The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: john kerry

Why Are The New York Times And Politico Promoting A Fake Kerry Scandal?

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The New York Times and Politico are helping spread a manufactured scandal against former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, now the White House's special climate envoy, over the manifestly absurd claim that he disclosed secret Israeli operations in the Syrian civil war to Iran's foreign minister.

In articles posted on Monday, the Times and Politico played up attacks on Kerry by Republican politicians such as Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Rick Scott of Florida, as well as former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. By focusing on this aspect to their coverage, they are doing exactly what Fox News is demanding for other media outlets to follow its lead.

In addition, the Times and Politico pieces gave little consideration to the obvious objection that the information was not secret — even though both outlets had reported on the strikes before. (And so did Fox.)

Kerry has issued a strongly worded denial, saying that such an exchange never happened:

Iran International, a United Kingdom-based outlet, first reported on a leaked interview recording of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who claimed that military leaders kept him in the dark about Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria and that he learned of the strikes from Kerry. According to the outlet, this claim is "not very credible," since those attacks were already reported via international media.

An analysis in the right-wing Jerusalem Post saw through the problem in Zarif's claim as well: "The idea that Zarif was told information on Israeli airstrikes by John Kerry and that he didn't know about airstrikes on Iranian convoys in Syria appears ridiculous. Does he not read his own Iranian media? Does he not have any sources inside his own ministry? … Is he the most uninformed foreign minister in the world?"

But in its latest story on Kerry's denial and Republican political attacks, the Times played down the extent to which the strikes have been public knowledge — which if emphasized, would have cast doubt on both Zarif's version of events and any notion of Republican outrage.

"Israel has made little effort to deny years of strikes attributed to it by Syria's government, news outlets and nongovernmental organizations tracking the Syrian conflict," the paper said. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to the strikes on a hot microphone during a meeting with Eastern European leaders in 2017, with further public admissions in 2018 and early 2019. The Times also could have noted that the Israeli military publicly acknowledged in September 2018 that it had struck over 200 Iranian targets since just 2017 — let alone the time period before that — but the paper instead chose to be vague on just how public this knowledge is.

Instead the Times simply noted: "A New York Times article from 2019 included similar information on the number of Israeli strikes." Besides the hair-splitting over the particular number, the Times previously reported on Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria multiple times in 2013 and also reported in 2018 on the escalating conflict between the two countries. But instead, it referred to just one of its articles from 2019, which happened to include information the Israeli military had already divulged the year before.

Politico followed a similar pattern, covering the story as more of a political back-and-forth in a piece headlined "GOP tears into Kerry amid Iran controversy," without acknowledging the fact that these attacks were already public knowledge.

And while it noted in the seventh paragraph that "Zarif's version of events has not been independently corroborated," one of the asterisks it attached to his remarks was that it is "also unclear whether Kerry allegedly revealed the Israeli operations to Zarif before they were publicly reported by Israel itself in 2018."

This framing depicts the Israeli actions in Syria as having been some kind of secret. In fact, Politico itself had casually mentioned the fact of the Israeli strikes over the years.

But noting such facts now would get in the way of media narratives that rely on covering political squabbles while treating partisan and opportunistic accusations as if they were legitimate.

China, U.S. Agree On Need For Stronger Global Climate Commitments

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -China and the United States agree that stronger pledges to fight climate change should be introduced before a new round of international talks at the end of the year, the two countries said in a joint statement on Sunday. The statement came after a meeting between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, in Shanghai on Thursday and Friday, China's environment ministry said. "The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis," their joint statement said. The...

Biden Climate Envoy Kerry Talks About Saving The Planet

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Last month, President-elect Joe Biden said he would demonstrate his administration's prioritization of the climate emergency by appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry to a high-profile role as the nation's climate czar, a new position on the National Security Council that will report directly to President Biden, and through which Kerry will elevate the climate crisis in both the nation's international diplomacy and its domestic policymaking.

