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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: john kerry

How Fox News And Trump Attempted To Frame John Kerry

Geoffrey Berman, a former top federal prosecutor during Donald Trump’s administration, reportedly writes in a new book that a spurious investigation of former Secretary of State John Kerry was set in motion in response to then-president Donald Trump’s May 2018 tweet accusing Kerry of “potentially illegal shadow diplomacy” with Iran. Trump’s tweet came in response to a report the then-president was watching at the time on Fox News, according to a Media Matters review.

As president, Trump reportedly watched hours of Fox programming a day and regularly tweeted his responses to what he was seeing on television in real-time or on tape-delay, as Media Matters extensively documented. The network’s commentators and coverage shaped the former president’s worldview – and thus his administration’s actions, including presidential pardons, federal contracting, legislative and communications strategy, pandemic policies, and much more.

Now it seems we can add a federal probe of one of Trump’s political opponents to the list. The New York Times reported Thursday that in a new book, Berman wrote that while he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Justice Department officials ordered him to investigate Kerry after Trump criticized Kerry’s “possibly illegal” behavior on Twitter. Those tweets have their roots in Fox’s coverage.

On May 7, 2018, Washington, D.C., was abuzz with the prospect that Trump might withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord that Kerry negotiated during the Obama administration. The president, meanwhile, spent the morning tweeting along with Fox & Friends, the Fox morning show, which he was apparently watching on tape-delay.

At 10:08 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted, “The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one who created this MESS in the first place!” As I noted at the time, that tweet tracked with the content of a segment that had aired on Fox’s America’s Newsroom roughly an hour earlier.

During that segment, Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins discussed a Boston Globe report from a few days earlier about Kerry’s behind-the-scenes effort to salvage the Iran deal. Kerry “has been engaging in what some are calling shadow diplomacy,” Jenkins reported, using the same term Trump would in his subsequent tweet.

Immediately after Jenkins’ report, anchor Bill Hemmer turned to contributor Byron York, who said that Kerry’s actions were “a big deal” because Kerry was “meeting with foreign governments in an attempt to undermine the current U.S. administration.” York added that while “you will hear” that Kerry may have violated the Logan Act, “it likely does not apply here.”

Indeed, conservatives were raising the prospect that Kerry had violated the Logan Act – including Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy earlier that morning, in a segment the then-president likely watched. But as University of Texas School of Law professor Stephen Vladeck explained in the Globe report, that statute would not apply in this case, since Kerry was acting to maintain what was (at the time) current U.S. policy.

Trump’s tweet set off his supporters at the network, particularly Sean Hannity, who maintained dual roles as a close Trump adviser and primetime host. On his show that night, Hannity suggested that Kerry was “violating the law, the Logan Act,” and asked, “Where are the agents in the FBI and the DOJ breaking down John Kerry's door? Another blatant example of a two-tier justice system sadly in this country today.”

Later in the program, Hannity polled members of his panel as to whether Kerry had violated the Logan Act. After they all agreed that he had, Hannity said, “Let's see when that investigation begins.”

Fox’s criticism of Kerry continued into the next day on Fox & Friends, including a segment in which co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed his action “seems to be a violation of the Logan Act,” while his guest compared the former secretary of state to the Taliban. Roughly an hour after that, Trump tweeted, “John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!”

Later that day, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran deal.

Trump’s tweets had a major and immediate impact, Berman explained in his book. The Times reported:

On May 9, Mr. Berman writes, Justice Department officials told his office that it would be responsible for an investigation into Mr. Kerry’s Iran-related conduct. The F.B.I. would join the inquiry.

The focus was on the Logan Act, a rarely invoked 1799 statute barring private citizens from unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments, which has been criticized as unconstitutionally vague. Mr. Berman notes that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under the law.

But, as he puts it, “The conduct that had annoyed the president was now a priority of the Department of Justice.”

Although Mr. Berman says he does not know what prompted the Justice Department to seek a Kerry investigation, “No one needed to talk with Trump to know what he wanted. You could read his tweets.”

According to the Times account, Berman wrote that in subsequent months, the Justice Department repeatedly pressured his office to move forward with the investigation of Kerry, particularly after Trump again tweeted about the purported crimes.

“They were asking us, basically, what’s taking so long? Why aren’t you going harder and faster at this enemy of the president? There was no other way for me to look at it,” he wrote.

Berman said that when his office told the Justice Department it would not be prosecuting Kerry following a year-long investigation, the case was passed to another U.S. attorney’s office. When that office also determined the case lacked merit, he wrote, “the Kerry investigation just quietly died — as it should have.”

Trump ultimately fired Berman in June 2020 during a purge of federal prosecutors seen as insufficiently loyal to him.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

The Twisted Roots Of Republican Insurrection

With the passing of a year since the attempted coup and insurrection of January 2021, the question that remains unanswered for many Americans is how our country came to its current peril. Why is the nation now confronting such an extraordinary degree of polarization, so many threats to democracy, and the prospect of partisan violence or even civil war? The obvious answer is to pin these woes on Donald Trump alone, who certainly deserves plenty of blame. But that would be wrong.

