Europe/Americas update: June 7 2017


Former FBI Director James Comey will testify tomorrow before the Senate intelligence committee regarding his firing and allegations that President Donald Trump tried to “encourage” him to drop the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. First, I would suggest you read this summary of recent developments in the Trump-Russia story leading up to Comey’s big day:

A Washington Post report revealed a new instance of President Donald Trump attempting to kill the FBI’s investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, in a way that closely paralleled President Richard Nixon’s actions during Watergate.

Meanwhile, fired FBI Director James Comey is preparing for his Senate testimony on Thursday, and CNN reports that he plans to dispute Trump’s assertions that he told Trump he was not under investigation. (Update: The CNN piece turned out to be inaccurate.)

Around the same time, the New York Times reported that shortly after Trump asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he didn’t ever want to be alone in a room with Trump again.

Then ABC News followed up a Times report on trouble in paradise between Trump and Sessions by revealing that Sessions recently offered to resign his post after getting harsh criticism from the president for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Now, if you just can’t wait until tomorrow, Comey’s written testimony is already available, and it’s quite something:

The fired FBI chief, James Comey, has publicly revealed how Donald Trump put pressure on him to shut down an investigation into a senior adviser’s links to Russia.

Trump asked Comey to drop his investigation into the former national security adviser Gen Michael Flynn, Comey’s first written account of his interactions says.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president is alleged to have told Comey in the White House in February. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey, who was subsequently dismissed by Trump, writes that he understood the president to be asking him to drop the investigation into Flynn, an intervention he found “very concerning”.

Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes has some thoughts, and they’re not great:

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

The Trump-Russia story has become a playground for grifters and conspiracy theorists to go nuts, and as a result I think there’s a group of people on the left for whom any mention of it leads to immediate eye-rolling. But this is not the nutty Twitter opportunists spinning tall tales about Russian operatives doing whatever under your bed at night. There are also a lot of people on the left and center-left who rightly would like to offer James Comey the opportunity to go fuck himself. But the behavior he’s describing here is incredibly troubling. Trump’s innate authoritarianism is even more troubling than his innate stupidity, but in combination they’re really a frightening mix. An authoritarian who hires a bunch of other authoritarians and is too dumb to keep an eye on what they’re all doing sounds like a pretty dangerous guy to elect president.



The Kremlin says it hasn’t made any plans for a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And, you know, maybe they should just hold off for the time being.


Kiev says that at least one of its soldiers was killed today and seven wounded when their position in Luhansk came under rebel artillery fire.


I hesitate to even mention this because there’s almost no way anything will come of it, but the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights is asking German prosecutors to arrest new CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel. They’ve accused Haspel of overseeing the torture of several agency detainees, including Abu Zubaydah, while she was running a CIA detention facility in Thailand shortly after 9/11. One of those detainees was a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, which means Germany could have cause to arrest Haspel if it were so inclined. It would be absolutely stunning if they actually did so.


Whatever questions British security officials have to answer about the London Bridge attackers (see below), the head of Italy’s federal police, Franco Gabrielli, says his people acted appropriately in flagging one of the attackers, Italian national Youssef Zaghba, for British authorities.


In response to yesterday’s terrorist incident at Notre Dame cathedral, the French government has put together a new counter-terrorism task force incorporating the country’s various intelligence agencies. This task force has apparently been in President Emmanuel Macron’s plans since he took office, so the timing may be coincidental or it may be that yesterday’s attack was the catalyst for moving ahead with the idea.


As I hinted at above, there are still many, many questions facing British authorities about how they handled, or didn’t handle, warnings about at least two of the attackers in Saturday’s terrorist incident in London. In addition to the warnings from Italy about Zaghba, they apparently ignored what the New York Times calls an “avalanche” of warnings about another attacker, British national Khuram Shazad Butt:

Some of the missed warnings were especially glaring because they came from the very people the British government had entrusted with identifying extremists.

Usama Hasan, a former Islamic extremist who now works with the police to help de-radicalize others, said he had a physical altercation in a London park less than a year ago with one of the assailants, Khuram Shazad Butt.

Mr. Butt’s brother, Saad, who did paid work for the police on counterextremism issues and was estranged from the assailant, missed signs of how dangerous his brother’s extremism had become.

Other warnings had also been raised about Mr. Butt, 27, who held odd jobs, including at KFC and a six-month stint as a customer service trainee for the London subway system that ended in October. His second child was born weeks before the attack, neighbors said.

In 2015, an F.B.I. informant, Jesse Morton, wrote a report to his handler in the United States, identifying Mr. Butt as a person to watch because of what Mr. Morton described as his rising role in extremist chat rooms run by Al Muhajiroun, an organization banned in Britain because of its sprawling links to terrorism.

Al Muhajiroun, which keeps changing its name to get around being shut down, is known throughout Europe for recruiting fighters for ISIS. Warnings about Butt’s role in that organization should have set off alarm bells. Butt was on a terrorism watch list, and yet apparently nobody was keeping a close eye on him. Buzzfeed has put together a list of seven questions staring British authorities in the face, including some pretty reasonable ones like “Why was a suspect (Zoghba) on an EU terror watchlist able to enter the UK?” and “How was someone on a high-priority terrorism watchlist (Butt) able to work on the London underground?”

Prime Minister Theresa May, who has questions of her own to answer about the police cutbacks she oversaw as Home Secretary, got a rare bit of good news today: polling that looks good for her. The consensus seems to be that she will increase her Conservative Party majority tomorrow, though it has certainly been a strange and wild ride getting to this point.



The Brazilian government is thinking about following America’s lead and abrogating its responsibilities under the Paris Climate Accord. Now, if only we could return the favor by following Brazil’s lead and, after Michel Temer is (hopefully) impeached, impeach Trump, I think that would be a wash.


After some wobbliness earlier in the week, FARC’s disarmament appears to be proceeding according to plan. The group’s fighters have handed 30 percent of their weapons over to UN monitors and will hand over another 30 percent next week. The rebel who was arrested last week in contravention of the FARC-government peace deal, whose arrest was the reason FARC leaders were threatening not to begin the disarmament process, has apparently been released.


A 17 year old became the latest victim of the violence surrounding Venezuela’s ongoing protests on Wednesday. Reports of Neomar Lander’s death, the 66th since these protests began in April, contradict one another. Venezuelan authorities claim that he was holding a homemade mortar that exploded in his hands, while opposition leaders say he was struck by a tear gas canister that had been shot directly at him. The violence isn’t abating, and can probably be expected to worsen as the country gets closer to a proposed July 30 vote to elect a “constituent assembly” that would be empowered to rewrite the country’s constitution. President Nicolás Maduro says changing the constitution is essential to bringing the country out of its economic struggles–his opponents say he’s just looking for a way to bypass the country’s elected legislature, which is controlled by the opposition.

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