Read Now Show less

Naming Kerry As Special Envoy Shows Biden’s Commitment On Climate

President-elect Joe Biden in Monday announced on Monday that former Secretary of State John Kerry will be joining his administration in a newly created role focused on climate change and how it impacts national security.

Kerry will serve as the first special presidential envoy for climate on the National Security Council.

The appointment of Kerry to the new position is indicative that Biden plans to make climate change a top priority of his administration, appointing officials to all agencies who will take climate change and its effects on Americans' health, economy, and national security into account in creating policy.

Read Now Show less

Trump Urges Prosecution Of Kerry In Rambling Press Conference

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

On Thursday,  President Donald Trump gave a White House press conference that was intended, primarily, to address medical billing. But the president was all over the place during the briefing, using it for everything from attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller and former Secretary of State John Kerry to a defense of his China trade policy. Here are some of the wildest and craziest moments from Trump’s May 9 White House press conference.

1. Trump described his administration as generous to Puerto Rico

Trump has been widely criticized for his response to the Hurricane Maria tragedy in Puerto Rico; San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló have been especially critical. But during his press conference, Trump vigorously defended his Puerto Rico policy — saying he “gave Puerto Rico $91 billion” and insisting “I think the people of Puerto Rico should really like President Trump.”

2. Trump called for prosecution of John Kerry

Trump, after taking office, ended the Obama Administration’s nuclear arms deal with Iran, which was negotiated in part by former Secretary of State John Kerry. And Trump took aim at Kerry on Thursday, accusing him of telling Iran not to call his administration. Trump claimed that Kerry was in violation of the Logan Act and should be prosecuted for interfering.

3. Trump deferred to Barr on Mueller testimony

Trump, recently, has begun saying that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress, after previously saying he would leave it up to the attorney general to make that decision. But on Thursday, he again deferred to Attorney General William Barr on the matter. “I’m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general,” Trump told reporters. “He’ll make a decision on that.”

4. Trump used a press conference on medical billing to attack Mueller

Although Thursday’s press briefing was meant to primarily address medical billing, Trump reiterated his familiar theme that Mueller’s Russia investigation was a pointless and partisan effort orchestrated by Democrats who are out to get him. Trump also suggested that Mueller might have had a conflict of interest, saying that after he fired former FBI Director James Comey in 2017, Mueller (who had previously directed the FBI) was considered as a replacement but ended up being special counsel instead.

5. Trump claimed Donald Trump, Jr. was ‘exonerated’ by Mueller

Trump also used the press conference to defend his son, claiming that Donald Trump, Jr. was “totally exonerated by Robert Mueller.”

6. Trump says he ‘gave China a break’

Trump defended tariffs on Chinese imports, saying that had been going easy on China and that he “gave China a break” when it came to tariffs. And after tariffs are increased, Trump said, “We’re going to be taking in more money than we’ve ever taken in.”

IMAGE: Secretary of State John Kerry in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

‘CEO’ Tillerson Faces Internal Skeptics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of Rex Tillerson’s first directives as U.S. secretary of state was an order to senior staff that his briefing materials not exceed two pages.

It was a reflection of Tillerson’s management style honed at the helm of Exxon Mobil, an oil company known for its relentless focus on efficiency, and one reason his closest aides at the State Department refer to him as “the CEO” rather than “the Secretary.”

More than a dozen current and former U.S. officials familiar with briefing procedures said Tillerson’s predecessors would typically request far more detailed information. His aide R.C. Hammond said the directive reflected Tillerson’s focus on key facts rather than lack of interest in finer points of foreign policy.

“He is asking people to be efficient with their information,” Hammond said, adding that if Tillerson needed more information he would ask for it. “He is a decision-maker and he needs the facts in front of him.”

As a first-time government official with no prior diplomatic experience, Tillerson faces close scrutiny over how successful he will be in managing both the State Department bureaucracy and its relations with Donald Trump and his administration.

Senior State Department officials who have attended meetings with Tillerson say they find him sociable and a man of substance, whose direct manner and probing questions reflect his training as an engineer seeking to solve problems rather than play politics.

