'will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'
This week in Russia
In an interview with Megyn Kelly that aired on NBC on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election and “insisted the hackers could have come from ‘anywhere’ and then they could have – in a savvy and professional way – shifted the blame to make it look like Russia was behind the hacking.”
On Monday, The Intercept published a classified NSA report detailing specific Russian military intelligence efforts to interfere with the election. According to the report, Russian intelligence “executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days” before the election.
Later in the day, news broke that the leaker had been identified as Reality Leigh Winner, 25, who’d been arrested on June 3 and will be charged “with removing classified material from a government facility in Georgia.” The charges were announced less than an hour after The Intercept published its report.
At NeimanLab, Laura Hazard Owen reports on the ways in which Winner’s and The Intercept’s handling of the leaked documents led to Winner’s public outing.
On Wednesday, the nation’s four top intelligence officials – Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the NSA, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe – testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which “had one key question they asked again and again,” according to NPR: “Did President Trump want you to downplay investigations surrounding Russia?” The “often contentious” hearing revealed little new information, as each of the intelligence officials responded in broad, often vague terms to Committee questions.
On Thursday, in what had been billed as Washington D.C.’s “Superbowl,” former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. At NPR, Brian Naylor details some of the highlights of the hearing:
Regarding Trump’s assertion that Comey was fired due to poor leadership and disarray among the FBI’s rank-and-file: “Those were lies, plain and simple.”
On why he decided to take notes during meetings with Trump: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the content of our meeting, so I felt I had to write it down.”
On Trump’s remarking that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations”: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!”
On leaking his notes from meetings with Trump to the press: “I thought it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
In response to being asked whether Trump’s attempts to persuade him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia amounted to obstruction of justice, Comey said that was for special counsel Robert Mueller to decide, although he did call it “disturbing” and asked, rhetorically, “Why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office [when he made that request]? That, to me as an investigator, is a very significant fact.”
Comey’s testimony also raised new questions about the details surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.
At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos recounts the “three astonishing hours” of James Comey’s testimony and argues that Trump “took a step” in the direction of impeachment.
Don’t forget about North Korea
Last Thursday North Korea launched multiple surface-to-ship projectiles off its east coast, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a continuing acceleration of its missile development program despite harsher UN sanctions imposed last week. The missiles “likely flew about 125 miles…[and] landed in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, where the U.S. carriers Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with the South Korean navy” last week, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In an official statement released on Tuesday, North Korea condemned the US for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, calling it a “shortsighted and silly decision,” while labeling global warming as “one of the gravest challenges humankind is facing today.”
At the National Interest, Doug Bandow asserts that North Korea’s leadership “appear[s] to be eminently rational,” and that any productive negotiation will require the US to recognize it as such.
The diplomatic crisis in the Gulf
On Monday, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, ejecting Qatari diplomats and recalling citizens, as they accused Doha “of supporting ‘terrorists’ and Iran.” Yemen’s internationally-recognized-but-exiled government, the Maldives, and “Libya’s out-of-mandate Prime Minister” later joined the Gulf states in cutting ties.
On Tuesday, Kuwait’s ruler met with Saudi King Salman to mediate the dispute.
Also on Tuesday: President Trump expressed his support for the move against Qatar in a series of tweets, claiming that “his call for an end to the financing of radical groups” is what prompted the severing of ties. A little more than a week ago, Trump had visited the region and announced the Gulf Cooperation Council’s leadership in working to cut off funding for terrorist groups in the region. Now, as al Jazeera reports, “there are many analysts who believe that a potential break-up of the GCC has to be considered.”
Trump’s response conflicted with the official response of his administration – both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis sought to downplay the dispute among the key US allies. Qatar hosts the US’s largest military base in the Middle East, with about 10,000 US troops stationed there.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen at The Atlantic argues that “the roots of the tensions between Qatar and its neighbors go deep,” and provides historical context to the current crisis.
On Saturday night, in what London police have labeled a terror attack, a van crossing the London Bridge “veered into pedestrians,” hitting five or six people according to witnesses. Three men then exited the vehicle and chased people with knives, stabbing indiscriminately. Ultimately, seven people were killed and 48 were injured in the incident. On Monday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. This is the third terror attack in the UK in four months, following the attack on Westminster Bridge in March in which five people were killed, and last month’s bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in which 22 people were killed and dozens more injured.
ABC News reported on Tuesday that the relationship between Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions became so strained that “Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign,” a suggestion Trump refused, despite lingering anger over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Early Wednesday morning President Trump took to Twitter to announce former Justice Department official Christopher Wray as his nominee for FBI Director. Wray served as an assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, and later represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” scandal.
In a short address to the UN Human Rights Council, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley claimed that “the United States is looking carefully at this Council and our participation in it,” criticizing in particular the Council’s treatment of Israel and its unwillingness to address human rights abuses in Venezuala.
Hawaii governor David Ige signed two bills on Wednesday “committing the state to fulfilling key provisions of the Paris climate agreement.” Though several states and nearly 80 cities pledged to follow the climate agreement last week despite federal policy, Hawaii becomes the first state to take steps toward legal compliance.
17 people died and more than 40 people were injured in two coordinated terrorist attacks in Tehran on Wednesday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In its official statement of condolence, the White House claimed to “grieve and pray” for the victims of the attack, but also “underscore[d] that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
Exit polls from the UK’s snap election Thursday indicate a ‘hung parliament’ with no clear majority party, a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May, who’d called for the election in order to strengthen her hand in negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union.
above image: "nixon redux," mike maguire / flickr