The former president, whose fascistic tendency was identified in this space when he first announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, didn't suddenly appear from nowhere. Trump was and is the expression of an authoritarian and malevolent spirit that has gained increasing influence within the Republican Party over the past three decades. Although the Nixon administration's antidemocratic excesses were an early warning, the first sign that this would become an irreversible trend could be seen in the rise of Newt Gingrich — now one of Trump's most implacable and aggressive attack dogs.

When Gingrich came to power in the House of Representatives in the early '90s, he first overthrew the old-line Republicans whose worldview permitted cooperation and compromise with Democrats for the nation's good. Nobody in Republican leadership before Gingrich would ever have considered something like defaulting on the national debt — a dishonorable and extremely dangerous tactic — for partisan advantage.

But to Gingrich, such extremist maneuvers were entirely justified by his ultra-right ideology, which depicted Democrats not as political competitors but as blood enemies. To advance that ideology within the GOP he created an organization called GOPAC, which taught right-wing candidates how to deploy a lexicon of slurs describing their Democratic opponents, and liberals more generally, as "sick," "pathetic," "radical," "socialist" and "traitors," among a long list of other insults. His smear campaign bore a distinct resemblance to the Gothic horror mythology of the QAnon cult — as when he blamed a mother's murder of her two children on the Democratic Party. (Actually, she turned out to be the daughter of a "Christian" Republican leader who had sexually abused her.)

It was an extraordinarily destructive and even nihilistic approach to politics, but it worked. As longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has gleefully noted so many times, hate is the most powerful motivator in politics — and by harnessing hate, the Gingrich Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, and never looked back.

From that day until today, the Republican attitude toward governance has veered between authoritarian and insurrectionary. It's authoritarian when a Republican occupies the White House, as we observed when the George W. Bush administration declared the "unitary presidency" with unlimited powers during time of war, specifically the war on terror. And it's insurrectionary when a Democratic president is in power, as we saw when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that his only purpose was to deny Barack Obama a second term.

No rules or customs that had applied under Bush would be available to Obama, and any underhanded tactic would be employed to regain power. The usual courtesies and decencies were abandoned, as we know from decades of experience. Even respect for wartime service went down the drain, as Republican draft dodgers spit on the decorations of Democratic war heroes like John Kerry and the late Max Cleland. So Trump felt free to mock the sacrifice of the late John McCain and other veterans. This is the legacy of Gingrich and of Karl Rove, the Bush White House political mastermind who conceived a political system so thoroughly controlled by the Republican Party — by whatever means necessary — as to render all opposition merely symbolic.

Indeed, many of the Trumpian tropes that make most Americans retch can be traced back to that earlier era of disgrace. When Trump's evangelical followers proclaim that he was chosen by God to rule, they are merely parroting what they once told us about George W. Bush (whom they now despise). The Republicans and their echoes in media and the pulpit are purveyors of propaganda, without shame or scruple.

Yes, Trump and his minions represent a clear and present danger to democracy, but they didn't emerge from nowhere. Their brand of cancer has been growing in the Republican Party for a generation or more — and with all due respect to brave dissenters like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), it will not be excised merely by defeating him.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


'Third-Rate Grandstander': Even Trump Wanted Massie Tossed Out Of The GOP

Some days, it’s the little things, the small absurdities in the news that make a person wonder if there’s any real hope for American democracy.

Consider, for example, the Christmas greeting sent out by Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, featuring the Republican congressman’s entire family—husband, wife, two daughters, and three sons—brandishing semi-automatic rifles and grinning into the camera like some latter-day Bonnie and Clyde. Or “Y’all Qaeda” as somebody derisively dubbed the happy family on Twitter.

There’s a Christmas tree in the background, and a cheery holiday message: "Merry Christmas!, ps. Santa, please bring ammo."

Ho, ho, ho!

This only a few days after a disturbed 15 year-old in Michigan murdered four high school classmates with a semi-automatic handgun that his parents gave him as an early Christmas gift.

Oh yeah, this too: Rep. Massie himself appears to be fondling an actual machine gun, presumably to let everybody know who’s the head honcho of this hardy brood of crackpots. None of whom, you can bet your own personal Colt .45, has ever heard a shot fired in anger, nor—prayerfully—ever will.

Somebody who has experienced actual combat, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), an Iraq War veteran, put it this way: "I'm pro second amendment, but this isn't supporting the right to keep and bear arms, this is a gun fetish."

My sentiments exactly. Current right-wing idolatry of firearms as totemic objects, it seems to me, signifies arrested development in those like Rep. Massie who make a spectacle of brandishing them. You can’t hunt or go target-shooting with a heavy-caliber automatic weapon. They’re useless for self-defense or for anything other than military purposes. In civilian hands, they’re essentially masturbatory. Basically codpieces.

Speaking of arrested development, you may not be astonished to learn that Rep. Massie’s Facebook page identifies him as a “Libertarian,” that is, as somebody whose intellectual development stalled at the “You’re not the boss of me” stage of early adolescence. The congressman, whose district stretches along the Ohio River in rural northern Kentucky, has made rather a specialty of solitary grandstanding.