The veteran oil executive also made a good impression on his first foreign trip to a Group of 20 summit in Bonn, Germany, last week. Four senior diplomats who met him told Reuters they were relieved to find that he was pragmatic and open to dialogue.

Yet a key concern for U.S. diplomats is how effective his team can be in shaping foreign policy in the new administration. Just two State Department positions of 116 key posts requiring executive branch nomination have been filled, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service – Tillerson’s and that of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

For example, Tillerson still has no deputy after Trump rejected his top choice, Elliott Abrams.

“People want to back him,” one veteran senior official said about the former Exxon Mobil boss. “But people are feeling that this building is being stripped,” said the official, referring to a sense that with so many top positions vacant, the State Department is not fully equipped to help make policy in the new administration.

There is also unease over possible deep staff cuts and the future of some departments. Two people said employees in the Bureau of Management and Resources were told to apply for other positions within the State Department. Hammond, Tillerson’s aide said no decision had been taken to close that division.

IN OR OUT OF THE LOOP?

On one recent matter of longstanding U.S. foreign policy, Tillerson appeared to be sidelined.

On Feb. 14, while Tillerson was at a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a State Department dining room, news headlines emerged suggesting the United States was backing away from supporting a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The two-state solution is the bedrock of the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, but Trump suggested last week he was open to abandoning it if both sides agree.

“No one had been informed of any changes in policy and the Secretary was about to leave on his first major trip,” said one senior State Department official, referring to Tillerson’s visit to Bonn.

Tillerson’s acting deputy Tom Shannon also did not take part in Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu at the White House the following day when his boss was on his way to Europe, according to one U.S. official.

It was unclear whether Tillerson had been left out of the loop deliberately or by accident, said two officials.

A White House official told Reuters he did not know whether Tillerson was briefed in advance. In response to broader concerns about communication between the State Department and the new administration, he said both coordinated “very well.”

“There are open lines of communications in both directions,” the official, who declined to be named, said. “The White House and the State Department coordinate closely across a full range of issues that concern both organizations.” To be sure, on another important issue, Tillerson had his say in persuading Trump to back Washington’s stance on “One China” policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of it. Trump has in the past appeared to question whether the United States would continue to respect that.

Hammond said Tillerson was on the phone with Trump several times a day.

“This is the general style of the president to have quick check-ins with people, get people’s advice on things,” he said. “Information for CEOs flows up, and as a former CEO (Tillerson) understands that.”

Tillerson has said little publicly since he started and his aides are quick to draw a contrast between him and predecessor John Kerry, a former senator and presidential candidate who reveled in extensive foreign travel and deal making.

“Tillerson is not John Kerry, it is unfair to compare the two,” said Hammond. “He will quietly go about his job as a counselor and advisor to the president.”

For Tillerson’s State Department the concern is how to maintain a similar degree of communication with an administration grappling with a succession of crises, nine officials involved in foreign policy and security issues, said.

Over the past month the White House has faced legal setbacks over its immigration orders, the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, and an investigation into possible links between his campaign and Russian intelligence.

Monday’s resignation of Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for just 24 days, in particular created a vacuum at the National Security Council, which acts as a key partner for the State Department in formulating Washington’s foreign policy.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland in Washington and Andrea Shalal in Bonn. Editing by Warren Strobel and Tomasz Janowski)

IMAGE: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens during an opening session meeting of G-20 foreign ministers at the World Conference Center February 16, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

Kerry Warns Of ‘Authoritarian Populism,’ Takes Jab At Trump Tweets

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday warned of the dangers of authoritarian populism and offered a thinly veiled critique of Donald Trump’s prolific use of Twitter, saying it allowed the president-elect to avoid accountability.

In his most pointed public comments about Trump since the Nov. 8 presidential election, Kerry also suggested that the president-elect’s Cabinet nominees were getting a free pass from Congress for failing to submit tax returns and other documentation before their Senate confirmation hearings.

