoy Popov were arrested, and they played pivotal roles during the Leipzig Trial, also known as the “Reichstag Fire Trial.” They were known to the Prussian police as senior Comintern operatives, but the police had no idea how senior they were. Dimitrov was the head of all Comintern operations in Western Europe. The responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains a topic of debate and research. The Nazis accused the Comintern of the act. However, some historians believe, based on archive evidence, that the arson had been planned and ordered by the Nazis as a false flag operation. The building remained in its damaged state until it was partially repaired from 1961 to 1964 and completely restored from 1995 to 1999. In 2008, Germany posthumously pardoned Van der Lubbe under a law introduced in 1998 to lift unjust verdicts dating from the Nazi era.
The Belarusian currency is tumbling in value and companies in its crucial IT sector are threatening to pull out after weeks of unprecedented protests against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarusians are desperately trawling banks and bureaux de change for foreign currency to salvage at least some of the value of their savings.
The national currency is falling at a record rate, losing more than 10 percent of its value against the euro and the dollar in the last month due to uncertainty over the deepening political standoff and fears of an economic crisis.
Over the last year, it has fallen 27 percent against the dollar and 33 percent against the euro.
(Bloomberg) — Montenegro’s ruling party won the most votes in Sunday’s elections but results suggested it may have to cede power to opposition parties vowing to unite against Europe’s most enduring leader, President Milo Djukanovic.
The tight contest made it unclear who will lead the next government in a country that’s embroiled in the battle for influence in the Balkans between the European Union and NATO on one side and Russia and its allies on the other.
Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, known as the DPS, won 35.1%, according to almost complete results published Monday. An umbrella group of pro-Russian and pro-Serbian parties called For the Future of Montenegro won 32.5%, followed by 12.5% for the opposition alliance Peace is Our Nation and 5.6% for the Black on White.
Trump pushes herd immunity
One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.
The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.
The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist from Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House earlier this month as a pandemic adviser. He has advocated that the United States adopt the model Sweden has used to respond to the virus outbreak, according to these officials, which relies on lifting restrictions so the healthy can build up immunity to the disease rather than limiting social and business interactions to prevent the virus from spreading.
Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless — the country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world. It also hasn’t escaped the deep economic problems resulting from the pandemic.
The U.S. has surpassed 6 million coronavirus cases as the country struggles to reopen schools and rebuild its economy as the pandemic rages with no end in sight.
The number of coronavirus cases topped 6 million Sunday, according to NBC News data collected from health departments nationwide. The country has recorded more than 183,000 deaths due to the virus since the outbreak gained global attention in February.
Although case numbers have continued to rise in waves, many states have chosen to reopen their economies and schools. Universities and colleges that board students have particularly struggled to keep cases under control as young adults move back to campuses and nearby residences to begin in-person courses.