Back in 2013, Massie was the only congressman to vote against the “Undetectable Firearms Act,” a bill to prevent non-metallic weapons from being smuggled aboard airplanes. (Or the U.S. Capitol, for that matter.) His was the only vote against the “Stolen Valor Act” punishing people falsely posing as war heroes. In 2017, he cast the lone vote against sanctioning North Korea. He’s also provided solitary votes against helping to build Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system; and supporting Hong Kong’s democracy.

Trained as a mechanical engineer at MIT—just to show you—he derides climatology as “pseudoscience” and rejects all efforts to do anything about it. Regarding the Covid plague, he has argued fiercely against mask mandates. He and Marjorie Taylor Greene, to give readers an idea of the company he keeps, have sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi after being fined for refusing to wear masks on the House floor.

Like Greene, he has compared vaccination mandates to the Holocaust, trivializing the gravest crime in living memory. “There is no authority in the Constitution that authorizes the government to stick a needle in you against your will, [or] force you to wear a face mask,” he once tweeted. “Can you imagine the signers of the Declaration of Independence submitting to any of these things?!”

Better-informed critics quickly cited Constitutional Law 101: "Congress shall have power to…provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States." Others noted that in 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered his army inoculated against smallpox at Valley Forge, no exceptions. Putting down the epidemic proved decisive in the Revolutionary War.

Me, I wondered if Rep. Massie thinks laws requiring him to wear pants constitute government tyranny? Indeed, no less an authority than Donald J. Trump, irritated by a Massie ploy in June 2021, in which he demanded an in-person floor vote delaying a Covid relief bill that had passed 96-0 in the Senate, called him “a third-rate grandstander” who should be drummed out of the Republican Party. Former Sen. John Kerry commented that Massie had "tested positive for being an a**hole."

And yet, the five-term congressman endures, an experienced vaudeville performer and firm fixture in the GOP Clown Caucus, along with such worthies as Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and noted cartoon assassin Paul Gosar (R-AZ.). Me, I’m just glad he’s not from Arkansas, where I live, although we have a couple of districts where his slack-jawed comedy stylings—filing bills to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example—would definitely play.

He’d have to make up with Trump, however, although abject flattery is all that’s really necessary to win the great man’s favor.

You’d like to think Massie’s grotesque parody of a Christmas card would finish him politically. But then you’d like to think a lot of things.

Trump Pretends To Be Running US Foreign Policy From Mar-a-Lago

Former President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested he's running a shadow government out of his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Florida, saying he sent an "Envoy Ambassador" to the Kosovo-Serbia border to help the two nations work toward "peace."

"The great people of Serbia and Kosovo have overcome tremendous obstacles in their pursuit of economic normalization," says a statement released by Trump's Save America PAC in which he describes himself as the "45th President of the United States."

Trump says, "The agreements my administration brokered are historic and should not be abandoned, many lives are at stake. The region is too important and the people have waited too long for this work to be cast aside. Today, my Envoy Ambassador Ric Grenell visited the Kosovo-Serbia border to highlight this important agreement."

Trump's statement raises eyebrows, not least because in 2019 he accused former Secretary of State John Kerry of violating the Logan Act for talking to Iran when Trump was president and called for Kerry to be prosecuted over it.

The Logan Act, enacted in 1799, prohibits unauthorized American citizens from conducting foreign policy. The law states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

"What I'd like to see with Iran, I'd like to see them call me. John Kerry speaks to them a lot, and John Kerry tells them not to call. That's a violation of the Logan Act, and frankly he should be prosecuted on that," Trump said at the time, adding, "Only the Democrats do that kind of stuff."

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo visited the White House in September 2020 to highlight the "Washington Agreement," two separate documents each signed by one of the countries that Trump called "a major breakthrough." The "agreement" was aimed at normalizing relations between Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and Serbia, which has so far refused to recognize it as a sovereign state. The agreement has not put an end to ongoing issues between the two, including continuing violence at their shared border.

Now Trump is apparently sending Grenell — a Trump defender who came under fire during his three months as acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration for politicizing American intelligence — to conduct foreign policy on his behalf.

What's more, Grenell himself also attacked Kerry during an appearance on Fox News in April, accusing him of "constantly undermining what the Trump policy was" on Iran.

It's unclear whether Trump is actually violating the Logan Act. When he accused Kerry of doing so, experts said he was misinterpreting the law and using it for partisan purposes.

"Folks will be upset at this as Trump violating norms, undercutting U.S. foreign policy, and hypocritically doing what his administration castigated others for doing when he was POTUS," Daniel Drezner, an international politics professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, tweeted. "I will instead be laughing at 'envoy ambassador' and the permanent beclowning of Ric Grenell."

In a statement to reporters, the White House dismissed Trump's claim that he had an "Envoy Ambassador" traveling to the Kosovo-Serbia border.

"Outside of his very active imagination, Donald Trump is no longer President and doesn't have any 'envoy ambassadors' representing the United States," an unnamed White House official said, according to Bloomberg News' Jennifer Epstein.

Updated to include a statement from the White House.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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.

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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.

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