“Every country in the world better … start worrying about authoritarian populism and the absence of substance in our dialogue,” Kerry told a Washington forum.

“If policies are going to be made in 140 characters on Twitter, and every reasonable measurement of accountability is being bypassed, and people don’t care about it, we have a problem,” Kerry said.

As an example of the absence of substance in the political debate, he said climate change was given short shrift during the campaign between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

He contrasted his own vetting for secretary of state and the paperwork he had to provide with exceptions he said are being made for Trump Cabinet nominees before their confirmation hearings.

In December, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said the panel had not asked Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, to provide his tax returns, which Corker said was in accordance with precedent.

Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil Corp, has not submitted tax returns, but his financial disclosure and ethics agreement has been made public.

Kerry, a former senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee who became President Barack Obama’s secretary of state in 2013, said it is “quite amazing when you think the hoops I had to jump through with respect to papers submitted, documentation submitted and tax returns. … Suddenly that’s not as important.”

Asked if he believed Trump’s nominees were getting “a free pass,” Kerry chuckled and dodged the question.

Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, said in a letter to senators last week that he had “great concern” about the hearing schedule for Trump nominees who had not completed the ethics review process, and said it would be “cause for alarm if the Senate were to go forward with hearings on nominees whose reports OGE has not certified.”

With 10 days to go before Trump takes office, Kerry said there had been few high-level contacts between current State Department officials and Trump’s transition team.

Asked about the transition at a forum at the nonpartisan U.S. Institute of Peace, Kerry said, “It’s going pretty smoothly because there’s not an enormous amount of it.”

“There are some people who have been in the building for a period of time, but you know quite candidly, I think there has not been a lot of high-level exchange at this point in time,” Kerry said.

Kerry said he had not yet met with Tillerson, but expected to do so soon. Kerry and Tillerson spoke last month by telephone, according to the State Department.

A spokeswoman for the Trump transition team said she had no comment on Kerry’s remarks.

Tillerson’s Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and will be closely watched in part due to concerns about his relationship with Russia as ExxonMobil’s top executive.

Trump has called for better ties with Russia, while some fellow Republicans in Congress are pushing for a harsher response to what American intelligence agencies have concluded was Kremlin meddling in the presidential election.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Will Dunham)

IMAGE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the FY2017 State Department Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

John Kerry: Climate Change Should Not Be ‘Partisan Issue’

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) – Work to avert the problems caused by climate change should not be a partisan issue, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry told students at an elite U.S. engineering school on Monday, in one of his final speeches as the nation’s top diplomat.

Kerry noted U.S. officials from military and intelligence leaders to the mayors of coastal cities agree the problem of rising sea levels and erratic rainfall is one that they want to take action on, and he urged the incoming administration of Republican President-elect Donald Trump to tackle head on.

Trump, a New York real estate developer who has never held elected office, has described climate change as a hoax and vowed to pull the United States out of the deal negotiated in Paris in 2015 to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. But in an interview with the New York Times in November, Trump said he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of the accord.

“I’m not going to speculate about the policies that our President-elect and his Secretary of State will choose to pursue, but I will tell you this … some issues look a lot different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry said at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

“The truth is that climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s an issue that all of us should care about, regardless of political affiliation.”

The U.S. Senate this week is due to begin the process of confirming Trump’s political appointments, including proposed Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, who has repeatedly challenged the agency’s authority in the courts.

Many Republicans in Congress argue environmental regulations slow business growth and job creation, both expected to be top priorities for the Trump administration.

Kerry referenced a U.S. intelligence report published on Monday that listed climate change among the factors that could raise the risk of conflict between nations.

Obama on Monday echoed the message in an article published in Science magazine.

Kerry called on researchers and students at MIT to keep up their work on improving energy efficiency and inventing new energy sources, regardless of government policies.

“It’s going to be innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders … who will continue to create the technological advances that forever revolutionize the way we power our world,” Kerry said. “Every person in this room – indeed, every person on the planet – has an interest in making sure that transition happens as quickly as possible.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: United States Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about climate change at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder